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Anton Bruckner (4 September 182411 October 1896) was an Austrian composer known primarily for his symphonies, masses, and motets. His symphonies are often considered emblematic of the final stage of Austro-German Romanticism because of their rich harmonic language, complex polyphony, and considerable length. They have gained detractors (especially in English-speaking countries) owing to their large size, repetition, and the fact that Bruckner, sometimes with the assistance of his colleagues, produced several versions of many of his works, of which the composer often seemed indecisive which he preferred.

Bruckner's biography is unusual for a composer, and commentators have struggled to settle on a straightforward account of his life and music. Many anecdotes portray Bruckner as a country bumpkin, with conservative manners and mores that were strikingly out of step with those of cosmopolitan Vienna. On the other hand, Bruckner's music helped to define musical radicalism at the time, owing to its dissonances, unprepared modulations, and roving harmonies. Unlike other radicals, such as Wagner or Hugo Wolf who fit the enfant terrible mold, Bruckner showed extreme humility before other musicians, Wagner in particular. Many musicians and writers have struggled to accommodate these different facets of Bruckner, often with different pictures emerging according to their different levels of sympathy to Bruckner's music. It is only relatively recently that Bruckner has become fully respected in his own right, neither the musical "drunkard" portrayed by the conservative Hanslick nor as the "half-baked" genius that many of his allies believed him to be.

Biography Edit

Anton Bruckner was born in Ansfelden on September 4, 1824. His father, a schoolmaster and organist, was his first music teacher. Bruckner worked for a few years as a teacher's assistant, fiddling at village dances at night to supplement his income. He studied at the Augustinian monastery in St. Florian, becoming an organist there in 1851. He continued his studies to the age of 40, under Simon Sechter and Otto Kitzler, the latter introducing him to the music of Richard Wagner, which Bruckner studied extensively from 1863 onwards. Bruckner's genius, unlike that of a child prodigy (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for example), did not appear until well into the fourth decade of his life. Furthermore, broad fame and acceptance did not come until he was over 60. A devout Catholic who loved to drink beer, Bruckner was out of step with his contemporaries. He had already in 1861 made acquaintance with Liszt who, like Bruckner, was religious and who first and foremost was a harmonic innovator, initiating the new German school together with Wagner. Soon after Bruckner had ended his studies under Sechter and Kitzler, he wrote his first mature work, the Mass in D Minor.

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In 1868 he accepted a post as a teacher of music theory at the Vienna Conservatory, during which time he concentrated most of his energies on writing symphonies. These symphonies, however, were poorly received, at times considered "wild" and "nonsensical". He later accepted a post at the Vienna University in 1875, where he tried to make music theory a part of the curriculum. Overall, he was unhappy in Vienna, which was musically dominated by the critic Eduard Hanslick. At that time there was a feud between those who liked Wagner's music and those who liked Brahms's music. By aligning himself with Wagner, Bruckner made an unintentional enemy out of Hanslick. He did have supporters; famous conductors such as Arthur Nikisch and Franz Schalk constantly tried to bring his music to the public, and for this purpose proposed 'improvements' for making Bruckner's music more acceptable to the public. While Bruckner allowed these changes, he also made sure in his will to bequeath his original scores to the Vienna National Library, confident of their musical validity. Another proof of Bruckner's confidence in his artistic ability is that he often started work on a new symphony just a few days after finishing another.

In addition to his symphonies, Bruckner wrote masses, motets and other sacred choral works, and a few chamber works, including a string quintet. Unlike his romantic symphonies, Bruckner's choral works are often conservative and contrapuntal in style.

Bruckner was a very simple man, and numerous anecdotes abound as to his dogged pursuit of his chosen craft and his humble acceptance of the fame that eventually came his way. Once, after a rehearsal of his Fourth Symphony, the well-meaning Bruckner tipped the conductor Hans Richter: "When the symphony was over," Richter related, "Bruckner came to me, his face beaming with enthusiasm and joy. I felt him press a coin into my hand. 'Take this' he said, 'and drink a glass of beer to my health.'" Richter, of course, accepted the coin, a Maria Theresa thaler, and wore it on his watch-chain ever after.

Bruckner was a renowned organist in his time, impressing audiences in France in 1869, and England in 1871, giving six recitals on a new Henry Willis organ at Royal Albert Hall in London and five more at the Crystal Palace. Though he wrote no major works for the organ, his improvisation sessions sometimes yielded ideas for the Symphonies. He taught organ performance at the Conservatory; among his students were Hans Rott and Franz Schmidt. Gustav Mahler, who called Bruckner his "forerunner", attended the conservatory at this time (Walter n.d.).

Bruckner died in Vienna in 1896. He never married, though he proposed to a number of astonished teenage girls. He had a morbid interest in dead bodies, at one point cradling the head of Beethoven in his hands when Beethoven was exhumed. He left extensive instructions that he was to be embalmed.

