A “notable Event”
Premiere of the original version of Bruckner’s Third Symphony



Programme and admission ticket (top right) to the premiere of the Third Symphony in Kurhaus Bühlau
Document: Historisches Archiv der Sächsischen Staatstheater


A “notable event”:
Premiere of the original version of Bruckner’s Third Symphony in Dresden

Dresden at the end of 1946. The city was in ruins, the cold was bitter. And yet there was a ray of light in these hard times – an artistic ray, at least. The young Joseph Keilberth, who had arrived in Dresden in 1945 from Prague and stayed on as General Music Director, was at the rostrum of the Staatskapelle on memorable musical occasions. The orchestra had been evacuated to the city spas of Brambach and Elster in good time and so had survived the war and the bombing almost unscathed, but all its regular venues had been destroyed, leading Keilberth to take his musicians and his opera ensemble to Kurhaus Bühlau, a large hall on the edge of the city, and to the “Small House” of the Staatstheater in the more central district of Innere Neustadt. Not until 1948 could he move with the Staatskapelle into the city theatre’s rebuilt “Large House” to celebrate the orchestra’s 400th anniversary a stone’s throw from the Dresden Zwinger.

Keilberth-Zeichnung-Sturm Lindner for-web

Joseph Keilberth before the Dresden Staatskapelle.
Chalk drawing by Elsa Sturm-Lindner, c. 1946 Document: Historisches Archiv der Sächsischen Staatstheater Dresden

In the five years that Keilberth was in Dresden, which he regrettably left in 1950, he set new standards and undertook major initiatives in opera and concert performance. He worked tirelessly to build up the opera repertoire again (Edition Staatskapelle Dresden, Volume 6, is devoted to his Rusalka, while Volumes 1 and 2 of the Semperoper Edition provide a musical documentation of the post-war years including the 1948 performance of Fidelio) and directed most performances himself. The Staatskapelle concerts gave him the opportunity to continue the orchestra’s long Strauss tradition while introducing music from composers like Mahler, Hindemith, Bartók, Stravinsky and Shostakovich which, if not new, had certainly been banned in the “thousand-year Reich”. Alongside the symphonies of Beethoven, including frequent performances of the Ninth, he was a conductor – possibly the first! – who ventured to perform all Bruckner’s symphonies in the “original versions” that had appeared only a few years before.

Of particular note in this respect is December 1, 1946, the day on which Keilberth stood before the Staatskapelle (known briefly at the time as “Orchestra of the regional capital of Dresden”) to conduct the premiere of the original version of the Third Symphony in Kurhaus Bühlau. This won Dresden further laurels, following the premiere of the original version of the Sixth Symphony by the Dresdner Philharmonie under Paul van Kempen in 1935, as the home of Bruckner premieres.


A happy coincidence:
The premiere in Dresdenlicher Zufall – die Uraufführung in Dresden

The first complete critical edition of Anton Bruckner’s works by the Austrian musicologist Robert Haas was published in the 1930s, and as a result many of the symphonies’ “original versions” – largely freed, that is to say, from extraneous material – came to the notice of the music-loving public for the first time. Performances of these now almost obligatory versions were largely subject to the whims of the Nazi authorities; the Dresden Staatskapelle under Karl Böhm nevertheless made the first shellac recordings of the original versions of the Fourth and Fifth in 1936 and 1937 (released as Volume 32 of the Edition Staatskapelle Dresden). Thoroughly revised by Haas, the Urtext of the Third Symphony from 1873 was ready to go to print in 1944 – which proved impossible in the circumstances. The printing plates had been made up at the Musikwissenschaftlicher Verlag in Leipzig, but were destroyed in the war. However some proof copies had been taken, and these had survived the bombing. Accordingly, Keilberth was able to include his premiere of the Third in his complete Dresden cycle (save for “No. 0”) of Bruckner’s symphonies. It is most unlikely that the GMD had planned such an event – it was a stroke of luck that the restored symphony could be performed from the surviving copies.
The Third in particular had a tradition of its own in the Staatskapelle. It was the first Bruckner symphony that the “Royal Court Orchestra” under GMD Ernst von Schuch had performed (in the second version of 1877) in the Semperoper in 1885, laying the founda- tion for the orchestra’s continuing tradition of performing Bruckner’s works in its concerts. What is more, Bruckner had dedicated his original version of the symphony – embellished as it was with numerous Wagner quotations, which he largely eliminated from later versions – to Bayreuth’s “Master of all Masters”, who in the 1840s had himself stood at the head of the Dresden orchestra as Royal Kapellmeister.


