Rebirth of Reason


The Forgotten Romantic: Anton Bruckner
by George W. Cordero

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)–his name is little known except among the most ardent of classical music enthusiasts. And yet, for the purist fan of the Romantic school of classical music, Bruckner should stand as a giant. Often described as one-part Wagner and one-part Mahler, Buckner’s music takes the Romantic tradition to its ultimate heights.

That said, Bruckner’s music does not lend itself well to mass consumption. Even for the novice listener of classical music there are many melodies he may recognize from the popular culture, especially film, but none will be Bruckner's. All of us have heard Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner, even if we were not aware of it at the time. Once exposed to their music to a greater degree, we make the immediate mental connections upon hearing those familiar melodies. Thus it is usually not a difficult feat to introduce a person to the works of these men. But Bruckner's style simply does not lend itself to the music version of the news ‘sound bite.’

The problem lies with Bruckner himself. First of all, Bruckner was a ‘symphonist’ in the truest sense of the word. A symphony is usually longer and far more complex than a sonata or concerto; this alone lessons the ability to ‘cut away’ a specific short melody that will resonate apart from the whole. If this is true of most symphonies, it is truer of Bruckner's more than any other composer of symphonies. His symphonies are among the longest in all of classical music. In many cases listening to an entire Bruckner symphony is akin to having run a marathon. The epic proportions of his symphonies are often compared to Wagner’s Ring operas, and justifiably so. However, it is a disservice to describe Bruckner (as many have) as ‘Wagner without words.’ Although a devoted student of Wagner, Bruckner’s music is uniquely his, and not mere imitation.

A Bruckner symphony is hard to describe. Read any typical review of a Bruckner symphony and the adjectives you are most likely to encounter are these: monumental, gigantic, shining, metaphysical, transcendent, melancholy, and aching. Bruckner’s forte was form, he would mould a piece step by step, each step aiming towards a shattering cumulative effect, followed by a return to the initial steps. The key word here is ‘cumulative’—a Bruckner piece follows the traditional 4-movement format, but each movement is linked to the other as no other composer has done.

Bruckner is demanding of his listener - he demands focus, demands concentration, demands stamina, and above all he demands commitment. One does not listen to a Bruckner symphony, one must commit to it. Those willing to make the commitment, will not be disappointed.

Below are links to what are popularly considered his 3 greatest works. Of these the 4th symphony is considered his most accessible work, the 8th his greatest achievement, and the 7th his most beautiful. I own numerous versions of these, but what I have given below are considered to be among the greatest interpretations of these works.


 Symphony 4


Bruckner: Symphonie No.8


Bruckner: Symphony No. 7
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