Home page‎ > ‎

Bruckner 9th symphony - completion of the Finale (2008)


Anton Bruckner

Thesis (french version)

"My completion of the Finale to Anton Bruckner's Ninth Symphony" (Introduction of the Thesis).


The first time I heard Bruckner's unfinished Finale, I felt not only all the greatness but also the exceptional and huge potential that arises from the score despite its truncated state.

For his ultimate symphony, Bruckner planned an ambitious and masterly Finale whose concluding apotheosis would be a summation of his symphonic work. Although some interpreters consider the adagio (the third movement) to be a satisfactory conclusion to the symphony, there is not the slightest doubt that until his last day Bruckner intended his Ninth Symphony to have not three but four movements.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt made a complete recording of the work in August 2002 with the Wiener Philharmoniker, presenting a « workshop » in reference to the work done by the Australian musicologist John Alan Phillips on the Finale  under the name of « Dokumentation des Fragments » published by the Musikwissenschaftlicher Verlag Wien.

        This recording was for me the very first "catch" with the Finale. Harnoncourt's sharping and involved interpretation, the massive presence of the Vienna Philharmonic's qualities were indeed evidence of something. The second "catch" happened in 2007, with the encouragements of Nicolas Couton, a young French conductor, when we listened to the creation of the new last version of the Finale prepared by Benjamin Gunnar Cohrs and Nicola Samale, creation that took place in Aachen (Germany) and was played by the symphony orchestra of the city under the baton of Marcus Bosch.

The different realizations that I had heard until then, including the Cohrs/Samale version, always let me very puzzled. Of all the versions made until now, from my point of view, the Cohrs/Samale of 2006 [1] was to be considered as the least disappointing. To be precise, it was mostly and principally the level of its musical inspiration that I continued to have doubts about.  When leaving Aachen's Church of Sankt Nikolaus that was still resonating from the concert, although still convinced by some of the improvements added to the preceding version 1992 rev. 1996 (Samale-Phillips-Cohrs-Mazzuca) but on the other hand quite disappointed by the coda, I confided to Nicolas Couton my desire to throw myself in a new but totally different completion ; the coda quite obviously to my mind needed a revitalising and conclusive build-up in tension which I found in none of the existing completions (also including William Carragan's 1 and 2, Nors S. Josephson and P.J. Marthé) of the time.

From May to September 2007, I worked on a first version which shortly after I greatly modified, by changing number of orchestral details, by having a shorter recapitulation of the choral in the coda (28 bars instead of 36) and by inserting in the « coda of the coda » the « Halleluja » theme taken from the Scherzo's Trio. 

The score was finished in August 2008 with some last slight modifications made in November/December of the same year after my version's premiere recording in October with the MAV Symphony Orchestra Budapest.

Every realization of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony obviously cannot be compared to what Bruckner himself would have achieved, especially a Bruckner in full possession of his intellectual powers. Indeed, we know that his health declined in the last two years of his life and that the slow and laborious work on the Finale caused him difficulties.

Every ideal having the aim of the most scrupulously respect or at least declaring itself as such a work's musicological basis but no matter how praiseworthy this ideal might be, it sometimes, I believe, can even end in absurdity either by following the road of a certain purist ideology or by being too rigid although it is particularly concerned about completing a work of such a stature as this. As far as I was concerned, I wanted to avoid any obtusely rigorous quirkiness and keep to the line between scrupulous respect for the manuscript sources and necessary speculative composition and strictly marked out invention.

The main purpose it seemed to me was to attain the best *inspiration* as possible ; since this music essentially has a transcendent range, this inspiration has to be found as possible from an aesthetic intimacy with the composer's compositional technique which more than obviously must guide and direct the work's every step. I do not claim however to have satisfied these conditions in an absolute or totalising way. Nonetheless I hope that anyone who listens to my completion will realize in it the devotion and the love for this incomparably great symphonist that Bruckner was.

Finally, I would like to express my infinite gratitude to Nicolas Couton and Lionel Tacchini for their help and valuable friendship.


Many of Bruckner's manuscripts, drafts and bifolios available in the « Finale Faksimile Ausgabe » edited by Leopold Nowak for the Musikwissenschaflicher Verlag Wien (MVW) were used as the main source for this new completion of the Finale to Bruckner's Ninth Symphony.

