Dr. Jimbob's Home -> Classical Music -> Music & Recordings -> Anton Bruckner: Four Motets

Choral Music Notes - Bruckner Motets

Contents of this page:

  • A short biography
  • Bruckner and sacred music
  • Translation of the text and notes
  • Ave Maria
  • Graduale: Locus iste
  • Graduale: Os justi
  • Graduale: Christus factus est
  • Recommended recordings
  • For more information
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    A short biography

    Josef Anton Bruckner was born on September 4, 1824 in the upper Austrian town of Ansfelden. His father was a schoolteacher and church organist, and Bruckner's initial studies followed similar lines. When Bruckner was 13, his father died, and he enrolled in the church school at St. Florian (some ten miles from Linz) as a chorister. There, he studied organ, piano, and music theory.

    At the age of 16, he entered a teacher-training school in Linz, and began work as a schoolteacher at St. Florian in 1845. He became the cathedral organist in 1848. At St. Florian he began to compose sacred music. In 1855, he went to Vienna to formally study harmony and counterpoint at the Vienna Conservatory under Professor Simon Sechter. The next year, he became the cathedral organist in Linz, and began studies in orchestration with Otto Kitzler, a cellist who introduced Bruckner to Wagner's operas.

    On his own, Bruckner assiduously studied the music of Renaissance Italian polyphonic masters such as Palestrina and German Baroque composers, especially J.S. Bach. He completed his studies with Sechter in 1861, and began to make a name for himself as a composer and an improviser at the organ. He moved to Vienna in 1868 to take appointments as the Emperor's court organist and to take over Sechter's professorship in harmony and counterpoint at the Vienna Conservatory.

    Bruckner spent the 1870's and 1880's giving masterful organ recitals and composing symphonies. Due to his failing health, he resigned from the Conservatory in 1891, and devoted his last years to work on his ninth symphony. This symphony, sadly, remained incomplete at the time of his death in Vienna on October 11, 1896.

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    Bruckner and sacred music

    Anton Bruckner is known to classical music buffs as a peasant savant symphonist, the "master-builder of cathedrals in sound" who was deeply influenced by Wagner's grand operas and who served in turn as an inspiration for Gustav Mahler. He wrote three Masses that continued the Viennese tradition of Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert and provided the melodic core of the symphonies.

    Bruckner's thirty-odd motets are often ignored but they are a crucial part of his compositional output. They express his devout Roman Catholic beliefs, using the modal chords and long, Gregorian chant-like lines of the Renaissance masters. But the harmonic shifts and compositional techniques display a clearly Romantic sensibility, and the blocks of contrasting sound display Bruckner's roots as an organ improviser.

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    Texts, Translations, and Notes

    Ave Maria

    The Ave Maria is a supplication to the Virgin Mary, based on text from the annunciation. Bruckner wrote this seven-part setting in 1861, making it the first major composition that he completed after five years of arduous study with Sechter. The first segment of Bruckner's setting contrasts the three-part women's choir and the four-part men's choir, which unite in the proclamation of the name of Jesus. The second segment is for all seven parts, with a particularly effective diminuendo as the choir asks for intervention for us sinners.

    Ave / Maria, / gratia / plena, / Dominus / tecum.
    Hail / Mary, / of grace / full, / Lord / with you;

    Benedicta / tu / in / mulieribus
    blessed / you / among / women

    et / benedictus / fructus / ventris / tui, / Jesus.
    and / blessed / fruit / of womb / your / Jesus

    Sancta / Maria, / mater / Dei,
    Holy / Mary, / mother / of God,

    ora / pro / nobis / peccatoribus,
    pray / for / us / sinners

    nunc / et / in / hora / mortis / nostrae. / Amen.
    now / and / in / hour / death / our / Amen

    Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you,

    you are blessed among women,

    and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

    Holy Mary, mother of God,

    pray for us sinners,

    now and in the hour of our death. Amen.

