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Anton Bruckner: "Mass in E Minor"

One of the most beautiful and powerful works for winds ever composed is certainly Anton Bruckner's Mass in E Minor. The piece is the second of Bruckner's masses and used winds exclusively in from orchestra because of the outdoor performance space for the Mass' intended premiere. The setting is of the Ordinary: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei.

Anton Bruckner, Mass in E Minor

Gächinger Kantorei and Bach-Collegium Stuttgart, Helmuth Rilling, conductor

Below are program notes by Barry Creasy, Chairman of the Collegium Musicum of London.

Like Dvorák, Bruckner was born to peasants and came to music early in life. His mother and father were involved in musical activities in their home village of Ansfelden, near Linz, in Upper Austria. At the age of four he took organ lessons and went on to study musical theory at the age of eleven. In spite of this early encouragement, Bruckner developed his skill and reputation slowly. Following the death of his father, he became a chorister in a local monastery and then trained to become a teacher. In 1855, he applied to study at the conservatoire in Vienna and then moved to Linz where he studied with Simon Sechter and later with Otto Kitzler. Although Bruckner is mostly known today for his vast symphonies (his symphonic style influenced much by his hero, Wagner), his earlier life saw the composition of many small-scale religious works for organ and for chorus. These works are almost like a concentration of the symphonies – using the same chromatic style and development in a fraction of the time.

The E Minor Mass, Bruckner's first recognised masterpiece (along with the First Symphony) was completed 1866 and had its first performance outside Linz Cathedral in September of 1869; it is dedicated to Bruckner's friend and patron Bishop Rudiger of Linz. The E Minor Mass stands apart from Bruckner's other two masses and, indeed, from almost all other 19th century liturgical music, by virtue of the forces it employs and its peculiarly expressive harmonic and contrapuntal language. It is scored for eight-part mixed chorus and a wind band of two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets and three trombones. The work illustrates more succinctly than any other Bruckner's unique style – combining the simplicity of expression, devoutness, restraint, poignancy and austere power of Italian Renaissance polyphony with the romantic, fully Brucknerian harmony, bold motivic development and powerful combinations and contrasts of vocal and instrumental texture.

You can find background information on the Ordinary of the Mass and the Mass in E Minor below.

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