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The Defining Elements of Bruckner

Anton Bruckner still to this day holds a significant role in the journey and
progression of composers throughout history. His symphonies never fail to give the
audience an emotional journey and in result, his life was admired by many later
composers such as Mahler and Mendelssohn. Living from 1824-1896, he was
immersed in the middle of the romantic period. Bruckner was born in Ansfelden
(Upper Austria) on September 4th, 1824. Raised in a non-musical family, his father
was a schoolmaster and his mother did not work. He was the first born of twelve,
whom most died early. Until no earlier than 30 years old, education was the primary
focus of his life. After finishing his education, writing took full reign. However it was
not until he was 42 that his popularity struck its peak with the completion of his
first symphony. Bruckner continued writing symphonies throughout his life until he
was unable to finish his ninth symphony due to increasingly terrible health
problems. It was in 1896 that he passed away in Vienna.


The focus of this essay will be on the claim that the major influences of
Schubert and Wagner largely aided in the development of Bruckners sound and
style in his symphonies
I will first discuss and go into detail regarding Schuberts influence on
Bruckner. The influence that Schubert had on Bruckner is much less obvious than

Erwin Doernberg, The Life and Symphonies of Anton Bruckner. (Canada: General Publishing
Company, 1960) 27-94.
H. F. Redlich, Bruckner and Mahler. (London: J. M. Dent and Sons LTD, 1955) 3-11, 77-109

that of Wagner on Bruckner, but the influence is still well evident. The ties that can
be shown between Schubert and Bruckner lay in regards to thematic and melodic
material. To keep the comparison simple, I will narrow my examples from the
scores to only Bruckners 7th symphony and Schuberts 9th symphony.
To start, a very common feature between these two composers is a feeling of
constant rising. This is accomplished primarily through the use of ascending
melodies and overall ascending movement throughout the orchestra. Lets start with
providing examples of the idea of constant ascending melodies. In the last
movement of Schuberts 9th, bars 1-90, the melody is in almost constant upward
motion. After the main theme is played, the material that follows (bars 38-90) in
preparation to the recapitulation at bar 90 also increases in pitch almost constantly.
This sense of constant ascending pitch delivers a great deal of energy and
excitement to the audience. Because of such big emotional outcome to this
technique, Bruckner took this tool and used it immensely. In comparison to
Schubert, the opening in melody in Bruckners 7th (bars 3-6) also rises constantly.
Another example lays in the opening motive in the last movement of the Bruckner
(bars 1-2) where it is yet again rising.
Examples of constant ascending melodies can
truly be found in a heavy majority of Schuberts and thus Bruckners writing. This
influence is rather obvious and does not show all the influences Schubert provided.
Therefore I would like to now transition to what I believe is the second and last tool
Bruckner adopted from Schubert. That being the theory-based aspect of Schuberts

Doernberg, Anton Bruckner, 182-193

To recap, the idea of constant rising in melody is an evident influence
provided by Schubert. However, the sense of constant rising must come from more
just the melody in order to give such a strong impact. Continuing, Schubert --and
later on, Bruckner-- accomplished this by not only writing the melody in a rising
nature, but writing the whole symphony itself like this.
Schubert commonly takes
the whole melody or motive and moves it up by an interval, most frequently more
than once. For example, bars 196-227 in the first of the Schubert consists of a small
motive played mostly by the viola and the cello that increases in pitch. The motive
originally centers around the pitch E-flat but modulates up by minor thirds until its
played in the new tonal center, B-flat. Another example of this technique can be
shown in bars 169-182 in the same symphony but this time in the third movement.
The motive played by the violin -- then played by the rest of the string section --
starts on tonal center F, then progressively moves up to where the motives center is
C. This technique is used very frequently throughout Schuberts writing because the
use of upward scalar motion delivers a great deal of emotion and power when used
at the correct time.
In comparison, Bruckner used this technique, but takes it to the extreme
(most likely because that is the extent to Wagner did it). For example, in bars 91-98,
the 2 1/2 measure motive is played three times in repetition, each time modulating
up by a minor third. But not only does the motive modulate upwards, the whole
orchestra ascends either playing the melody or chordal figures that modulate in
relation to the melody.

