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ClassicsOnline Home » BRUCKNER: Motets
Anton Bruckner (1824 - 1896)
Anton Bruckner was born in Ansfelden, near Linz, in 1824, the son of the
schoolmaster and organist and descendant of a longer line of Austrian
schoolmasters. He was originally destined by his father for the same profession,
of which music was a concomitant part, and on the death of his father he was
admitted as a student to the Augustinian monastery of St. Florian as a
chorister. Three years later, in 1840, he went to Linz to train as a teacher,
and the following year became assistant schoolmaster in the remoter village of
Windhaag, near Freistadt, and later in the Styrian village of Kronstorf, before
a vacancy was found for him at St. Florian in 1845. Six years later he was
appointed organist there.
During childhood and early manhood Bruckner's exposure to the wider world of
music had been gradual. St. Florian certainly presented opportunities to hear
the great liturgical works of earlier composers, while Linz later offered a
still more extended secular and religious repertoire. His own early compositions
were largely for the church and his obvious abilities and ambitions led him, on
the advice of a friend, to seek lessons in Vienna from Sechter, on whose advice
he left St. Florian, becoming in 1855 organist at the cathedral in Linz.
In 1861 Bruckner completed his studies in counterpoint with Sechter and began
work with another teacher, the Linz cellist and conductor Otto Kitzler, for help
in mastering orchestration and symphonic form. It was now, stimulated by a
performance in Linz of Wagner's Tannhäuser, that he turned his attention
seriously to the composition of symphonies, although he was later to reject the
D minor work of 1864 as a mere nothing, a judgement reflected in its present
numbering as Symphony No.0, Die Nullte. In the same years he began to
make a wider impression with his settings of the Mass and in 1868, with some
reluctance due to his natural diffidence and the relatively poor salary offered,
he moved to Vienna to teach at the Conservatory.
Bruckner’s remaining years were spent largely in Vienna and were not
without troubles and disappointments. His admiration for Wagner aroused the
antipathy of that composer's enemies, notably of the critic Hanslick, the
champion of Brahms, who proved an obstacle for many years to Bruckner’s
appointment to the University of Vienna, although Brahms himself showed his
approval of the music of Bruckner that he heard. The Vienna Philharmonic
Orchestra refused at first to play his symphonies, although the opposition of
the musicians was eventually overcome. These setbacks led Bruckner, never too
certain of himself, to undertake revisions of his work, so that the symphonies
now exist in several versions. He died in 1896 before he could complete the last
movement of his Ninth Symphony.
A man of humble origin, Bruckner retained his modest diffidence to the end of
his life, fortified by a strong and traditional religious faith. As an organist
he excelled in improvisation and this ability clearly had some effect on his
extended symphonic works. Another aspect of his genius is shown in the
liturgical works that he wrote throughout his life, starting with an early
simple setting of the Mass written at Windhaag in 1842 to the splendours of the Te
Deum of 1881.
Bruckner wrote a number of shorter choral works for liturgical use. His
setting of the gradual Os justi, from the Common for Doctors of the
Church, was written in 1879, the year of his Quintet for the violinist Joseph
Hellmesberger, and is dedicated to Ignaz Traumihler. Regens Chori at St. Florian
and a leading proponent of the Cecilian Movement for the reform of church music.
Os justi, as Bruckner pointed out in a letter to Traumihler, fulfils the
requirements of the Movement, being without sharps and flats, without the chord
of the seventh, without a six-four chord and without combinations of four or
five notes at the same time. In the Lydian mode, the gradual ends with a
The year 1869 brought Bruckher a measure of international fame with a recital
in Nancy, where his playing of Bach and his improvisation were impressive enough
to bring an invitation to play at Notre Dame in Paris. There he was heard by
leading musicians, including Cesar Franck and Camille Saint-Saëns. In September
his Mass in E minor was performed in Linz, followed a month later by the first
performance of his setting of the gradual from the Mass for the Dedication of a
Church, Locus iste, in which homophonic writing frames an imitative
central section. It is dedicated to Father Otto Loidol, through whose friendship
he found himself in later years often at the Benedictine Abbey of Kremsmünster,
where a particularly fine organ was installed in 1878.
Bruckner owed his early career very largely to the encouragement of Father
Michael Arneth, Prior of St. Florian, who had first accepted him as a chorister
after the death of his father. It was Arneth who arranged to transfer him from
his unhappy position in Windhaag to the more congenial employment at Kronstorf
and finally at St. Florian again. Arneth died in 1854 and was mourned by his
protege in a setting of the Libera me from the Mass for the Burial of the Dead,
as well as by a work for men's voices and three trombones, An Arneths Grab
(At Arneth's Grave). The setting of the liturgical text also makes use of
trombones, instruments of solemn association, lower strings and organ.
