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    Source of Bruckner citation on the diminished seventh

    Dear all


    Can anyone locate the source of the following:

    "Bruckner used to say that the diminished seventh was like the Orient Express: it could take you rapidly in the most distant places" [quoted in Aldwell and Schachter. In the 2nd ed. it is on p.561]


    Dr. Yosef Goldenberg

    Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance

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    • 4 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • According to my friend Ben Korstvedt, this source seems to come from Schwanzara's volumne of Bruckner's lectures:

      Schwanzara, Ernst, ed. Anton Bruckner: Vorlesungen über Harmonielehre und Kontrapunkt an der Universität Wien. Vienna: Österreichischer Bundesverlag, 1950.

      See also Dika Newlin, "Bruckner the Teacher." Chord and Discord 2/9 (1960): 35-38 (in particular p. 38, where the diminished seventh chord and "Musical Orient Express" are quoted.

      Eric Lai

      Baylor University

    • The quotation apparently disappeared in Aldwell and Schachter, 4th edition. It is mentioned in Derek Watson, The Master Musicians: Bruckner, (1975), OUP 1998, p. 23, but without source.

      I had browsed through Schwanzara's volume (which lacks an index of notions) in search of this quotation, but did not find it. I didn't even find where Bruckner would speak specifically of the diminished seventh. But I'll seek further.




    • I found it! It is on p. 281 of Ernst Schwanzara (ed.), Anton Bruckner. Vorlesungen über Harmonielehre und Kontrapunkt an der Universität Wien, Osterreichischer Bundesverlag, Wien, 1950:

      Bekanntlich besteht die chromatische Skala auf zwolf Tönen. Jeder der drei verminderten Septakkorde hat vier enharmonische Gestalten, von welchen jede in eine andere Tonart führt. Und da bekanntlich drei mal vier zwölf ist, so kommt man in alle zwölf Tonärten. Mit einem einzigen Akkord kommt man sofort, wohin man will. Der verminderte Septakkord ist der musikalische Orientexpreßzug.
      It is well known that the chromatic scale consists in twelve notes. Each of the three diminished seventh chords has four enharmonic forms, of which each leads to another key. And as it is know that three times four is twelve, so one comes in all twelve tonalities. With only one single chord one comes directly where one wants. The diminished seventh chord is the musical Orient Express train.

      These are almost the last words that Bruckner has to say on Harmony: there follow two pages of exercises on enharmonic modulation, followed by the short section on Counterpoint which begins on p. 284.

      Nicolas Meeùs




    • Yosef Goldenberg's question lead me to wonder why Bruckner called he diminished seventh chord the "musical Orient Express", saying that the chord can lead anywhere, while (1) each of the three diminished sevenths obviously can lead to only four tonalities, and (2) the train obviously only leads to where it was meant to go.

      The Express d'Orient made its first trip through Europe in 1883, going from Paris through Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest and Bucarest; the travellers took there a first boat to cross the Danube, then another train to Varna in Bulgaria, where they took a second boat to cross the Bosporus to Constantinople. The whole trip took about four days. The train immediately was named in German the Orient-Express-Zug, but it retained its original French name of Express d'Orient at least until the end of the 19th century. From 1889 onwards, the train journey was complete from Paris to Constantinople, with additional stops in Belgrade and Sofia. In 1894, another track was created from Ostende through Brussels to Vienna, where the train joined the Orient Express.

      This is all what Bruckner may have known of the Orientexpreßzug. The train indeed lead to many places, with a dozen stops. It certainly did not lead "where one wants", however. But it must have appeared as a symbol of freedom and luxury -- quite more expensive, certainly, than a mere diminished seventh.