Anton Bruckner


Anton Bruckner

Born: 4 September 1824, Ansfelden (Linz), Upper Austria
Died: 11 October 1896, Vienna

Born Josef Anton Bruckner on 4 September 1824 in the village of Ansfelden, Austria, Anton Bruckner was an organist, teacher, and composer who would come to be known for his unique interpretations of sacred and secular choral music. With a range so daring and dynamic, Bruckner’s music possessed an epic — though remarkably economical — quality that stood in sharp relief of many of his contemporaries.

The son of a village schoolmaster and organist in Upper Austria, young Bruckner took to music as a child. By the age of 10, he was competent in the violin and spinet, and would regularly perform on the church organ. Upon the death of his father in 1837, Bruckner entered St. Florian monastery-school as a choir boy, which would remain a spiritual sanctuary deep into his adult life. St. Florian housed a magnificent organ upon which Bruckner would devote many hours. Though he embarked for nearby Linz in 1840 to complete training as a schoolteacher, he returned to St. Florian a few years later in 1845 and would teach there for nearly a decade. In 1848, he became principal organist of the abbey church, all the while carefully crafting his compositional skills. Though the cloistered environment hampered his musical prospects, Bruckner was hesitant to leave the security of its confines for a strictly musical career.

Through the persuasion of some friends, a reluctant Bruckner was encouraged to apply for the position of organist at the Old Cathedral in Linz in 1856. He secured the post handily and stayed on until 1868. During Bruckner's tenure here, he would study counterpoint and advanced harmony under Simon Sechter, and, in 1860, would become the conductor of the Frohsinn choral society. It was also during this period that Bruckner would blossom into a major composer. His intense studies under Sechter complete in 1861, Bruckner would awe judges at an organ examination in Vienna and soon after astonish his audience with the Frohsinn’s performance of his seven-part Ave Maria in Old Cathedral on 12 May of that same year. An artistic breakthrough, the work showcased a new sense of compositional freedom and depth. Bruckner would then go on to pursue rigorous study of orchestration and form with Otto Kitzler, during which time he also delved into the works of contemporaries Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner — the latter making a deep impression on Bruckner. It was during this period that he would compose the first of three choral-orchestral masses, the Mass in D Minor which premiered in the Old Cathedral in Linz on 21 November 1864 and was deemed his first composition as a fully mature composer. Two years later, Bruckner completed his Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, along with his Mass in E Minor, and by 1868, with the addition of his Mass in F Minor, his triptych of great festive masses was complete.

Throughout his life Bruckner displayed an intense spiritual devotion, a guiding principal that fuelled his inspiration and sustained the intensity with which he dedicated himself to constant study and revision, and the compulsion to constantly improve upon his compositions. But his fervour made for a somewhat odd juxtaposition to his overall persona. Bruckner was seen as a rather unusual figure in comparison to his more sophisticated contemporaries. He was described as possessing something of a social naiveté, and presented himself without ostentation as a rural Austrian, in dress and in accent. And although his compositional prowess could not be doubted, Bruckner was plagued by an unrelenting sense of insecurity and sought external validation for his musical abilities throughout his adult life. The psychological burden of such pressure contributed to a severe nervous breakdown in 1868, from which he spent three months recovering in a sanatorium and would combat intense depressions later on. His personal life was also troubled by a series of unrequited attachments to younger women, often teenage girls. Moreover, he was known for a macabre streak that showcased a morbid fascination with death and dead bodies, in particular the skulls of some famous musical counterparts such as Beethoven and Schubert.

In 1868 Bruckner took up a professorship at the Vienna Conservatory, where he succeeded his former teacher Sechter. Here he instructed in harmony and counterpoint and was well liked by his students for his engaging and singular style of teaching. By 1875, he was awarded a long desired appointment as lecturer at the University of Vienna and elected member of the Hofkapelle in 1878; his principal chamber music work, the String Quintet in F Major, was completed the next year. In 1884, conductor Arthur Nikisch’s premiere of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E Major in Leipzig marked a defining moment for Bruckner. From that point on, his musical fortunes hit a high note. Soon his other symphonies garnered him unprecedented acclaim and, by the early 1890s, Bruckner was certifiably a celebrated and famous figure in Vienna. He would go on to be awarded an honorary doctorate of philosophy from the University of Vienna in 1891, five years before his death in 1896 at the age of 72. At his request, he was buried in the crypt of the monastery church at St. Florian, immediately below his beloved organ.

While Bruckner is considered emblematic of the final stage of Austro-German Romanticism due to the rich harmonic language and polyphonic character of his massive symphonies, their dissonances, unprepared modulations and roving harmonies also looked forward to modern musical radicalism.

Online Performances

Musical selections curated by our founding director, Professor Franz Szabo.

