Anton Bruckner and 19th Century Austrian Music, Culture and Society




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Preface: Bruckner and Wagner

Comparison is often made of Austrian composer Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) and German composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883). Is Bruckner "Wagnerian"? Here are some of my observations:

The "meaning" of Bruckner's music lies in the symphonic form of purely instrumental music. Bruckner's language is the magnificent and glorious sound of brass, timpani and the songs of the birds expressed so serenely and sadly by the tone of the winds. The musical note itself speaks the language of depth.

However, one of the most significant "meanings" of Wagner's music is its narrative (i.e. operas) and symbols (e.g. leitmotifs) of myth (e.g. Der Ring Des Niebelungen often called Ring). Musical leitmotifs connects the musical theme with symbolic concepts, characters and objects (e.g. love, Brunnhilde, gold).

Some movements of Bruckner symphonies such as the 7th's adagio recapitulate the theme of his sacred choral work, Te Deum. Thus, some musical themes are symbolically linked to his religious beliefs. However, the core theme of his music exists in the symphonic form and note itself is the essence of Bruckner's music.

Symbols in Wagnerian Narrative of myth explores themes such as love, hate, death and sacrifice as a process to salvation. Wagner's quest was the search for human universals by exploring the symbolism of myth via words and music. Wagner's strength and perhaps his weakness lies in an attempt to integrate words, drama and music.

Unlike Wagner, Bruckner rarely showed interest in literature(except the Bible), drama or political philosophy. There is a famous anecdote of Wagner's Ring. After the performance of the Ring, Bruckner asked, "Why did they burn Brunnhilde?"

It is a historic fact that Bruckner admired Wagner as almost a musical god and considered him a hero and father-like figure. Bruckner's dedication of the 3rd (1873) are witness to this fact.

It is worth noticing that although Wagner verbally praised Bruckner's works, there are almost no records of Wagner ever listening to or performing Bruckner's works. It seems as though Bruckner loved Wagner's music and admired him because Wagner's music was so different from Bruckner's. So it is likely that Bruckner and Wagner both admired each other from a distance.


Austria has produced some of the most fascinating composers of "classical music". It is the birthplace of Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), Franz Schubert, Johann Strauss Jr (1825-1899), Anton Bruckner and many others. It is also known for great minds and artists such as the father of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), founder of the modern Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl (1868-1904), the fascinating painter, Gustav Klimt(1862-1918), novelist Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931) and scientists such as Gregor Mendel(1822-1884) and Ernst Mach(1838-1916).

The majority cultural tradition is Germanic and strongly Catholic. During the 19th century, the Hapsburg Empire under the rule of Emperor Francis Joseph (1838-1916) had vast territories in many areas of Europe including Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Italy and other Slavic countries. Nevertheless, the heart of Austria was very small. Its current size is slightly less than the state of Maine in the United States.

This page explores this enchanting musical country and culture. My focus will be the mid to late 19th century composers and their culture. More particularly the major focus theme is Anton Bruckner, symphonic composer.


Contemporary Austrian Geography/Regions. Click here.

Highlights of Austrian Historic Events: Mid 19th Century to Early 20th Century. Click here.

Anton Bruckner. Click here.

Viennese Musicians of the 19th Century. Click here.

Editions and Premiere of Anton Bruckner Symphonies. Click here.

Anton Bruckner bibliography. Click here.

Discography of Anton Bruckner symphony #2. Click here.

Discography of Anton Bruckner symphony #3. Click here.

Discography of Anton Bruckner symphony #5. Click here.

Discography of Anton Bruckner symphony #6. Click here.

Discography of Anton Bruckner symphony #8. Click here.


*Links to A.Bruckner Websites. Click here

*Links to Vienna Culture & History. Click here

Anton Bruckner

My favorite composer of this period is Anton Bruckner (it will be abbreviated as AB below). 1996 was the centennial year of his death. Various performers performed his vocal and orchestra works. AB was known as a great organist, teacher and most of all, the composer of the massive nine symphonies (if you add two unnumbered symphonies, he actually composed eleven symphonies). I will comment on some of the features of AB below:

Late Bloomer

Mozart and Beethoven were known since their youth as a child prodigy and created many works during their youth. However, AB started his musical career much later and his career success came much later in his life. His ultimate success, his seventh symphony, came when he was sixty (1884).

To see comments on Bruckner's 7th symphony, click here.

Before deciding to become a professional musician, he was a teacher. He taught for almost twenty years until he finally decided to become a musician. He was first a renowned organ virtuoso and later a great symphonic composer. He hesitated to become a professional musician until he was in his middle age. After much thought and intense study, he began to compose symphonies when he was in his 40s. In Vienna he taught at the University of Vienna. Among his students were Hugo Wolf, Gustav Mahler, Guido Adler and various conductors.

To see the brief bio of Bruckner's students, click here.

Rustic Behavior

He came to Vienna when he was in his 40s. Until then he spent his life in provincial towns of Upper Austria. It is often said that he had a heavy Upper Austrian accent that stuck out in Vienna.

Due to his somewhat "rustic" behavior, he was often ridiculed and misunderstood by many cosmopolitan Viennese. Many Viennese who loved the neo-classical music of Brahms and Schumann and the musical critic Eduard Hanslick who supported the Brahms' faction often criticized and ridiculed Bruckner.

To see the criticism by Eduard Hanslick, click here.


Due to numerous rejections of his earlier symphonies by orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic and conductors such as Otto Desoff and Hans Richter during certain period of AB's Vienna years, he revised his symphonies many times. Some of the fiasco and disastrous performances of his symphonies such as the third also led him to revise. At the premiere of his third symphony (1877), anecdote is told that most of the audience simply left the hall and only a handful remained. Among those who stayed behind and supported him was AB's pupil, Gustav Mahler. Mahler later wrote the piano arrangement of the third.

Students such as Franz Schalk and Joseph Schalk suggested to AB to revise so that the orchestration and musical effect would be more Wagnerian. A famous example of this is the FF cymbal clash that was added to the 2nd movement of the seventh to supposedly improve the musical effect by resembling Wagnerian overtures.

To see comments on Bruckner's 7th symphony, click here.

The most significant and extensive revisions can be seen in the symphonies No.3, 4 and 8. Some movements of these symphonies are completely rewritten. AB was a perfectionist and kept on revising. The time and effort spent revising was almost like writing additional symphonies.

To see various editions of AB symphonies, click here.

To see the brief bio of Bruckner related 19th century musicians, click here.

Lost Love

One of the goals in AB's personal life was to achieve a stable married life. But often he was attracted to women who were many years younger, even teenagers. Many refused his proposal and he never married.


Links to A. Bruckner Websites

Superb Bruckner websites are;
Bruckner fandom in German.
Bruckner biography by Gabriel Engel.
Bruckner biography and discography.
Comprehensive and extensive Bruckner discography.
Download Bruckner music!!
Great Bruckner links!!
Good info. on Bruckner conductors.

Links to Vienna Culture and History
Brucknerfest in Linz, Austria.

"Servus in Austria"(In English and German).Excellent intro. to Austria culture, history and society.

Schoenbrunn Castle. The residence and palace of the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph and his family. Excellent photos and graphics.

St. Florian Webpage
Webpage of St. Florian Monastery. Located near Linz, Austria. Bruckner spent many years at this church and frequently played the pipe organ now called as "Bruckner Organ". He is buried beneath the organ. The page is in German.
Web page of the Vienna Philharmonic. Many Bruckner performances.
Introduction to musical romanticism of the 19th century.
Introduction to Austrian music, literature, theatre and other arts by the Austrian Foreign Ministry.

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Updated 01/02/12

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