Anton Bruckner is an exceptional figure with deep roots in the church music of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Palestrina. It took Bruckner a long time to settle on composing as a career, with almost all of his works that are performed regularly today being written after he turned 40. He was born in Ansfelden near Linz, Upper Austria, and as a child was encouraged by his cousin, writing his first surviving composition, a setting of the hymn Pange lingua, at the age of 11. Following the death of his father when Bruckner was 12, he was given board and education at the monastery of St Florian, with a thorough grounding in music. His outstanding musical talent secured him the post of organist at Linz Cathedral in 1856, where he remained for 13 years while simultaneously following a correspondence course in counterpoint in Vienna.
Only at the age of 39 did Bruckner pronounce himself free to compose as he wished. His horizons quickly broadened and his first major full-length work, the Mass in D Minor, was a success at its Linz premiere in 1864. Following bouts of severe mental crises and obsessional tendencies after creative expansion and success, he began his Mass in F Minor in 1867, composing his way back to health. He became a professor of Harmony at the Vienna Conservatory and moved to the Austrian capital, where he found a few champions, notably the conductor Johann Herbeck. Bruckner was also the organist at the imperial chapel, where he was much admired for his improvisations on the instrument. By contrast, his own compositions, and especially his symphonies, were less warmly received and subjected to repeated attacks by the city's anti-Wagner faction. His music was largely misunderstood and it was many years before it found a regular place for itself in the mainstream repertory.
Bruckner was often described as lacking confidence, and there are several stories of him humbly accepting criticism from colleagues and even pupils. Yet he continued in his symphonic vocation, despite frequent humiliation and acute loneliness. For many listeners, it is that strong sense of underlying purpose that makes his music so valuable. With time, the originality and power of Bruckner's music began to be recognised and the tide turned with the premiere of his Seventh Symphony in 1884 in Leipzig. Bruckner gained a strong following in the city, while his reputation continued to grow abroad. His most ambitious project, the Ninth Symphony, dedicated "to dear God" was conceived on a massive scale, meant to culminate in an orchestral "Hymn of Praise". But as Bruckner's health began to fail, his obsessional traits pressed in again and only three of the symphony's four movements were completed by the time of his death 1896.