NO PORTRAIT of Bruckner can be drawn without contemplating both the composer and the teacher. If at the beginning of this book I stressed the fact that there was no culminating point in his career, I did not mean that there was no intensification. But this intensification developed inwardly and was not observed by his contemporaries. He himself was not conscious of the realm into which his genius was leading him. His works prove the point better than his peculiar personality. An increasing conciseness and an intensification of expression became noticeable in his creations. How could anyone say Bruckner wrote only one symphony in nine versions? Yet this remark was actually made. No work is better proof to the contrary than the Eighth Symphony, which he started writing at the threshold of his old age, in 1885. It would be a mistake to attribute superiority to any of the last three symphonies, which hold a special rank among all Bruckner's works. But as far as its structural perfection is concerned, all of the critics have agreed the Eighth is a surprising achievement. Also, the dark timbre at the beginning was quite new for him and differs greatly from the brighter colors in the corresponding movement of the Seventh.
We are rather surprised to learn that Bruckner conceived the Eighth from images and inner pictures which were anything but somber in character. Listen to the heavy-breathing theme of the Adagio over the dull D flat in the bass. It is unequivocal in the earnestness of its expression. Every conductor of the symphony whom I have heard directs the opening of the Adagio in this manner. Now, many years after I first heard the symphony, I learn that Bruckner told his friends in connection with this deeply moving theme: "There I looked too deeply into the eyes of a girl." Have I been so mistaken all my life? And what about the beginning of the Finale, where the very forces of Nature seem to shake them