Anton Bruckner

1824–1896

Romantic

Bruckner was an Austrian composer who became well known for his symphonies and his church music. He was a humble man, and not very sure of himself – he was constantly revising his work, and he could never decide which version he liked best! Even today, scholars argue about which scores we should consider ‘final’. Do you think it’s important to pick just one ‘final’ version? Or is it okay for there to be two versions of the same symphony?

Some 19th-century composers (did somebody mention Wagner?) got a bit full of themselves, but Bruckner was always very respectful towards the other composers of his day, even though he was just as famous as they were. He wasn’t very comfortable with social etiquette, and didn’t always know the right things to do and say in formal situations. He once gave a tip to the celebrated (and rich) conductor Hans Richter after a performance – he meant it well, but Richter had been on a concert platform not behind the wheel of a taxi! It wasn’t quite the right thing to do…

Even though Bruckner was quiet and unassuming in person, his music is anything but. He loved experimenting with harmony, often tweaking things to create strange dissonances (clashes between notes) and modulations (moving from one key to another). Not everybody understood what he was doing at the time, and some people in the 19th century just dismissed his music as nonsense. It probably didn’t help that his symphonies were really long and featured lots of repetition. From today’s perspective, however, we can see that Bruckner was actually ahead of his time. None of his odd-sounding decisions are random; his music is complicated and thought out in great detail. In breaking new ground, he paved the way for many other radical composers, including Gustav Mahler.

Bruckner was also a skillful organist. He gave notable performances across Europe, and sometimes he would come up with ideas for his symphonies by improvising on the organ. Strangely he never composed much music specifically for the instrument, though; he preferred writing symphonies and choral music!

Anton Bruckner, courtesy of Benjamin Chai

Play Music!

Play Music!

See what you think of Bruckner’s works.

Symphony No. 7 in E major, WAB 107: IV. Finale: Bewegt, doch nicht schnell

This glorious symphony is full of positive energy. It is quite a long piece, so sit back and relax – and just wait for the brass instruments to come blasting in and pin you to your seat!

Performers: Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Georg Tintner

Taken from Naxos 8.554269

Locus iste, WAB 23

Locus iste is a sacred motet (a religious piece for voices). ‘Locus iste a Deo factus est’ translates as ‘This place was made by God’. Choirs enjoy singing the lovely lines, which are simple but effective.

Performers: Choir of St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street; Robert Jones

Taken from Naxos 8.550956

String Quintet in F major, WAB 112: I. Gemässigt

Bruckner didn’t write much chamber music, but this quintet is quite regularly performed. He wrote it in Vienna in 1878–9, and dedicated it to Duke Max-Emanuel of Bavaria.

Performers: Fine Arts Quartet; Gil Sharon, viola

Taken from Naxos 8.570788

Do You Know?

Do You Know?

See if you can answer the questions below!

 Which composer called Bruckner ‘half simpleton, half God’?

a. Wagner
b. Brahms
c. Mahler

 Which contemporary composer did Bruckner admire more than almost any other?

a. Wagner
b. Brahms
c. Mahler

 What instrument did Bruckner play?

a. Flute
b. Organ
c. Maracas

 How many movements do Bruckner’s symphonies have?

a. Three
b. Five
c. Four

 How many Masses did Bruckner write?

a. Three
b. Two
c. None


Key Facts…

Key Facts…
  1. Even Bruckner’s friends thought he was a bit unusual: Mahler called him ‘half simpleton, half God’!
  2. Bruckner asked many women to marry him during his lifetime – but not a single one of them said yes. Poor Bruckner!
  3. Bruckner could never let anything go – he revised his music over and over, causing no end of headaches for scholars these days.
  4. He composed 11 symphonies, although the last one is unfinished – he died before he could complete it.
  5. Bruckner loved singing in choirs, and he wrote lots of secular (non-religious) choral music for male voices. Sadly, very little of it is performed today.

Play More Music!

Play More Music!

Here is more music to listen to. Click the + to see tracks and information about each work!

Symphonies


Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, WAB 105

Although this magnificent symphony is one of Bruckner’s best-known pieces, he never heard it performed by an orchestra before he died. Imagine – all these glorious sounds that he created on paper, and he heard it played only on two pianos! Today, we’re lucky enough to hear it in full.

