Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, Romantic

Notes by TŌN horn player Ethan Brozka

As a brass player, Bruckner is religion to us, it’s almost like heavy metal in a way. We really get to open up and play over the backdrop of rich strings. It’s just a blast in every sense of the word.

Bruckner was a deeply religious man and much of his music was sacred. Obviously symphonies have no text or librettos, and I think it was Herbert von Karajan that said that they’re “masses without words,” which is how I would describe the aesthetic of the Romantic symphony.

Among Bruckner’s symphonies, this is one of my favorites. The 4th runs the gamut from its beautiful, daybreak opening with the horn solo at the beginning, all the way to the third movement where it’s almost like a hunting chorus between the horns and the rest of the brass, to the finale of heavy metal. There’s such a wide range of emotional content that demands so much from the players, but also allows us to be very expressive in a lot of different ways.

In the same way that we sort of have to come to terms with the history of Wagner, Bruckner is inextricably linked with the Third Reich. I think that a piece can exist independent of the time in which it was conceived. To disregard this entire work simply because of the associations with it, as the world did for many years with much of Bruckner’s music, would be foolish. In a way, it’s empowering to repurpose it for our own uses rather than ignore it because of its composer’s history.