Furtwangler Symphony #1 reminds me of Bruckner #5

Wilhelm Furtwangler was a famous conductor and apparently stayed in Germany during WWII despite opposing war. He composed three symphonies, and I have CD's of all three, but I wanted to talk about #1, in B Minor, about 75 minutes.

Video: (no score available)

Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Alfred Walter, posted by Last-Notes, licensed by Naxos.

The first movement is marked Lento but really is more like a Moderato and is quite brooding, with two expansive theme groups.

The Scherzo says in B-minor and sometimes is lighter.

The "slow movement" in G, is very expansive and has a main theme that will sound familiar. There may be a Schumann piece that is similar.


The finale (Moderato Assai) is again very expansive. The first theme sounds capable of fugal treatment, but the second lyrical theme will dominate at the end. After the recapitulation there is an expansive Coda that is like another development based on the lyrical theme that sounds like driving up a mountain. But at almost the very end, Furtwangler seems to quote the final brass chorale statement at the very end of Bruckner's Fifth (a half step lower in B-flat) almost literally, making the material in the two works feel interchangeable. But Furtwangler ends on loud chords with drums, not just octaves.

Some commenters on YouTube find Furtwangler's work dense and tedious compared to Bruckner and Mahler. Bruckner was more accomplished with counterpoint and maybe unresolved dissonances.

Atkinson gives a detailed analysis of the fugal finale of the Bruckner 5th. Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink.

I heard the Minnesota Orchestra perform the Bruckner 5th (only work on the program, guest conductor) in 2001 when living in Minneapolis (in the Churchill on the Skyway!)

(Posted: Saturday, April 23, 2022 at 11 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)