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Anton Bruckner

Biography

Born: 1824   Died: 1896   Country: Austria   Period: Romantic
Although Bruckner wrote a great deal of sacred choral music (including not only his grandly conceived Mass No. 3, but also his more intimate Mass No. 2 and his astringent motets, which fuse Renaissance and nineteenth century techniques), he is best known for his symphonies: two unnumbered apprentice works, eight completed mature symphonies, and the first three movements of a Ninth (The finale has been reconstructed by several hands, but most Read more performances include just the movements Bruckner completed). The symphonies, influenced to some extent by Wagner and identified with his school by the Viennese public, are monumental: expansive in scale, rigorous (if sometimes gigantist) in formal design, and often elaborate in their contrapuntal writing. Their sonorities are stately and organ-like; the Viennese critic Graf wrote that Bruckner "pondered over chords and chord associations as a medieval architect contemplated the original forms of a Gothic cathedral." Despite occasional folk influences in the scherzos, his symphonies are uniformly high-minded, even religious, in spirit. Together, they form the weightiest body of symphonies between Schubert (whom he greatly admired) and Mahler.

Bruckner was born in the town of Ansfelden, Austria, on September 4, 1824, and he spent the first years of his career as a choirmaster for a group of monks and as a church organist in Linz. After several years of studying composition and counterpoint by mail, he passed exams at the Vienna Conservatory in 1861. In the early 1860s he created his first large works, including a Symphony in D minor that he later derisively named "die Nullte," the Symphony No. 0. He was present at the premiere of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde in 1865 and remained a near fanatical admirer of Wagner, but the extent to which his own vast musical structures were modeled on Wagner's is a matter of debate. He landed a teaching post at the Conservatory in 1868, but always retained something of his original rustic character. An often-repeated anecdote tells how he gave a tip to the aristocratic conductor Hans Richter after a successful rehearsal of his Symphony No. 4, telling Richter to go and buy himself a beer. Bruckner died in Vienna on October 11, 1896. Read less
Celibidache Conducts Bruckner [3 DVDs + 2 CDs]
Release Date: 07/03/2012   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 195270   Number of Discs: 5
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Bruckner: Complete Symphonies / Georg Tintner
Release Date: 01/28/2014   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8501205   Number of Discs: 12
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Bruckner: Symphonie No 3 / Nagano, Deutsches So Berlin
Release Date: 08/12/2014   Label: Harmonia Mundi  
Catalog: 951817   Number of Discs: 1
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Bruckner: Mass in F Minor / Janowski
Release Date: 03/26/2013   Label: Pentatone  
Catalog: 5186501   Number of Discs: 1
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Bruckner: Symphony No. 7; Mozart: Symphony No. 38 / Schuricht, Berlin Philharmonic
Release Date: 12/09/2014   Label: Testament  
Catalog: 21498   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Symphony no 9 in D minor, WAB 109

 

About This Work
As Bruckner progressed on his Ninth and last symphony, he daily petitioned God for the strength to complete it, saying "If He takes the pen from my hand, it is His responsibility." From 1889 to 1896, the composer doggedly worked on the Read more Ninth. But on October 11, 1896, after a morning walk, Bruckner went home and quietly passed away, leaving behind what is possibly the greatest unfinished symphony since Schubert's.

The Ninth is often cited as one of the most important musical links between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, taking the innovations of Wagner's Tristan a step further. The pounding rhythms of the scherzo seem to look ahead to Stravinsky and Bartók while the wide interval leaps and grinding dissonance look ahead to the Second Viennese School. Although the three movement torso is the standard format for presenting Bruckner's last symphonic essay, the final sketches (which have been recorded along with a few "completed" versions of the finale) show that despite failing health and occasional mental detachment, Bruckner's musical mind remained virile and imaginative to the end. The immense fourth movement would have surpassed even the Eighth's in scale, utilizing a fugue and quotes from the Te Deum. Yet, there is something satisfying and uplifting in closing with the adagio.

The solemn drone against which the symphony commences sets the stage for an otherworldly conflict, evolving into a whirlwind and erupting into the shattering main theme. This is followed by a characteristic hymn-like passage and a restless rocking-like third theme; in the development section a twisting 6/8 motive emerges and will later be used as a propelling device against which the apocalyptic coda plays out, ending on a menacing open fifth. No hint of a peasant dance or earthly image is left in the pounding, demonic scherzo, placed second in order; even the trio, while starting out with elfin lightness, soon evolves into a mysterious, half-lit dreamscape of vague and unsettling images. The following adagio is considered the composer's valedictory to life. The tortured leap of a ninth ushers in a slow-unfolding vision which explodes, Tristan-like, into a climax of spiritual ecstasy. This is followed by a beautiful, autumnal song-theme which seems to radiate from a nostalgic looking-back on life's joys; then appears an austere march-like theme derived from the symphony's opening. Against a stuttering sixteenth note figure, the autumnal theme makes a last appearance. It is gradually joined by a noble hymn-like theme which gradually sours with dissonance while becoming even more intense in its attempted fervor; this works up to the famous seven note dissonance, grinding and terrible, and is followed by an even more terrible silence, as though staring into a void. But then, stealthily a motive from the movement's opening drifts the music to a final serene plane. In the coda, Bruckner fondly quotes from his Eighth and Seventh symphonies, taking an eloquent and affecting leave of the world. Read less

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