Day 65: Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major (Barenboim)


This morning starts a brand new symphony as well as the next 16-day leg of my 144-day journey through the symphonic works of Austrian composer Anton Bruckner (1824-1896).

My listening space this morning is Baker Book House, one of the largest and greatest bookstores in the Midwest.

Their hours are 7am to 11pm.

Let that sink in for a moment. Seven in the morning until 11 at night. No other bookstore in America (to my knowledge) keeps hours like that.

bakerbookhouseshelvesdec6Few regular stores keep hours like that, let alone a book store.

The used section, alone, here at Baker is larger than most libraries.

Doubt me? Take a look.

Yeah. See?

Add in the shelves and shelves of new books and you have…Baker Book House.

If you’re a book lover (as I am) this place is the Holy Grail of bookstores.

Which is why my own home looks like this:


And why my wife thinks I’m crazy.

But that’s another story.

Anyway, so here I am at 7:45am, at Baker Book House, spreading out on a table, and listening to…

Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 in B-Flat Major (WAB 105) conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

From its entry on Wikipedia, we learn:

The Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major (WAB 105) of Anton Bruckner was written in 1875–1876, with a few minor changes over the next few years. It was first performed in public on two pianos by Joseph Schalk and Franz Zottmann on 20 April 1887 at the Bösendorfersaal in Vienna. The first orchestral performance – in a non-authenticated version (‘Schalk-version’), a.o. with a changed orchestration in a Wagnerian fashion and with omitting 122 bars of the finale – was conducted by Franz Schalk in Graz on 8 April 1894 (Bruckner was sick and unable to attend: he never heard this symphony performed by an orchestra). It was dedicated to Karl von Stremayr, minister of education in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The symphony is sometimes referred to as the “Tragic”, “Church of Faith”, or “Pizzicato” symphony.

Hello! Did someone say “pizzicato”?

Ooh, boy. My cup runneth over.

I love pizzicato!

I’m not a big fan of “tragic,” and I can even do a “church of faith” if need be.

But pizzicato is my Kryptonite. I melt when I hear an orchestra’s string section playing pizzicato. It just uplifts me, makes me smile.

book_barford_bruckner_bbcRegarding the symphony itself, I turn to the excellent little book titled Bruckner Symphonies by Philip Barford,

Classical tonality is a relationship between moving sounds with respect to a tonic centre. The determining factors in tonality are primary orientations defining this centre. Thus it is possible for Beethoven, in his First Symphony, to sound cadences in IV, VI and V before actually sounding C major, the key of the symphony. The three “related keys” of C major really define the tonic focus of C before C is actually heard in explicit tonic function. In the romantic tonality of Chopin and Wagner, the concept of a system of related keys tends to dissolve in the flux of shifting harmonies.

This is what seems to happen in the Fifth Symphony, and especially in the remarkable first movement, which has an astounding introduction laying out, in the space of fifty bars, a series of massive harmonic contradictions. Yet the movement begins and ends in B flat, and the exposition of themes ends in F, the dominant.

This is why I’m doing this 144-day project. I love learning things.

Okay. Back to Argentine-born pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim (1942-).

I first encountered the renowned conductor Day 1.

Then again on Day 17.

And again on Day 33.

And again on Day 49.

If you want to know about Daniel Barenboim and what I thought of his work with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on the first four Bruckner symphonies, there you go. Click on each day listed above.

Barenboim represents the start of a new cycle for me. So, by the time I get back to Barenboim I’m ready for a change. And he’s a breath of fresh air.

Before I expel too much air (something else my wife sometimes objects to), I’d better get back to my format: the nuts and bolts first. Then my opinions.

