Anton Bruckner

The Man and the Work. 2. revised edition

by Constantin Floros (Author)
©2015 Monographs VI, 234 Pages


While unappreciated and controversial during most of his life, Anton Bruckner is today regarded as the greatest symphonist between Beethoven and Gustav Mahler – in terms of originality, boldness and monumentality of his music. The image of Bruckner the man, however, is still extreme instance of the tenacious power of prejudice. No less a figure than Gustav Mahler coined the aperçu about Bruckner being «a simpleton – half genius, half imbecile». The author is out to correct that misperception. His thesis in this study is that contrary to what has hitherto been asserted, there is an intimate relation between Bruckner’s sacred music and his symphonies from multiple perspectives: biographical data, sources and influences, the psychology of creation, musical structure, contemporary testimony and reception history. Additional chapters assess important Bruckner recordings and interpreters and the progressiveness of his music.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Preface to the Second Edition
  • Part One: A Character Portrait
  • Who Was Bruckner?
  • Authoritarianism and Self-Assurance
  • The World as “Bad Lot”
  • Neurosis
  • Libido
  • Emotionality
  • The “Passionate Urge to Compose”
  • Securing an Income
  • Persecution Mania
  • Worries about the Success of the Work
  • Interest in the Extraordinary
  • “Sympathy with Death”
  • Religiosity
  • Plates
  • Part Two: Sacred Music
  • Personality and Oeuvre
  • Music as Religious Confession
  • A New, Dramatic Conception of the Mass
  • The Credo Settings
  • Religious Tone Symbolism
  • Jubilant and Devout Music
  • “Let Me Not Be Confounded in Eternity”
  • Music as Song of Praise
  • Part Three: The Symphonies
  • The Fiction of “Absolute Music”
  • Originality and Modernity
  • Matters of Style
  • How Bruckner Came to the Symphony
  • Autobiographic Elements in the Second and Third Symphony
  • The Allegiance to Richard Wagner
  • The Triad of the Middle Symphonies
  • The Seventh – a Second “Wagner Symphony”
  • Secular and Religious
  • Imaginations - Bruckner’s Associations in the Eighth
  • The Ninth - Bruckner’s “Farewell to Life”
  • Reflections on the Bruckner Interpretation: Günter Wand, Eugen Jochum, Sergiu Celibidache
  • The Progressive
  • Afterword
  • Appendix
  • Notes
  • Biographical Dates
  • Abbreviations
  • Works by Anton Bruckner
  • Sacred Music
  • The Symphonies
  • Selective Bibliography
  • Author’s Papers
  • Photo Credits
  • Index of Names


Largely unrecognized and controversial during his lifetime, Anton Bruckner is regarded today as the greatest symphonic composer after Beethoven and Mahler. The originality, daring and monumentality of his music are universally acknowledged on all sides, and his impact, initially confined to the German-speaking world, has for some decades now begun to be global: today, Bruckner is recognized as a composer of symphonic as well as of sacred music in both the Anglo-Saxon and the Romance countries, even in Japan.

I have loved Bruckner’s music ever since my youth: because of its modernity and sublimity, its intense expressiveness and the new “tone” it brought into the world, because of its “unspoiled forest darkness,” as Adorno called it, because of its many contrasts and spacious effects, its intensifications and grandiose climaxes, but also because of its abysses and seeming ruptures. When, in 1951, I attended Hans Swarowsky’s class at the Viennese Music Academy for the first time, he was in the process of going through the Romantic symphony. He pointed out the harmonic, metric and dynamic subtleties of the score and thought that Bruckner’s real strength lay less in his art than in the “vis symphonica.” I could not understand that at the time, and I still don’t. For me, Bruckner was even then a magnificent symphonic composer, who had dared to advance to the very borders of atonality.

Already as a young instructor in the ‘sixties in Hamburg, I gave lectures about his music, seeking to scrutinize it intensively in all its dimensions. In 1980, Breitkopf and Härtel published my book on Brahms and Bruckner, which was the first to shake the then still prevailing theses about these two composers. As a comrade in arms of Linz’s Bruckner Institute, I have since then taken part in many symposia and given numerous talks about Bruckner in Austria, Germany, Great Britain and Japan.

This book, too, would hardly have been possible without the kindness of a number of institutions and individuals. Hofrat Dr. Günter Brosche and Hofrat Dr. Thomas Leibnitz (Music Collection of the Austrian National Library, Vienna), as well as Prof. Dr. Otto Biba (Society of the Friends of Music, Vienna) and the Director’s Office of the Biblioteka Jagiellonska in Cracow allowed me to look at Bruckner autographs. In the rooms of the Commission for Music History of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna I could study microfiches of important sketches. During my frequent research stays in Vienna, I was able to discuss key research issues with the ← 1 | 2 → staff members of the Anton Bruckner Institute, Linz: Dr. Elisabeth Maier, Dr. Andrea Harrandt, Mrs. Renate Grasberger, Dr. Uwe Harten and Dr. Erich Partsch. On a number of psychiatric and theological questions I had the advice of Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Berner (Hamburg), Prof. Dr. Eugen Biser (Munich) and Prof. Dr. Tim Schramm (Hamburg). My son Marc-Aurel set the musical examples in computer print. Prof. Dr. Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch (Indiana University) supplied the precise and sensitive translation into English; I also owe him a number of helpful comments and suggestions. Michael Bock, finally, provided crucial help in preparing the present text for printing.

My cordial thanks go to all of these individuals.