Anton Bruckner Private University for Music, Drama, and Dance, an institution of higher education in Linz, close to his native Ansfelden, was named after him in 1932 ("Bruckner Conservatory Linz" until 2004). The Bruckner Orchester Linz was also named in his honor.

Works Edit

Sometimes Bruckner's works are referred to by WAB numbers, from the Werkverzeichnis Anton Bruckner, a catalogue of Bruckner's works edited by Renate Grasberger.

The revision issue has generated controversy. A common explanation for the multiple versions is that Bruckner was willing to revise his work on the basis of harsh, uninformed criticism from his colleagues. This explanation was given enormous cachet when it was championed by Bruckner scholar Robert Haas, who was the chief editor of the first critical editions of Bruckner's works published by the International Bruckner Society; it continues to be found in the majority of program notes and biographical sketches concerning Bruckner. It was however sharply criticized by scholars such as Haas's successor Leopold Nowak, Benjamin Korstvedt and conductor Leon Botstein who argue that Haas' explanation is at best idle speculation, at worst a shady justification of Haas' own editorial decisions.

Symphonies Edit

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Bruckner's Symphonies are all in four movements, starting with a modified sonata form allegro, a slow movement, a scherzo in 3/4 time, and a modified sonata form allegro finale. (In the Eighth, Ninth, and one version of the Second, the slow movements and scherzi are reversed.) They are scored for a fairly standard orchestra of woodwinds in pairs, four horns, two or three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani and strings. The later symphonies increase this complement, but not by much. Notable is the use of Wagner tubas in his last three symphonies. With the exception of Symphony No. 4, none of Bruckner's Symphonies has subtitles, and most of the nicknames were not thought up by the composer. Bruckner's works are trademarked with powerful codas and grand finales, as well as the frequent use of unison passages and orchestral tutti. His style of orchestral writing was criticized by his Viennese contemporaries, but by the middle of the 20th century musicologists recognized that Bruckner's orchestration was modeled after the sound of his primary instrument, the pipe organ.

Otto Kitzler, Bruckner's last composition teacher, set him three final tasks as the climax of his studies: a choral work, an overture, and a symphony. The latter, completed in 1863, was then Bruckner's Study Symphony in F minor. Bruckner later rejected this work, but he did not destroy it. While it certainly reminds one of earlier composers such as Robert Schumann, it undeniably also bears the hallmarks of the later Bruckner style. Kitzler simply commented that the work was "not very inspired". It was first performed in 1924 and not published until 1973 and is usually listed as Symphony No. 00.

Bruckner's Symphony No. 1 in C minor (sometimes called by Bruckner "das kecke Beserl", roughly translated as "the saucy maid" [1]) was completed in 1866, but the original text of this symphony was not reconstructed until 1998. Instead, it is commonly known in two versions, the so-called Linz Version which is based mainly on rhythmical revisions made in 1877, and the completely revised Vienna Version of 1891, which begins to reveal his mature style, e.g. Symphony No. 8.

Next was the so-called Symphony No. 0 in D minor of 1869, a very charming work which was so harshly criticized that Bruckner retracted it completely, and it was not performed at all during his lifetime, hence his choice for the number of the symphony.

The Symphony No. 2 in C minor was revised in 1873, 1876, 1877 and 1892. It is sometimes called the Symphony of Pauses for its dramatic use of whole-orchestra rests, very nicely accentuating the form. In the Carragan edition of the 1872 version, the Scherzo is placed second and the Adagio third.

Bruckner presented his Symphony No. 3 in D minor, written in 1873, to Wagner along with the Second, asking which of them he might dedicate to him. Wagner chose the Third, and Bruckner sent him a fair copy soon later, which is why the original version of this Wagner Symphony is preserved for us so nicely despite revisions in 1874, 1876, 1877 and 1888/1889. One thing that helped Wagner choose which Symphony to accept the dedication of was that the 3rd contains quotations from Wagner's music dramas, such as Die Walküre and Lohengrin. These quotations were taken out in revised versions.

Bruckner's first great success was his Symphony No. 4 in E flat major, more commonly known as the Romantic Symphony, the only epithet applied to a symphony by the composer himself. The 1874 version has been seldom played and success came only after major revisions in 1878, including a completely new scherzo and finale, and again in 1880/1881, once again with a completely rewritten finale. This version was premiered in 1881 (under the conductor Hans Richter). Bruckner made more minor revisions of this symphony in 1886-1888.

