The Austrian composer Anton Bruckner had a hard time: for decades he had to fight for recognition. But in the end he got it – fortunately: because Bruckner left us not only monumental symphonies, but also stirring choral works. Get to know him here by the 4 times 5 method!

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Bruckner Porträt Pastel

5 quick facts about Anton Bruckner

Period: Romanticism
Birth date: September 4, 1824
Birth place: Ansfelden (Upper Austria)
Death date: October 11, 1896
Death place: Vienna

Anton Bruckner's Life in (at most) 5 minutes

If I had to describe Anton Bruckner in 3 words, I would say: diligent, religious, modest.

With Bruckner’s diligence one has to consider two things: One is the consistency with which Bruckner worked. This applies not only to his composing, but also to his organ playing (Bruckner was a virtuoso at the organ) as well as his teaching (Bruckner was an extremely popular teacher). Bruckner shares this consistency with many other composers (as you can read in Mozart’s and Beethoven’s daily schedules, for example).

The other is Bruckner’s frustration tolerance, and I find that really special. For 60 years, Bruckner was misunderstood by colleagues and the public. Success and recognition came veeeeery late. For me, Bruckner is therefore a tin soldier among composers.

Bruckner grew step by step into the role of a professional musician: coming from a family of teachers, it was actually clear that he should also become a teacher. Thus he began his career at the age of 21 as an assistant teacher in Sankt Florian, a small Upper Austrian market town.

Bruckner enjoyed teaching – this remained the case throughout his life – but music became increasingly important to him. First and foremost was the organ: Bruckner perfected his organ playing and soon became organist in Sankt Florian.

Bruckner was particularly famous for his improvisations throughout his life: he was able to improvise even the most elaborate genres (fugues, for example) – a skill that has long since ceased to play a role in today’s music education. (If you’re interested: In both Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus and Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game, you can experience how important improvising fugues was until the end of the 19th century).

But composing also became more and more important. Now, however, Bruckner was in Sankt Florian – idyllic, but not necessarily a musical metropolis. So at the age of 31, Bruckner did the most obvious thing – he took up distance learning 😊

…Of course, distance learning was a bit different back then than it is today. Bruckner got his lessons by letter. And not from just anyone, but from Simon Sechter.

Never heard of him? You’re not alone. Simon Sechter is one of the many “invisible hands” in classical music – that is, he is one of those (mostly unknown) people who trained numerous (much more famous) people. Franz Schubert, for example, underwent his training with Sechter – and so did Anton Bruckner.

When Sechter died in 1867, Bruckner even became his successor as professor of music theory and organ playing at the Vienna Conservatory. And thus began the twofold development of Bruckner’s career: as an organist he was extremely successful (he even undertook concert tours), but his symphonies flopped (apart from isolated successes) in Vienna. Some were even not performed at all. To be fair, it must be said that the music critic Eduard Hanslick also had something to do with this: He made massive public sentiment against Bruckner.

But, as I have already written, if Bruckner is known for one thing, it is for frustration tolerance. And perseverance. He kept going, against all odds. And finally, the international breakthrough came with the premiere of the 7th Symphony on December 30, 1884 (not in Vienna, but in Leipzig).

With this, Bruckner finally got the recognition he had actually deserved for decades…and also some privileges: for example, he spent the last year of his life rent-free in the beautiful Belvedere Palace at the invitation of the Austrian Emperor. Not bad 😊

Anton Bruckner's 5 most famous works

Which works of Anton Bruckner do you have to know? Here you’ll find the answer. I have taken into account 3 factors for beginner-frinedliness: Duration, complexity and familiarity of the piece. The higher the value, the more beginner-friendly the piece is.

  • Symphony No. 7
    With this symphony, Bruckner finally achieved his breakthrough after decades of effort. You can learn more about it in the 5-4-3-2-1 presentation of Bruckner’s 7th Symphony and in this article.
    Instrumentation: Orchestra
    Duration: approx. 70 Minutes
    Beginner-friendliness: 60/100
    This piece is for you, if you like to be carried away by long phrases. Bruckner really built particularly large arches here. Examples are the famous opening theme as well as the timpani roll at the end of the 1st movement, which lasts over 2 minutes (!).
  • Symphony No. 5
    Bruckner’s most ornate work, perhaps. Several themes are layered on top of each other in monumental fashion. Bruckner himself described his 5th Symphony as his “masterpiece,” but unfortunately never heard it himself during his lifetime.
    Instrumentation: Orchestra
    Duration: approx. 80 Minutes
    Beginner-friendliness: 55/100
    This piece is for you, if you burn for bombastic music. Especially the radiant ending is hard to beat.
  • Symphony No. 4
    The premiere of the 4th Symphony was one of the few great successes that Bruckner was able to celebrate before his final breakthrough with the 7th Symphony. To this day, the 4th Symphony remains one of his best-known and most popular works.
    Instrumentation: Orchestra
    Duration: approx. 65 Minutes
    Beginner-friendliness: 65/100
    This piece is for you, if you want to experience a piece in which all participants have to rise above themselves. For instance, the horn solo at the beginning is so devilishly difficult to play (high, soft, alone) that it is one of the most frightening parts in the entire repertoire.
  • Te Deum
    The Te Deum is a great piece – even Bruckner’s harshest critics had to admit that (especially Eduard Hanslick). Gustav Mahler wrote that this work was “for angelic tongues, the godly, tormented hearts and fire-tempered souls.” Well, that’s something 😊
    Instrumentation: Choir, soloists, orchestra, organ (ad libitum)
    Duration: approx. 25 Minutes
    Beginner-friendliness: 85/100
    This piece is for you, if you like rousing choral music. The Te Deum is also an excellent introduction if you are just beginning to explore Bruckner’s music.
  • Ave Maria
    Bruckner set the Ave Maria to music several times in different settings. The version for unaccompanied choir presented here is the best known.
    Instrumentation: Choir
    Duration: 4 Minutes
    Beginner-friendliness: 90/100
    This piece is for you, if you want to get a quick impression of the “early” Bruckner.

5 questions and answers about Anton Bruckner

Was Bruckner married?

Bruckner remained unmarried throughout his life. He was in love several times (for example with Josefine Lang) and he also wrote several marriage proposals, preferably to much younger women. However, he was not successful with them.

How many symphonies did Bruckner write?

Bruckner wrote 9 symphonies. In addition, however, there are several fragments and numerous revisions.

What instruments did Anton Bruckner play?

Anton Bruckner was first a choirboy, later he learned the organ, piano and violin. He achieved the greatest technical perfection on the organ.

How many works did Anton Bruckner write?

Anton Bruckner wrote over 140 works.

Where is the grave of Anton Bruckner?

Bruckner is buried in Sankt Florian, where he started his career as an assistant teacher at the age of 21.

More about Anton Bruckner at StarkConductor

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