14 October 2012

Following the trail of Anton Bruckner in Austria (3) -- Hörsching 1835-36

As I noted before, the "Bruckner Tour" in August 2012 has covered most of the places where Bruckner had lived for a certain period of time, but not all.

One significant place not included in the itinerary is Hörsching where Bruckner lived with his godfather, Johann Baptist Weiss, from the spring of 1835 till December 1836. It was said that Bruckner's father recognised his son's musical talent and arranged for him to be taught by his godfather who was more musically gifted than Bruckner Sr. himself. Bruckner spent 18 months of his childhood in Hörsching with happiness, and what could well be most influential in his musical education is that he received his first regular tuition in the theory of music and figured bass and organ playing from Weiss. During his time in Hörsching Bruckner finished probably his first composition Pange lingua (WAB 31).  Here is a quote from the Preface of ABSW XXI (Kleine Kirchenmusikwerke) written by Leopold Nowak in October 1983 (English translation by Eugene Hartzell):

The "Pange lingua" (No. 1) shows us the spirit stirring in the 12-year-old Bruckner to express in notes what he had heard in the choir loft in Hörsching. For all the clumsiness of the writing (could an untrained child have been anything other than clumsy?), this first preserved composition for the church is valuable evidence of the creative power that was starting to form. We must be grateful to the aging Bruckner who in 1891 confirmed the authorship of the 28-bar piece by "restoring" it; otherwise it would have been merely a bit of dilettantish harmony exercise which would not have been likely to draw any notice.

The cover of ABSW XXI/1

Pange lingua (1835-6)

Pange lingua (restored 1891)

I had decided even before this Bruckner Tour began that I had to include Hörsching in this trip, even without the comfort and surety of an arranged tour to it, so as not to leave a significant period of Bruckner's life untouched upon. It was a "bold" idea but not a very well planned one, as I'd find out later. On the early evening of 20th August, after our short day trip to Salzburg, I made an adventurous trip to Hörsching with the company of Bambos, an enthusiastic young man I befriended during the tour. We started our journey from Linz. We walked from our hotel to the train station and took the 18:56 train to Hörsching. 

The train we were about to board
Neat and clean layout. Very few passengers.

Armed with only a shared enthusiasm between us in our minds and Hans-Hubert Schönzeler's book (Bruckner), with a picture of the Hörsching church on page 14, in my bag, we arrived at Hörsching station at 19:05 without a trace of idea of where the church was. On one side of the station were large factory compounds and on the other side a few houses and a small road. With no sight of the spire of the church when we looked around, we went to the nearby petrol station to see if someone could give us a clue. The lady in the adjoining shop had no idea of where it was, and she asked an elderly customer if he could help. At first his answer was also negative, but when we showed him the picture of the church in the book, he said this church was definitely in Hörsching. The bad news was it was 3 to 4 kilometres away. He said we should walk along the road and then turn left and later turn left again, and we would get there. So the two of us started walking along the road and soon found ourselves among large fields with the sight of buildings many miles away. Everything was expansive here: the Austrian landscape, our mood and our discussion on Bruckner. However, at the back of my mind there was still a lingering fear that we might never find the church in time, particularly when the sun was about to set. 

When the doubts of where the church is were looming larger and larger, we ran into a moment of discovery. In the taller-than-man corn field on our left, there appeared a gap through which we saw to our great delight the spire of the church we had been looking for.

The moment of discovery.

A close-up shot of the spire.

We decided to take the direct route of walking straight towards the church, literally off the beaten track, crossing dry fields and train rails. But our luck ended some ten minutes later, as we were greeted with a chain link fence with barbed wire on top, on the periphery of an airfield -- it is the Blue Danube Airport Linz. Although having to walk around this airfield was a frustrating setback, particularly when the church was just about 1 km directly in front of us, our hearts were lightened with the confidence that we could make it at long last.

When we finally arrived at the old school house and the church, the sun had set. We walked straight to the plaque on the school house and took pictures for each other.

The old school house on the left and the church on the right. Note the plaque on the wall at far left.

The plaque

We walked up to the church and the door was open. Inside it was completely dark. I managed to take a few pictures of the altar using the widest apertures in my lenses coupled with a flash. After that, as I stood inside this church alone in the dark, I closed my eyes and tried to feel the atmosphere surrounding me, an atmosphere in a place that Bruckner had spent 18 months, full of happiness and spirituality. The satisfaction was immense.

The entrance to the church

The altar

After such an expedition, Bambos and I had a pint of beer in the pub next to the old school house and contemplated how we got back to Linz.

The town before it was completely dark.

We decided to call a taxi to take us to the train station as it was completely dark and we would miss the 20:50 train if we got there on foot. We might be too absorbed in our hearty chat and the taxi might be arriving too late, because by the time we got onto the platform, the time was 21:06. Austrian train service was so efficient and punctual that the logical deduction was we had missed the train. The next and last train would be 21:47. After sitting on the bench for about 10 minutes, I looked around and discovered that apart from the central platform we were on, there was another platform on one side. As we could not afford to miss the last train, I suggested going there and had a check. No sooner did we reach this platform than a train was arriving. A man got off the train and we asked if it would go to Linz, and to our great joy he said it did. We got on this train without knowing whether it was the train we thought we had missed or it was from another line. But it just didn't matter so long as we got back to Linz earlier.

We had a happy and truly memorable evening. Thank you very much Bambos for your wonderful company.