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    Graduale: Locus iste

    A typical Mass service draws its musical texts from two sources: a group of texts that are repeated at every service (the "Ordinary") and a group of texts whose meaning is specifically applicable to that week or that service (the "Propers", which include graduals, antiphons, and responsories).

    The gradual Locus iste is used in Mass services for the dedication of a church; the sacrament is a visible manifestation of God's invisible grace. This setting in four parts was written in 1869, to celebrate the dedication of the votive chapel of the cathedral at Linz. It is in a simple but spare three-section setting, with exposition and similar recapitulation separated by an imitative three-part section on the text "irreprehensibilis est" (it is blameless, or without reproof).

    Locus / iste / a / Deo / factus / est
    place / this / by / God / maded / was

    inaestimabile / sacramentum;
    priceless / mystery

    irreprehensibilis / est.
    without reproof / it is

    This place was made by God,

    a priceless mystery,

    it is beyond reproach.

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    Graduale: Os justi

    The text of Os justi comes from Psalm 37: 30-31. This four-part setting was completed in 1879 (the same year that he began work on the sixth symphony) and dedicated to Ignaz Traumihler, who was music director at St. Florian at the time. Traumihler subscribed to the Cecilian movement, which sought to bring the spare, a cappella choral style of Palestrina back to 19th century Austria. For Traumihler, Bruckner created an extraordinary motet in the Lydian mode, which achieves striking harmonic effects without ever using a single sharp or flat note. The work is in an ABA' structure, with similar music to set the Os justi and Lex Dei segments. It concludes with a plainchant Alleluja.

    Os / justi / meditabitur / sapientiam,
    mouth / of righteous / meditate / wisdom

    et / lingua / ejus / loquetur / judicium.
    and / tongue / his / shall speak / justice

    Lex / Dei / ejus / in / corde / ipsius
    Law / of God / his / in / heart / his

    et / non / supplantabuntur / gressus / ejus. / Alleluja.
    and / not / falter / steps / his / Hallelujah

    The mouth of the righteous shall meditate wisdom,

    and his tongue shall speak justice.

    The Law of his God is in his heart

    and his steps shall not falter. Hallelujah.

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    Graduale: Christus factus est

    This gradual is used as part of the Mass services during Holy Week, on Maundy Thursday, and its text comes from Philippians 2:8-9. This is Bruckner's third setting of this text, completed in 1884 (just after his seventh symphony and Te Deum). It was dedicated to Father Otto Loidol of the Benedictine Monastery of Kremsmünster, who was also the dedicatee of the Locus iste some 15 years before. It is the most symphonic of these four motets, and a prime example of the way that Bruckner gradually develops harmonic tension, building to memorable climaxes and then easing away.

    Christus / factus / est / pro / nobis / obediens
    Christ / made / was / for / us / obedient

    usque / ad / mortem, / mortem / autem / crucis.
    even / unto / death / death / on / cross

    Propter / quod / et / Deus / exaltavit / illum
    because of / this / and / God / raised / him

    et / dedit / illi / nomen,
    and / bestowed / on him / name

    quod / est / super / omne / nomen.
    which / is / above / all / names

    Christ became obedient for us,

    even unto death, death upon the cross.

    Because of this, God raised him

    and bestowed on him the name

    which is above all names.

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    Recommended recordings

    Bruckner's sacred music isn't nearly as extensively recorded as his nine symphonies. Moreover, many fine motet recordings, including those of Frieder Bernius and Philippe Herreweghe, do not include all four of the motets discussed on this page. Commendable complete-set recordings include a very fine Hyperion CD of the complete motets, with the Corydon Singers under Matthew Best. One cheap alternative is a Naxos CD with the Choir of St. Bride's Church under Robert Jones.

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    For more information:

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    Dr. Jimbob's Home -> Classical Music -> Music & Recordings -> Anton Bruckner: Four Motets
    Last updated: September 21, 2003 by James C.S. Liu

    Built With BBEdit 7.0.3 on a Power Mac G4 Tower. Originally developed as program notes for a concert by the Back Bay Chorale.

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