Anton Bruckner was a short, nervous man, with country ways, who shambled around Vienna in a coarse "peasant" suit. Amongst the musical sophisticates of the Austrian capital, Bruckner was never really able to shake off his image as a simple rustic.
This sorry state of affairs continued for most of Bruckner's life, with the savage music critic Eduard Hanslick and the Brahms camp laying into Bruckner, and suggesting his symphonies were every bit as simple and naive as the man who wrote them.
What this onslaught brought about in poor old Bruckner was a crisis of confidence; and the need constantly to revise his work. The 3rd Symphony was first composed during 1872-3, with further alterations made in 1874; a second version followed in 1876-7, with more touching up occurring in 1878. Finally, Bruckner produced a third version during the years 1888-9. The work's premiere was in the second version, of which Hanslick wrote that it "defied understanding, that its poetic meaning is never revealed and that its principle of continuity is elusive and difficult to grasp." That first performance had, admittedly, been something of a nightmare. The conductor had walked out on the piece just days before and Bruckner himself had been forced to wield the baton. The story goes that when it was over and he turned round to face the audience, there was hardly anyone left in the hall. Then, when he turned back to the orchestra, most of them, too, were already rudely disappearing.
Nowadays, fortunately, it's possible to enjoy the 3rd symphony as the fine work it is. For the record, the Philharmonia, under Kurt Sanderling, will perform Bruckner's final version of 1889, free from the influence of musical politics. As Bruckner's avid supporter, the young Hugo Wolf, called down from the balcony of the Musikverein: "How many symphonies have you written, Hanslick?"
EYE ON THE NEW
If you're going to the RFH to hear Bruckner 3, why not also take in the Philharmonia's early evening Music of Today event? Highly regarded young Scottish composer James MacMillan introduces the work of two fellow young Scots, James Clapperton and Gordon McPherson, before Nicholas Kok conducts the orchestra in Clapperton's The Preiching of the Swallow and McPherson's Handguns.
Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 (0171-960 42420) tomorrow, 6pmReuse content