Three Bruckner Motets: “Virga Jesse,” “Tota pulchra es,” “Ave Maria,”

The symphonies of Anton Bruckner are monumental musical edifices which revel in the mystery of the divine. As the musicologist Deryck Cooke noted, Bruckner’s symphonies are “elemental and metaphysical.” Their “majesty and grandeur” is revealed gradually, in a way similar to the experience of walking around a medieval cathedral and observing the same mighty structure from different vantage points.

Bruckner’s sacred motets offer a microcosm of this experience. They occupy the timeless, ethereal sound world of early polyphony. This music reflects the ideals of the Cecilian movement, in which nineteenth century musicians in the Roman Catholic Church attempted to reintroduce Gregorian chant and the a cappella polyphony of Palestrina and Lassus to the Mass.

Here are three of Bruckner’s motets, performed by the London-based Tenebrae Choir:

Virga jesse

Virga jesse floruit, WAB 52 was first performed in December of 1885 for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception at Vienna’s Hofburgkapelle. The Dresden Amen occurs on the words “floruit” and “pacem deus redidit.” This distinctive liturgical harmonic sequence, made up of wide-open sixths, emerged in the churches of the German state of Saxony. Throughout Wagner’s Parsifalit forms the leitmotif representing the Holy Grail. As with Bruckner’s symphonies, the music pauses to catch its breath with moments of silence. The meeting of spirit and flesh (in se reconcilians ima summis) unfolds as a dialogue between low and high voices. The motet concludes with a celebratory Alleluja and finds serene repose in E major.

Virga Jesse floruit:
Virgo Deum et hominem genuit:
pacem Deus reddidit,
in se reconcilians ima summis.

The rod of Jesse hath blossomed:
a Virgin hath brought forth God and man:
God hath restored peace,
reconciling in Himself the lowest with the highest.

Tota pulchra es

Tota pulchra es, WAB 46 is a setting of a fourth century prayer to the Virgin Mary. It begins as a dialogue between a single voice chant and the choir. Dramatic peaks are punctuated by the addition of the organ. The first invocation of Christ comes in the final words of the antiphon (Ad Dominum Iesum Christum). These final moments are both haunting and transcendent.

Ave Maria

Bruckner’s seven-voice setting of Ave Maria, WAB 6 evokes a sublime simplicity, childlike innocence, and majesty. The name, “Jesus,” is repeated thee times with growing intensity amid a radiant A major chord.


  • Bruckner: Virga jesse floruit, WAB 52, Tota pulchra es, WAB 46, Ave Maria, WAB 6, Nigel Short, Tenebrae

Featured Image: “Pietà” (1499), Michelangelo 

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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