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Bruckner, the Trumpet!
Anton Bruckner, armed with the scores for his Second and Third Symphonies, met Richard Wagner -- the composer he idolized -- in September 1873 and asked Wagner if he would accept the dedication of a symphony. As Bruckner later recalled: "I explained that it was the one and only, the greatest honor I'd ever desired. 'I don't allow anything to be dedicated to me that I haven't seen,' said Wagner, and I was told to leave the score there."
Later that day Bruckner returned to receive Wagner's verdict. As Bruckner stood in the hall, he heard Wagner playing the main theme of the Third Symphony's first movement on the piano. According to Bruckner, when he entered the room, Wagner "Just looked at me with such a kind gaze that I can still feel it today. Then he embraced me and kissed me again and again. Afterwards he pointed to a pile of music and said, 'Look -- nothing but dedications. But your work is a masterpiece; I am pleased and honored that it's intended for me.'"
This reminiscence is by August Goellerich, Bruckner's pupil and friend. Stephen Johnson translated it for his book Bruckner Remembered (Faber and Faber Limited, London, 1998). It's full of wonderful stories about Bruckner.
At the beginning of the Third Symphony, the trumpet plays the main theme. Wagner admired that theme so much that he nicknamed Bruckner "The Trumpet."
Despite Wagner's endorsement, the Third Symphony did not fare well at its premiere. Bruckner conducted himself because the conductor originally scheduled to perform the work died seven weeks before the concert. Most of the audience left the hall before the end of the symphony. In the words of the Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick, "that fraction of the public which had remained to the end consoled him for the flight of the rest." Hanslick's review was less than kind. He imagined "a vision of Beethoven's Ninth becoming friendly with Wagner's Valkyries and finishing up trampled under their hooves."
The quotes by Hanslick are from Derek Watson's Bruckner, (Schirmer Books, New York, 1997).
Although no small number of people today might echo Hanslick's sentiments, for many of us Bruckner's music is a cosmic experience. In the words of Robert Simpson, "Bruckner's natural slow momentum is one of the grandest phenomena of music." (The Essence of Bruckner, Victor Gollancz Ltd., London, 1992.)
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