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Music / Anton Bruckner

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Josef Anton Bruckner (4 September 1824 – 11 October 1896) was an Austrian composer, organist, and music theorist best known for his symphonies, masses, Te Deum and motets; his symphonies are considered emblematic of the final stage of Austro-German Romanticism due to their rich harmonic language, strongly polyphonic character, and considerable length. His compositions helped to define contemporary musical radicalism, owing to their dissonances, unprepared modulations, and roving harmonies.

His works, particularly the symphonies, have detractors, who point to their large size and use of repetition. Bruckner's propensity for revising many of his works, often with the assistance of colleagues, and apparent indecision about which versions he preferred has only helped to further complicate matters.note  On the other hand, Bruckner was greatly admired by subsequent composers, including his friends Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler.

Perhaps a case of Vindicated by History, his music is now widely beloved even in Vienna, where it now has an important place in the tradition and musical repertoire of the Vienna Philharmonic; his music was much maligned there in his lifetime.


Tropes present in his life and works:

  • Alas, Poor Yorick: Non-dramatic example. Bruckner had something of an obsession with death and the dead (no, not like that), and when the bodies of Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert were exhumed and reinterred in the Vienna Zentralfriedhof (where they lay with Johannes Brahms and Johann Strauss II), Bruckner was present, and reverently held the skulls of both men.
  • Bigger Is Better: Almost every symphony that he composed (specifically Symphony No. 8 in C minor) is larger in size and longer in duration than those of most composers (and even most of his Romantic Era contemporaries, except for Mahler).
  • Bookends: The first and last movements of Symphony No. 5 in B♭ major are in that key; the second and third movements are in D minor. The first and last movements share one string figure, the middle movements share another. Also, the opening theme from the first movement is also presented in the coda of the final movement; the first-movement material closes the symphony as a whole.
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  • Call-Back: A part of the Kyrie from Mass No. 3 in F minor is played by an oboe in the third movement Adagio of Symphony No. 9 in D minor.
  • Creator Thumbprint: The Bruckner rhythm, a rhythmic pattern of two equal-length notes followed by a triplet of that note, and vice versa, i.e. 2 + 3 or 3 + 2, is common in many of his works. The most prevalent example is Symphony No. 6 in A major, where it is used in the first movement to a much greater extent than anything he composed before.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Bruckner was a lifelong bachelor and made many unsuccessful marriage proposals to many young women, most of them in their teens; he wanted to marry such a woman because unlike older women, he could be certain that he is marrying a virgin. One woman, a chambermaid named Ida Buhz, came close to marrying Bruckner, but the engagement was broken when she refused to convert to the Catholic faith.
  • Ditzy Genius: Composer and pianist Hans von Bülow described him as "half genius, half simpleton". Likewise, his friend Gustav Mahler once described him as "half simpleton, half God".
  • Dramatic Timpani: At the end of the first movement of Symphony No. 7 in E major, a pedal point on E is sustained on the timpani and double basses.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 2, both in C minor, aren't performed nearly as much as Symphonies No. 3–9 are, most likely for this reason.
  • Grief Song: He wrote the second movement of Symphony No. 7 in anticipation of the death of Wagner, whose health was failing. It opens and closes with a quartet of Wagner tubas.
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: His music was not well-regarded in his lifetime. For example, some critics, like Eduard Hanslick and some supporters of Johannes Brahms, faulted his symphonies for their large size and repetition, as well as his tendency to edit his compositions after they are published while being apparently indecisive over which versions he preferred.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Bruckner had an interest in death. In addition to reverently holding the skulls of Beethoven and Schubert, he commissioned a post-mortem photo of his mother and kept the photo in his teaching room.
  • No Social Skills: While still a good-natured person, Bruckner wasn't exactly the greatest in terms of social graces.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Bruckner was a deeply devout Catholic; he would pray daily while working on Symphony No. 9 in D minor, which he also dedicated to God, in the hopes that he would be able to finish it. When he feared that he would not live long enough to complete his symphony, he reportedly suggested using his Te Deum as a possible finale. He also composed a number of Masses, the aforementioned Te Deum, and musical settings to Psalms 22, 112, 114, 146, and 150 (following the Vulgate numbers).
  • Sequel Number Snarl: Bruckner wrote 9 symphonies, right? Well, if you look at his catalog of works, you'll see numbers 1-9...and two others. The first written, in F minor, he called his "Study Symphony", an early and immature work that he never intended to have published or performed, and has retroactively been called "Symphony No. 00" He then wrote his Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, and after that his Symphony in D minor, which he said "gilt nicht" (does not count) and has since been nicknamed Die Nullte ("No. 0").