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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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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...

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