Bruckner was born in Ansfelden, in the rural heartland of
Austria. Despite showing great musical promise as a child, he
chose to follow in his father's footsteps and train as a
schoolmaster. He entered upon a musical career by adding organ
playing to his teaching duties during ten years' employment at the
monastery of St Florian near Linz, where he had been a pupil.
He used his spare time to study with almost fanatical
determination in various musical disciplines; yet when the post of
cathedral organist at Linz became free in 1855, it was only with
the greatest difficulty that he was persuaded to apply. Though
very busy at Linz, Bruckner
found time to take a correspondence course in harmony and
counterpoint with Simon Sechter at the Vienna Conservatoire. He
received his diploma with distinction in 1861 — one of the panel
remarked. "He should have examined us." In 1868, he once again
needed considerable inducement to leave the security of his Linz
position and take up a professorship at the Conservatoire,
complete with salary increase.
Until 1863 Bruckner had written mainly meticulously crafted,
anonymous church music, but his encounter with the works of Wagner
provided the impulse to break free from all the rules and theory
and to develop his own startlingly original voice. His first full
symphony soon followed (1865—6) and then four more during the
period 1871 to 1876.
He then met with various difficulties, starting with the
reluctance of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra to perform what
they regarded as wild and unplayable works. In response, Bruckner
was persuaded, against his better judgment, to allow revisions and
cuts to these gigantic symphonies, only to be attacked by the
famous music critic Eduard Hanslick for formal inconsistencies.
They are now increasingly played in their original form.
Wagner, however, supported Bruckner, praising him as the "only
composer who measures up to Beethoven." Bruckner reciprocated by
dedicating the sublime, funereal Adagio of his Seventh
symphony (1884) to Wagner's memory. With this work he finally
achieved widespread recognition, and his symphonies were performed
as far afield as the United States. His Eighth symphony,
however, was at first rejected and the consequent revisions took
so much time that Bruckner died before finishing his Ninth
symphony. The three movements he completed are in many ways
his crowning achievement.