It could never be said that Anton Bruckner, who Brahms once described as a purveyor of “symphonic boa-constrictors” was short on strange habits.

The Austrian composer from the small village of Ansfelden had an obsession with dead bodies – he kept a photograph of his mother’s corpse (taken on her death bed) on display in his teaching room and he apparently managed to get his mits on the skulls of both Beethoven and Schubert (though he was thwarted in his attempt to gain access to the skull of a dead cousin). He also attended the funerals of strangers, hoping for a glimpse of the bodies.

Bruckner, Counting, Did you hear Bruckner and his critics, by Otto Böhler (1847 – 1913)

Just as disconcertingly, he would make long lists of the teenage girls he had his beady eye on in his diaries (accusations of impropriety – for which he was exonerated – prompted him to eventually teach only boys). But it is perhaps his compulsion for counting that has worked its way most deeply into his music and the way it is viewed today.

The obsessive and frequently neurotrically insecure composer was renowned for counting the...

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