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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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In a letter of 1902 to August Göllerich, Gustav Mahler professed that Bruckner’s life and aspirations had not been without an impact on his own development as both artist and man.1 To Bruno Walter, too, he often referred to Bruckner as his “predecessor” and voiced his conviction that his work was continuing in the direction Bruckner had taken. At the same time, Walter was precise in defining the specific differences between the two composers. “If Bruckner’s musical message,” he observes, “derives from the sphere of the sacred, the passion of the prophet speaks from Mahler, always seeking, again and again in battle, ending in mild resignation, whereas an unshakable consoling affirmation emanates from Bruckner’s tone world.”2

Twenty years later, Theodor W. Adorno, in his now famous Mahler “physiognomy,” depicted the relation between the two somewhat differently. According to him, fracturedness is the “experiential core” of the reflective Mahler, “the feeling of the alienation of the musical subject.” The tone of the “traumatic” in his music, too, is nothing other than a subjective factor of this fracturedness. By contrast, Adorno spoke of Bruckner’s “unspoiled forest darkness” (“walddunkle Unberührtheit”), and from it traced Bruckner’s supposed “unbroken use” of the language of forms. The difference between the two was one of tone of voice and intention. Bruckner’s intention was affirmative, that of Mahler, on the other hand, took its tone from unreserved sadness or mourning.3

That Bruckner’s intention was “affirmative” seems immediately convincing when...

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