Robert Simpson, The Essence of Bruckner, An essay towards the understanding of his music
(Philadelphia: Chilton Book Company, 1968), 142-159


This tool of abrupt and sudden modulation has major influence from
Schubert. However, the extent of Bruckners change in chordal structure does not
originate from Schuberts writing. This is when the influences from Wagner take
role and develop on the major characteristics in Bruckners style.
The techniques emulated by Bruckner are mostly those including harmony.
Bruckner believed Wagner to be a God of some sorts. He was Bruckners upmost
idol and thought of him so highly, Bruckner dedicated a symphony to him.
Symphony No.3 -- often called the Wagner Symphony -- is as close to Wagner as a
composer can get without being accused of musical plagiarism. There are several
times throughout the symphony that Bruckner not only inserts direct quotes from

Wagners work, but also centers the symphony around themes that were originally
written by Wagner himself. Therefore, before any analysis of music has taken place,
the godly mindset that Bruckner had of Wagner must at the very least result in a

moderate amount of musical influence. I will again condense my examples to only
two works. First being Wagners Symphony in C major and once again Bruckners
The main influence from Wagner that can be found in Bruckners works is
that of harmony and the extended of idea of what I like to call, chordal jumping.
Due to the possible complexity of this subject, I will provide a narrowed score
image of my examples in order to simplify my explanation. The first example can be
shown in bars 1-23 in Wagners symphony. In this example, I do no need to discuss
the melodic material. Therefore, I will skip over it. Measure one starts with a C-
major chord, followed by melodic material. Then a unison D in measure 7
throughout the orchestra, followed again by more melodic material. Then a unison A
is written on beat two of measure 12 followed by a combination of C-sharp, E and A.
Followed by a unison E. Looking back, measures 12 and 13 imply a ( V-I ) in the key
of E-major. Finally, starting in measure 19, the chords ascend diatonically by step
until beat 3 of measure 22 where the orchestra concludes the statement with a ( V-I
) progression in the original key of C-major.

Nobuyoshi Yasuda, Interview.


This technique can be defined as diatonic planing. But looking past that, it is
evident that Wagner discovers a perfect combination of tonality but yet no sense of

where tonic is at all. For example, having the whole orchestra modulate to E major,
then ascend by step in unison for five consecutive chords does not establish any key
what so ever. On the other hand, he finishes the diatonic ascending phrase with a (V-
I) in the original key. Thus coming tonality with atonality.
As stated earlier, looking deeper into Bruckners writing, the chordal and
structural techniques go farther than what Schubert was able to complete. After
listening to only the beginning multiple measures of the fourth movement in
Wagners symphony, the sense of forward-moving excitement and energy cannot be
unheard. Therefore, when Bruckner began writing his symphonies, he maintained
rhythmically-simple melodies (as Wagner was reputable for), but was able to keep
the sound of forward-moving energy constantly present through the use of this
technique discussed earlier.
An example of this in the Bruckner Symphony can be found in measures 191-
194 in movement four. Looking below, I have written in the notes being played
under each strong beat. As you can see, there is no common chord progression
occurring what so ever. Furthermore, not only are there no full chords, but the
impartial chords imply keys that are nowhere close to the original A-major. But in
almost perfect reflection of Wagner, his phrase ends on unison A just in time to keep
the tonic key intact.



I would like to conclude my discussion on Wagners influence by providing
two more slightly less significant tools that Wagner adopted. First being, the overall
simplicity of the rhythm throughout the works. Comparing Beethovens 9th
symphony to Wagners Symphony in C major, Wagner deviates from the norm of
more complex rhythm and instead makes the rhythm extremely simple. This can be
shown throughout the whole work or any of his works. The same applies to
Bruckner, even though he has slightly faster rhythms, it is almost all in unison which
allows it stay very simple. Bruckner most likely realized the simplicity of the rhythm
allows for the harmony --which was newly revolutionized at the time-- to come
through much more and allow for a much different sounding symphony than ever
Along the same topic of developing a completely new style, I would like to
discuss the final tool Bruckner was able to use in his writing. That being the use of
the brass, Wagner to this day is reputable for assigning the brass a much more
present and aiding role in the orchestra. This can be shown throughout his works,
especially his symphonies. However, Wagners writing almost never gave brass the

chance to take the front stage, but were more given music that would enhance the
chordal structure and aid in developing new levels of high-impact emotion. The
same can be found in Bruckners writing. Located in almost all climactic points in his
works, the audience is hearing the brass help push the orchestra to new levels of
In conclusion, the thematic and melodic influences of Schubert in
combination with the harmonic influences from Wagner aided in the development
of a Symphony sound that revolutionized the era. All of Bruckners works are held in
the highest respect to this day. Continuing, the ability to bring so many different
characteristics from the culture surrounding, his teachers and the influence of well
accomplished composers (significantly Schubert and Wagner) makes Bruckner one
of the most influential composers that ever lived.