Bruckner Symphony 3 Analysis Essay

Symphony No. 3
by Anton Bruckner

Dedication to Wagner

KeyD minor
CatalogueWAB 103
  • 1872 (1872) – 1873 (1873):
  • 1876 (1876) – 1877 (1877):
  • 1889 (1889):
DedicationRichard Wagner

1890 (1890)

  • 1950 (1950) (ed. Fritz Oeser)
  • 1959 (1959) (ed. Leopold Nowak) (1889 version)
  • 1977 (1977) (ed. Leopold Nowak) (1873 version)
  • 1981 (1981) (ed. Leopold Nowak) (1877 version)
Recorded1952 (1952)Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester
Date16 December 1877 (1877-12-16)
ConductorAnton Bruckner

Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 3 in D minor, WAB 103, was dedicated to Richard Wagner and is sometimes known as his "Wagner Symphony".[1] It was written in 1873, revised in 1877 and again in 1889.

The work has been characterised as "difficult", and is regarded by some as Bruckner's artistic breakthrough.[2] According to Rudolf Kloiber, the third symphony "opens the sequence of Bruckner's masterpieces, in which his creativity meets monumental ability of symphonic construction."[3] The work is notorious as the most-revised of Bruckner's symphonies, and there exist no fewer than six versions, with three of them being widely performed today.


Bruckner wrote the first version of the symphony in 1873. In September 1873, before the work was finished, Bruckner visited Richard Wagner, whom he had first met in 1865 at the premiere of Tristan und Isolde in Munich.[4] Bruckner showed both his Second and Third symphonies to Wagner, asking him to pick one he preferred. To Bruckner's delight, Wagner chose the Third, and Bruckner dedicated the symphony to the master he highly respected. After arriving home, Bruckner continued to work on the symphony, finishing the finale on 31 December 1873.[5]

According to an anecdote, Bruckner and Wagner drank so much beer together that, upon arriving home, Bruckner realized he had forgotten which symphony Wagner had chosen. He wrote a letter back to Wagner saying "Symphony in D minor, where the trumpet begins the theme?". Wagner scribbled back "Yes! Best wishes! Richard Wagner." After this, Wagner often referred to Bruckner as "Bruckner the trumpet" and the two became firm friends. In the dedication, Bruckner referred to Wagner as "the unreachable world-famous noble master of poetry and music".

The premiere of this Symphony was given in Vienna on 16 December 1877. The conductor was meant to be Johann von Herbeck, though his death a month before the concert forced Bruckner himself to step in and conduct. The concert was a complete disaster: although a decent choral conductor, Bruckner was a barely competent orchestral director: the Viennese audience, which was not sympathetic to his work to begin with, gradually left the hall as the music played.[6] Even the orchestra fled at the end, leaving Bruckner alone with a few supporters, including Gustav Mahler. (The score of the first three movements was later owned by Mahler; his widow Alma Mahler ensured she took it with her when fleeing the Nazi invasion of France in 1940 for the United States.)[7]

Stunned by this debacle, Bruckner made several revisions of his work, leaving out significant amounts of music including most quotations from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde and Die Walküre. The original 1873 score was not published until 1977.


The symphony has been described as "heroic" in nature. Bruckner's love for the grand and majestic is reflected especially in the first and last movements. Stark contrasts, cuts and forcefulness mark the signature of the entire composition.[8] The signal-like trombone thema, heard at the beginning after the two crescendo waves, constitutes a motto for the whole symphony.[9] Many typical elements of his later symphonies, such as the cyclical penetration of all movements and especially the apotheosis at the coda of the finale, which ends with the trombone thema, are heard in the Third for the first time.[10]

The symphony has four movements:

  1. Gemäßigt, mehr bewegt, misterioso (Moderate, more animated, mysterious) (also Sehr langsam, misterioso) — D minor
  2. Adagio. Bewegt, quasi Andante (With motion, as if Andante) — E-flat major
  3. Scherzo. Ziemlich schnell (Fairly fast) (also Sehr schnell) — D minor, ending in D major. Trio in A major
  4. Finale. Allegro (also Ziemlich schnell) — D minor, ending in D major


The symphony requires an instrumentation of one pair each of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, with four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, timpani and strings.


