Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) [Composer Of The Week]

Episodes

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Faith20181030

Donald Macleod explores five personality traits of Anton Bruckner, one of the strangest geniuses in music. Today, his unshakeable religious belief, and his music for the Church.

The musicologist Friedrich Blume observed, “There is no other composer in the 19th century who was rooted so firmly in a lived, heart-deep devoutness; to whom prayer, confession, sacrament and profession were vital elements to such a degree.” But Bruckner didn’t just pray – he kept a daily tally of the prayers he had recited. And he had religious visions, which according to his own account gave rise to specific passages in his symphonies. From his teens, Bruckner was steeped in the church; first, as a choirboy at the Augustinian monastery of Sankt Florian in Upper Austria, not far from Linz, where he returned in his early twenties as music teacher and organist; then in Linz, where in 1856 he took up a post as Cathedral organist; and finally in Vienna, where he was organist at the Hofkapelle. Most of Bruckner’s church music – much of it unaccompanied – is on a far smaller scale than his symphonic work, but these wonderful religious miniatures often hint at a considerably larger canvas than the one they are drawn on.

Bruckner: Mass No 1 in D minor, WAB 26 (Sanctus)
The Monteverdi Choir
Vienna Philharmonic
John Eliot Gardiner, conductor

Bruckner: Ave Maria, WAB 6
Tenebrae
Nigel Short, director

Bruckner: Mass No 2 in E minor, WAB 27 (1882 version) (Credo)
Polyphony
Members of Britten Sinfonia
Stephen Layton, conductor

Bruckner: Os iusti, WAB 30
Vexilla regis, WAB 51
Polyphony
Stephen Layton, conductor

Bruckner: Ecce sacerdos magnus, WAB 13
Bavarian Radio Chorus
Wolfgang Schubert, chorus master
Members of Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Hedwig Bilgram, organ
Eugen Jochum, conductor

Bruckner: Virga Jesse, WAB 52
Corydon Singers
Matthew Best, conductor

Bruckner: Psalm 150, for soprano, chorus and orchestra, WAB 38
Ruth Welting, soprano
Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales

Donald Macleod explores Bruckner's religious beliefs and church music.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

Obsession20181029

Donald Macleod explores five personality traits of Anton Bruckner, one of the strangest geniuses in music. Today, obsession – from bar-counting to full-blown ‘numeromania’.

It’s not unusual for a composer to be preoccupied with questions of balance and symmetry, but Bruckner took it to extremes, punctiliously numbering the bars in his pieces to make sure the proportions were arithmetically ‘correct’. At moments of stress, this habit of orderliness went into overdrive, leading him to go on counting marathons – anything from grains of sand to stars in the sky. Not long after the completion of his 1st Symphony, Bruckner’s escalating stress levels brought on a complete nervous breakdown, which landed him in a sanatorium for three months. Here he was diagnosed with numeromania, which would now probably be recognised as a form of OCD. A very different kind of obsession was with members of the opposite sex – generally ones whose ages could be represented by relatively small numbers. In his diaries, Bruckner kept a list of all the girls who had caught his eye, almost all of them teenagers. He proposed to several, always with the same result: rejection.

Bruckner: Locus iste, WAB23
Polyphony
Stephen Layton, conductor

Bruckner: Symphony No 1 in C minor (1877 version, ed. Haas)
(1st mvt, Allegro molto moderato)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Bernard Haitink, conductor

Bruckner: Mass No 3 in F minor, WAB 28 (Kyrie)
Ingela Bohlin, soprano
Ingeborg Danz, contralto
Hans Jörg Mammel, tenor
Alfred Reiter, baritone
RIAS Chamber Choir
Orchestre des Champs-Elysées
Philippe Herreweghe, conductor

Bruckner: Symphony No 5 in B flat, WAB105 (3rd mvt, Scherzo: Molto vivace – Trio)
Staatskapelle Dresden
Giuseppe Sinopoli, conductor

Bruckner: Germanenzug (The Germanic Host), WAB 70
Brian Clickner and Jack Richardson, tenors
Jeffrey Stell, baritone
Allan Mosher, bass
Roberts Wesleyan College Chorale and Brass Ensemble
Robert Shewan, conductor

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales

Donald Macleod explores Bruckner's obsessions, from bar-counting to full-blown numeromania

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

Revision Mania20181101

Donald Macleod explores five personality traits of Anton Bruckner, one of the strangest geniuses in music. Today, the insecurity that led him to rethink his works again and again.

Anton Bruckner is one of music history’s great re-thinkers. Of his nine symphonies, he significantly reworked numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8 – in some cases, a number of times. Sometimes the impetus came from Bruckner himself – for instance in a desire to improve a work’s internal proportions. But more often it stemmed from the insecurity prompted by adverse criticism, whether by musical opponents, friends, or even students. Occasionally, as in the case of the 8th Symphony, the criticisms were well-founded and the improvements genuine. But more often than not, as in the case of the 1st Symphony, they had the effect of diluting the composer’s original inspiration. And ultimately, the many years Bruckner devoted to reworking his earlier music helped ensure that he would fail to complete his final symphony, the 9th.

