Although Bruckner wrote a great deal of sacred choral music (including not only his grandly conceived Mass No.
3, but also his more intimate Mass No. 2 and his astringent motets, which fuse Renaissance and nineteenth century techniques), he is best known for his symphonies: two unnumbered apprentice works, eight completed mature symphonies, and the first three movements of a Ninth (The finale has been reconstructed by several hands, but most performances include just the movements Bruckner completed). The symphonies, influenced to some extent by Wagner and identified with his school by the Viennese public, are monumental: expansive in scale, rigorous (if sometimes gigantist) in formal design, and often elaborate in their contrapuntal writing. Their sonorities are stately and organ-like; the Viennese critic Graf wrote that Bruckner "pondered over chords and chord associations as a medieval architect contemplated the original forms of a Gothic cathedral." Despite occasional folk influences in the scherzos, his symphonies are uniformly high-minded, even religious, in spirit. Together, they form the weightiest body of symphonies between Schubert (whom he greatly admired) and Mahler.
Bruckner was born in the town of Ansfelden, Austria, on September 4, 1824, and he spent the first years of his career as a choirmaster for a group of monks and as a church organist in Linz. After several years of studying composition and counterpoint by mail, he passed exams at the Vienna Conservatory in 1861. In the early 1860s he created his first large works, including a Symphony in D minor that he later derisively named "die Nullte," the Symphony No. 0. He was present at the premiere of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde in 1865 and remained a near fanatical admirer of Wagner, but the extent to which his own vast musical structures were modeled on Wagner's is a matter of debate. He landed a teaching post at the Conservatory in 1868, but always retained something of his original rustic character. An often-repeated anecdote tells how he gave a tip to the aristocratic conductor Hans Richter after a successful rehearsal of his Symphony No. 4, telling Richter to go and buy himself a beer. Bruckner died in Vienna on October 11, 1896.