Other documents, theses and realizations have also been studied. They constitute an important amount of objective informations although sometimes appearing as highly questionable as much as on the hypothetical level as on that of the musical realization. Nevertheless, my own reflection always taken nourishment from these other sources.

[1] Slightly modified, corrected and edited in 2008 (SC 2006/2008), shortened again in 2011 for the recording of Simon Rattle with the Berlin Philharmonic made in 2012 (EMI).


Documentary realized in Linz, Ansfelden, Saint Florian and Vienna in July 2013

Notes to my Completion of the Finale to Anton Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony


I want to make it quite clear that my completion of the Finale of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony is based strictly on Bruckner’s own material. I have orchestrated my realization as faithfully and discretely as possible. There are two main aspects to understanding the process of this completion:


Firstly, besides having to fill in some of the orchestration of the existing parts, there are six gaps in the development/recapitulation that have to be speculatively reconstructed by the recreation of coherent links. The gaps are located (the timings refer to this recording)


                                i.            at the transition between exposition and development (pedal tone on E: 7’11”-7’57”),

                               ii.            in the middle of the first part of the development (8’42”-8’55”),

                             iii.            at the end of the fugue (stretto: 11’13”-11’43”),

                             iv.            in the recapitulation at the transition to the third group (16’36”-16’47”),

                              v.            in the middle of the third group (choral theme played by the oboe: 17’40”-18’07”) and

                             vi.            at the tense transition to the coda (18’38”-19’02”).


My forthcoming thesis will give a bar-by-bar explanation of the musicological thinking and meaning behind my completion and additions, as well as give details of the reconstruction phase.


Secondly, my elaboration of the coda, however, shares neither the same task nor the same concern about the question “what would Bruckner have done” because it is quite simply impossible to know or to guess. We only have a few sketches of and some vague testimonies (Heller, Auer and Graf) about the Finale’s continuation, and we know nothing even about the precise number of bars, so these sources hardly give any idea of the global structure Bruckner had in mind. Nevertheless, I felt that this part of the Finale had to be as important as those in the Finales of the Fifth and Eighth Symphonies. My extrapolated coda in four parts (of 36, 28, 36 and 59 bars respectively), although only allowing itself to use the thematic contents and motives from the Finale itself, in my construction is partly inspired by the codas of the Fifth and Eighth Symphonies.


The coda begins with a long crescendo based on Bruckner’s 24-bar sketch which is built on a tritonic progression and which is linked thematically to the very beginning of the movement. I prolong this to 36 bars by adding another 12 bars of my own that culminate with the quotation of the main theme from the Eighth Symphony (first part: 19’06”-20’22”).


The second part begins (20’23”-21’11”) with the last appearance of the chorale,  i.e. the third group’s main theme, which is treated in the same manner as the Fifth Symphony with integrated quotations of the main themes of the opening movements of the Fifth (20’34”-20’39”) and Seventh Symphonies (20’51”-20’57”).


The third part (21’12”-22’21”) begins with a four-bar sketch of Bruckner that recalls the coda (violins and brasses) of the Finale of the Fourth Symphony. The continuation is based on the saltus duriusculus (insistent repetitions of descending sixths and sevenths) of the Finale’s beginning (0’48”-1’04” corresponding to the passage in the coda: 21’32”-21’46”). It is followed by the same rhythmic and thematic progression as in the exposition of the first thematic group but elaborated from one of Bruckner’s last sketches dated May 1896. It consists of a harmonic outline and a metrical structure of 16 bars (21’47”-22’21”). It is combined with the “heroic” motive (trumpets) that was heard for the first time at the end of the development (horns: 12’54”). The third part brutally ends on a climactic dissonant chord (parrhesia abruptio at 22’15”).


