Tota pulchra es Maria

Anton Bruckner

Tota pulchra es Maria


About this work

In the wake of the disastrous premiere of the Third Symphony in December 1877, Anton Bruckner composed precious little the following year. But among these few works are the most unusual "Abendzauber" for solo baritone, four horns and three yodelers(!), and the haunting motet "Tota pulchra es Maria" for tenor, chorus and organ. The latter was composed to mark the silver jubilee of Franz Josef Rudigier, the Bishop of Linz, who early on recognized the composer's talent, becoming not only a staunch supporter but a firm friend as well.

The plaintive, modally tinged opening melody as intoned by the tenor and answered by the full chorus hearkens back to an earlier age. The purity of the music is wholly appropriate to the accompanying text as it extols the purity and fairness of the Blessed Virgin. At the words "Tu Gloria Jerusalem" the organ joins in as the music swells to forte in the composer's mature idiom. Here one is reminded that, despite his name being inextricably linked with absolute music, Bruckner was no mean hand at aurally delineating a text to great effect. The opening melody returns midway with a remarkable chromatic modulation (which would years later be quoted in the adagio of the Ninth Symphony). The music becomes more impassioned in its plea for Mary's intercession and resolves peacefully on a major chord. Suggested by its more intense passages, it may be that Bruckner, after previous disappointment, was finding his voice once again in this brief yet intensely spiritual work, for the String Quintet and Sixth Symphony would come the following year.