VIDEO: Bruckner and his Symphonies


Austrian composer Anton Bruckner wrote ten symphonies in all during his lifetime – Nos 1-9 and a No. 0, relegated when he realised it wasn’t quite up to scratch. All them survive in many different versions – he was a sensitive man and took criticism very personally so as a result, he couldn’t stop tinkering with them throughout his life. But in their various forms, they all have something in common. Each of them is a huge, cathedral-like musical epic using an enormous orchestra including a gigantic brass section.

But even more than the size of the orchestra, is the ambition of the material. Huge, carved blocks of sound that ebb and flow with long, stretched-out melodies that have an almost hymn-like quality to them. In fact, there’s a liturgical feel to the symphonies as a whole, almost as if Bruckner were setting a mass to music.

And it’s no wonder, really, given that Bruckner was a superb organist, those blocks of sound reminiscent of huge organ chords with rumbling pedal. This is mystical, sensual music.

You’ll hear repeated themes, too, coming and going like mantras. This obsession with repeated patterns may have sprung from his numeromania, a condition that compelled him to count the leaves on trees and windows in buildings.

It’s only in the last 80 years or so that Bruckner’s Symphonies have been seen as great masterpieces. During his life in Vienna, he seemed to live in the shadow of Brahms, and was constantly haunted by music critics who hated the Wagnerian character of his music. Happily, today we’ve seen sense, and Bruckner’s music is widely performed, spiritual music for both the religious and agnostic.

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