Composer. He is known for his nine symphonies, which are monumental achievements of Romantic music. The most popular are the Fourth Symphony (the "Romantic," 1881), the Seventh (1884), and the Ninth (premiered 1903, after his death). His Symphony No. 8 (1892), at around 85 minutes in performance, was the longest such work in the repertory until the advent of Gustav Mahler. Bruckner's style was influenced harmonically by his great idol, Richard Wagner, and by Franz Schubert in his expansive use of sonata form. He was also one of the greatest organists of his time, and this too had an impact. His signature effect, building up tremendous climaxes that come to an abrupt halt and echo into silence, is indicative of organ playing. Some critics have advocated performing Bruckner symphonies in cathedrals rather than concert halls, and this has been done with startling results. Bruckner was born in the village of Ansfelden, Austria, and received musical training at the nearby St. Florian Church. He continued to study through his late 30s. From 1848 to 1855 he was organist at St. Florian's, held the same position at Linz Cathedral from 1856 to 1867, and in 1868 was appointed professor of organ at the Vienna Conservatory. Bruckner's virtuoso skills on this instrument were acclaimed in France in 1869, and in England in 1871, where he gave a dozen recitals at London's Royal Albert Hall and at the Crystal Palace. His original music met with far less enthusiasm, especially after he fell under the spell of Wagner in the 1860s. Between 1848 and 1869 he composed a Requiem and four masses, the last two of which, the Mass in D Major (1864) and the Mass in F Minor (1869), reveal a nascent Wagnerian influence. He suppressed his first two symphonies, which he later labeled "No. 00" and "No. 0," before arriving at his official First Symphony (1863). Few composers endured as much creative hostility and personal disappointment as Bruckner did. He was known as a kind, sweet-natured man, rare among geniuses, but he was also homely, naive, and socially inept. Cartoonists loved to caricature him shambling about Vienna with his unflattering Prussian haircuts, country boy ways, and ridiculous suits that were many sizes too large. He was unsuccessful with women (he proposed to a number of teenage girls who, not surprisingly, rejected him), and had a way of irritating influential people who could have been helpful to his career. Franz Liszt, so unstinting in his support of other composers, avoided him like the plague. When he dedicated his Third Symphony to Wagner, Bruckner unwittingly chose sides in a nasty war of polemics then raging between Wagnerites and supporters of Johannes Brahms. Chief among the latter was Eduard Hanslick, Vienna's most powerful music critic, who singled out Bruckner for public abuse and did what he could to hinder him. (Hanslick pulled strings to have him turned down for another teaching post at the Conservatory, claiming that this holder of several academic degrees was unqualified). At the Third Symphony's premiere in 1877, all but 25 people in the audience walked out before the music was over, leaving the composer distraught and humiliated. He could not even resist the demands of well-meaning but misguided friends, who insisted he revise and cut his music to make it more acceptable; few of his scores were originally published as he intended them. For much of his life Bruckner had only his religious faith to sustain him. It is this faith that glows from every note of his music, and it was this faith that eventually began to communicate itself to listeners. In 1881, when he was 57, Bruckner had his first success with the Fourth Symphony, and while his subsequent opuses continued to provoke controversy, on the whole they were favorably received, especially the Seventh Symphony. His growing fame made him yearn to write an opera, but he insisted he would only set a libretto that was "free from all that is impure". Needless to say he never wrote an opera. In 1892 he was awarded an imperial insignia by Emperor Franz Joseph, who offered to grant him anything he wanted within reason, including a house and a pension. Bruckner's typically ingenuous request: could the Emperor ask Hanslick to be less mean to him in his reviews? Soon afterwards, at the premiere of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony, the audience booed Hanslick and chased him out of the auditorium. His 70th birthday was celebrated throughout Austria. He died two years later, leaving his Ninth Symphony unfinished; the radiant, tranquil final bars of its adagio, the last he completed, are a fitting swansong. Bruckner had a fascination with death and the macabre. In 1888, when the bodies of Beethoven and Schubert were exhumed pending their transfer to Vienna's Zentralfriedhof, Bruckner not only attended the ceremony, he cradled the dead composers' heads in his hands. His own tomb, in a vault beneath the organ at St. Florian's, is watched over by thousands of human skulls. But his music is anything but death-centered. For all its moments of struggle, sadness, and occasional terror, it celebrates life and affirms spiritual peace.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards