Shortly after the completion of the first version of his 8th Symphony in Vienna in the summer of 1887, Anton Bruckner began work on the composition of his 9th Symphony. Preliminary drafts date to September 12, 1887, but even for the very conscientious Bruckner the work progressed very slowly, which can be explained by the extensive revisions and new orchestrations of his earlier symphonies during the same period. In November 1894 Bruckner completed the 3rd movement, the "Adagio". The last symphonic movement which he was to complete and which he himself called his "farewell to life".
For the next two years, until his death on the morning of October 11, 1896, he worked on the finale, which was largely mapped out. However, further completion of the symphony was increasingly interrupted by his deteriorating health. When Bruckner realized that he probably wouldn't be able to complete the finale, he requested his "Te Deum" to be performed instead of the finale. Today, however, the 9th Symphony is almost generally concluded with the Adagio, whose unfathomable depth opens up a new world previously undreamt of in music.
According to information from his physician Dr. Heller, Anton Göllerich and his biographer Max Auer, Bruckner is said to have said shortly before his death, "You see, I have already dedicated two earthly majestic symphonies... And now I dedicate my last work to the majesty of all the majesties, the beloved God, and hope that he will give me so much time to complete the same."
Why an organ transcription of the 9th Symphony?
In the 19th century, and well into the 20th century, organ transcriptions served primarily to make a usually new, large orchestral work known to a wide audience. At first there were no sound recordings, later they were rare, expensive and often of poor quality. And smaller towns in particular did not have their own orchestra concerts.
Here the local organist was the one to perform these new works on the organ, making them accessible to the musically interested public. Especially in England and parts of France, the organ was also seen outside of its religious context and as a concert instrument. It was found in many town halls to entertain the educated bourgeoisie, and such performances enjoyed great popularity.
Today one could argue that great orchestral works are accessible everywhere in their original versions, interpreted by the best orchestras, in good sound recordings, as well as the many live performances. Concerts with organ transcriptions therefore have a completely different significance in modern times. Above all, they revive the tradition of the organ concerts of the 19th century, in which, as already mentioned, arrangements always played an important role.
And in doing so, these live organ performances do not allow this great European and American musical tradition to be lost, a tradition that is threatened to disappear due to the mechanization and rationalization of the world. They provide a new aspect of the work for the listener, which thus enables him to interpret in a new way.
This is an aspect that seems particularly important for repertoire works that have been played often. For this reason, Arnold Schönberg, for example, has arranged orchestral works by Gustav Mahler for chamber music ensembles. This is also a way of compelling the listener to concentrate anew on the content of the musical substance of a work. And it is in this sense that my organ versions of the nine symphonies of Anton Bruckner are to be understood. They are not intended as a substitute for the orchestral versions, but rather as new organ symphonies especially written for the organ and its tonal possibilities.
Apart from this, a performance of Bruckner's symphonies on the organ is of course also an exciting musical experience. After all, how does a single interpreter succeed in performing a symphony, which is otherwise played by a large symphony orchestra, on his instrument alone? On the instrument that Bruckner particularly loved and from whose sonorities he developed all his symphonies. It is a well-known fact that Bruckner always used themes for his symphonies in his ingenious organ improvisations.
An impressive experience of Bruckner's art of improvisation is described by his composition student of many years, Friedrich Klose, "Anyone who has ever heard Bruckner improvise on the organ will be able to appreciate what an overwhelming impression it must have made on me, the young musician, how he intoned a strangely windy erupting theme, processed it into an artistic fugue and heightened it. Crowning the imposing sound structure with a mighty organ point."
By presenting Bruckner's symphonies on the organ, his music thus returns to the framework in which it was written. It brings us closer to the original process of the work's creations, elevates us and at the same time opens up a new intellectual and visionary space.