Josef Anton Bruckner was a composer, music theorist and organist born in the village of Ansfelden in Austria on the 4th September 1824. The house where he was born has been turned into the Anton Bruckner Museum. He was the eldest of eleven children! Bruckner was interested in music from an early age, with his father being his first music teacher. As a young child, Bruckner learned to play the organ. His enthusiasm for the instrument often led him to practise for 12 hours a day to ensure he improved.
He started school age six and was very studious. In 1833, he received his confirmation and shortly afterwards, began a different school in Hörsching. Johann Baptist Weiß, his schoolmaster, was a respected organist and with a passion for music, inspired a young Bruckner. He finished school and kept up his skills as an organist. It was around 1835 that he wrote Pange Lingua, his very first composition.
When Josef Anton Bruckner was only 13, his father died and he was sent to become a choirboy in a monastery in Sankt Florian. Here he undertook violin lessons as well as continuing playing the organ, sometimes playing it for church services. Although Bruckner had excellent musical abilities, in 1841, his mother sent him to Linz to a teaching seminar, where he achieved an excellent grade. A post as a teaching assistant in a school in Windhaag followed, where he stayed between the ages of 17 and 19.
A move to another teacher’s assistant position in Kronstorf an der Enns followed and he finally got to have more of a role in musical activities. Here, he became a more prolific composer and developed his “Bruckner style.” In 1845, he went back to Sankt Florian, where he stayed for ten years, working as an organist and teacher. In May that year, he passed an exam, which meant he could be appointed as an assistant teacher. He continued taking courses and passing exams, which allowed him to teach in higher places of education.
1848 saw Josef Anton Bruckner appointed a Sankt Florian’s organist. Bruckner always inspired to have Simon Sechter as his music tutor. Sechter was a famous Viennese music theorist. In 1855, his dream was realised when he showed his composition Missa Solemnis and was accepted. Bruckner was heavily influenced by Sechter.
Mostly self-taught, it was only in 1861, when he was 37, that Bruckner really started serious composing and he continued his studies until he was 40 years old, although he did not really receive recognition until the premier of Seventh Symphony in 1884 when he was over 60 years old. It was in 1861 that his composing and conducting concert debut was made with his Ave Maria.
From 1868, Josef Anton Bruckner concentrated his time on writing symphonies, although they were not well received at the time. A year later, he wrote the sacred motet Locus Iste. This was skilfully arranged for brass quartet by Mike Lyons. Bruckner then went on to teach at Vienna University in 1875.
A prolific composer, Bruckner not only wrote symphonies, but sacred choral pieces, chamber works, masses, motets and for string quintets. He was famous in his day for being an impressive organist, bedazzling audiences in the UK and also France, giving many recitals.
July 1886 saw Josef Anton Bruckner receive the award of the Order of Franz Joseph from the Emperor. A few years later, at the age of 68, he retired from teaching at the University of Vienna and he was awarded an honorary doctorate of philosophy in 1891. He completed his final choral-orchestral works in 1892 entitled Psalm 150 and then a further one in 1893 entitled Helgoland. He began another composition, Symphony No.9 in D Major. He managed to finish three movements, but died before he could finish the finale.
Bruckner never married or had children and sadly died at 72 years of age in Vienna on the 11th October 1896. As a tribute, he is buried underneath his favourite organ in Sankt Florian in the crypt in the monastery church. His legacy has lived on. In 1932, a higher education facility near his native Ansfelden was named after him. Also, in tribute to him, is the naming of an orchestra; The Bruckner Orchestra Linz.
Josef Anton Bruckner will be remembered as a simple man, but one who showed humility in front of other musicians. He spent many hours reworking his own compositions as he was often unhappy with them. However, he will be always known for being one of the greatest symphony writers in history.