1875–1876: Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, age 51-52

Mr. Peabody Says:

It’s long

Celibidache, MPO (live 1993)

  1. Introduction: Adagio – Allegro (B♭ major) 00:44
  2. Adagio: Sehr langsam (D minor) 23:48
  3. Scherzo: Molto vivace (D minor) 48:06
  4. Finale: Adagio – Allegro moderato (B♭ major) 1:02:58

Date of composition:

The Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, WAB 105, by Anton Bruckner was written in 1875–1876, with minor changes over the next two years. It came at a time of trouble and disillusion for the composer: a lawsuit, from which he was exonerated, and a reduction in salary. Dedicated to Karl von Stremayr, education minister in the Austro-Hungarian Empire,


the symphony has at times been nicknamed the “Tragic”, the “Church of Faith” or the “Pizzicato”; Bruckner himself referred to it as the “Fantastic” without applying this or any other name formally.

First performance, Schalk version:

The Fifth was first performed in public on two pianos by Joseph Schalk and Franz Zottmann on 20 April 1887 in the Bösendorfersaal in Vienna.[2] The first orchestral performance – in the inauthentic “Schalk version”, with a changed orchestration in Wagnerian fashion and omitting 122 bars of the finale – was conducted by Franz Schalk in Graz on 8 April 1894. Bruckner was sick and unable to attend. He in fact never heard this symphony performed by an orchestra.


  • pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons
  • four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and one bass tuba
  • timpani
  • strings

(Tuba was added in 1878 (the same year Bruckner added one to his Fourth Symphony).


All but the third movement begin with pizzicato strings, hence the above-mentioned nickname. The pizzicato figures are symmetrical in the sense that the outer movements share one figure while the middle movements share another.

First movement

The work begins with a majestic slow introduction which, although beginning in B♭ major, traverses several keys:

This is the only one of Bruckner’s symphonies to begin with a slow introduction, but all the others, except Symphony No. 1, begin with sections that are like introductions in tempo, easing into the main material, like the opening of Beethoven’s Ninth. It eventually leans heavily toward D major without actually tonicizing it. The introduction progresses into a main movement in sonata form. After a climax in A major, the texture is thinned until only a violin tremolo remains. This tremolo, starts on A, then moves to D, suggesting that D will become a tonal focal point. Instead, the opening theme is in B♭ minor.

Like much of Bruckner’s music, this movement’s exposition contains three main key regions instead of the usual two. The second theme group is in F minor, and comprises a small ternary form, with sections in F minor, D♭ major, and F minor:

Bruckner introduces the third theme in an unprepared tonality (D♭ major):

In the recapitulation, the themes’ tonality progresses from B♭ minor to G minor to E♭ major. The coda begins in Bb minor, but eventually shifts to the parallel major mode.

Second movement

The main material of the Adagio and Scherzo movements is similar, although heard of course at different tempos and launching different developments. The Adagio primarily relies upon the alternation of two thematic sections, the first of which contains a metrical superimposition of six against four:

The second features a chorale on the strings:

Third movement:

The Scherzo of this symphony is unique in all of Bruckner’s scherzi; the scherzo is in a three-theme sonata form instead of the usual binary form. The movement opens at a high tempo before slowing down for the second theme (note the bassline is the same as the one that opens the Adagio):

The second theme is in a slower tempo:

Before the third theme appears, the tempo is raised with an accelerando. After this, the scherzo goes through its development and recapitulation, setting the stage for the trio:

Jochum on the significance of the staccato arrowhead marking in the Scherzo: “the staccati must be very short, like a tapping. There must be something eerie about the whole. At the second tempo marking (“significantly slower”), a really high-spirited Upper Austrian peasant dance strikes up: here the crotchets marked with an arrow-head should be rather short and playfully marked, each note given a slight accent. In the Trio, too, especially in the piano section, the accents must be brief, light, and effervescent. The arrow-heads indicate actual staccati here: the quavers [eighth notes] on flutes and first violins before Letter A must be very light, dainty, and short. On the other hand, in the cello and double bass descent directly after Letter A, the arrow-heads signify a rounded line, and the notes marked with such must sound with audible vibrato and not be too short.”

