Vice-President, Bruckner Society of America
The majestic Fifth Symphony is famous for its orchestral fugue, comprising 362 measures of counterpoint in three separate sections in the finale. It was completed in its first version in 1876, but Bruckner later went back through the movements making revisions and adding the bass tuba which he had never used before. This dazzling texture is complemented and even exceeded in complexity elsewhere in the symphony, particularly in the development of the first movement and the second theme group or “Gesangsperiode” of the finale. These passages provided substantial challenges for the transcriber.
The opening motto, played by the basses in a slow introduction, descends through a fifth and rises back to the opening pitch, like that of the Fourth, but stepwise, and recurs briefly at the beginning of the finale. The adagio and scherzo are strongly linked together as in no other of Bruckner’s symphonies, sharing the same bass accompaniment for the first 24 notes. The adagio has no great climax in the fifth part, ending the movement is the strange remoteness with which it begins, and the scherzo has a curious two-tiered tempo structure reflecting both the anxiety of the crowd and the consolation of the beer hall. Thus the dynamic resolution of the symphony is thrown onto the last movement with its fugue. After completing the revision in 1878, Bruckner said he would never do that again for any amount of money.
The composition and revision of the Fifth was all carried out in one manuscript, Austrian National Library Mus.Hs.19477, which is a confusing battleground of competing variants. Thus a reliable early text cannot be recovered, although Takanobu Kawasaki has made a very interesting piecewise reconstruction. However, there is an isolated manuscript, Mus.Hs.3162, which contains an early version of just the coda of the finale, without the tuba and different in many subtle ways. When Dr. Howie and I played this arrangement of the Fifth at Oxford, the audience was enthusiastic and we played the alternative early coda as an encore.