Bruckner's Symphony No. 5 in B flat major crowns his most productive era of symphony-writing, finished at the beginning of 1876. The original version seems unrecoverable and we know only the thoroughly revised version of 1878. Many consider this symphony to be Bruckner's lifetime masterpiece in the area of counterpoint. For example, the Finale is a combined fugue and sonata form movement: the first theme (characterized by the downward leap of an octave) appears in the exposition as a four-part fugue in the strings and the concluding theme of the exposition is presented first as a chorale in the brass, then as a four part fugue in the development, and culminating in a double fugue with the first theme at the recapitulation; additionally, the coda combines not only these two themes but also the main theme of the first movement.

Symphony No. 6 in A major, written in 1879-1881, is an oft-neglected work; whereas the Bruckner rhythm (two quarters plus a quarter triplet or vice versa) is an important part of his previous symphonies, it pervades this work, particularly in the first movement, making it particularly difficult to perform.

Symphony No. 7 in E major was the most beloved of Bruckner's symphonies with audiences of the time, and is still popular. It was written 1881-1883 and revised in 1885. During the time that Bruckner began work on this Symphony, he was aware that Wagner's death was imminent, and so the Adagio is slow mournful music for Wagner, and for the first time in Bruckner's oeuvre, the Wagner tuba is included in the orchestra.

Bruckner began composition of his Symphony No. 8 in C minor in 1884. In 1887 Bruckner sent the work to Hermann Levi, the conductor who had led his Seventh to great success. Levi, who had said Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony was the greatest symphony written after Beethoven, believed that the Eighth was a confusing jumble. Bruckner revised the work, sometimes with the aid of Franz Schalk, and completed this new version in 1890.


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The final accomplishment of Bruckner's life was to be his Symphony No. 9 in D minor which he started in April 1891, and which he dedicated "To God the Beloved." The first three movements were completed by the end of 1894, the Adagio alone taking 18 months to complete. Work was delayed by the composer's poor health and by his compulsion to revise his early symphonies, and by the time of his death in 1896 he had not finished the last movement. The first three movements remained unperformed until their premiere in Vienna (in Ferdinand Löwe's version) on February 11, 1903.

Bruckner suggested using his Te Deum as a Finale, which would complete the homage to Beethoven's Ninth symphony (also in D minor). The problem was that the Te Deum is in C Major, while the 9th Symphony is D Minor, and, although Bruckner began sketching a transition from the Adagio key of E Major to the triumphant key of C Major, he did not pursue the idea. There have been several attempts to complete these sketches and prepare them for performance, as well as completions of his later sketches for an instrumental Finale, but only the first three movements of the Symphony are usually performed.

Sacred choral works Edit

Bruckner wrote a Te Deum, settings of various Psalms (including Psalm 150 in the 1890s), various motets (among them settings of Christus Factus Est and Ave Maria), and at least seven Masses. His early Masses were usually short Austrian Landmesse for use in local churches and did not always set all the numbers of the ordinary. The three Masses Bruckner wrote in the 1860s and revised later on in his life are more often performed. The Masses numbered 1 in D minor and 3 in F minor are for solo singers, chorus and orchestra, while No. 2 in E minor is for chorus and a small group of wind instruments, and was written in an attempt to meet the Cecilians halfway. The Cecilians wanted to rid church music of instruments entirely. No. 3 was clearly meant for concert, rather than liturgical performance, and it is the only one of his Masses in which he set the first line of the Gloria, "Gloria in excelsis Deo", and of the Credo, "Credo in unum Deum", to music. (In concert performances of the other Masses, these lines are intoned by a tenor soloist in the way a priest would, with a psalm formula).

Other music Edit

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As a young man Bruckner sang in men's choirs and wrote music for them. This music is rarely played. Biographer Derek Watson characterizes the pieces for men's choir as being "of little concern to the non-German listener". Of thirty such pieces, Helgoland is the only secular vocal work Bruckner thought worthy enough to bequeath to the Vienna National Library.

The Overture in G minor is occasionally included in recordings of the Symphonies, and it is one of the works Bruckner wrote during his apprentice with Otto Kitzler. At that time he also wrote a March in D minor and three short orchestral pieces. These works already show hints of Bruckner's emerging style.

A String Quartet in C minor was discovered decades after Bruckner's death, but is only of interest as a student composition. The later String Quintet in F major, contemporaneous with the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, has been frequently performed.

There is an orchestral Symphonic Prelude that is sometimes attributed to Bruckner and sometimes to Mahler. It was discovered in the Vienna National Library in 1974 in a piano duet transcription and later orchestrated by Albrecht Gürsching. It is likely the work of one of Bruckner's students.

Bruckner's Two Aequale for three trombones is a solemn, brief work.

He also wrote Lancer-Quadrille for piano. Among his most unusual and evocative compositions is the choral Abendzauber (1878) for tenor, yodelers and four alpine horns. It was never performed in Bruckner's lifetime.

Reception in the 20th Century Edit

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The study of Bruckner today remains prominent among orchestrators and composers to address the problems Bruckner encountered in an age when the orchestra itself was expanding in size.

