Szell, George: Comments about Anton Bruckner

Szell, George: Comments about Anton Bruckner
The following article appeared in the February, 1971 issue of Gramophone:

During the 1960s, when he was recording with the Cleveland Orchestra in Severance Hall, George Szell liked to relax after a session, discussing various musical subjects. On some occasions, he allowed a tape machine to be left running, and the following comments are taken in transcript from conversations with the CBS producer Paul Myers.

On Bruckner

. . . and that leads me to ramble on to another problem which is much discussed both here and in Europe: this is the question of the versions of the Bruckner Symphonies. It is incontestable that the Ninth Symphony by Bruckner first came to us in a version which was very different from the one Bruckner himself composed, and yet I am heretic enough to say I don't think every correction Ferdinand Loewe makes - and I happened to know Ferdinand Loewe quite well; he was a very good musician - I don't happen to think that all his corrections are very wrong. He went much too far, according to present day thinking and standards, in trying to help the composer, but in many of the other symphonies a great deal of mischief is being wrought by the musicologists (who unfortunately are not musicians), and I am quite sure I'll cause a great deal of enmity in these statements [with a laugh], but I can't help it. It is too obvious, and I can say only that I have on my side all those musicologists who are at the same time musicians, or shall we say the musicians who are musicologically educated. For instance, take the case of the Bruckner Third. We know exactly what Bruckner's last will was, if we can put it this way, as far as his Third Symphony is concerned. This is the version with which we have grown up, and if I say 'we', I mean my generation and those of my generation who grew up where I did, in Vienna, among and surrounded by the people, by the musicians who were very close to Bruckner - a whole lot closer than the young gentlemen who, both in England and in America, pretend to know so much about it and were born thirty and forty years later and actually have no idea what they are talking about! To forbid a composer self-correction, to forbid a composer to have second thoughts, and to forbid a composer to accept well-meant and justified advice, consciously and without pressure, is simply preposterous.
In my time in Vienna - that is, at the beginning of the century where I grew up before the first World War (doesn't this make me sound terribly old?) - it would never have occurred to any sane-minded person to mention Bruckner and Mahler in the same breath. People associate them for superficial reasons. They both came from the territory of the old Austro-Hungarian empire, they both wrote long symphonies, they both wrote nine symphonies, and both names end on 'er' - maybe that has something to do with it - but they couldn't be more dissimilar. A phenomenon like Bruckner, whom we really can consider only as the innocent receptacle of divine grace and not equipped with very much or very high intelligence - was actually a very primitive, peasant-like person. One most beautiful story is that when he received a decoration from the old Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria and was received in audience too thank for it, very affably, the Emperor asked him whether there was anything he could do for him. So Bruckner naively said: "Yes, if your Majesty could do something about Hanslick, that he doesn't pan me all the time". Hanslick at that time being the most powerful music critic of the town and of the time. And, on the other hand, Gustav Mahler was exactly the opposite - a highly sophisticated intellectual - they couldn't be more dissimilar.