The Misfit


As a composer he mastered vast thundering symphonies and sublime sacred choral works, but as a man Anton Bruckner was awkward and bumbling, especially with women.

When it came to the fair sex, the lifelong bachelor was a man of impulses. Once, while visiting a town to give an organ recital, he saw a beautiful girl in church. The next morning he asked for permission to marry her.

During a vacation in the Alps he was working on his Sixth Symphony, which shows no particular influence of the lofty mountains, but the diary he kept sports a long list of girls he found appealing.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Bruckner’s interest in a woman lasted only so long as he believed that she was honest and would make a suitable wife. If she passed his initial scrutiny, he would hound his friends to find out about her character and her family.

He also made a point of asking about the girl’s dowry. He wanted her to have enough money to guarantee a dignified marriage, and he was well aware that if he died he would have nothing to leave a widow.

In 1890, knowing that Bruckner considered forward women to be symbols of sin and damnation, some of his cohorts decided to play a trick on him. Conductor Hans Richter and some friends took the sixty-six-year-old composer to a restaurant that employed waitresses, a possible indicator that the place had a dubious reputation. One or two at a time, the friends withdrew until Bruckner was alone with the waitress, who was in on the joke.

Without warning, she sat on Bruckner’s lap.

The horrified composer jumped up and shouted in his best Latin, “Satan, get thee behind me!”

The stunt was not entirely without provocation. After Richter had conducted one of Bruckner’s symphonies in a rehearsal, the absent-minded composer had tipped him a dollar.