Anton Bruckner

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Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) was an Austrian composer primarily known for his sacred choral music and his nine symphonies. A detailed biography can be found at Wikipedia [1].

Choral music

Bruckner was brought up after the death of his father in the monastery of St Florian. Here he was organist and composed a large number of works for choir, some of which have instrumental accompaniment. They are characterised by a simple and clear presentation of the text alongside more adventurous use of harmony and are Bruckner's personal expression of his strong Catholic faith. The most frequently performed of his motets today are Locus iste, Os justi, Christus factus est and the second of his Ave maria settings. The majority of his motets are scored for conventional four-part chorus with occasional divisi, and are firmly in the tradition of Catholic vocal music. Indeed, Bruckner had an interest in the music of the Renaissance and earlier and this can be heard in his use of modes (Os justi in particular) and in the style of melody used. The overall style of his church music tends to feature mostly homophonic textures with a little counterpoint, but not to the extent it is featured in his later symphonies. Bruckner also used the accompaniment of brass instruments, particularly trombones, in a few of his motets.




Bruckner came to writing orchestral music relatively late on in life, after he had been writing religious music. The nine symphonies were written in succession and are numbered consecutively in catalogues of his work. They are all in four movements following the sonata allegro - slow movement - scherzo - finale plan. Bruckner did not quite complete the final movement of the Ninth before his death, although there are various completions of the piece. One important note is that the self-critical Bruckner revised his symphonies, often several times, on the 'advice' of friends and critics who suggested 'improvements' to his music. This means that there are multiple, differing, versions of each which can cause confusion both in reference and in the question of what the composer's final intentions actually were.


Bruckner's characteristic style of orchestration owes much to his occupation as an organist. The orchestra is often used as 'blocks' of sound by grouping particular instruments together, in the manner of organ stops. Bruckner's orchestra is small by the standards of his time, usually featuring double woodwind and a conventional brass section. In the Seventh Symphony this is augmented by the addition of Wagner tubas and cymbals.


In his thirties, Bruckner began taking formal composition lessons from Otto Kitzler and felt confident enough to write large orchestral works. His first attempt was never performed or published in his lifetime and was intended as a 'study symphony' to mark the end of his student years. Kitzler is reported to have been pleased with Bruckner's attempt but acknowledged the piece's shortcomings. The work is nowadays referred to as the Symphony No.00.

Bruckner's first performed and first canonical symphony was composed in 1866, although revised twice in 1877 and 1891. It is a conventional four-movement piece lasting about 40 minutes and is scored for a conventional orchestra the size of that used by Beethoven. Although the overall style owes much to Schumann and a little to Brahms, there are also hints of the growing influence of Wagner and Liszt on Bruckner.



Instrumental music