About this work
During the three-year period Anton Bruckner spent on the composition of his immense Eighth Symphony, the composer found little time to produce much else. Yet, those few works which came from 1884-87, mostly sacred vocal pieces, are of very high quality and imaginative. Perhaps the most arresting is the motet "Ecce sacerdos magnus" for mixed chorus, three trombones and organ from 1885.
From it very opening, impassioned in utterance and almost barbaric in its opulence despite its economy of means, it is apparent that this motet inhabits the same world as the recent "Te Deum" and the contemporary Eighth Symphony. It is a vital, almost militant, assertion of Faith which yields to a highly contrapuntal interweaving of voices and organ. At the word "Benedictionen" the trio of trombones enter with solemn dignity, underlining the benevolence of the text. The following "Gloria Patri" utilizes ancient plainsong for a capella unison voices until the vigor of the opening returns at the words "Ideo jurejando fecit", a curious yet effective choice for reprisal. Bruckner then opts for a serene ending with the words "plebem suam", an humble invocation to God to bless and increase His people. "Ecces sacerdos" is perhaps the most unusual of Bruckner's mature motets. Even in returning to the beloved idioms of his youth one is reminded of the composer's dictum "They would like me to compose a different way but I cannot. I must not."