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Music, Essays, Book Reviews | Michael Dodaro
Bruckner had written numerous vocal and orchestral pieces for church performance, but his first serious attempts at concert music did not occur until the 1860s, when he began projects under the tutelage of Otto Kitzler. During his time with this modernist, Bruckner fell under the potent charm of Wagner, whose ultra-chromatic style brought change to the Austrian's own. Bruckner's church music sat well with audiences, but his symphonies, for which he is best known today, were radical in scope and hostilely received. He became a personal friend of , a friendship causing even greater discord with followers of and conservative tradition. Bruckner took on the mark of an overblown Wagnerian; after modest success with his Symphony Number 2 (1871-2), Symphony Number 3 (1873-7) had a disastrous premiére, although a supportive audience member was 17-year-old . His later symphonies, particularly Numbers 5 (1875-6) and 7 (1881-3), had their share of applause, but also widespread hisses and harsh reviews in the press. Local orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic, were reluctant to perform Bruckner's compositions, usually deemed formless, too long, and unmarketable.
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Bruckner did enjoy increasing fame in his late years, as society became accustomed to the workings of Wagnerism; by the time of his final illness, he was a former professor of the Vienna Conservatory and the recipient of a government pension for his goodwill to the Austrian Empire. Bruckner's works have found performances worldwide, due to a steady growth in popularity since his death in 1896. A lack of interference by the Nazi government, who otherwise stunted the progress of Mahler, , Boris Blacher, and others, was particularly helpful, as was the dedication of conductors such as Wilhelm Furtwängler, Daniel Barenboim, and Herbert von Karajan to performing Bruckner whenever the chance has presented itself. Still to be resolved, however, are questions about the scores themselves; they were sometimes revised through Bruckner's own decision, but also through the persuasion of friends who thought his music could be made "listener-friendly." One should note the different versions of some symphonies, with unwanted cuts and alterations still being weeded out by musicologists.