Anton Bruckner was a true original. He was certainly somewhat eccentric and, rooted in his Catholic upbringing, sought perfection in his pieces by revising them again and again, and never thought them good enough. According to Ars Musica’s Music Director, Kelly Crandell, “He constantly sought advice and approval from colleagues, which ties into his sense of feeling unworthy.” Bruckner was very concerned with the idea of perfection and avoidance of sin, which is why he chose to associate with young, pure girls, and never actually married.
Born Sept. 4, 1824, in the rural Austrian town of Ansfelden, Anton Bruckner composed his neoclassically styled Mass No. 2 in E minor in 1866. The mass is included in a series of what are referred to as his “early masses”: Requiem in D minor, Missa solemnis, Mass No. 1 in D minor, and Mass No. 3 in F minor. In keeping with his personal compulsive habits (such as habituating the same pub night after night at the same time and ordering the same beer), following the first performance of this mass, Bruckner revised it no fewer than four times: in 1866, 1899, 1876, and 1882. It was first published in 1866 and has been recorded about 90 times.
The mass was composed at the request of the Bishop of Linz, Franz-Josef Rudigier for a mass to celebrate the accomplishment of the construction of the Votive Chapel of the Maria-Empfängnis-Dom. Rudigier had requested a festive cantata in 1862 from Bruckner to celebrate the laying of the foundation stone of the new Dom. However, the construction was delayed, and the celebration took place three years later.
As one of the selected pieces for the June 8 Stravinsky & Bruckner Masterworks Concert, the Ars Musica chorus and orchestra will be presenting four of the six parts of Anton Bruckner’s Mass No. 2 in E minor. The piece harks back to monastic singing, contrasting with the style of his more radical symphonies. Its roots are in old-church music tradition, in particular, the unaccompanied pure vocal singing of Gregorian chants. The piece is written for eight voices, breathtakingly displayed to full advantage in the beautiful Kyrie, of which the majority is sung a cappella. Both the first verse of the Gloria and the Credo begin with chanting in Gregorian mode before the choir sings. The Gloria concludes with a fugue, similar to the pattern of Bruckner’s other masses. The Sanctus has a theme plucked from Palestrina‘s Missa Brevis and finishes with a fully engaged orchestra. A Benedictus and Agnus Dei conclude the piece, but are not included in the June 8 concert.
The double chorus is accompanied by a wind band of two each of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and trumpets, three trombones, and four horns. The spare orchestration was thought to be a compromise with clerics of the day, who wanted to do away with instruments in the mass.
Mr. Crandell sums up his thoughts about Bruckner: “To me, Bruckner was an anachronism in his own time. He wrote music that had a very old sensibility for the time period. He wrote in a way that Palestrina might have written, but through the eyes of a 19th-century musician [using] different forces. This ideology is also reflected in his deep attachment to tradition and the Catholic church. But it’s surprising that he loved the very progressive Wagner as much as Beethoven, both of whom he often quotes.”
Despite early criticism characterizing Bruckner’s masses as symphonies set to liturgical texts, Bruckner’s Mass No. 2 in E minor has been praised highly throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and remains a popular piece. Ars Musica is delighted to present it to our audience. The mass is a major component of the June 8 concert, which features works on themes of peace, praise, and psalms.