The Bruckner Versions, Once More

William Carragan
Contributing Editor, Anton Bruckner Collected Edition, Vienna

Written and published in American Record Guide in 1995, revised 2017

Albertina Museum in Vienna, via Flickr - Goucho
Albertina Museum in Vienna, Photo via Flickr – Goucho

This is the building in Vienna which until recently housed the Music Collection of the Austrian Library on its top floor. There Leopold Nowak did musicological research for many years. The windows on the top right opened into the reading room in which I did my work on the Second Symphony. The Collection is in more spacious quarters now, but I remember the old digs with great affection.


“What, another version of a Bruckner symphony? Why couldn’t he decide?” As a Bruckner researcher I have often heard this question. It is true that most of the symphonies exist in more than one distinct version, and that some of his friends (he seems to have been quite companionable) are implicated in the later versions as advisors, so the question is real. Fortunately the different versions are well documented in a large number of manuscript composition scores, copyists’ scores, and orchestral parts, most of which are in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. There are also the early published editions, many features of which have long been thought to represent interference from the friends. For 68 years, various scholars, particularly Robert Haas and Leopold Nowak, but recently involving others including myself, have been using these sources to straighten out the problems and answer that question, version by version. Work is nearing completion and valid, carefully-edited scores are now available to support most of the versions which can be identified.

Before I go on to list them, though, I’d like to make a few observations. First: Bruckner, despite his rural origins, was a consummately professional musician, with a radical and forward-looking view of what symphonic music should be. Second: Bruckner was not easily swayed by other people; he could in fact be remarkably stubborn. Many changes, particularly shortenings and simplifications, were only made to render the symphonies easier to play, and Bruckner seems to have kept the original scores against a time when they could be performed as first conceived. Third: We should not reject the first printed versions categorically. The friends’ influence was not entirely baneful, and indeed modern research has shown that a lot of the features of the first published versions long thought to be corrupt in fact stemmed from Bruckner himself. Fourth: the Nowak and Haas publications do not have equal claim on us. Haas expected to produce only one score of each symphony (except the Fourth), and he combined material from incompatible sources so as to produce a version ideal in his eyes. While a little of this is unavoidable, what he did was so extensive in the Second and Eighth as to amount to forgery. Nowak assumed the leadership of the Collected Edition after the war, and determined that if there are incompatible but equally-valuable texts, they must all be published. Nowak was not a fast worker, but by his death in 1991 most of the necessary scores had been published or at least recorded.

Here is a list, symphony by symphony, of the result:

List of Symphonies

Leopold Nowak

Leopold Nowak image via Musikwissenschaft-
licher Verlag

Symphony in F minor (“Study Symphony”): Only one version, 1862/63. This was part of the final examination which his teacher Otto Kitzler set him. It was brought out by Nowak in 1973. It’s wonderful; he never misses a beat. Don’t ignore it!

First Symphony, C minor: Two versions. The original of 1866, published in a slight 1877 revision by Haas in 1935 and republished by Nowak in 1955, and a more extensive revision of 1891 which Bruckner prepared on his own (against his friends’ advice) for dedication to the University of Vienna. It was edited by Günter Brosche in 1980.

Symphony in D minor (“Zero” or “Nullte”)). One version, 1869. The preface to Nowak’s 1968 score says there was an early version of 1863, but in fact there never was; see Paul Hawkshaw’s article in Nineteenth Century Music VI/4, 1983. Hofrat Nowak endorsed this conclusion shortly before his death. This symphony is intermediate stylistically between the First and Second and is eloquent, beautiful, and innovative.

