The Music Column

The Bruckner Problem

There is a Bruckner Problem, yes, or there are even Bruckner Problems, but I think that the longer we consider these problems, the less problematical they are.  The first problem is, where to start?  We might suppose that Anton Bruckner (1824-96) is remarkable in the fascinating quality of his work.  Hardly any composer except Mahler has built a major reputation as he did, on nine symphonies and relatively little else: a string quintet, choral music, and so on.  Yet his distinction is related to his concentrated breadth of exposition, his development of elements we know from salient Beethoven and Schubert symphonies—from their skills and not from their skulls.  His accomplishment meant much to Mahler and Sibelius, and took its own place in history.

Anton Bruckner was a strange fellow, though many of his eccentricities were related to a mere rustic simplicity that was fired by an inspired imagination and perhaps even a twisted mind.  So this organist from Linz got himself into questionable troubles following little girls in the park—he yearned for a young girl even when he was 70.  He also showed a morbid and unwholesome interest in the physical remains of Beethoven and Schubert when these were reinterred.  Moreover, he wore inappropriate clothes at dressy occasions and said silly things even to the emperor.  Bruckner regarded himself as a devoted Christian and thought that musical...

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