I Hate…Er, And Now Sort of Like Bruckner, Part III

To catch up, Part I is here and Part II is here.

5) The power of Bruckner can’t be assessed from a Youtube video. Go see a live performance.

I don’t know when the next Bruckner performance in my area will be (as it turns out, the last one was April 20 and, uh, needless to say, I didn’t go). But I’ll keep an eye out for future performances. This idea should have crossed my mind immediately, as I’ve written about the great divide between listening to recordings and listening to live performances before. In January I wrote a review of a performance of a piece – Ligeti’s violin concerto – that I don’t know I’d enjoy on-disc, but that in-person actually came across as quite interesting. Maybe for whatever reason Bruckner falls into the same category.

I also think it’s important to remind myself that Bruckner never imagined that his work would be heard via tinny tiny speakers. He clearly intended every performance of his orchestral works to be Events of Epic Sonic Proportion, meant to be experienced communally with a huge live orchestra. Perhaps the modern ubiquity of recordings, and the subsequent…I don’t want to say “cheapening,” but it’s the only word that comes to mind…of musical performance somehow contributes to the perception of his work as being overblown and pompous. Nowadays, unless we hear a Bruckner symphony live, it’s simply not the big communal event that he must have envisioned, and I suppose it loses something integral when it isn’t. You know how performers have their historical practice, attempting to recreate certain aspects of what the performance must have been like in the past? Maybe listeners should have a version of it, too.

6) Bruckner may have had autism or Aspergers or a similar condition.

Wow, here comes another weighty issue…the practice of attempting to diagnose historical figures using modern medicine. This one is way too complicated and controversial for me to even dip a toe in. That being said, I’d be interested in reading any reputable research that has been done on the subject. Or even what people think about this practice in general. It seems to be increasingly common.

7) Um, if you hate him, avoid him. How hard is that?

I feel hesitant about point-blank ignoring a composer whose work I don’t like at first listen. Everyone should be. Many pieces I couldn’t stand at first listen are now some of my dearest favorites. But clearly none of them have had as uphill of a battle as Bruckner. And that’s the struggle I’m trying to document.

8) Be patient. Don’t force the love. Let yourself grow into it. Some things take a lifetime to appreciate.

After mulling all the suggestions over, this one has emerged as my favorite. It glows with a patient wisdom I’ve (clearly) yet to acquire.

The day I posted this essay, I watched the first of Bernstein’s six Harvard lectures. (Highly recommended, by the way.) He said something that nearly made me squeal with delight. I can’t remember the quotation word for word, but it was something along the lines of “I reserve the right to be wrong.” If Leonard Bernstein can reserve the right to be wrong, can you imagine how entitled I am to it? I look forward to seeing how my relationship with Bruckner’s work develops. I’ll be the first in line to denounce this article if my opinion changes.

9) You are a lot of contradictory things.

Yes, I certainly am. I found out in the comment section of Part I that I don’t understand God – I’m an excellent writer – I’m the author of horrific slime – I’m hilarious – I’m a naive sixth-grade bully – I have an antipathy toward men – I’m strangely attractive. I voiced a widespread opinion that wasn’t particularly shocking while at the same time subscribing to disturbingly disrespectful heresy.

Clearly this hubbub speaks less to what I am and more to what Bruckner is: a man who created work so massive, and so massively controversial, that we’re still arguing passionately about it more than a century after his death. Which is an accomplishment absolutely none of us can boast of. That’s a bottom line we all can agree on.


Thanks for taking the time to watch me wrestle with all this in public. You’ve all been very gracious, even when I’ve been upsetting. I owe any insights I may have gotten this week to you…

And yes, to Bruckner. Who I feel I should address directly.


Dear Mr. Bruckner,

Well, this is awkward!

I wish we could sit down and talk. Really. I wish I could take your skull into my hands and stare into it and somehow understand you. But I can’t, so here’s what I want to say. Your work has made an impression. It made me care enough to voice an unpopular opinion. You tested my honesty and integrity as a writer. You made me stop and think some hugely, hugely important questions about how I engage with music and music history. And consequently somehow in the last week or so of hating you, I’ve come to be…almost fond of you. In a really, really weird twisted way. Maybe someday I’ll hear the glory – understand you, the man – hear a magical performance, finally, that moves me to tears – and become an evangelist for your work.

Or, I’ll grow as a listener and human being and still actually kind of not be able to stand a single note you wrote. You know. Either/or.

But. Either way, it’s something – it’s better than what I started out with. You, along with all of my readers, made me think. Being taught is the best thing a blogger can aspire to. As long as you keep me the heck off that list – (and I’m guessing you will) – maybe we can live in peace.

