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Jessica Duchen
Friday 30th October 2009
Bog off, Bruckner

I'm off to hear my hubby Tom's orchestra, the LPO, play a programme full of delicious Russian stuff tonight. We may have doubts about the 'Russian School', as per last month's print edition article, but you can't argue with Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, and especially not with Piers Lane playing the piano.

Well, you probably can argue with those composers - it's just that I personally wouldn't, as I love them to bits. What I do argue with is Bruckner. Last Saturday they did Bruckner 8, this Wednesday it's no.6. People go nuts over this stuff. Including Tom. In the run-up to Saturday he kept saying: 'It's a really beautiful symphony, this...Yannick does it so well...' - ie, heavy hint, you have to come and hear it. Er, I had to wash my hair.

I've been attending Bruckner symphonies, desperately trying to like the wretched things, for 25 years. After a quarter of a century of abject failure, enough is enough. I've stood through an interminable one in a hot Proms gallery. I've wallowed in the first 30 seconds of No.7, then cringed through the pig's ear that comprised the remaining well-over-an-hour by a composer who could invent the 19th century's most beautiful musical idea but couldn't follow it through. I've suffered intense attacks of claustrophobia in these attempts in the Royal Festival Hall, the Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Berlin Philharmonie and a nasty ex-communist conference centre in Bucharest on 11 September 2001. I have tried and tried and TRIED, so I am not going to try any longer. I don't like Bruckner. Get over it.

Remembered: an exam question at uni: "Hanslick once described Bruckner's symphonies as 'giant symphonic snakes'. Discuss." I think I picked a question about something else that time. They wouldn't have liked it if I'd proposed the thesis that giant snakes swallow rabbits whole, then curl up to sleep through the digestive process for several days on end, and Bruckner symphonies sort of do that too. They're indigestible, constipated and soporific.


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February 14th, 2012
1:02 AM
I have to agree. Bruckner plunges me into a mood of infinite germanic desolation. I have to quickly purge my being with some fresh and exhilarating (equally germanic) Bach.

Jessica Duchen
January 17th, 2010
9:01 AM
Boskof - yes, absolutely it is, and that was partly the point I wanted to make in the first place, all those months ago. If I can't enjoy Bruckner, no amount of missionary work on the part of those who (mysteriously, to me) adore him is going to work!

January 17th, 2010
3:01 AM
Jessica, is it not a fundamental, basic and immutable fact that as individuals, we all find enlightenment, entertainment and comfort in an appreciation particular to our own various and diverse interpretations of the culture which surrounds us all? I care little for Mozart, but adore Bruckner. I have just watched 'Mama Mia' with my wife, and whilst I wanted to eat my own testicles, she greatly enjoyed it - to each his/her own, I say. Que sera sera...

Dave J L
December 19th, 2009
12:12 AM
I'm not too familiar with Bruckner actually, a composer who's passed me by somewhat, though I love massive orchestral edifices, including Mahler, so I guess I should give him a try. Anyway my take is that it's always fine to dislike a composer no matter how much others may rave: I, for instance, can't understand the fuss over Mozart. It's not like he hasn't written timeless masterpieces as such, but I find his, and a lot of music of the period, very very predictable - all the alberti basses, repeated expositions, trilling cadences (bleurgh) and annoyingly childish arpeggio-heavy melodies start to sound very simplistic and unimaginative very quickly, and why people would rather listen to something like that instead of something, say, as mind-blowing as The Rite of Spring I'll never know.

sd goh
December 5th, 2009
4:12 PM
Jessica, a friend of mine who is a gifted self-taught pianist (so he claims) dislikes Bruckner too as he says that Bruckner ""never completes his phrases, dropping them halfway...." But I love his symphonies because of their awesome structure,spirituality and soaring melodies (and ya, those Wagnerian tubas in the 7th that make those glorious sounds). At a Jochum/Vienna Phil concert I attended at the Royal Festival Hall over two decades ago I noticed quite a few, mainly elderly members of the audience dozing off throughout the performance.So, at least Bruckner's music is a good cure for insomnia, if it is not to everyone's taste.

Randolph Magri-Overend
November 4th, 2009
8:11 PM
I find I can tolerate Bruckner up to a certain point....after that I can Bruck him ner more!

Adam Wells
November 3rd, 2009
11:11 AM
@ anonymous - as the lady said: "Bog Off!"

November 3rd, 2009
11:11 AM
Dear Jessica: first of all. I love Bruckner, adore him, live with him. He is my top nr 1, although Nielsen, Sibelius, Britten, Walton, etc are struggling for their rightfull place two. 2nd: How come that you can have strong preferences for music. Like myself, in the Top 10 you should find Richard Strauss. Written some nice music (Tod und Erkl), but just not my cup of tea. like Mozart: I hate Mozart, except from the nice parts like requiem, etc. But I do like Haydn (much more adventurous?). See, just very unlogic. 3rd musical taste evaluates: you just need to learn to live with some music, it will come in time (or not). That's not bad, there is so much music. Do not block anything, be prepared to discover and enjoy 4th of course you may not like Bruckner, but just do not be hateful. He has a respectful reputation, and I am not insultion ever boring Mozart.

November 3rd, 2009
10:11 AM
Adam Wells, we are all free to disagree about everything. But I hope you will consider doing at least some of the following: -re-read your last post -find its tone on reflection as offensive as I do -decide to pack away the witch-burning equipment -do the decent thing, and -offer Jessica Duchen an apology.

Jessica Duchen
November 3rd, 2009
8:11 AM
Dear Adam, if you don't happen to like my blog, you are naturally under no obligation to read it.

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About Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.

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