Second Symphony, C minor. Two versions. The original of 1871/72 has variant versions prepared for the performances of 1873 and 1876. The imperial Kapellmeister Johann Herbeck, who had urged Bruckner to move to Vienna shortly before, was his advisor, although it is not easy to tell just what he advised, or whether Bruckner accepted any of his advice. A revision was prepared in 1877, but it was not performed until its publication in 1892; the 1892 score, in which m,any errors in the 1877 score were corrected under Bruckner’s supervision, represents a variant also. The Haas version of 1938, revised slightly by Nowak in 1965, is a combination of 1872, 1873, and 1877, and Haas himself wrote a tiny bit of it in order to make one of his joinings. Haas’s score, even as reprinted by Nowak in 1965, is not a valid presentation of the symphony. In his naïve article “The Bruckner Problem Simplified” (Music and Letters, 1975), Deryck Cooke guessed, quite wrongly, that the Haas version is that of 1872, but the 1872 version of the finale, for example, is over 100 measures longer than Haas’s. The original version of 1872 and the revised version of 1877 were entrusted to me by Nowak and were published in 2005 and 2007 under my editorship. Many details of the various versions and variants are discussed in the notes accompanying the pre-publication Camerata recording of 1991, and in “Second Symphony Studies” on this website.

Third Symphony (“Wagner Symphony”), D minor. Four versions. The original, 1873, revised slightly (and effectively) in 1874, published by Nowak in 1977. The second version, 1876, is partially lost; the orchestral parts which Bruckner had copied from it are missing the oboe parts and all the string parts except the contrabass. The third version, quite extensively revised, dates from 1877 or 1878, with Herbeck presumably serving as advisor until his untimely death in 1877 before the scheduled date when he was to conduct it. Some form of this revision was performed under Bruckner’s own leadership in December 1877. The performance was a disaster, but that cannot be blamed on Bruckner’s conducting, as the two earlier performances of the Second in which he directed were quite well received. This version was published by both Bösendorfer and Rättig in 1878, then edited by Oeser in 1950 to complete the “gray score” Haas series, and again by Nowak in a 1981 “blue score” with a coda for the Scherzo dated 1878. The fourth version, 1889, is the most familiar one, and contains several new passages and orchestrational amendments in his later style which are of great interest; see my paper “Bruckner’s Trumpet“. The Schalk brothers, Josef and Franz, were involved in that revision, which was eventually reissued by Nowak in 1959. There are Wagner quotations in the 1873 and 1874 scores, and at least one Wagner quote is present in all the versions. They are distinctive, but also very well integrated into Bruckner’s own material.

Fourth Symphony (”Romantic”), E flat major. Four versions. The original, 1874. Published by Nowak in 1975. The second, 1878, simplified and with a new scherzo; the finale of this version is called the “Volksfest” and has been published separately. The third, 1880 or perhaps more properly 1881, with minor revisions to the first three movements and a new finale, all published by Nowak in 1953; this is how one usually hears it today. The Haas version (1936) is very slightly different. The fourth, 1888, with Franz Schalk and Ferdinand Löwe as advisors. According to Benjamin Korstvedt, who has written an ambitious critical report on the Fourth, the 1888 printer’s copy shows clearly that Bruckner was fully involved in the preparation of this score and regarded it as his final, definitive version. This score was published in the Collected Edition under Korstvedt’s editorship in 2004.

Fifth Symphony (“Fantastic”), B flat major. Two versions. The original, 1875/78, published by Nowak in 1951. Bruckner revised it right after finishing the Finale, but the earlier text cannot be established definitively because in revising it Bruckner worked directly on top of the existing music. A few passages can be recovered, though, and perhaps used by a very adventurous conductor. There is also a late version of 1894, with Franz Schalk as advisor. Bruckner had something to do with this, but it is not clear how much; probably not very much. In Schalk’s version the Finale is particularly different and calls for extra brass and percussion players in the final chorale and to the end. To give the devil his due, Schalk’s scoring of the extra instruments in the chorale is both effective and tasteful, and besides, many conductors have used extra brass to double the existing parts not as resourcefully as Schalk.

Sixth Symphony, A major. One version, 1879/81, published by Nowak in 1952. The posthumous first printing of 1899 has certain emendations made to the galley proofs by Joseph Schalk, including some rather odd dynamic changes.

Seventh Symphony, E major. One version, 1883, published by Nowak in 1954. Haas’s 1944 score deliberately and incorrectly omits the percussion instruments in the Adagio which Bruckner had added after the symphony was completed. Bruckner had plenty of opportunity to remove the percussion but never did, and indeed used even more percussion in the slow movement of the Eighth. The interesting ritardandos in the first theme of the Finale of the Seventh (listen particularly to Klemperer’s many performances) were omitted by Haas, but they should not be considered optional. They certainly stem from Bruckner’s own urgent recommendations.

