Bruckner - Insanity & Ambition Target
In recent years, classical composers have become fair targets for the most outlandish theories, all of them of an incendiary nature. The source of this abuse is academia, who replaced responsibility and common sense with radical outrageousness. Once such joker is Benjamin Korstvedt. “Fanfare” magazine recently reviewed his edition of Bruckner’s 4th. I responded with a letter, which challenged their uncritical and erroneous approval of the its legitmacy. They refused to print it. Given the importance of the issues involved, I’m posting it on the net.
March 29, 2006
Is Robert McColley the most gullible person in the world? At issue is the authenticity of the Schalk/Lowe version of Bruckner’s mighty 4th Symphony (Fanfare, Vol. 29, #4). It seems McColley’s read Benjamin Korstvedt’s article, “The First Published Edition of Anton Bruckner’s Forth Symphony: Collaboration and Authenticity” (19th Century Music, Vol. XX, No. 1) which seeks to prove that that version’s the real deal – Bruckner’s signed, sealed & delivered final word on the piece.
As it happens, anyone with one whit of familiarity with the details of the composer’s life and work would have no problem shooting Iraqi road-side-bomb-sized holes in Korstvedt’s dubious little theory; in fact, his big article and current claim to fame grew out of his grad school theses, and that gives us a clue about its true colors.
If you’ve had a peek at academia and its activities over the last couple of generations, you know that the Publish or Perish dictum pretty much rules the lives of our wonderful university professors. Among its many perverse and toxic effects have been to foster an environment where you can pretty much make up anything you want and get it published, as long as you do it in a professional manner. Want to call George Washington a homosexual? Think Queen Victoria was really a man? Dwight Eisenhower drank blood? No problem. Marshal a tight argument, trot out some evidence, and away you go.
Getting the Schalk/Lowe version of Bruckner’s Forth accepted as authentic Bruckner would really catapult Benny’s career, which’s why he launched the whole idea in the first place.
So, what proof does Korstvedt present? Not a hell of a lot. Mostly, he pours scorn on anyone who’s rejected Schalk/Lowe’s hatchet job as a mere arrangement of Bruckner’s real score; including Schalk’s wife Lili, who was actually there and knew what was going on. As for Robert Haas – forget about it – he’s right up there with the greatest murdering tyrant scum of history.
When he’s not being nasty, he dredges up some musicological and biographical facts, and then concludes that simply mentioning them means his arguments are true. Finally, he even contradicts his own data; as, for example, when he tries to establish a time-line for the beginning of work on the Schalk/Lowe arrangement, a crucial part of Korstvedt’s premise.
The entire matter isn’t lacking a kind of ironic humor. McColley had me ROTFLMAO, as they say these days, with his remark that Bruckner was, contrary to common opinion, a brawling badass; took no jive from anyone – ready to beat the crap outta anyone messin’ with his scores.
Yeah, right. In fact, as Bruckner Remembered (Stephen Johnson) demonstrates, the composer was indeed far from the ridiculously obsequious figure he’s generally regarded as being; but, like it or not, that element was present in his behavior and personality. In reality, he was as complex an individual as any other human being, and perhaps more so than most. Unfortunately, our habit of reducing historical figures to a single convenient dimension violates their humanity and obscures any true understanding of their work.
But, Hulk Hogan Bruckner? Bruiser Bruckner? Again, McColley bases his gullible notions on one of Korstvedt’s weaker little pronouncements. This one appeared in Benny’s Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 book, where, to support his goofy theories that the corrupt first editions of Bruckner’s works really weren’t corrupt, Korstvedt serves up an anecdote; and then, in typical fashion (you have to read Korstvedt’s articles to really appreciate how reflexively he does this), he puts his own flim-flam spin on it.
What actually happened was that Bruckner shook a fist when talking about other folks messing with his scores. That’s it. This - and only this - is the foundation of the entire Anton ‘The Killer’ Bruckner argument.
You could take that same anecdote and come to entirely an different conclusion; one truer to the facts; namely, that it was yet another tragic moment in the aging composer’s life, which exhibited all to clearly his impotence in dealing with his cadre of meddling admirers, all of whom had their own agendas, that didn’t necessarily include Bruckner’s best interests.
Instead of mining the little anecdote for the light it might shed on the composer’s inner thoughts – the implication that Bruckner was quite angry with the evil cabal of admirers swarming around him, while simultaneously dealing with his a private hell of cognitive dissonance because of his inability to dominate matters in his life – Korstvedt merely takes it as just another bit of flotsam to use for his own career advancement.
No doubt, Korstvedt (and McColley) might disagree with all of this. We could wrangle all day about these things, but here’s the bottom line. You don’t have to be a scholar to do it. You don’t have to be an expert. All you need is solid familiarity with Bruckner’s music and your little ol’ golden ears. When it comes to deciding the authenticity of any of the discredited first editions, all you have to do is listen. Yup, just LISTEN to the music. And, then, ask yourself whether it sounds like Bruckner’s work or not.
In case of the Schalk/Lowe arrangement of the 4th, Korstvedt’s entire house of cards comes crashing down hard when put to this simple test. That score doesn’t sound like any of the prior versions of the work. It doesn’t sound like any versions of ANY of Bruckner’s symphonic compositions. What does it sound like? It sounds EXACTLY like another not-by-Bruckner hatchet job – the Schalk arrangement of the 5th. And, by exactly, I mean ZACTLY - right down to the smallest, prissy woodwind doubling, which’s exactly how Robert Simpson described it: “triplets rippling prettily up and down…Bruckner cannot have committed such a crime”. No, but that didn’t stop Korstvedt.
Commodore de Cavaille-Coll
Thank you for sharing the review on a book about Bruckner. I do get disgusted with *hit jobs* aimed at composers who have written such masterful works. Bruckner was not a ladies man(seducer) like Liszt or Chopin. He had a faith-based view of the world he lived in. Vienna was and is no easy place for those who differ from the mainstream hedonism. Thusly, he was singled out for ridicule. Vienna was not ready for the musical Titan that he was.
Bruckner is one of my favourite composers - but not everybodys... To people who don't know the music of Bruckner, the biggest disadvantage is that his symphonies is very long. It's a bit like Mahlers music - just more