Anton Bruckner, the Music Virtuoso of the 19th Century
Anton Bruckner is widely regarded as one of the most influential composers of his time. Yet, during his lifetime, his musical works were rather ambivalently received. His talent as an organist was recognized early on. His symphonies, however, initially received an unenthusiastic reception, especially from Vienna's cultural elites. Anton Bruckner's reputation was a stubborn, eccentric loner from the countryside who didn't fit into high society. Only in old age did he finally receive the respect and admiration of his contemporaries.
Anton Bruckner’s early talent
Anton Bruckner was born in 1824 in Ansfelden as the oldest of 11 children. He was the son of Ansfelden’s village teacher. At the time, teachers also fulfilled the role of church organists, so Bruckner grew up surrounded by music, especially church and organ music. He learned to play the violin, the piano, and the organ. At age ten, he had already worked as an assistant organist. At 12, after his father’s early death, he became a member of the boys’ choir in the nearby St. Florian Monastery and received instructions from the monastery’s organist.
His career began – much like his father’s – with a teaching position. However, he prioritized composing and improvising on the organ over his duties as a teacher (which also included fieldwork in addition to school and church duties). His enthusiasm for his musical education, however, was unparalleled and lasted over thirty years.
Anton Bruckner, an eccentric romantic
As a human being, the devout and humble Bruckner provided material for many interesting anecdotes, which are, of course, to be taken with a grain of salt. It was said, for example, that he had a strong dialect and a compulsion to count. Not only did this show in his counting of windows and steps but also in his consistent numbering of the bars of his scores. Bruckner was also rumored to be an excellent dancer.
A number of wedding proposals to women much younger than himself also provided much fodder for gossip. In all, nine proposals were documented, and not one was accepted. He was also said to have been awkward with women, and there were quite a few ladies who did show interest. Once, a lady wishing for more attention from Bruckner allegedly approached him with the words: “Dear Professor, you hardly ever glance my way […] even though I have taken extra care with my appearance this evening and even put on my newest dress!” To which the embarrassed Bruckner is said to have replied in heavy dialect: “My dear lady, on my account, you needn’t have put on anything at all!”
Anton Bruckner always remained “the fellow from the country. In all the 18 years he spent in the capital, he never bothered to conform to the rules of the Viennese bourgeoisie. His strong dialect, as well as his dress, set him apart from the fine society. He remained true to his roots, cultivated intensive ties to Upper Austria, and pursued his strong inner urge to compose in solitude. Perhaps this was precisely what allowed Anton Bruckner to create something entirely new and extraordinary: a further development of the symphony.
“Bruckner belongs to Upper Austria. But with his music, he leads into the larger world and creates a world of his own.”
“His singular music is a testament to the vision of a creator who hears the future. He was neither traditionalist nor avantgardist. He was both.”
Anton Bruckner, a posthumous Rock Star?
The hit song "Seven Nation Army" by the White Stripes is world-renowned. The song is part of every rock playlist and is chanted at every international football match. Few know that Anton Bruckner’s 5th Symphony inspires the repeating riff of the song.
A group of Belgian fans once brought the song to the stadium during a triumphant game of the Belgian team. From there, it spread like wildfire across the entire world.
Listen for yourself below!
Listen to the White Stripe's "Seven Nation Army" and the first movement of Bruckner's "Symphony No. 5" – starting at minute 02:50, you will notice the resemblance:
There are more than 60 Anton Bruckner-streets, -alleys, -squares and -paths in Upper Austria.
At the age of 72, Anton Bruckner made the last of his numerous marriage proposals.
When visiting a tavern, Anton Bruckner usually drank 3 litres / 100 oz of beer.
He had a taste for smoked meats with dumplings.
In Bruckner's lifetime, the Boy's Choir at St. Florian consisted of 3 choir boys. Today, they are over 40.
During his lifetime, his works received more applause in Leipzig and Munich than in Austria.
In 1880, Anton Bruckner travelled to Switzerland, the only vacation he ever took in his entire life.