Eighth Symphony, C minor. Two versions. The original, 1885/87, embodies a return by Bruckner to the monumental scale of the Fifth. It was published by Nowak in 1972. Its intended conductor, Hermann Levi, rejected it, however, and Bruckner prepared a second version, shorter but with an expanded orchestra, in 1890, and published with further small revisions in 1892. This was brought out by Nowak in 1955. The Haas version of 1939 is an inauthentic combination of the two and should be abandoned; nobody would treat any other composer that way.

Ninth Symphony, D minor. One version, 1889-1896. The Ninth was left unfinished at Bruckner’s death, although the first three movements probably lack only final editing. They were brought out by Nowak in 1956. The Finale exists in many pages of sketches (published by Orel in 1934 and again recently and much more completely by John Phillips), which have been the basis of a number of completions including one by myself, premiered in Carnegie Hall in 1984, one by Phillips with three other people, one by Sébastien Letocart, and others. The version of the first three movements edited by Ferdinand Löwe and published in 1903 is of course completely without Bruckner’s involvement, but it is still interesting as it involves the thought and performance style of one of Bruckner’s closest associates.


The purpose of this article is not to recommend recordings, but I must break that rule to mention most urgently the CDs of the early versions of the Second, Third, Fourth, and Eighth. At the head of these I must place that of the Fourth by López-Cobos and the Cincinnati Symphony. The early versions are very challenging, especially to veteran Bruckner enthusiasts. In listening to them, try to remember how your thinking was stretched when you first heard these wonderful symphonies many years ago, and let it be stretched again! Also, the contention that the early versions were only sketches is nonsense. The Sixth and Seventh have only one version each, and neither they nor the early Fifth can be dismissed as sketches. Lastly, please do not dismiss the idea of completing the Ninth. All of the completers have done their best to present Bruckner’s material in a congenial context, and at the very least, intellectual curiosity should impel the listener to see what can be gotten out of their work.

Some conductors make up their own versions as they go along. One of the most extreme was Lovro von Matačić who combined elements of Nowak and Schalk in his surprisingly effective recording of the Fifth. Then, in one of the areas where Haas made some individual choices in the Eighth, Karl Böhm had a different text which he always used. However, the listener should realize that by and large conductors do not visit the Austrian National Library to study the manuscripts, and if their recordings stray from the Nowak score, they usually do so on their own. Nowak once told me that the only conductor who ever approached him for advice was Eugen Jochum, with whom he developed a real friendship. As far as individual conductors’ versions are concerned, caveat auditor!

My attitude toward the Haas scores was shaped entirely by my years in Austria devoted to close study of all of the sources of the Second, and many of the important scores of the other symphonies. I was faced again and again by evidence the rapid and occasionally slipshod methods and tendentious interpretations characteristic of Haas’s work on the Second, Eighth, and Seventh. Like many Brucknerians, I used to prefer his scores because they gave us more Bruckner. However, in 1995 we at last have the ability to hear Bruckner’s early thought in its proper environment–the early versions. In the same way, I cannot endorse the idea of “ideal” versions which represent one person’s decision as to what Bruckner should have written. What can we learn of what he has to tell us when we know someone stands in the way?

One more warning: Nowak met with the publisher, Dr. Herbert Vogg, every week at the same time for many years, and occasionally would give him corrections to the published scores. Therefore, latterly-printed Nowak scores of any symphony may be expected to be more accurate.

Carragan's Bruckner Society of America Medal of Honor
The Bruckner Society of America Medal of Honor


One person who always stood for clean, bright scholarship was Jack Diether, the founder of the New York Mahlerites, and the instigator of my completion of the Ninth; besides editing Chord and Discord, he wrote for American Record Guide for many years. His long-time friend and successor in New York “Mahlerismus” is of course Jerry Fox, whose welcome and penetrating reviews grace ARG’s pages today. I am pleased that this list appears in a magazine with such a distinguished tradition, and thank the editor and Bruckner enthusiast Don Vroon for the opportunity.

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