Two forms of (spatial) experience are presented in the concert programme of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam under conductor Manfred Honeck: the extensive and the intensive. The extensive seeks breadth in all aspects of the composition: breadth of sound, form, time, layers of thought and metamorphoses of character. Bruckner’s symphonies are masterful displays of the expansive exploitation of a musical space, each in its own way. In its first version, the Third, the “Wagner Symphony”, is the most expansive of all. It does not confine itself to familiar territory. Bruckner dedicated it to the musical dramatist he revered and emphasised this with a series of quotations in particular from Tannhäuser: his first, overwhelming encounter with “The Master”, as he called him, and his tonal language. Bruckner transposed theatrical invention into purely instrumental form and he transforms the dramatic finger pointing of the stage work into material for an orchestral debate.
In the later version the composer removed any explicit references to Wagner’s operas, yet the Third remained a “Wagner symphony” all the same. The early version offers the advantage of brave directness and genuine clarity and it offers an insight into Bruckner’s laboratory. Both in its scale and in with its combination of original and adapted material it seems like a manifesto for the “new symphony” that Gustav Mahler and his friend Hans Rott – who died young – subscribed to.
By contrast the intensive experience searches for ways and means of encapsulating the vision of a vast space in a kind of magnetic core. Webern’s short string pieces are masterpieces of such compression, in which a single gesture can represent an entire complex of thoughts. In his Altenberg Lieder Berg eschews the pathos of the sublime without taking anything away from his artistic ambition. Alban Berg’s Altenberg Lieder capture the passions and ecstasies of Wagner’s music dramas in epigrammatic brevity, in romanticism under high pressure.