The seven-part a cappella setting of Ave Maria was written in 1861 and first
performed in Linz, where Bruckner was now cathedral organist, on 12th May. The
composition is in part re-used in Symphony No. 0 and represents a
development in style resulting from the rigorous counterpoint lessons that
Bruckner had taken with Simon Sechter. The first phrase is sung by women's
voices, answered in the second phrase by the men, with a great crescendo on the
name of Jesus, leading to imitative counterpoint in w hat follows.
Ecce sacerdos, written in 1885, was designed to celebrate the thousandth
anniversary of the diocese of Linz, which it does in masterly style, with the
additional assistance of trombones and organ. Deriving its inspiration from
plainsong, Ecce sacerdos is a work of imaginative harmonic treatment,
suited in its grandeur to the occasion it marks. It ends with a penultimate
plainchant doxology, followed by the impressive chromaticism of the opening.
Bruckner wrote his setting of the Passion Sunday Vexilla regis in
1892, the last of his motets. Modal in its opening, it is meditative in mood, a
modified strophic setting of the hymn, ending with a hushed Amen.
In 1884 Bruckner was sixty. In this year he completed his Te Deum and
won success in December with the first performance of Symphony No.7 in
Leipzig with the Gewandhaus Orchestra under Nikisch. His setting this year of
Salvum fac populum tuum again represents the intimate and devotional aspect of
The offertory Afferentur regi, from the Mass for Virgins and Martyrs,
was written in 1861 and belongs, therefore, to the period during which
Bruckner's pre-occupation with counterpoint was at its height, as the result of
the lessons with Sechter. Written for four voices, there are three optional
trombone parts, which, when they are included, serve only to mark the dynamic
climaxes of the work.
Bruckner made his Phrygian strophic setting of the Corpus Christi Pange
lingua in 1868, conforming at this time to some extent with the restrictions
suggested by the Cecilian Movement. The Marian antiphon Tota pulchra es,
Maria, with its tenor solo and discreet and very sparing use of the organ at
moments of dynamic climax, was composed ten years later and dedicated to Bishop
Rudigier of Linz to mark his silver jubilee.
Virga Jesse, an Alleluia verse replacing the gradual in the season of Easter
for Feasts of the Blessed Virgin, was composed in 1885 and is dedicated to Ignaz
Traumihler. It appears in the same year as the Ecce sacerdos and is a
powerful work, making much of the dramatic possibilities of sudden pauses and
dynamic contrasts, its gentle conclusion underpinned by a bass pedal E.
The setting of the offertory Inveni David for male voices and four trombones
was written in the same year as the Phrygian Pange lingua. The F minor
opening leads to a triumphant F major Alleluia in conclusion. The Phrygian mode
is used again in a setting of the hymn for Prime, lam lucis orto sidere.
The Tantum ergo, words from the Pange lingua that are used as
part of the ceremony of Benediction, was set by Bruckner on a number of
occasions. The setting included is that in D major for five-part chorus, written
in 1846 and revised in 1888.
Bruckner's second setting of the gradual Christus factus est was
written in 1884 and dedicated to the Benedictine Father Otto Loidol of
Kremsmünster. Marked Moderato misterioso, the four-part setting opens
homophonically, but offers an immediate contrapuntal contrast. The music rises
to a dramatic climax followed by an equally dramatic whispered conclusion.
Choir of St. Bride's Church
The Church of St. Bride is well known as the journalists' church, sited, as
it is, in Fleet Street, the former centre of the newspaper world in London. The
choir was constituted in its present form, with twelve adult professional
singers, under the direction of Gordon Reynolds in 1958, when the church was re-
opened after extensive war-time damage. The choir was gradually endowed by the
Press and an important part of its work has always been the provision of music
for weddings, memorial services and other events with a Press connection,
although its main task has remained the singing of two fully choral services on
Sundays throughout the year. In spite of the re-organization of the newspaper
industry in London, the church has continued to be regarded as the spiritual
home of journalists and printers, from whom it receives support, as well as from
the new residents of Fleet Street. The choir of St. Bride's broadcasts
frequently, but the present release marks its first fully commercial recording.
Robert Jones had his first appointment as an organist at the age of sixteen,
before taking up a music scholarship at Christ Church, Oxford, where he studied
singing with David Johnston and organ with Nicholas Danby, while singing in the
cathedral choir under Simon Preston. Since leaving Oxford he has enjoyed a
parallel career as a singer and as a choral director. He has held positions as a
lay clerk at St. George's Chapel, Windsor, and at Westminster Cathedral and now
finds himself much in demand as a consort singer, notably with the Tallis
Scholars and the Orlando and Gabrieli Consorts. He has been Director of Music at
St. Bride's Church since 1988.
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