Bruckner: Symphony No 2 in C minor, WAB 102 (original version, ed. Carragan)
(1st mvt, Allegro. Ziemlich schnell, extract)
Hamburg Philharmonic
Simone Young, conductor

Bruckner: Symphony No 4 in E flat, WAB 104 (‘Romantic’) (original version)
(3rd mvt, Sehr schnell. Trio. Im gleichen Tempo)
Hamburg Philharmonic
Simone Young, conductor

Bruckner: Symphony No 4 in E flat, WAB 104 (‘Romantic’) (1878/80 version, ed. Nowak)
(3rd mvt, Scherzo. Bewegt – Trio. Nicht zu schnell. Keinesfalls schleppend)
Gewandhaus Orchestra
Andris Nelsons, conductor

Bruckner: Symphony No 8 in C minor, WAB 108 (1887/90 version, ed. Haas)
(4th mvt, Feierlich, nicht schnell)
Berlin Philharmonic
Herbert von Karajan, conductor

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales

A look at the insecurities that led Bruckner to rethink his works again and again.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

The Curse Of The Ninth20181102

Donald Macleod explores five personality traits of Anton Bruckner, one of the strangest geniuses in music. Today, his superstitious fear of writing a ninth symphony.

As for all nineteenth-century composers, the titanic figure of Beethoven loomed large in Bruckner’s life. The work that loomed largest was the 9th Symphony, whose première, incidentally, took place in 1824, the year of Bruckner’s birth. Bruckner was haunted by the thought that no great composer since Beethoven had gone beyond a ninth symphony, and that his ninth might therefore turn out to be his last. In the event, Bruckner’s fears were realised – and, indeed, exceeded; at his death, he left his 9th Symphony incomplete. He finished the first three movements, but the finale exists only in the form of a collection of “momentumless sketches”, as Bruckner scholar Robert Simpson dubbed them. Bruckner, whose health had been frail for some years, said that if he failed to complete the symphony, then his Te Deum could do duty as the fourth movement – a solution that’s rarely adopted these days. There have been a number of attempts to fashion Bruckner’s sketches into a coherent finale, but the symphony is most often presented unfinished.

Bruckner: Symphony No 9 in D minor, WAB 109 (3rd mvt, Adagio – Langsam, Feierlich)
Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Claudio Abbado, conductor

Bruckner: Symphony no 9 in D minor, WAB 109 (4th mvt, fragment)
Vienna Philharmonic
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor

Bruckner: Te Deum, WAB 45
Maria Stader, soprano
Sieglinde Wagner, contralto
Ernst Haefliger, tenor
Peter Lagger, bass
Chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin
Bavarian Radio Chorus
Walter Hagen-Groll, chorus master
Wolfgang Meyer, organ
Berlin Philharmonic
Eugen Jochum, conductor

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales

A look at Bruckner's superstitious fear of writing a ninth symphony

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

Wagner20181031

Donald Macleod explores five personality traits of Anton Bruckner, one of the strangest geniuses in music. Today, his veneration for the man he was wont to call ‘Master of all Masters’ – Richard Wagner.

Bruckner was nearly 40 when he first stepped inside a theatre, to see a performance of Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser. It was a transformative experience, and from then on he immersed himself in Wagner’s work. A couple of years after that Damascene moment, around the time of the première of Tristan and Isolde, Bruckner had the opportunity of actually meeting his idol, and from then on he never missed a Wagner opening night. Some years later Bruckner dedicated his 3rd Symphony to Wagner – replete, in its original version, with Wagnerian references. The Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick, friend and supporter of Brahms and implacable enemy of Wagner – and, by association, Bruckner – claimed that Bruckner had merely transplanted the style of Wagner’s music dramas into the realm of the symphony. But despite his frequent reminiscences of Wagner’s music, Bruckner’s voice as a composer is distinctive and unmistakable. The Adagio of his 7th Symphony, which Bruckner was working on when he heard the news of Wagner’s death, is at once his greatest tribute to the wizard of Bayreuth and one of his most profoundly original conceptions.

Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Act 3 (‘Ehrt eure deutschen Meister’)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Deutschen Oper Berlin
Eugen Jochum, conductor

Bruckner: Symphony No 3 in D minor, WAB 103 (1876 version, ed. Nowak)
(2nd mvt, Adagio. Feierlich)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Georg Tintner, conductor

Bruckner: Christus factus est, WAB 11
Tenebrae
Nigel Short, director

Bruckner: Symphony No 7 in E, WAB 107 (original version, ed. Haas)
(2nd mvt, Adagio. Sehr feierlich und sehr langsam)
Berlin Philharmonic
Günter Wand, conductor

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales

Donald Macleod explores five personality traits of one of the strangest geniuses in music.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.