According to widespread opinion, the Third can be regarded as Bruckner's artistic breakthrough. In it, the "real and complete Bruckner" comes into expression for the first time.[11] According to Rudolf Kloiber, the third symphony "opens the sequence of Bruckner's masterpieces, in which his creativity meets monumental ability of symphonic construction."[3] However, the difficult work has never received general critical acceptance. Especially the question of the different versions and their judgement is still as open as ever.[12]

Despite being very critical of this Symphony, Robert Simpson quoted a passage from the first movement, rehearsal letter F, in his own Symphony No. 9. Simpson later modified his critical view (expressed in the 1966 edition of his The Essence of Bruckner) after encountering the 1873 version, which he described in a programme note for the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1987 as '...a great work – not perfect by any means but possessing a majestic momentum the later revisions altogether destroyed.'

Symphony No. 3 was a favorite of conductor Hans Knappertsbusch.


There exist no fewer than six versions, three of them being issued: the 1873 original version, the 1877-78 version, and the composer's last thoughts of 1889.

First version (1873)[edit]

The 1873 version was the version that Bruckner sent to Wagner for his approval. It is available in an edition by Leopold Nowak (published 1977), which is based on Wagner's fair copy. It was first performed by Hans-Hubert Schönzeler at the Adelaide Festival of Arts in Australia in 1978.

Bruckner revised it in 1874. As described by Carragan in its presentation paper "Three between Two",[13] the "significant improved" 1874 version[14] is, movement for movement, of the same length and structure as the 1873 original version, but there are many passages, particularly in the first movement, with major changes in texture (canonic imitation) and orchestration. The 1874 version has been premiered and recorded by Gerd Schaller and the Philharmonie Festiva.

Bruckner revised it again in 1876. The intermediate, 1876 Adagio is available in an edition by Nowak, which was published in 1980.

Second version (1877/1878)[edit]

In the first movement, Wagnerian quotations (Tristan and Valkyrie) and a recall of the main theme of the Second symphony are removed. In the Adagio, a large cut of the part 3, devoted to the A theme, was completely deleted along with the first third of Part 4 (beats 129-176). The result was a sort of approximation to a three-part song form ABA.[15] A powerful coda is added to the Scherzo. Several cuts were also done in the Finale, of which again a Wagnerian quotation (Tristan) and a recall of the main theme of the Second symphony (beats 134-160).[16]

According to an advertisement in the Neue Freie Presse in Vienna, on 23 May 1880 (p.13), the full score and parts of the 1877 version had just appeared in print by Th. Rättig in Vienna. The 1877 version, which was first published without Scherzo coda by Oeser in 1950, was republished with the Scherzo coda of 1878 by Nowak in 1981. A transcription of this version for piano duet was prepared by Gustav Mahler (the last movement presumably by Rudolf Krzyzanowski), though only Mahler's name appears on the title page of the score, published on 1 January 1880 by A. Bösendorfer in Vienna.

Third version (1889)[edit]

The 1889 version was published by Nowak in 1959. In this version, the Scherzo coda is removed and additional cuts are done mainly in the Finale.

The first published version of 1890, published by Th. Rättig (Vienna), remains controversial because it hasn't been ascertained how much it reflected Bruckner's wishes, and how much it was influenced by Josef and Franz Schalk.


The first commercial recording of part of this symphony was made by Anton Konrath with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in 1928. It featured only the scherzo and trio.

The oldest complete performance preserved on disc is by Eugen Jochum with the Hamburg State Theatre Orchestra from 1944.

The first commercial recording of the complete symphony was made in 1953. The recording, from a live concert, was issued by the Allegro-Royale label with the conductor "Gerd Rubahn" (pseudonym for Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt).[17] This historical recording has been remastered to CD (CD BSVD-0114).

The 1890 Rättig edition is generally used by the older conductors of the LP era, such as Hans Knappertsbusch conducting the Bavarian State Opera Orchestra and Carl Schuricht conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

With the dawn of the CD era, the 1877 and 1889 versions, as edited by Nowak, were more commonly used, by conductors such as Bernard Haitink and Karl Böhm.

Eliahu Inbal conducting the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra for Warner Classics was in 1983 the first to record the 1873 version. Georg Tintner conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra followed 15 years later on the Naxos label. As Tintner writes, "this work as originally conceived suffered by its progressive mutilations more and more, and we should take the time to play and to listen to this amazing original."[18]

Gerd Schaller first recorded the 1874 version, edited by William Carragan, with the Philharmonie Festiva.