The fourth part, the “coda of the coda” (22’23”-24’43”), builds on a long and static D pedal, as Bruckner probably intended, which is a sort of mysterious and ethereal remembrance of the first movement’s coda, being a long crescendo based on what I identify as the “Halleluja theme” (2 Horns and 2 Wagner Tenor Tubas at 22’29”-23’11” and then after 2 trumpets at 23’12”-23’30”). As Richard Heller, Bruckner’s doctor, testified, a majestic “Alleluia” was to conclude the Ninth Symphony. Indeed Bruckner explained to Heller that the Finale had to end with “a song of praise dedicated to the dear Lord” based on a theme from the second movement. At the time Bruckner played passages of the finale on the piano to Heller however, was the order of the inner movements ‘scherzo-adagio’ or ‘adagio-scherzo’? We have neither a clear nor certain answer. In my opinion, this “Halleluja” theme seems to find its origin in the trio of the Scherzo (violins 1, bar 53 letter B / idem, bar 205 letter H – cellos-bassoon 1, bar 113 letter D) and not in the Adagio.


Finally, the coda culminates on the same violent Neapolitan E flat dissonance as in the first movement and leads to a coagmentatio in D major of the four main themes of the work (fourfold piling-up at 24’04”), crowning the whole work exactly as in the Eighth Symphony. Note also that some small details have been rewritten or modified in the score of the whole movement after this first recording was made.


Concerning this coagmentatio, Max Graf wrote after consulting some hypothetically lost manuscripts in possession of Franz Schalk that there was "a 'Haupthema' (whether the first or the fourth movement's is unclear but most probably the first), a 'Fugenthema' (certainly the Finale's Fugue), a 'Choral' (also certainly the Finale's) and the 'Quintenthema' of the Te Deum and once these four themes are even combined all together (übereinandergestellt), there is a quadruple superposition (eine vierfache Thürmung) as we find at the end of the Eighth Symphony." Max Graf was a music critic and Max Auer, who also mentioned the same combination (probably repeating what he read from Graf), was a dilettante only. One can reasonably say that both these "amateurs" should not be considered as critical or musicological researchers. Furthermore, the idea of a coagmentatio of the four main themes of the symphony has now been discarded by the Australian musicologist, John Alan Phillips who considers Auer's and Graf's writings about this subject not very relevant. [2] 


However, having no satisfaying alternative, the idea of a "Halleluja" theme culminating with a coagmentatio of the four main themes of the symphony remains for me the most structurally convincing and the most musically effective possibility. Two other combinations that use the Te Deum motive, the chorale, the first movement's main theme and the fugue theme from the Finale as described by Graf/Auer have been easily realized but have been discarded because they are musically unsatisfaying (see these two musical examples in my forthcoming thesis).


In his thesis [3], John Alan Phillips broaches the subject about the substitution problem for the Finale as planned by Bruckner (who was extremely troubled about the idea of dying) in the middle of the third thematic group (recapitulation) : a sudden transition for the insertion of the Te Deum … Obviously, this solution can not be taken seriously into account because of the question of the proportions and musical coherence: the duration of the Te Deum is approximately 25 minutes. What would such an “intrusion” mean after hearing ¾ of the Finale (about 18 to 20 minutes)? I think we can understand it as a kind of capitulation by the composer after realizing that because of his inability he could not simply elaborate the coda in a sufficient scope and that he could not revise the work right from beginning to end as was once his practice; now he could never manage to fix his ideas in a fully satisfactory musical form without a lot of extra work. Indeed this Finale can sometimes leave the same impression of a work “not fully arrived at” or of a state “still to be realized” like the first versions of the Third (1873-74) Fourth (1874) and Eighth Symphonies (1887).


The reasons for the Bruckner's difficulty in finishing his Ninth Symphony were probably a combination of physical and mental disorders. Nonetheless, this music still fascinates, although it is incomplete, as much by its grandeur, its power as by the wrenching enigma of its incompleteness. We acknowledge the same problem with another extraordinary symphony which, left unfinished at the composer’s death and although entirely sketched out, leaves this strange and enigmatic feeling of a process held forever in suspension. Of course, I mean the Tenth Symphony of Mahler.



[2] John A. Phillips – Bruckner's Ninth Revisited Thesis, University of Adelaide, 2002; "Source (lost) of a Themenüberlagung" §3.1.10, E/138, II and "The Themenüberlagung" in §3.3.7

[3] John A. Phillips – ibid.; “The Te Deum as Ersatz” §1.1.11 and “The conjectural Te Deum transition” §3.3.8