Te Deum in C major. WAB 45
Anna Tomowa-Sintow, soprano; Agnes Baltsa, mezzo-soprano.
David Rendall, tenor; José Van Dam, bass-baritone.
Wiener Singverein
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Herbert von Karajan, conductor
Record in the Großer Saal of the Musikvereins, Vienna, 1978 

Requiem in D minor, WAB 39
Ilze Paegle, Soprano; Bernadeta Sonnleitner, mezzo-sporano;
Matthias Müller, Tenor; Ralf Ernst, Bass
Gemischter Chor Biberist
contrapunkt chor AdHoc
Orchestra Ilze Paegle
Maija Breikša, conductor
Live from the Catholic Church in Muttenz, Switzerland, 11 June 2011 

(Locus iste, WAB 23; Christus factus est, WAB 11;
Virga Jesse, WAB 52; Os iusti, WAB 30; Ave Maria, WAB 6)
SWR Vokalensemble
Marcus Creed, conductor
Live from Speyer Cathedral, Speyer, Germany, 27 May 2017
Schwetzinger SWR Festspiele 

Mass No. 1 D minor, WAB 26
Lucy Crowe, soprano; Jennifer Johnston, mezzo-soprano
Toby Spence, tenor; Günther Groissböck, bass
Bavarian Radio Choir
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
John Eliot Gardiner, conductor
Live from the Gasteig Concert Hall, Munich, 30 May 2014 

Mass No. 2 in E minor, WAB 27
WDR Radio Choir
Wind ensemble of the WDR Symphony Orchestra
Stefan Parkman, conductor
Live from the Cologne Philharmonie, Cologne, 7 December 2019 

Mass No. 3 in F minor, WAB 28
Anita Hartig, soprano; Helena Rasker, mezzo-soprano
Sebastian Kohlhepp, tenor; Tareq Nazmi, bass
Netherlands Radio Choir
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Edo de Waart, conductor
Live from the TivoliVredenburg, Utrecht, 8 February 2019 

Quintet for Strings in F Major, WAB 112
Tomas Cotik, violin; Haelee Joo, violin;
Brett Deubner, viola; Christiano Rodrigues, viola;
Stephen Balderston, cello
Live from the Round Top Festival Institute Concert Hall, 6 July 2019
Round Top Music Festival, Round Top, Texas 

Prelude and Fugue for Organ in C minor. WAB 131
Matthias Giesen, organ
Live from the Church of St. Francis, Rhodes, Greece, 27 September 2015
Terra Sancta Organ Festival 

Prelude for Organ in D minor, WAB 130
John Paradowski, organ
Played on the Wm. Schuelke Organ at St. Francis of Assisi Church,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 3 November 2013. 

Postlude for Organ in D minor, WAB 126/1
Augustinus Franz Kropfreiter, organ
Played on Bruckner's organ in Saint Florian Abbey, Upper Austria, 1983 

Symphony No.”0” in D Minor, WAB 100
Frankfurt Radio Symphony
Paavo Järvi, conductor∙
Live from the Alte Oper Frankfurt, 24 March 2017 ∙ 

Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, WAB 101
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra
Paavo Järvi, conductor
Live from the Alte Oper Frankfurt, 7 February 2013 

Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, WAB 102
Liza Ferschtman, violin
Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen
Kees Bakels, conductor
Live from the Concertgebouw Brugge, Bruges, Belgium, 10 February 2015 

Symphony No. 3 in D minor, WAB 103
NDR Symphony Orchestra (today NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester)
Günter Wand, conductor
Live from the Elbe Philharmonie, Hamburg, Germany, 3 October 1992 

Symphony No. 4 in E flat major "Romantic", WAB 104
Staatskapelle Dresden
Herbert Blomstedt, conductor
Live from the Semperoper, Dresden, Germany, 2 July 2017 

Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, WAB 105
Concertgebouw Orchestra
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor
Live from the Concertgebow, Amsterdam, 27 October 2013
Harnoncourt’s final concert with the Concertgebouw
With introduction by violist Michael Gieler (in Dutch with subtitles)
Concert begins at 11:20 

Symphony No. 6 in A major, WAB 106
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor
Live from Eberbach Abbey, Eltville, Hesse, Germany, 19 June 2016
Opening concert of the Rheingau Music Festival 2016 

Symphony No. 7 in E major, WAB 107
Andris Nelsons, conductor
Live from the Gwandhaus, Leipzig, Germany, 11 March 2018
Gewandhausfestwochen: celebrating the 275th anniversary of the concert hall 

Symphony No. 8 in C minor, WAB 108
WDR Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeckconductor
Live from the Kölner Philharmonie, Cologne, Germany 8 February 2019 

Symphony No. 9 in D minor, WAB 109
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Leonard Bernstein, conductor
Live from the Großer Saal of the Musikverein, Vienna, February 1990
Bernstein’s last appearance with the Vienna Philharmonic 

Watch the full collection of performances on our YouTube channel!