1945 Keilberth Beethoven Fidelio Buehlau for web

Concertante opera performance directed by Joseph Keilberth in makeshift Kurhaus Bühlau, 1945.
The orchestra is at the same level as the audience, as there was no orchestra pit.
Photo: SLUB-Deutsche Fotothek Dresden


First reactions and late publication

The delayed premiere – just 50 years after Bruckner’s death – was in more ways than one a “notable event”, as Keilberth observed in his conducting diary in respect of the public dress rehearsal on November 30, 1946. After the following day’s concert he wrote: “Very fine perf[ormance], some revelation. Orchestra played 1st-class, favourable reception.”

The success was noteworthy, even if the new version did not find favour with all the critics. For instance, the reviewer of the Sächsisches Tageblatt judged it an “imperfect contribution by a composer still wrestling in his forties with the material and the practice of his craft … The monumental character of his music here seems elevated out of all proportion; the work’s contrapuntal life is still lacking in elaboration and density … When Bruckner repeatedly quotes his great role model Richard Wagner in this version, for all the heart-warming naivety of his nature, it remains hard to digest.”


General Music Director Joseph Keilberth.
Chalk drawing by Dresden press artist Elsa Sturm-Lindner, c. 1946
Document: Historisches Archiv der Sächsischen Staatstheater Dresden

There was unanimity, however, on the achievements of Keilberth and his orchestra:
“There was splendid musicianship from the Kapelle; the greatness of the design and the music was matched throughout by its rendition,” we read in the same review from the Sächsisches Tageblatt.
And the reviewer of Die Union came to the following conclusion:
“In any case, this was a performance which altogether corresponded to the honour, the privilege, of having won this premiere for Dresden … The Kapelle and its director were given the ovation they well deserved at the close of the hour and a half’s performance, which demanded the greatest concentration and dedication from its audience of a thousand. This premiere will go down in the history of the Bruckner movement.”

The performance did indeed go down in history – though this original version of the Third was to be consigned to oblivion for many years. Not until 1977, as part of the critical new edition of the works of Bruckner by Leopold Nowak, did it finally appear in print, after which it was gradually discovered – as an alternative to the extensively shortened, well established versions of 1877 and 1889. There has been an upsurge of interest in recent years in the “Wagner Symphony” that Bruckner originally wrote, as demonstrated by recordings under among others Eliahu Inbal (1983), Roger Norrington (1995 and 2007), Kent Nagano (2003), Jonathan Nott (2004), Simone Young (2007) and in particular by Herbert Blomstedt (2013), who had chosen the original version for his 1998 debut as head of the Gewandhaus Orchestra and played it with his Leipzig ensemble not long afterwards in the Semperoper. With this guest concert, one of the events held to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Saxony’s Staatskapelle, the former head of the Dresden orchestra paid tribute with his then newly acquired Leipzig musicians to the achievement of the “premiere orchestra”.
The first revival of the original version in the concert repertoire of the Staatskapelle took place ten years later, for the Kapelle’s 460th birthday in 2008 under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin. It has been captured for posterity on this live recording.

Tobias Niederschlag
Konzertdramaturg der Staatskapelle Dresden
© Text aus dem Booklet


The original version of Bruckner’s Third Symphony





Die EDITION STAATSKAPELLE DRESDEN ist eine gemeinschaftliche Dokumentationsreihe
der Sächsischen Staatskapelle Dresden, des Mitteldeutschen Rundfunks (MDR KULTUR)
und des Deutschen Rundfunkarchivs (DRA) in Zusammenarbeit mit der
Sächsischen Landesbibliothek. Staats und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden (SLUB).




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