Anecdotes from the life of Anton Bruckner (I)

One of the oddest characters to be found in late 19th century Vienna was the composer Anton Bruckner (1824-96). Naive and eccentric, his unshakeable religious faith moved him to create astonishing symphonies of great beauty.

Bruckner’s physician, Dr Richard Heller, has left a vivid description of his character, reported in Karl Kobald’s In Memoriam Anton Bruckner (1924).

“No one who saw Bruckner could ever forget the impression made by that characteristic head, reminiscent of a cinquecento bust, in combination with his almost comical physique. The resemblance between that striking profile and the head of a Roman emperor was strengthened by his constant refusal to wear a beard, and by his habit of cropping his thick, white hair almost to the skull. His body was small and thick-set.”

“His feet were shod in broad, almost rectangular sealskin ankle boots, of which he owned about thirty pairs. Above these, he wore a pair of immensely wide, bag-like trousers. His jackets were of a similar expanse and each one had its own name, so that his faithful housekeeper needed a good memory if she was always to bring the right one. One of them was called ‘Shaggy’ because it was made of thick Loden material; another was ‘the Cords’ since it was made of worsted; a third was ‘the Dandy’, or ‘the Bobby’, or ‘Fatty’ and so on.”

“Bruckner’s hats were also given names. The ‘Hüadal’ (a little hat) was the one he usually wore, a black, broad-brimmed slouch-hat; his Sunday hat was simply ‘The Hat’; while ‘The Top Hat’ was a collapsible opera hat of prehistoric design, which he put on only for very special ceremonious occasions. The basic principle of his wardrobe was spacious and comfortable – which he carried to grotesque lengths. His way of living was as simple as he himself was, and anyone who saw the Master slurping up his soup from the bowl would have thought that he was in the company of a farm-hand grown old in honourable service rather than a great composer.”

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