BRUCKNER: Motets (Gary Cole/ Matthew Morley/ Robert Jones/ St. Bride's Church Choir/ Fleet Street) (Naxos: 8.550956)
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Anton Bruckner (1824 - 1896)
Anton Bruckner was born in Ansfelden, near Linz, in 1824, the son of theschoolmaster and organist and descendant of a longer line of Austrianschoolmasters. 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 wasadmitted as a student to the Augustinian monastery of St. Florian as achorister. 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 ofWindhaag, near Freistadt, and later in the Styrian village of Kronstorf, beforea vacancy was found for him at St. Florian in 1845. Six years later he wasappointed organist there.
During childhood and early manhood Bruckner's exposure to the wider world ofmusic had been gradual. St. Florian certainly presented opportunities to hearthe great liturgical works of earlier composers, while Linz later offered astill more extended secular and religious repertoire. His own early compositionswere largely for the church and his obvious abilities and ambitions led him, onthe advice of a friend, to seek lessons in Vienna from Sechter, on whose advicehe left St. Florian, becoming in 1855 organist at the cathedral in Linz.
In 1861 Bruckner completed his studies in counterpoint with Sechter and beganwork with another teacher, the Linz cellist and conductor Otto Kitzler, for helpin mastering orchestration and symphonic form. It was now, stimulated by aperformance in Linz of Wagner's Tannhauser, that he turned his attentionseriously to the composition of symphonies, although he was later to reject theD minor work of 1864 as a mere nothing, a judgement reflected in its presentnumbering as Symphony No.0, Die Nullte. In the same years he began tomake a wider impression with his settings of the Mass and in 1868, with somereluctance 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 notwithout troubles and disappointments. His admiration for Wagner aroused theantipathy of that composer's enemies, notably of the critic Hanslick, thechampion of Brahms, who proved an obstacle for many years to Bruckner'sappointment to the University of Vienna, although Brahms himself showed hisapproval of the music of Bruckner that he heard. The Vienna PhilharmonicOrchestra refused at first to play his symphonies, although the opposition ofthe musicians was eventually overcome. These setbacks led Bruckner, never toocertain of himself, to undertake revisions of his work, so that the symphoniesnow exist in several versions. He died in 1896 before he could complete the lastmovement of his Ninth Symphony.
A man of humble origin, Bruckner retained his modest diffidence to the end ofhis life, fortified by a strong and traditional religious faith. As an organisthe excelled in improvisation and this ability clearly had some effect on hisextended symphonic works. Another aspect of his genius is shown in theliturgical works that he wrote throughout his life, starting with an earlysimple setting of the Mass written at Windhaag in 1842 to the splendours of the TeDeum of 1881.
Bruckner wrote a number of shorter choral works for liturgical use. Hissetting of the gradual Os justi, from the Common for Doctors of theChurch, was written in 1879, the year of his Quintet for the violinist JosephHellmesberger, and is dedicated to Ignaz Traumihler. Regens Chori at St. Florianand 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 therequirements of the Movement, being without sharps and flats, without the chordof the seventh, without a six-four chord and without combinations of four orfive notes at the same time. In the Lydian mode, the gradual ends with aplainsong Alleluia.
The year 1869 brought Bruckher a measure of international fame with a recitalin Nancy, where his playing of Bach and his improvisation were impressive enoughto bring an invitation to play at Notre Dame in Paris. There he was heard byleading musicians, including Cesar Franck and Camille Saint-Sa?½ns. In Septemberhis Mass in E minor was performed in Linz, followed a month later by the firstperformance of his setting of the gradual from the Mass for the Dedication of aChurch, Locus iste, in which homophonic writing frames an imitativecentral section. It is dedicated to Father Otto Loidol, through whose friendshiphe found himself in later years often at the Benedictine Abbey of Kremsm??nster,where a particularly fine organ was installed in 1878.
Bruckner owed his early career very largely to the encouragement of FatherMichael Arneth, Prior of St. Florian, who had first accepted him as a choristerafter the death of his father. It was Arneth who arranged to transfer him fromhis unhappy position in Windhaag to the more congenial employment at Kronstorfand finally at St. Florian again. Arneth died in 1854 and was mourned by hisprotege 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 oftrombones, instruments of solemn association, lower strings and organ.
The seven-part a cappella setting of Ave Maria was written in 1861 and firstperformed in Linz, where Bruckner was now cathedral organist, on 12th May. Thecomposition is in part re-used in Symphony No. 0 and represents adevelopment in style resulting from the rigorous counterpoint lessons thatBruckner had taken with Simon Sechter. The first phrase is sung by women'svoices, answered in the second phrase by the men, with a great crescendo on thename of Jesus, leading to imitative counterpoint in w hat follows.
Ecce sacerdos, written in 1885, was designed to celebrate the thousandthanniversary of the diocese of Linz, which it does in masterly style, with theadditional assistance of trombones and organ. Deriving its inspiration fromplainsong, Ecce sacerdos is a work of imaginative harmonic treatment,suited in its grandeur to the occasion it marks. It ends with a penultimateplainchant doxology, followed by the impressive chromaticism of the opening.
Bruckner wrote his setting of the Passion Sunday Vexilla regis in1892, the last of his motets. Modal in its opening, it is meditative in mood, amodified strophic setting of the hymn, ending with a hushed Amen.
In 1884 Bruckner was sixty. In this year he completed his Te Deum andwon success in December with the first performance of Symphony No.7 inLeipzig with the Gewandhaus Orchestra under Nikisch. His setting this year ofSalvum fac populum tuum again represents the intimate and devotional aspect ofhis genius.
The offertory Afferentur regi, from the Mass for Virgins and Martyrs,was written in 1861 and belongs, therefore, to the period during whichBruckner's pre-occupation with counterpoint was at its height, as the result ofthe lessons with Sechter. Written for four voices, there are three optionaltrombone parts, which, when they are included, serve only to mark the dynamicclimaxes of the work.
Bruckner made his Phrygian strophic setting of the Corpus Christi Pangelingua in 1868, conforming at this time to some extent with the restrictionssuggested