Performers: Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Georg Tintner

Taken from Naxos 8.553452


Symphony No. 7 in E major, WAB 107

Symphony No. 7 is well-known and well-liked. Like Bruckner’s other symphonies is quite long – but it is carefully planned, and has some amazing moments where the orchestra builds to a peak, every player going for it with huge energy and (perhaps) a smile! Listen from 9:24 to the end in the final movement (IV.), with the thrilling brass instruments. The sad slow movement (II.) was written with Wagner in mind (the older composer was close to death).

Performers: Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Georg Tintner

Taken from Naxos 8.554269


Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, WAB 109 (with finale reconstructed by Samale – Phillips – Cohrs – Mazzucca)

Dedicated to ‘God the Beloved’, this is perhaps Bruckner’s greatest symphony – although it wasn’t finished. He began it in 1887 but when he died in 1896 he left the fourth movement incomplete, and today various endings are performed.

Performers: Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Georg Tintner

Taken from Naxos 8.555933-34


Symphony No. 0 in D minor, (‘Nullte’) WAB 100

It’s unusual to have a symphony numbered 0! Bruckner himself said it didn’t count, and pretended he hadn’t written it. Why? Probably because an important conductor was mean about it, and Bruckner was hurt. He wasn’t very confident, so as soon as somebody suggested it wasn’t very good he believed them. What a shame! He was wrong… (It was published after his death – as ‘No. 0’ because it was thought he wrote it before No. 1. We now know it was actually the second one he wrote.)

Performers: National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland; Georg Tintner

Taken from Naxos 8.554215-16

Sacred Motets


Os justi, WAB 30

This sacred motet (a religious choral piece for voices) is still much performed today. It was originally written in 1879 – Bruckner finished it in a single day! It is comforting and gentle, with a great soaring soprano part which you can hear first around 0:32.

Performers: Choir of St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street; Robert Jones

Taken from Naxos 8.550956


Christus factus est, WAB 10

Another hugely popular sacred motet, Christus factus est was actually set three different times by Bruckner. WAB 10 is the one heard and sung most often.

Performers: Matthew Morley, organ; St. Bride’s Church Choir, Fleet Street; Robert Jones

Taken from Naxos 8.550956


Locus iste, WAB 23

Locus iste is perhaps even more popular than Bruckner’s other sacred motets. This may be partly because it’s quite easy to sing and enjoyable to listen to. ‘Locus iste a Deo factus est’ translates as ‘This place was made by God’.

Performers: Choir of St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street; Robert Jones

Taken from Naxos 8.550956


Ave Maria, WAB 6

Another beloved motet, this text is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was composed in 1861, and first performed in Linz Cathedral, where Bruckner was organist. It was a hit, right from the word go!

Performers: Choir of St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street; Robert Jones

Taken from Naxos 8.550956

Chamber Music


String Quintet in F major, WAB 112

Bruckner didn’t write much chamber music, but this quintet is quite regularly performed. He wrote it in Vienna in 1878–9, and dedicated it to Duke Max-Emanuel of Bavaria.

Performers: Fine Arts Quartet; Gil Sharon, viola

Taken from Naxos 8.570788


Intermezzo in D minor, WAB 113

The Scherzo of Bruckner’s String Quintet was judged to be too difficult by Joseph Hellmesberger, who commissioned the work, so Bruckner wrote this Intermezzo instead. These days it’s performed as a piece all on its own.

Performers: Fine Arts Quartet; Gil Sharon, viola

Taken from Naxos 8.570788


String Quartet in C minor, WAB 111

This quartet was actually written as a study piece for Otto Kitzler, Bruckner’s teacher, in 1862. Bruckner never tried to get it performed – that’s not why he wrote it. But the music was discovered during the 20th century and people hailed it as a gem.

Performers: Fine Arts Quartet

Taken from Naxos 8.570788

Secular Vocal Music


Helgoland in G minor, WAB 71

Most of Bruckner’s choral music is religious, but he did write a few secular pieces as well. This has words by an Austrian poet called August Silberstein; it honours the Saxon inhabitants of the ancient Heligoland, saved and set free from the Romans. The cantata (a piece for choir and orchestra) involves male singers only. Bruckner wrote it in 1893 and it was the last piece he ever completed.

Performers: Lund Student Singers; Malmö Opera Orchestra; Alberto Hold-Garrido

Taken from Naxos 8.572871