Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, ‘Romantic’ – No. 22 in our collection

Anton Bruckner (04.09.1824 – 11.10.1896) was an Austrian composer and organist who is best known for his symphonies, masses, and motets. Bruckner’s symphonies are considered emblematic of the final stage of Austro-German Romanticism. They exhibit a rich harmonic language, are strongly polyphonic in character, and were some of the lengthiest symphonies that had been written. His compositions showed the way towards a new musical radicalism, owing to their dissonances, unexpected modulations, and roving harmonies.

Anton Bruckner

Anton Bruckner came from a provincial background and was a man of a devout faith. Thus, he cut an odd figure among the sophisticated Romantic composers who were his contemporaries. Throughout his life he maintained a retained a rural accent, a simplicity of character and style of dress. He displayed a certain social naivete and showed an apparently unquestioning deference to authority.

The story of the last 25 years of Bruckner’s life is essentially that of his symphonies: the creation of new concepts of form, time-span, and unity, and his struggle to achieve success in the face of fierce critical opposition to the boldness and originality of his music. Many of his contemporaries found his works incomprehensible. The greatness that his works have achieved is testimony to his intelligence and musical skill but despite his achievements he remained inwardly insecure. This, together with the adverse criticism, may have led to the frequent revisions of many of his major works.

Although Bruckner’s symphonies are influenced by the music of Palestrina and Bach, as well as the medieval and baroque cathedrals in which he worked as an organist, they are clearly all products of the Romantic era. Thus one wonders why he singled out No. 4 as the ‘Romantic’. It certainly has the ability to evoke moods or mental images as one listens. It begins with one of the most magical symphonic openings with the solo horn calls sounding above shimmering string tremolandi. It is written in four movements, the second of which is not in the usual Brucknerian style seeming more like a funeral march. In the third movement the horns and trumpets hint at some kind of other worldly hunting scene. The last movement is by far the longest and the one with which Bruckner appears to have struggled. It contains some fine musical ideas but at times seems to lose its way. Nonetheless Bruckner does bring the work to a close in in a major key with a blaze of glory. Indeed it is one of Bruckner’s most thrilling endings.

We have chosen to add to our collection a live recording conducted by the great Brucknerian Günter Wand conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. The performance is perfectly paced, the Berlin Philharmonic were on their best form and the recording is excellent.

Listen on Spotify or buy from Presto Classical.

View the other works in our collection.