Anton Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony can perhaps be considered his farewell to life. While he completed the first three movements of his final work, the finale remained unfinished at his death. But did Bruckner sense that this work would be his last? Let’s dig a little deeper.
Bruckner was known to not have confidence in himself or his work. He often doubted his achievements and would laboriously re-work his compositions to follow the advice of his peers, even when the advice was unfounded. With his Ninth Symphony, Bruckner spent a significant amount of time trying to figure out just how to conclude his work. He contemplated using his Te Deum from 1884 but soon dismissed the idea. When he died, he left hundreds of sketches for the finale that his student Ferdinand Löwe ended up re-working and publishing in 1903. Sadly, Löwe destroyed the original, this publication barely resembling Bruckner’s original ideas for the piece. It wasn’t until years later that Bruckner’s Ninth received a performance true to the original score, without a finale. Scholars believe that the three-movement version stands alone beautifully, the Third Movement harkening back to some of Bruckner’s earlier works including the Mass in D Minor and the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. Is it possible that Bruckner subconsciously knew that his end was on the horizon, thus creating the perfect “farewell” movement with reflections from his past musical accomplishments?
Although some have attempted to reconstruct the finale for Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony, it is most commonly performed as a three-movement symphony in concert halls today.