Whenever I read criticism of Bruckner’s symphonies, usually something about their length and lack of structure, I am always surprised. To the contrary, from the very first time I heard these works, I was right there, going along for the ride, following his every turn of musical thought. I am far from being a scholar of Bruckner, but have tried without success to discover if he was familiar with Schubert’s last piano sonatas or inspired by them. When listening to any of his symphonies, the final Schubert sonatas always come to mind, as I hear the Bruckner works as taking the next step in a progression that Schubert first contemplated in these final works. Unlike Beethoven, who in his later works experimented with formal structures in a variety of ways, Schubert did not. Instead, he consistently followed classical structures (sonata form, scherzo/trio, rondo) but stretched them out to greater lengths. His pattern of a first movement in sonata form, a second extended song form in slow tempo, a scherzo/trio and a final rondo, can be heard emulated in the Bruckner symphonies. To my mind, they closely follow the model of the Schubert late sonatas, only Bruckner goes well beyond Schubert, taking the concept to new extraordinary lengths.
In doing so, Bruckner achieves, at least to my ears, a music that is “oceanic” in feeling. As his music moves from theme to theme, shifting dramatically from tidal waves of sound to gentle landler, slowly pacing itself, letting the music gradually unfold over long periods of time, for me, more so than any other music I can think of, it opens the door to an unlimited interior expanse. Bruckner was a religious man, but when I hear his music, if he was praying to a God with it, that God was Poseidon. The music speaks of the ocean in all of its moods and in all of its vast expanse.