Richard Nisley

Music for "old men"–The symphonies of Anton Bruckner
Music - Classical Released - Sep 07, 2018
Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) was destined to be just another Viennese composer when he began composing the first of nine his symphonies. They were long, and it took awhile to find a conductor and an orchestra that would perform his music. Once they were performed, beginning with symphony No. 4 (the most accessible), his status changed from failed primitive composer to world-class creator of astonishing talent and vision, and favorable comparisons with "The three Bs"–Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Today he is sixth among the composers that comprise the so-called "Magnificent Seven" of Vienna symphonists (the others are Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, and Mahler).

Unlike the others, Bruckner did not bother much with composing other forms of music but concentrated his considerable talent mostly on symphonies. His symphonies are long, sweeping and vastly romantic, and sometimes compared with gothic cathedrals in their scope, beauty and grandeur. In particular, Bruckner's hushed adagios seem to go on forever–up to 25 minutes (in some cases longer than the complete symphonies of Haydn). The most popular symphonies are No. 4 in E-flat, No. 7 in E, No. 8 in C minor, and No. 9 in D minor

Interestingly, not every conductor "gets" Bruckner. Bruckner's symphonies need time to breathe; if rushed, they lose their sense of wonder. It seems only the "old men" of conducting have the patience to truly grasp Bruckner's special art–those with at least 30 year's experience on the podium. In our time the prime example is Gunther Wand (pronounced "Goonter Vand"), a provincial German conductor for most of his career; he did not enjoy success until past the age of retirement, and made the nine symphonies of Anton Bruckner his specialty. In his 70s, 80s and early 90s, he enjoyed a second career conducting Bruckner's symphonies, for appreciative audiences from Berlin to Vienna, and from New York to Los Angeles. I heard him conduct Bruckner's Fifth in Chicago's Severance Hall, where for one special evening in the hushed atmosphere of the great hall he made time stand still. Another was Wilhelm Furtwangler (1886-1954) whose recordings of Bruckner's symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic during World War II are legendary, despite dated sound.

Besides symphonies, Bruckner devoted himself to composing deeply spiritual Masses (three in all), and one "Te Deum" (which translates from Latin, as "to praise the lord.")

On the list of great composers, Bruckner is ranked 25th.

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