Classical Chat: Bruckner's epic sound cathedrals

Anton Bruckner
Anton Bruckner

If you want classical music that packs a punch then Bruckner is your man, with an output dominated by massive orchestral scores of awe-inspiring scale.

Bruckner’s music is so grand because of three influences: the incredible natural beauty of Austria, his all-consuming Catholic faith and relationship with a terrifying God, and his love of the operas of Wagner, high priest of the long and deeply-meaningful.

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Classical Chat has already covered two of his best-known works: his fairytale and medieval inspired Symphony No 4 (nicknamed the Romantic for its lush musical landscaping) and the dark Symphony No 9 which is a journey of fear and wonder which he was still writing when he died in 1896.

There’s no doubt Bruckner’s works are long and sometimes need a good deal of patience and repeated listening. But it’s worth it because there really is nothing else like his music. Here are a few highlights from his career:

Symphony No 5: This is a majestic and monumental work, in which Bruckner skilfully weaves together all his customary musical ideas: quiet passages for plucked strings, slow and solemn selections and enormous blazing brass outbursts.

Symphony No 7: This is one of his most popular works, with a beautiful opening cello melody which came to him in a dream, one of his most sparky scherzos and a gorgeous slow movement with Wagner tubas paying tribute to Bruckner’s idol.

Symphony No 8: This is one of his longest and most religious works. It’s 80 minutes, with a half-hour slow movement, but it is also one of the truly great orchestral pieces.

Te Deum: Bruckner wrote a lot for churches but this is his only piece on a truly symphonic scale. The addition of a choir and solo voices to his orchestral thunder is thrilling.

String Quintet: This is a fascinating attempt by Bruckner to shoehorn his massive style into the comparative confines of a chamber group.