The riff in the hit song „Seven Nation Army“ by the White Stripes was inspired by Anton Bruckner's 5th Symphony.
Anton Bruckner had 10 siblings, of which only four reached adulthood.
15 minutes by train or 40 minutes by bike from Linz is all it takes to reach Anton Bruckner's birthplace, the village of Ansfelden.
In the former schoolhouse where Anton Bruckner's father lived and worked as a teacher, the Anton-Bruckner-Museum is dedicated to portraying his life and work. Objects like the top hat, vest, baton, organ table and the original clavichord of Anton Bruckner are on display. You will also find theatre tickets, landscapes of essential places in Bruckner's life, and music sheets.
From his birthplace, a Symphony Trail leads through fields, meadows and hilly wooded landscapes all the way to St. Florian, where the great composer is buried.
St. Florian Monastery
For 13 influential years, Anton Bruckner was a member of the Boys’ Choir, then a teacher and organist at the Augustine Monastery St. Florian. The church’s organ dates back to the 17th century and was played by Anton Bruckner, among others. The original organ table can today be seen at Bruckner’s birth house in Ansfelden.
St. Florian is also Bruckner’s last resting place as he is buried beneath the organ, as stipulated in his last will.
Linz’s Old Cathedral
The only still existing instrument that was played by Anton Bruckner is the organ in the Old Cathedral in Linz. First-rate organ concerts are today held regularly at the cathedral.
Another attraction is the "Brucknerstiege" (Bruckner Staircase), consisting of 57 steps leading up to the organ, which Bruckner had to climb several times daily as the cathedral's organist.
Linz is proud of its 200-year history of musical education. The Anton Bruckner Private University was founded in 1823 as a school for singers. In 1863, Anton Bruckner was supposed to take over its reins, but negotiations remained unsuccessful.
A new and architecturally interesting tract on the Pöstlingberg unites all three branches of study, music, dance, and drama, in one location. The stunning new university building is a visual interpretation of a musical instrument and is defined as a "soundboard" for art. Visitors can attend a wide variety of events, from classical chamber music to orchestra performances, dance theatre, interactive children's concerts and workshops.
Brucknerhaus Concert Hall
A fitting end for a day in the footsteps of Anton Bruckner in Linz would be attending a concert at the Brucknerhaus. Located right next to the Danube River, the concert hall presents a nice contrast to the old town of Linz. Within, one can experience first-rate concerts ranging from jazz and world music to classical music and orchestra performances. It is the stage for numerous music festivals, such as the annual Brucknerfest Linz.
The Bruckner Orchestra Linz holds regular concerts there. The Orchestra aims for a unique interpretation of the music of its namesake, using an inimitable, Upper Austrian sound dialect for its performances.
Vienna's Imperial Court Chapel
On 10 February 1867, the musical director of the Imperial Court Chapel and one of Anton Bruckner's great well-wishers, Johann Herbeck, first performed one of his masses at the Vienna Imperial Chapel.
The mass quickly gained recognition for its spiritual expressiveness and musical structure. This premiere marked a milestone in Bruckner's career and helped cement his reputation as a composer. Following this performance, the imperial court commissioned Bruckner with a new composition: the F-minor Mass.
In the last years of his life, Anton Bruckner was confronted with increasing walking difficulties, making it challenging to climb stairs. During this time, Emperor Franz Joseph I. assigned him a ground-level apartment in the so-called "Kustodenstöckl", a side tract of the Upper Belvedere. Here, Anton Bruckner lived for the last year of his life, during which he continued to work on his 9th Symphony. On October 11, 1896, Bruckner succumbed to a heart ailment in his apartment.
After Anton Bruckner died in 1896, his body was embalmed and laid out in state at the Karlskirche (Church of St. Charles) in Vienna. The entire Viennese art world came to pay their last respects. Today, this event is described on a commemorative plaque on the wall of the Karlskirche.
From the Karlskirche, the coffin was transported to the Westbahnhof train station and brought to St. Florian, where Bruckner was laid to rest underneath the organ of the monastery church, according to his testament.