Response to a Friend, about the McGill Symphony Orhcestra’s Recent Concert

Here’s what. About the MGSO concert.

I think Berlioz is great, and the world could use more of his overtures specifically, also more “Harold en Italie,” and less of “Symphonie fantastique.” And the Rachmaninoff concerto is a Rachmaninoff concerto. Whatever. I’m over it.

But the reason I had to go is because Bruckner is one of my things. It started in high school because the Bruckner tuba excerpts are fun because they’re difficult in exactly the way a tubaist appreciates. None of this super-high, super-fast BS like Berlioz (whose music is fun for another reason) or under-used octave-machine BS like Brahms (except in the “Academic Festival Overture”). In Bruckner some parts are loud, some are soft, some are lyrical, some are percussive, and so on–it’s a good mix of everything. You can see how Bruckner’s tuba writing was the start of a trend continuing through Mahler, Nielsen, Hindemith, Shostakovich… everything we have! In my opinion.

Near the end of my second year, after four terms of training in harmony, three in Caplinian form, and three in music history (Laurier is a very different place), I started to appreciate Bruckner for another reason: forget Beethoven and Mahler/Schönberg; it’s Bruckner whose music paints a very compelling picture as the culmination and conclusion to the Romantic period, and Classical-style form with it. The music historical and music theoretical frameworks are set up to do that. Whether or not it’s true is another matter, and I think not worth considering, because we can never know the truth content of a statement like that. We wouldn’t even be able to establish the criteria for whether it’s true.

But I’ve never understood the dude’s fourth symphony. I haven’t listened to it in aaaaaaages, but as it turns out, I still don’t really get it. No idea which version the MGSO used (maybe a terrible one, like the Dover score, which would be a problem), but I spent most of the first movement laughing at the symphony. I think you’re right to say they played it well, but it just sounds like it was composed by a university professor (which it was).

So I just listened to Bruckner’s fifth symphony, and indeed it’s not that all of Bruckner’s music is stupid… just the fourth.