To facilitate comparison of the different versions, Johannes Wildner conducting the New Philharmonic Orchestra of Westphalia, in a studio recording (SonArte/Naxos) offers multi-disc sets. Naxos includes both the 1877 and 1889 versions while SonArte includes all three of the 1873, 1877 and 1889 versions.


  • Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen (editor): Bruckner Handbuch. J.B. Metzler'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung and Carl Ernst Poeschel Vergal GmbH, Stuttgart, 2010, ISBN 978-3-476-02262-2
  • Rudolf Kloiber: Handbuch der klassischen und romantischen Symphonie. Breitkopf & Härtel, Wiesbaden, 1964, ISBN 3-7651-0017-X
  • Anton Bruckner: Sämtliche Werke: Band III: III. Symphonie d-Moll, Musikwissenschaftlicher Verlag der Internationalen Bruckner-Gesellschaft, Vienna
    • III/1: 1. Fassung 1873 (“Wagner Symphonie”), Leopold Nowak (Editor), 1977
    • III/1A: Adagio Nr. 2 1876, Leopold Nowak (Editor), 1980
    • III/2: 2. Fassung 1877 (“Wagner Symphonie”), Leopold Nowak (Editor), 1981
    • III/2: 3. Fassung 1889, Leopold Nowak (Editor), 1959


External links[edit]

  1. ^Ethan Mordden, A Guide to Orchestral Music: The Handbook for Non-Musicians. New York: Oxford University Press: 211, 1980. "Bruckner himself called his Third the "Wagner" Symphony because he was hoping for Wagner's support in some small way, such as being permitted to dedicate the score to him."
  2. ^Hinrichsen, p. 164. Das "schwierige Durchbruchswerk", quote from Peter Gülke: Brahms. Bruckner. Zwei Studien. Kalles u.a. 1989.
  3. ^ abKloiber, 1964: So eröffnet die Dritte die Reihe der Brucknerschen Meisterschöpfungen, bei denen sich Erfindungskraft mit monumentalem symphonischem Gestaltungsvermögen paaren.
  4. ^Kloiber, p.250
  5. ^Hinrichsen, p.152
  6. ^Korstvedt, Benjamin M. (2000). Bruckner: Symphony No. 8. Cambridge University Press, pp. 65–66
  7. ^Paul Kildea, Benjamin Britten: A Life in the Twentieth Century, p. 166
  8. ^Hinrichsen, p. 162
  9. ^Hinrichsen, p. 155
  10. ^Hinrichsen, p. 152
  11. ^Hinrichsen, p. 151. Hinter dieses Werk gab es kein Zurück mehr, und allgemeiner Einschätzung nach ist in der "Wagner-Sinfonie" (vgl. Briefe I, 153) der "echte und ganze Bruckner als fertige und abgeschlossene Erscheinung" erstmals zu finden".
  12. ^Hinrichsen, p. 163
  13. ^William Carragan, Three between Two – The Evolution of Brass Writing in Bruckner’s Third Symphony, 1873–1889
  14. ^Davis Griegel: Bruckner Symphony Versions
  15. ^William Carragan : The Bruckner Brand, Part 2 - The Five-Part Song Form
  16. ^William Carragan - Timing analysis Symphony No. 3 (1873-1889)
  17. ^The “Gerd Rubahn” Symphony No. 3 (Updated July 8, 2013)
  18. ^Leaflet of Tintner's recording of the 1873 version, Naxos CD 8.553454, 1998

Bruckner - Symphony No. 3

When Anton Bruckner (1824 - 1896) paid a visit to Richard Wagner in 1873, he brought along his 2nd and 3rd Symphonies.  He wanted to dedicate one or the other to Wagner, his musical idol, and he wanted to give the master his choice.

Wagner welcomed Bruckner, whereon Bruckner began to shower him with praises and idol worship. Wagner's ego was at least as large as his genius for composition, so he took the praise as usual, like he deserved it. He poured a glass of beer for Bruckner and himself (an act that sent Bruckner into rhapsodies of "Imagine the master pouring a beer for me!" in a later letter) and began to read through the symphonies. They drank beer and talked, or at least Wagner talked. He usually did all the talking. Bruckner was most likely too awe-struck to say much.

