One of the most innovative figures of the second half of the 19th century,
Bruckner is remembered primarily for his symphonies and sacred compositions. His
music is rooted in the formal traditions of Beethoven and Schubert and inflected
with Wagnerian harmony and orchestration. Until late in his career his
reputation rested mainly on his improvisatory skills at the organ. The Fourth
Symphony, like the Third, exists in three distinct versions. The first was
completed in November 1874 (ed. Nowak, 1974).
In this revision of 1878, Bruckner tightened up' the first two movements,
revised the finale and replaced the original scherzo with a new movement. In
1880 Bruckner substantially recomposed the finale. The work, comprising the
first three movements of 1878 and the finale of 1880, was given its first
performance by the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Hans Richter, on February
20, 1881. After this performance, Bruckner unsuccessfully attempted to get the
symphony published. In undertaking the third and final revision, Bruckner was
assisted by Ferdinand Löwe and probably by the Schalk brothers.