The National Socialists approved of Bruckner and Hitler even consecrated a bust of Bruckner in a widely photographed ceremony in 1937 at Regensburg's Walhalla temple. This was in part because Hitler, like Bruckner, hailed from near Linz -- Hitler from Braunau-am-Inn, Bruckner from Ansfelden. In addition, Bruckner, like Hitler, idolized Wagner and Hitler also identified with Bruckner as an artist rejected by the establishment in Vienna (which included Jews). Thus Bruckner's humble origins and Wagnerism were emphasized while his religiousness was downplayed. When Herbert von Karajan wanted to play Bruckner's Fifth Symphony in Aachen together with the motets, the Party disapproved. The Adagio from Bruckner's 7th Symphony was broadcast by the German radio (Deutscher Reichsrundfunk) upon announcing the news of Hitler's death on May 1, 1945.

Among the conductors most associated with the works of Bruckner are (in chronological order of birth):

  • Bruno Walter: acted as an "ambassador" for Bruckner in the United States; made celebrated recordings of symphonies 4, 7 and 9 late in his career; wrote an essay on "Bruckner and Mahler".
  • Carl Schuricht: made celebrated recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra late in his career.
  • Otto Klemperer: made one of the first two recordings of Bruckner (the adagio of the Eighth Symphony from 1924 [2]); recorded symphonies 4-9 with the Philharmonia Orchestra; 4, 6 and 7 are especially widely recommended.
  • Wilhelm Furtwängler: made his conducting debut with the Ninth Symphony in 1906; conducted Bruckner constantly throughout his career; many unofficial live recordings of symphonies 4-9 available.
  • Hans Knappertsbusch: was unusual in continuing to perform the first published editions of Bruckner's symphonies even after the critical editions became available.
  • Eugen Jochum: associated more with Bruckner than any other composer; recorded all the symphonies multiple times.
  • Herbert von Karajan: conducted Bruckner throughout his career; made many recordings. His final recordings of the 8th and 7th symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic show him at his most impressive. His style was concerned with structure, control, a sense of architecture and depth.
  • Takashi Asahina: has an almost (and deserved) cult-like status for his Bruckner recordings with the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra and other Japanese and foreign orchestras. His style is at once distinctive and in a true Bruckner tradition. He recorded many of the Bruckner symphonies numerous times on a variety of Japanese and associated labels.
  • Günter Wand: another conductor primarily identified with Bruckner; made many recordings, in Cologne, Hamburg and latterly, just prior to his death, Munich and Berlin. A range of video performances also attest to his unforced, natural and unaffected - yet completely convincing - style.
  • Sergiu Celibidache: conducted Bruckner's symphonies with extraordinary breadth late in his career; recordings of symphonies 3-9 with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra were posthumously released.
  • Carlo Maria Giulini: his recordings of symphonies 2 and 7-9 are widely admired.
  • Georg Tintner: received acclaim late in life for his complete cycle of recordings on the Naxos label.
  • Stanisław Skrowaczewski: recorded a celebrated cycle of the symphonies on the Arte Nova label - having conducted Brucker symphonies globally for decades.
  • Bernard Haitink
  • Eliahu Inbal
  • Daniel Barenboim
  • Giuseppe Sinopoli

Bruckner's symphonic works, much maligned in Vienna in his lifetime, now have an important place in the tradition and musical repertoire of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

Because of the long duration and vast orchestral canvas of much of his music, Bruckner's popularity has greatly benefited from the introduction of long-playing media and from improvements in recording technology.

Quotes Edit

"They want me to write differently. Certainly I could, but I must not. God has chosen me from thousands and given me, of all people, this talent. It is to Him that I must give account. How then would I stand there before Almighty God, if I followed the others and not Him?"
-Anton Bruckner [3]
"In the war waged in Vienna between the factions of Wagner and Brahms, Bruckner strayed into the battlefield and became the only casualty."
-Erwin Doernberg
"Why did they burn Brünnhilde at the end?"
-Bruckner, attending a performance of Wagner's Die Walküre, became so completely immersed in the music he lost track of the narrative.
"Bruckner: half simpleton, half God."
-Gustav Mahler
"a German writer has said that he was half a Caesar and half a village schoolmaster; such men are, in art or life, difficult to place."
-Percy Scholes

See alsoEdit

Sound samplesEdit

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ReferencesEdit

  • Bruckner, Anton. Symphony No. 8/2, c minor, 1890 version. Edited by Leopold Nowak. New York: Eulenberg, 1994.
  • Gilliam, Bryan, The annexation of Anton Bruckner: Nazi revisionism and the politics of appropriation, in Bruckner Studies edited by Timothy Jackson and Paul Hawkshaw.
  • Korstvedt, Benjamin M. Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 19.

External links Edit

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