Anton BrucknerAnton Bruckner is often figured as a country bumpkin, a devout Roman Catholic peasant from the hills of northern Austria who found it difficult to make his way in the cosmopolitan world of 19th century Vienna.  At other times he’s spoken of as a slave to insecurity, a composer with so little confidence in his creative abilities that he would revise his music at the sight of a fly, at the rolling of an esteemed colleague’s questioning eye.  But Bruckner’s music is much more than that of an insecure urban peasant. 

Bruckner is mainly remembered as a composer of orchestral music, of symphonies so massive that they are often spoken of as “cathedrals of sound.”  Even his major choral works – the three masses of the 1860s (in D minor, E minor and F minor) and the piece which Bruckner himself held most dear, the D minor Te Deum – are symphonic by design and epic in proportion.  Yet some of his most memorable and accessible music can be found in miniature, in his short pieces for a cappella choir.

It’s unfortunate that Bruckner’s Motets have largely fallen through the cracks.  For though they’ve been overshadowed by his symphonic output, the motets glow:  You need only listen to Ave Maria or Os Justi to see that their light, while not blinding, is warm and inviting.  The motets may be smaller expressions of Bruckner’s Roman Catholic faith, but they reveal a beauty unlike that of his other music.  You can hear in them a union of the meditative modes of medieval chant and the harmonic textures of Romanticism.

Bruckner is an acknowledged master of symphonic form, a grand architect of cathedrals in sound. 

His motets show that he could also be a god of small things.

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Recommended recordings:

  • Anton Bruckner: Motets – Choir of St. Bride’s Church / Robert Jones (Naxos 8.550956)
  • Anton Bruckner: Motets  – Corydon Singers / Matthew Best (Hyperion CDA66052)

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