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8.550956 - 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 plainsong Alleluia.
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 his genius.
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
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