Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Bruckner

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 4

Bruckner, whose 199th birthday was celebrated in yesterday’s Music History Monday post, was born in the Austrian village of Ansfelden, near Linz. His father – Anton Senior – was the town schoolmaster and the church organist, and it was at the local Catholic Church that Bruckner heard his first music, sang as a choirboy, and learned to play the violin and organ from his father. Bruckner was educated in the churches and monasteries of his native Upper Austria, and for his entire life, the Catholic Church was Bruckner’s spiritual home, his refuge, and his inspiration. Bruckner was as devout as they come, and he seemed to have believed completely that everything he did should honor God. Bruckner’s faith in his god might have been exactly what it appeared to be: religious altruism. But knowing the guy as we do, it’s also difficult not to see that faith as a compensation for his pathological lack of faith in himself. As a young adult, despite his musical training and obvious talents as a musician, he apparently had little belief in his own abilities. The consensus today is that as a young man Bruckner lacked the confidence or the grit to brave the […]

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Music History Monday: On the Spectrum

We mark the birth on September 4, 1824 – 199 years ago today – of the composer and organist Josef Anton Bruckner, in the Austrian village of Ansfelden, which today is a suburb of the city of Linz.  He died in the Austrian capital of Vienna on October 11, 1896, at the age of 72. It was Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) who famously said that Bruckner was: “Half simpleton, half God.” Strangeness I would be so bold as to suggest that there is such a thing as a “strangeness spectrum,” a scale of personality oddness that stretches from the merely quirky to the genuinely weird.  If we were to consider such a spectrum as a scale from one to ten, with one being “quirky” (or idiosyncratic); five being “eccentric” (or odd); and ten being really “weird” (or bizarre), then the personality of the composer and organist Anton Bruckner would lie at about an eleven: an off-the-charts “downright whacky” (and even, at times, unnervingly creepy). I know, I know: many of you are probably thinking something on the lines of “so what? He was a professional composer.  Show me a major composer besides, perhaps, Joseph Haydn and Antonin Dvořák who wasn’t a […]

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Music History Monday: A Rather Strange Fellow

Today we mark the 193rd anniversary of the birth of the Austrian composer and organist Anton Joseph Bruckner. When I was a graduate student back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, one of my classmates was a musicologist named Stephen Parkeny. He was a wonderful guy – sweet, smart, and very talented – whose life was cut all-too-short by multiple sclerosis. I remember him well and honor him still. Stephen was a Bruckner fanatic. He lived and breathed Bruckner’s music; he made his house of it; he dined on it with epicurean delight. When he discovered – early in our acquaintance – that I didn’t know much of Bruckner’s music and that what I knew I didn’t like, he took it upon himself to make of me a Brucknerite. He recommended recordings to me; he pressed books and articles on me; he regaled me with Bruckner stories and trivia and in doing so brought to bear his extraordinary enthusiasm for Bruckner. Alas, I came to like Stephen much more than Bruckner. But his efforts weren’t entirely in vain, as I developed an admiration for Bruckner’s Symphonies Nos. 4 and 8, and a grudging respect for a couple of others. […]

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On Birthdays

Among the top pick-up lines of my generation was the irksome “what’s your sign?”. I myself never used the line because one, I was too embarrassed to do so and two, I never gave much credence to the whole astrology trip, even as an ice-breaker. If you ask me (which you didn’t, but then you are reading this post), our actual birthdates are much less significant than the dates on which we were conceived. Now please, I am not venturing into the social/religious/emotional minefield of “when” life begins (although I would invoke the joke that has a priest declare that life begins at conception, a reverend assert that life begins at birth, and a rabbi proclaim that “life begins when the kids go to college and the dog is DEAD!”). Rather, I’m merely pointing out that if the heavens truly affect our spirits and reproductive urges and fluids, then conception (and the physical activity that leads to such) seems much more likely to be affected by unseen gravitational tides than the rather more straightforward, contraction-dominated acts of labor and birth. I will gladly acknowledge the advantages of celebrating “birthdays” rather than “days of conception”. First (and we’re all adults here, […]

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