This interview was first published in ANAM's Music Makers Newspaper V31.
One of the finest Australian conductors of his generation, Nicholas Carter, returns to the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) in May to direct the Fourth Symphonies of Beethoven and Bruckner. Did you know there are different versions of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony? Read on to discover more about them.
How many versions are there of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony?
There are basically four versions, though I suspect there are more out there, given the fact that in addition to the many versions by Bruckner himself, there are also different editions as well, from people who nobly tried to piece together Bruckner’s wishes from all extant sources — from manuscripts, published scores, corrected orchestral parts and so on.
How do the versions differ?
The biggest difference is between the original version of 1874 and the second version of 1878-80. After the first performance of the original version, Bruckner drastically reworked a lot of the material including discarding the original Scherzo entirely.
He also restructured much of the last movement and tweaked plenty of other smaller details too. 'I have come to the complete conviction that my fourth romantic Symphony is urgently in need of a thorough revision,' he said. 'There are, for example, in the adagio too difficult, unplayable figures; the instrumentation is here and there too overloaded and too restless.'
It’s often been said that he did this quasi under duress; that he was pressured to do so by well-meaning colleagues and admirers, and that he caved to these coercions due to his inherent lack of self-worth and confidence. Thus, it’s often argued that the original version is the ‘truest’ or ‘purest’ expression of his Fourth Symphony; unsullied by outside influences. I don’t tend to agree. I believe the later versions of the Fourth are more compelling. Of course, the famous ‘hunt scherzo’ originates from the later version. This I feel is simply superior music to the original Scherzo. Following that he continued making largely smaller alterations to, above all, the orchestration, in 1881 and 1888.
Which version is most performed today?
The 1878-80 is I think the most often performed version and the version we’ll be performing on 24 May.
Between 2011 and 2014 you served as Kapellmeister to Simone Young in Hamburg. Did you work on Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony together during that time?
Yes, I worked on a lot of Bruckner with Simone. She was one of the first to really spark my love for this music. In fact, I was offered the position in Hamburg after she got me to conduct some of the Seventh Symphony while I was assisting her with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 2010. In Hamburg I also worked on the ‘Nullte’ or Symphony no. 0 (long story!), the Studiensinfonie, as well as the Second, Fourth, and Sixth Symphonies.