Os justi

Anton Bruckner

Os justi

WAB30

About this work

Anton Bruckner's motet Os justi is an eight-part setting for mixed chorus of a text derived from Psalm 36, verses 30 and 31: "The mouth of the just shall meditate wisdom, and his tongue shall speak judgment. The law of his God is in his heart, and his steps shall not be supplanted. Alleluia." The work was composed in 1879, and subsequently published in 1886. Around the same time, Bruckner had just begun work on the opening movement of his Symphony No. 6. This particular motet, when first heard in Vienna on June 6, 1880, was the first completely new work by Bruckner to be performed there since the disastrous premiere (in 1877) of the Third Symphony. On this occasion, Os justi was inserted as an offertory within a performance of Bruckner's Mass in D minor, which itself had not been performed in Vienna for some 13 years.

This work was one of "Four Graduals" published in 1886, which together rank as some of the most revolutionary and original liturgical settings of Bruckner's Vienna years. With these settings (the others are Locus iste, Virga Jesse, and Christus factus est), the composer now consciously strove to distance himself from the reforming endeavors of the Cecilian group founded by Franz Xaver Witt. The principal objective of that group lay in its efforts to restore the archaic purist modality of Palestrina's works to modern ecclesiastical music, on the grounds that most music of the times sought to achieve "unduly profane seductiveness" through effect rather than piety.

In many respects Bruckner's setting would seem to have endorsed such aspirations. Os justi was in fact dedicated to another prominent Cecilianist, Ignaz Traumihler, the organist of St. Florian Abbey. Bruckner wrote to him in the following terms: "I should be very pleased if you found pleasure in the piece. It is written entirely without any sharps or flats, and without the chord of the seventh, and without any 6-4 chords, and also without any chordal combinations of four and five simultaneous notes." Even so, as Derek Watson has concluded, "despite the severity of these restrictions, this motet is profoundly emotional in its effect." Bruckner's infusion of Romantic feeling into a spare, archaizing choral language is unique. A central main section in counterpoint is introduced by a chordal passage, and the work ends with a chant-like Alleluia.

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