C.F., Hamburg, Summer 2010 ← 2 | 3 →

Preface to the Second Edition

The present Bruckner monograph is one of a kind insofar as it combines biographic detail and psychological insights with analytical and hermeneutic scrutiny of the works for numerous fresh insights. The book, originally published in German in 2004, first appeared in English translation in 2010 at the Peter Lang International Publishing House and was competently and perceptively reviewed in the Bruckner Journal (Vol. XV, November 2011) by Professor Crawford Howie. Since it received wide attention, it now appears in a second edition.

Years ago I published another book about Brahms and Bruckner (Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel), which likewise caused a stir. I am delighted that it will soon also appear in English with Peter Lang under the title Brahms and Bruckner as Artistic Antipodes.

Studies in Musical Semantics. It centers on the polarities betwen the two composers, on the early Brahms, and on Bruckner’s pecular relation to program music, and does not overlap in any way with the present Bruckner study.

C.F., Hamburg, Summer 2014 ← 3 | 4 → ← 4 | 5 →


A Character Portrait ← 5 | 6 → ← 6 | 7 →

Who Was Bruckner?

Many noted artists have had, and have, to tolerate seeing their image change radically in the course of time, perhaps enriched by additional traits but often also misrepresented. Anton Bruckner is an extreme instance: his image has been distorted like virtually no other, so as to become all but unrecognizable. During his lifetime, his eccentric way of dressing and even more eccentric manners gave many people the impression of a maverick and oddball, a “character.”. No less a person than Gustav Mahler coined the aperçu: “Bruckner, a simpleton – half genius, half imbecile.”1 The saying about Bruckner’s supposed simple-mindedness went around.

Biography in the 19th century had a more than ordinary tendency to idealize and heroize eminent personalities. In contrast to Beethoven, Bruckner is not well suited to being represented as a hero. It was perhaps for this reason that his earliest biographers stylized him as an unrecognized genius, and several sought in his religiosity a key to a deeper understanding of his personality. Ernst Decsey apostrophized him as “God’s musician” – the catchy phrase became a favorite topos of Bruckner reception.2 In the 1920’s, he was frequently labeled a “mystic” or a “metaphysician.”

Only the last twenty-five years have succeeded in doing away with many of the prejudices about the artist and the man. It could above all be shown that the supposedly so unworldly artist was a man who thought realistically and did things in a purposeful way; Manfred Wagner even called him a “social climber,”3 who ascended the rungs of the career ladder quite single-mindedly. His rise in society was in fact hardly less phenomenal than that of his far more successful “rival” Johannes Brahms. His path led him from rural Windhaag at the Bohemian border, where he worked as an assistant teacher, through the office of organist at the cathedral chapter of St. Florian and organist at the Linz cathedral, to Vienna, where he served as court organist and professor at the conservatory and eventually received an honorary doctorate from Vienna’s university.

It has to be said for the more recent Bruckner biographies that they put many things in the proper perspective. At times, however, they went too far in their endeavor to de-idealize and de-mythologize the common image of the man by designing a counter-image that dwelt with great glee on Bruckner’s supposed “character flaws” and negative aspects, It became fashionable to speak of his “careerism,” his “avarice” and “miserliness,” of his “infantile traits” and his “pathologically peculiar behavior.” ← 7 | 8 →

Who, then, was Bruckner in reality? Was he a career-obsessed oaf? It must be the aim of all personality research to understand human beings in their contradictoriness. (The heart and soul of hermeneutics, according to Hans-Georg Gadamer, is the supposition that the other fellow could be in he right.) If one speaks of Bruckner’s stinginess or greed for money, one has to ask where that came from. Again, regardless of whether one characterizes the relationship of the press to Bruckner as one of opposition or even of enmity, the fact is that his fear of the attacks of the Viennese press in general, and of the powerful high priest of music, Eduard Hanslick, in particular, at times took on the semblance of a persecution complex.

In what follows I shall try to get to the core of Bruckner’s personality, to uncover how he dealt with life’s borderline situations, what impelled him, and how he coped with the existential questions that plagued him.4

I rely hereby primarily on his letters, which tell us much about important events in his life as well as about his thinking and feeling.5 Often awkward in expression, at times also seemingly fragmentary, they have throughout the character of factual and succinct communication. One will look in vain for discussions of philosophical, literary or aesthetic questions. Therein they differ fundamentally from the letters of a Richard Wagner, Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms or Gustav Mahler.

Of great value are also Bruckner’s entries in his calendars, of which no fewer than 22 have been preserved. Bruckner was in the habit of entering appointments, dates, the names of his numerous private pupils and of young ladies whom he adored, as well as countless addresses, his honorariums, living and household expenditures and, not least, his prayer lists, into his pocket calendars. The generally meager notes extend from references to his migraine attacks and his manicures and pedicures to drafts of letters and analytical observations about Mozart’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Third and Ninth Symphonies and Bruckner’s own Romantic Symphony. Elisabeth Maier, who deserves much credit for having edited and annotated these private records in years of intensive labor, is surely right in saying that they open an access to Bruckner’s “hidden personality.”6


VI, 234
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2011 (January)
Musik 19. Jahrhundert religiöse Aspekte sämtliche Werke Musik
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. VI, 234 pp., 35 coloured fig.

Biographical notes

Constantin Floros (Author)

Constantin Floros is professor emeritus of musicology at the University of Hamburg and a prolific writer on diverse subjects. He is an honorary member of the Anton Bruckner Institute in Linz and of the Austrian Society for Music Research. Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch is professor emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at Indiana University. A specialist in English and European Romanticism, he has worked as a translator since his retirement.


Title: Anton Bruckner
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242 pages