Hyperion Records

Vexilla regis
Bruckner’s last church composition, Vexilla regis, dates from 1892, four years before the composer’s death, when the ailing Bruckner was struggling to complete his ninth and last symphony. The last thing Bruckner needed at such a time was distraction, yet he insisted that the urge to compose Vexilla regis came ‘straight from the heart’. The use of the old church ‘Phrygian Mode’ (the white-note scale on the piano beginning on E) harks back to Bruckner’s not uncritical interest in the aims of the Cecilian Movement; but the purity of the mode is soon coloured by breathtaking chromatic shifts, and the security of E as the tonal centre is only just recaptured at the end of each verse. The aspiring cadential figure at the word ‘prodeunt’ (‘advance’) near the start echoes Wagner’s use of the old Lutheran ‘Dresden Amen’ in his last opera Parsifal, whose first performance in 1882 had made an enormous impression on Bruckner. (A similar echo can be heard on strings alone near the start of the Adagio of the ninth symphony.)

from notes by Stephen Johnson © 2007

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