Here the two great Catholics meet once again with their final works. Anton Bruckner was unable to complete his Ninth Symphony which he dedicated to “dear God”. Bernd Alois Zimmermann departed this life after he had finished the ecclesiastical action Ich wandte mich und sah an alles Unrecht, das geschah unter der Sonne.
A naïve faith is attributed to Bruckner while Zimmermann is regarded as a doubter and seeker who was particularly fond of reading the most sceptical book of the Bible, the Song of Solomon, to which he made reference in more than one of his compositions. When one listens to the music of both artists, composed almost a century apart, this view of Bruckner at least must be revised. His symphonies, especially the last one, are anything but than naïve. The hard seventh that the slow movement moves towards unremittingly with merciless determination can be heard as the human distress call that Schönberg regarded as the origin of art and the need for art. Its echo is amplified in Mahler’s Tenth Symphony and in Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto. There it leads to the quotation from the same Bach chorale with which Zimmermann ends his ecclesiastical action: “It is enough! Lord, if it pleases you, then grants me release.”
In the ecclesiastical action, which the composer intended should also contain stylised theatrical elements; the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk has been reduced to its most compact form. It includes two speakers who recite not only Bible texts but also an extract from Dostoyevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor specifically the section in which the title “hero” meets Christ who has returned to Earth. Their argument yields no reconciliation or settlement. The persecutor and he who was once persecuted cannot agree: the divine and the human cannot ultimately get along and yet they cannot exist without each other. What leads someone to believe in God because he doesn’t exist? With the Münchner Philharmoniker and Valery Gergiev this eternal existential question is explored by artists renowned for their boundless intensity.