Anton Bruckner, Rustic Genius

By Werner Wolff; Walter Damrosch | Go to book overview
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THE final examination of 1861 was not the first occasion on which music lovers in Vienna could hear Bruckner play the organ. On July 24, 1858, the critic Ludwig Speidel had written an enthusiastic article on "the young and rising talent of Mr. Bruckner." Incidentally, he thought Bruckner's improvisation on the organ bore the earmarks of Mendelssohn's music. "We don't blame him for that," said Speidel. Bruckner's most fervent admirer in Linz was Bishop Rudigier. This strong-minded churchman was habitually deeply moved by Bruckner's playing. When Bruckner played "he would grow silent, completely absorbed, and listen." According to Auer, Rudigier himself is reported to have said that Bruckner's Mass in D moved him to such an extent he could no longer pray.

This little anecdote, mentioned by most of Bruckner's biographers as proof of his mastery of the organ, might well be the starting point for a book on music psychology. In it we see how the absorbing power of music overcomes the ingrained habit of religious practices. Mental concentration vanishes when confronted with the indefinite and indefinable sensations of tone. The emotional factor in music attains such ascendancy that we can almost understand Plato's thoughts on the moral influence of the noble art.

Bruckner, for his part, revered his bishop and considered him second only to Richard Wagner. Decsey relates an amusing story which originated in Vienna, the birthplace of so many musical anecdotes: "In his own affections, Bruckner rates Wagner between the Bishop of Linz and the Heavenly Father."

Bruckner did not meet Wagner personally until 1865. The first performance of Tristan and Isolde had been scheduled to take place in Munich on May 15th of that year. It had to be postponed until June 10th, however, since Isolde (Mrs.


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