Wagner made his choice, and Bruckner left.  But Bruckner being Bruckner, after he got back to his room he couldn't remember which symphony Wagner chose for the dedication, either because of the excitement of the occasion (or the beer).  So Bruckner had to write him and ask, "Symphony in D minor, where the trumpet begins the theme?"  Wagner wrote back and answered, "Yes! Best wishes! Richard Wagner." Wagner always referred to  "Bruckner the Trumpet" after the incident.  Wagner did seem to be impressed with symphony, especially the opening. He later said that Bruckner was the only symphonist that came close to Beethoven.  And the silhouette of Wagner offering a pinch of snuff to Bruckner is misleading. Bruckner was a tall, large-framed man who would have dwarfed Wagner's 5'5" frame. As for Bruckner's dedication, he called Wagner "the unreachable world-famous noble master of poetry and music."

The 3rd Symphony was premiered in 1877. The conductor who was to lead the orchestra died at the last minute so Bruckner lead the orchestra. Bruckner was not a very good orchestral conductor and by the time the symphony was over most of the audience and even some of the orchestra had left.  This depressed him so much he immediately began to revise the score. After many different editions, the original manuscript was found and it is the original version of the symphony edited in 1877 that is generally played.

Bruckner's  Symphony No. 3 in D minor is in 4 movements:

I. Gemäßigt, mehr bewegt, misterioso -In typical Bruckner fashion, the first movement is in his own style of sonata form. Bruckner's use of groups of themes begins with the trumpet playing the opening over a constant string accompaniment. This opening is continued until it reaches a huge climax with the orchestra playing in unison. The next part of this theme group is calmer and leads to another loud outburst from the orchestra. This first theme group is repeated, with slight variations and leads into the second theme group. The second group of themes is more lyrical and begins in the strings. The so-called Bruckner rhythm (two beats followed by three beats is contained within this second group. The second group develops into a climax for full orchestra, after which a third theme group is ushered in by the brass. The brass play a variant of the very opening trumpet theme. The exposition ends with a climax dominated by the brass. The development begins mysteriously and soon concentrates on the opening trumpet theme. The theme is varied, and some of the other parts of the first theme group are commented on. Bruckner uses bits of themes, offers themes in counterpoint, and the development section slowly grows to a tremendous climax as the brass utilizes the trumpet theme. Parts of themes appear after the brass climax and lead directly to the recapitulation where all the theme groups are repeated, with some parts varied and modulated to keys different than the opening. The first movement ends in a coda that contains a repeat of the trumpet theme in a from the brass with thundering. This alternates with a gentle repeat of other material until the brass takes control and blares out the opening trumpet theme in a faster tempo with the strings churning out an accompaniment along with the roaring timpani.

II. Adagio, Bewegt, quasi Andante -This movement is built upon three themes. The serene opening theme is carried by the violins and slowly expands chromatically and in volume until it reaches yet more chromatic shifting. It suddenly grows soft, then returns to intensity in the violins with underpinnings by the horns. Again it grows softer, the music expands once again until the woodwinds make a comment followed by the strings and the brass. The second theme is first carried by the violas and expands to other instruments. The second theme ends with a pause, and the third theme begins softly in the violins. This theme is expanded and developed at length. The second theme returns and undulates in tension and volume until it reaches a huge climax. The first theme has to make several attempts to gain a foothold as the brass keep trying to shoo it away. But it finally prevails and reaches its own high point. The movement ends with gentle strings, woodwinds and horns.

III. Scherzo - Ziemlich schnell -The music begins softly with not so much as a theme as a rhythm, and rapidly builds in volume. It reaches the top of the crescendo falls back slightly, reaches the top of another crescendo and pauses. The soft beginning starts the second section of the scherzo and the music dies down for a repeat of the opening.  The trio is an Austrian ländler in a major key. The scherzo is repeated verbatim, and in the edition played in the accompanying video there is a short coda that sums up the scherzo.

IV. Finale, Allegro -This movement is also in Bruckner's version of sonata form. The first theme begins with strings playing a rapid figure while the brass put forth a fanfare similar to the trumpet theme in the first movement. There is an abrupt halt and the second more casual theme is played in the strings.  Another halt and a loud third theme is brought forth from the orchestra. The music works up to a huge climax with some mellow after thoughts by the horns and the exposition section is complete. The development concerns itself mostly with the opening brass fanfare but some snippets of other themes are sprinkled throughout it. There is a repeat of the second theme, then the third. The music flows to the end, repeating parts of themes along the way until the trumpets play the theme of the very opening of the symphony. The full orchestra plays  a tremendous accompaniment as the trumpet theme ends the symphony.

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