Bruckner’s father was an organist and schoolmaster in a small village in Austria. By the age of four Bruckner was showing musical talent. He played hymn tunes on a tiny violin and then found the chords to go with them on the family spinet. When he was ten he sometimes played the village organ for services. After his father’s death in 1837 he became a choirboy at the monastery school of St Florian where, in 1848, he became the organist of the abbey church. He started composing at this time and wrote a Requiem in d minor. He liked the music of Schubert and Mendelssohn and they influenced the way he composed.
Although he was happy at St Florian his friends told him he ought to look for a better job. They made him apply for the job of organist at the cathedral of Linz which he got easily. Meanwhile, he was trying to learn more about harmony and took a course with a famous teacher Simon Sechter. He then took a course in orchestration with the teacher Otto Kitzler. He became very interested in the music of Romantic composers like Liszt, Berlioz and especially Wagner. In 1864 he wrote a Mass in d minor for chorus and orchestra which clearly showed Wagner’s influence. In 1866 he finished the first of his nine symphonies. He also wrote some very beautiful motets which are among the best music of the 19th century written for the Roman Catholic church.
In 1866 he spent three months in a
sanatorium after a nervous collapse. During his later years he often suffered from depression.
In 1868 he became professor at the
Vienna Conservatoire where he taught harmony and counterpoint. This was an excellent job. The last 25 years of his life he spent his time teaching and composing his symphonies. He also travelled and gave organ recitals at Notre Dame in Paris and the Royal Albert Hall and Crystal Palace in London.
His music was very modern for its time and some people, including the famous music critic Eduard Hanslick, did not like it. Hanslick said that Bruckner composed like Wagner, but although Bruckner had learned from Wagner he did not simply copy him. Bruckner’s music shows his own strong personality. Hanslick, who preferred the symphonies of Brahms, did Bruckner a lot of harm by writing bad reviews of his music. He was Dean of the Music Department at the university in Vienna and did not want Bruckner to be appointed lecturer at the University. However, Bruckner did get that job in 1875. He became more and more famous, especially after the great conductor Arthur Nikisch conducted the first performance of his Symphony no 7 in the Leipzig Gewandhaus in 1884. He was given many honours. At the time of his death he had not yet finished his Symphony no 9. He was buried in St Florian.