I’ll see you down the road.

Yours, Emily


(And in case you’re wondering, yes, I did end up making the conscious decision to stop responding to comments, even though each and every one of them is truly very much appreciated. I’m actually taking a vacation from my blog’s comment section, period, until the brunt of Brucknergate is past. I felt like for a couple days there that I was so close to the bark that I wasn’t seeing any of the forest. I hope to emerge from the break with additional perspective, although I may not get back in time before the blog is archived. But as always, if you want to have a discussion with me via private message, feel free to initiate one.)


Filed under My Writing

5 responses to “I Hate…Er, And Now Sort of Like Bruckner, Part III

  1. Ken

    Hi, Emily. I hate Bruckner too! I’m finding myself exposed to more and more Bruckner lately though. Today for instance, I listened to Bruckner’s Sixth – all of it. It was on a radio broadcast (WGUC) containing a Philip Glass cello concerto. I wanted to hear the Glass, but listened to the entire concert. I think Bruckner is boring and needlessly long. But I used to think that about Mahler too.

    I attended 2 concerts by the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra since I arrived in town. The first one featured works by Higdon, Brahms (choral works), and Beethoven (7th Symphony). The 2nd one featured works by Rachmaninoff (Concerto No. 1 and Paganini Rhapsody – with Olga Kern) and Khachaturian.

    The Brahms-Beethoven program was terrible. I didn’t even stay for the Beethoven. The orchestra sounded awful. There were so many patrons coughing throughout the works I lost focus and never regained it. The hall is nice. The lobby areas are plenty large…lots of room to walk around. Ample restrooms. Much better setup than Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis. The seats are comfortable. Good amount of leg room.

    After that first concert I vowed never to return. About 2 weeks later I thought better of that decision and decided to give it another chance. Maybe my first impressions were not correct. At the 2nd show, last week the orchestra played very nice indeed. There were no flaws to the playing. Of course, it was still not what you would hear from Minnesota, but it was good. The audience still talked and coughed, and carried on. Very unprofessional audience – as if they had not had much exposure and did not know how to behave.

    I don’t know about the acoustics. I sat up front for both events, but a few rows further back the 2nd time. Things sounded pretty good to me at the 2nd show, but I can’t explain why the huge variations in what I heard between the two concerts. I might go back this week – Rach 3, again with Olga Kern.

    I miss Minnesota. I am mulling over whether I want to return, and if I even could if I wanted to. The weather here is nice.

    I still hate Bruckner.

  2. Kidon Sull

    A very intereting reading. I myself have gone through similar path, though I now am a devotee to Bruckner. But by Bruckner, I mean 5, 8, 9, not the others I’m afraid. Like many, I once was deeply in love with Mahler, some 20 years ago when I was young (!), and like you did, I tried to dig this Bruckner because most of the music history books pair them as the late Romantic giants. And I began to listen to 4, 7, because they were the most famous two and easy to get LPs at the time, a few tens of times each. But I just couldn’t get it… How boring, idiotic and anti climactic the music was, compared to Mahler the genius !! I just gave up on Bruckner, and lived without him for 4-5 years, until I listened to No.8 (Karajan with Berlin Philharmonic) on a certain day. “Lo, the wind from another planet !” An Everest was there in front of me, such a sublime and lofty mountain, just like Cezanne’s Mt. St. Victoire !! And subsequently found 9, and 5 which became my favorites. Symphony No. 4, 7 still remains as victims even till today, because I almost memorized them, without understanding the music. A pity. I like them, but not like 5, 8, 9. I enjoy 2 and 3 also, with their own merits. But 1, 6 remains as “study” to me. I do realize many Brucknerians regard 6 their favorite and a masterpiece, which I find very difficult to accept. I think if you find a code, a chnnel, a way, a frequency which connects you, touches you in his music, you’ll find a world which is completely original and uncomparable, to any music in the history of music.

    Please excuse my English, but I think you’ll get what I’m talking about !


  3. Minh-Tam Trinh

    I posted a rant under Part II before finding this post. Um. Sorry about that! I guess I felt so strongly that I overlooked Part III…

  4. Brian Bartoldus

    Hey! Catching up on this post much later. This comment might sound redundant to some others, but I wanted to say that I, too, do not enjoy the experience of the Bruckner symphonies. The Bruckner Masses (specifically E minor and F minor) and some of the motets (Os Justi, Christus factus est) are a completely different beast for me, and I think for good reason – the demands of the text and liturgy force Bruckner to not get stuck in a sound. As a choral conductor, I always want to remind orchestral folk that Western composers are more than their symphonic works. I hope you find something special in this very different, though equally important side of Bruckner!

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