Anton Bruckner Symphony Arrangements for Two Pianos

William Carragan
Vice-President, Bruckner Society of America

This series of arrangements of Bruckner symphonies for two pianos began under the auspices of the Bruckner Journal Readers’ Conferences which were held at Hertford College, Oxford University, biennially from 2008 through 2018. They were sponsored at Hertford by Dr. Paul Coones, a fellow of the college in geography, and conductor of the Hertford Bruckner Orchestra. At each conference, ten papers on Bruckner-related matters were presented, and many of them were later published in The Bruckner Journal, at that time being edited by Ken Ward. The conference concluded with a concert in the magnificent and ornate Hertford chapel, and at three of those concerts Dr. Crawford Howie and I played one of my arrangements of a Bruckner symphony for two pianos, prepared for the occasion. Since then the collection has been expanded to include seven symphonies, with a complete set planned for the near future including the overture.

In the arrangements the strings by and large are given to one player, with the winds and brasses to the other. But that approach is frequently modified according to the local situation. This generates a stereophonic effect which is not quite the same as that of the orchestra, but dramatic in its own right. When dense counterpoint is encountered in the strings, which is quite often, the upper and lower lines are given to the “string” player, and the inner voices to the other player so as not to damage the stereophonic effect. Having two instruments makes the continuity of contrapuntal textures, so important to Bruckner, much more coherent than is possible with one piano, four hands. Also, the tessitura of the writing is more concentrated toward the center of the piano range, with interesting overlapping textures reminiscent of the pièces croisées of French harpsichord music.

In some of the arrangements analytical details are provided in the music. This feature is scheduled to be enhanced in all the arrangements. Meanwhile, the compact scoring and freedom from transposition provides a new and convenient resource in the study of the architecture of these beautifully-constructed masterworks.