String Quintet : Work information

(Joseph) Anton Bruckner ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Deutsches Symphonie - Orchester Berlin

This work

Work name
String Quintet
Work number
WAB 112
1879-01-01 02:00:00

This recording

Nicholas Parker
Tim Handley
Recording date

Track listing

  • Moderato 12:03 min
  • Scherzo 7:36 min
  • Adagio 14:01 min
  • Finale 9:06 min


Bruckner's only chamber work of any significance, the String Quintet in F, dates from 1879 and was written at the request of Josef Hellmesberger, Director of the Vienna Conservatory and leader of a celebrated string quartet. Quite why Bruckner chose to write a quintet instead of the expected quartet is unknown; in any case Hellmesberger didn't play the work until 1885 despite Bruckner substituting a new Intermezzo for the Scherzo that Hellmesberger found too difficult.

The quintet was thus given its first performance on 17 November 1881 by an ensemble that included Bruckner's former pupil Josef Schalk, and Schalk's brother, Franz. With the original Scherzo now restored, the performance was well received by the Viennese, though on this occasion the Finale was ommitted. Complete performances and publication followed in 1884.

The quintet opens with a well-crafted and elegantly poised Moderato before continuing with the controversial Scherzo: a quirky, almost folk-like movement with a lyrical trio section. Perhaps the emotional heart of the work lies in the extended Adagio, an epic outpouring of Wagnerian melodrama in sublime G flat major. The Finale is an expansive and contrapuntal F minor movement that perhaps sits a bit too heavy after the excesses of the Adagio; it ends with a triumphant F major coda.

The Composers

(Joseph) Anton Bruckner

One of the leading composers of the late nineteenth century, Bruckner's reputation rests mainly on his symphonies and sacred choral works, though for much of his life, he was better known for his virtuoso abilities on the organ. An enigmatic, solitary figure with a deep religious faith, Bruckner's music, founded on the formal traditions of Beethoven and Schubert coloured with the harmony and orchestration of Wagner, influenced the younger generation of Mahler and Richard Strauss.

Born the son of a schoolteacher in Ansfelden, near Linz, on 4 September 1824, Bruckner's early musical education was primarily undertaken by the Augustian monastery of St. Florian. Here he was introduced to the Viennese classics and developed considerable skill as an organist.

After undertaking teacher-training courses in 1840-1, Bruckner spent several years as a village schoolteacher, during which time he continued his musical studies. He returned to St. Florian in 1845 as assistant schoolteacher and remained there for ten years, also becoming a singing instructor in 1849.

By now a virtuoso organist and showing signs in his compositions of future greatness, he applied for the post of cathedral organist at Linz, taking up the position on Christmas Eve 1856.

Yet he still continued his education, beginning in 1855 a long period of study with theorist Simon Sechter that was eventually completed in 1861, and studying form and orchestration with Otto Kitzler. His training now complete, Bruckner began numbering his masses and symphonies, which were now mature works of high quality.

It was Kitzler who introduced Bruckner to Wagner and stimulated a lifelong admiration of the composer who Bruckner referred to as the 'Meister aller Meister'. Bruckner attended every premiere of Wagner's operas from Tristan und Isolde onwards.
Bruckner's personal life was not particularly happy at Linz. His mother died and several romantic attachments ended in failure. He had a marriage proposal refused and remained a bachelor for the rest of his life, though always painfully aware of his loneliness. In 1867 he also suffered a nervous breakdown through overwork, prompting him to seek a new position elsewhere.

In October 1868 he assumed duties as professor of harmony and counterpoint at the Vienna Conservatory, an institution he would remain connected to until his retirement in 1891. Anxiety over his financial security probably prompted him to take on two other posts as well: lecturer at the University of Vienna from 1875, and piano instructor at St. Anna's teacher-training college for women from 1870-74.

By 1870 his international reputation as a virtuoso organist was firmly established and he turned his attention to the composition of symphonies. Bruckner's admiration for Wagner was, unfortunately, causing ripples that adversely affected the reception of his early symphonies, and the composer suffered a number of setbacks. Perhaps as a result he became preoccupied with revising his earlier works in the late 1870s.

By the mid 1880s, however, Bruckner's works were becoming better known in the context of an expanding Viennese Wagnerian movement. Awards, including an honorary doctorate from Vienna University, began to come his way and his works, particularly the 7th Symphony, were met with enthusiasm.

His final few years were marked by a desire to complete the 9th Symphony, begun in 1887, and by a series of debilitating illnesses. He finished all the movements of the symphony apart from the finale, which he was still struggling to complete when he died on 11 October 1896.

Although suffering for a while from its later associations with Hitler's Third Reich (Bruckner was one of Hitler's favourite composers), Bruckner's music by the 1970s had entered the repertoire of every major orchestra and choral society. Its popularity with audiences continues to rise and Bruckner is now finally recognised as one of the most innovative and influential musical figures of the late nineteenth century.

Related composers: WagnerLisztSchubertMahlerWolf, Richard Strauss

- MIDI FILE - Ave Maria (3'00'')