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Anton Bruckner

The Man and the Work

Constantin Floros

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.


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Largely unrecognized and controversial during his lifetime, Anton Bruck- ner 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 in- tensifications 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 ato- nality. Already as a young instructor in the ‘sixties in Hamburg, I gave lec- tures about his music, seeking to scrutinize...

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