Along with Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner was the foremost German-language symphonist in the second half of the 19th century. Both composers adhered to the classical, four-movement model of the symphony without an extra-musical programme. Unlike Brahms, Bruckner’s music reflected the fact that he was a devout Catholic: the monumental “blueprints” of his symphonies meant that they were already regarded by contemporaries as musical “cathedrals”. In addition, Bruckner was – unasked – assigned by the music press to Richard Wagner’s progressive party, which stood in opposition to Brahms’s conservative party. In fact, Bruckner openly worshipped Wagner: his Third Symphony is dedicated to him, and the Adagio of the Seventh is considered funeral music for, in the words of Bruckner, the “most blessed, most beloved, immortal master”.
Born near Linz in 1824, Anton Bruckner was the son of a teacher – a profession he initially practised himself. Parallel to his work as a teacher in St Florian and as the organist at Linz Cathedral, he studied music theory. Bruckner continued his studies even after he had brilliantly passed his final examinations, before coming late in life to the public as a composer: his nominally first symphony was premiered when the composer was already 41 years old. From 1868 until his death, Bruckner lived in Vienna, where, however, he was long denied the recognition he deserved. His social behaviour, marked by great awkwardness, was tragicomic and embarrassed many of his contemporaries. All the more astonishing, then, are the emotional richness and spiritual breadth that are revealed in the composer’s music. The unfinished, harmonically daring Ninth Symphony belongs to the prehistory of musical Modernism. While Hans von Bülow kept his distance from Bruckner even as chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker, his successor Arthur Nikisch established his music with the orchestra.