Three of the symphonies of the Austrian composer Anton Bruckner were introduced to American audiences in the 1880s, when Bruckner was still alive and still composing new works. Walter Damrosch introduced Bruckner’s Third to New York audiences in 1885, Theodore Thomas conducted the American premiere of the Seventh in Chicago in 1886, and Anton Seidl led the first New York performance of the Fourth in 1888.
Bruckner, then in his 60s, was thrilled that Americans were performing his music. He would have been less thrilled had he seen the devastating reviews they received. “Formless, weird, fragmentary, flimsy, uncongenial, and empty,” were just a few of the adjectives that greeted this new music at the time.
After Bruckner’s death in 1896, it was the Boston Symphony’s turn to take up his cause: On today’s date in 1901, Wilhelm Gericke led the American premiere of Bruckner’s Fifth. The Boston critics’ estimation was mixed: “Interesting, scholarly and very skillfully orchestrated,” were among the more positive comments—“not very coherent or systematic,” among the negative.
Bruckner’s mammoth Eighth Symphony had its American debut at a matinee concert of the Boston Symphony conducted by Max Fiedler in March of 1909. One reviewer wrote: “The work is, of course, massive, but it is massive like a business building, not like a mountain; it impresses one, but it does not move the emotions. The Bruckner work is by no means easy to listen to... Altogether it made a trying afternoon.”
Music Played in Today's Program
Anton Bruckner (1824–1896)Symphony No. 5Saarbrucken Radio Symphony; Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, cond.Arte Nova 43305