Fourth movement

The long Finale opens in the same way as the first movement but veers off soon to gradually introduce new material which becomes the source of the themes of the Allegro moderato, another sonata form which contains in its course fugal and chorale sections of elaborate counterpoint. The hybridization of sonata form and fugal elements is a hallmark of this movement.

The first theme group is treated as a fugue exposition with the main theme of the movement as its subject:

This is followed by a non-fugal second group based on the second theme of the Scherzo which functions as an episode:

The third theme features prominent descending octaves, a gesture seen in the first theme:

Closing the exposition is a chorale gesture, which recalls the Dresden Amen:[4]

This thematic material is subsequently exploited in the development as the basis for a second fugue subject:

By bar 270, both fugal subjects are intoned concurrently. The simultaneous presentation of the fugal subject also occurs at the beginning of the recapitulation (bar 374). When the recapitulation’s third group begins, the first theme from the first movement is also presented; the first-movement material closes the symphony, contributing greatly to its cyclic properties.

1876 version:

This remains unpublished. In 1997 a first attempt at reconstruction – by including in the Finale music from the “1876 First Concept” (ed. William Carragan)[5] – was recorded by Shunsaku Tsutsumi with the Shunyukai Symphony Orchestra.[6] In 2008 Takanobu Kawasaki was able to assemble the original concepts (1875–1877) of the symphony from manuscripts Mus.Hs.19.477 and Mus.Hs.3162 at the Austrian National Library; these were recorded by Akira Naito with the Tokyo New City Orchestra. In the opinion of John F. Berky, Naito’s recording “is the best available CD to present some of Bruckner’s early thoughts for this massive symphony.” In this version the symphony is scored without a bass tuba, and more prominence is given to the string instruments. The tempo of the Adagio introductions to Movements 1 and 4, and that of Movement 2, are scored alla breve, i.e. notably faster than in 1878.

1878 version:

This is the version normally performed. It exists in almost identical editions by Robert Haas (published 1935) and Leopold Nowak (1951). The Nowak has been amended twice, in 1989 (the “Second Revised Edition”) and 2005 (the “Third Revised Edition”). All of these are under the auspices of the MWV, the Musikwissenschaftlicher Verlag der Internationalen Bruckner-Gesellschaft in Vienna. Regardless of edition, the 1878 version is sometimes redundantly called the “Original Version”, perhaps to distinguish it from the inauthentic Schalk.

Schalk’s published edition, 1896:

This first published edition, heard at the work’s 1894 premiere, was prepared by conductor Franz Schalk. It is unknown how much of its difference from Bruckner’s 1878 version reflects Bruckner and how much Schalk, but 15 to 20 minutes of music is cut, and most of the changes were unapproved by the composer. Schalk made Bruckner’s music sound Wagnerian by means of re-orchestration. Obvious differences occur in the coda of the Finale, where Schalk adds triangle and cymbals and an offstage brass band.

The first recording of any part of the symphony was made by Dol Dauber with his salon orchestra in 1928 for HMV; it included only the Scherzo, in an arrangement of the Schalk edition. The first of the complete work was made by Karl Böhm with the Dresden Staatskapelle in 1937 using the new Haas edition. (Böhm never returned to this music.)

Jochum, in addition to broadcasts issued on CD, made four commercial recordings: the Haas edition in 1938 with the Hamburg Philharmonic for Telefunken; and the Nowak edition in 1958 with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra for Deutsche Grammophon, in 1964 with the Concertgebouworkest for Philips, and in 1980 with the Dresden Staatskapelle for EMI.[8] Conductor Kenneth Woods in his essay on Jochum quotes Herbert Glass: “the Fifth drove [Jochum] to distraction and he would regard his every performance of it as an interpretation-in-progress. In rehearsal, such doubts could sorely test an orchestra’s patience – this despite his courtly, respectful treatment of his players.”

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