So here’s what I’m listening to this morning:

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 in B-Flat Major (WAB 105) composed in 1875-1876
Daniel Barenboim conducts
Barenboim used the 1878 version
Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducts
The symphony clocks in at 75:39 (but doesn’t deserve a “Yikes!” modifier because it’s just a longer symphony – at least, that’s my guess at this point)
This was recorded in Chicago at Orchestral Hall in December of 1977
Barenboim was 35 when he conducted it
Bruckner was 51 when he finished composing it
This recording was released on the Deutsche Grammophon label

Of the 1878 version, its entry on Wikipedia reads,

1878 version
This is the version normally performed. It exists in editions by Robert Haas (published 1935) and Leopold Nowak (published 1951) which are almost identical.

Bruckner wrote his symphonies in four parts. The time breakdown of this one (Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major, 1878 version), from this particular conductor (Barenboim) and this particular orchestra (Chicago Symphony Orchestra) is as follows:

I. Introduction (Adagio) — Allegro. B-flat major……………………………21:25
II. Adagio. Sehr langsam. (Very slowly) D minor……………………………17:18
III. Scherzo. Molto vivace D minor…………………………………………………13:17
IV. Finale (Adagio) — Allegro moderato. B-flat major…………………..23:39

Total running time: 75:39

Okay. Now for the subjective stuff…

My Rating:
Recording quality: 4
Overall musicianship: 5
CD liner notes: 4 (short essay in three languages)
How does this make me feel: 3

This symphony will take me a little time to get into. It’s longer. It’s more complex. And, aside from the familiar pizzicato, I didn’t hear any of the usual magic spots – the pieces of music that grab my attention immediately, and – by which – I usually judge all subsequent listenings.

Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major didn’t grab me in that way. Not yet, anyway.

However, what this sounds like to my ears is a piece of music that uses more instruments. Or, at least, uses them in different, broader ways. I’m hearing a lot of sounds in this symphony. It seems – again, at first blush – to be a symphony that plays to the strengths of many musicians in the orchestra because it’s written in such a way that more instrument types stand out.

I’ve heard Barenboim’s interpretation of Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony twice through this morning.

I like it. But I can’t say I’m blown away by it.

Nor do I know why it’s nickname is “Tragic.”

I’ll save that for another day in my journey.


  1. Jörg

    Hi Bill,

    I found out on facebook about your extremely cool project. Just to let you know: There is another “Gesamtaufnahme” of the Nine.

    Take a close look at it. It’s definitely worth listening. Not only because of the execellent liner note by me ;)))

    Have fun and best wishes from Munich, Germany!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Jörg!

      And thanks for the info on Pentatone and the Marek Janowski box set. (I clicked on the link and read about both. I liked what I saw.)

      I don’t think I was aware of the Marek Janowski set when I started this project. Or, if I was, I may have chosen not to buy it because of the SACD format. I don’t have an SACD player. According to its entry on Wikipedia, the SACD format was deemed a failure by the industry. That’s why finding an SACD player these days is difficult, and why they’re very expensive if I can find one. (At least in the States. I don’t know how it is in Germany.)

      I don’t recall how/why the Janowski set didn’t become part of my project. I had the idea for this six months ago. And I can barely remember what I did six hours ago. 🙂

      But I like what I read about it on the Pentatone site. If I had known about it, I might have called this site 153 Days With Bruckner And Me.

      Given what I’ve read about the Janowski set, I think I may buy it and listen to it immediately after the 144 days are up. I may call them a “Bonus” conductor. Or a “Bonus” nine more days. Sort of a 144 + 9 deal. It wouldn’t be a fair assessment, though. Binge-listening to one conductor after hearing all others might give undue preference to Janowski.

      But I think I’ll risk it.



      P.S. If I was part of the Pentatone label I’d re-think their commitment to the SACD format. I’d switch to Blu-ray audio or some kind of (lossless) FLAC. A commitment to high-quality audio is admirable. A commitment to the CD format is brave, given so many companies are going to downloads or vinyl. But, to my knowledge, Blu-ray audio provides better quality sound than SACD. So why hold onto a format that’s no longer popular?

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