In his early career Anton Bruckner was an organist as well as a music teacher at a few places in the vicinity of Linz, a city in the northern region of what is today Austria. He had been interested in writing music but did not begin to study composition seriously until he was in his early thirties. In 1855 Bruckner started taking composition lessons with Simon Sechter, a professor of composition at the Vienna Conservatory. His studies with Sechter were conducted mostly through correspondence. Between 1861 and 1863 Bruckner also sought for help from Otto Kitzler, who was the leader of the Linz Theater Orchestra. From Kitzler Bruckner learned orchestration and was introduced to the music of Richard Wagner. In 1868 Bruckner succeeded Sechter and became an instructor of music theory at the Vienna Conservatory.
Writing symphonies was the core of Bruckner’s compositional activities. Before he moved to Vienna, he completed three symphonies, of which two were regarded by the composer himself unsuccessful, thus receiving no designated numbers. Later in Vienna, Bruckner composed eight symphonies, of which Symphony No. 9 was left incomplete due to the weakening of his health and subsequent death in 1896. Just like many of his other symphonies, Symphony No. 3 in D minor has a long and complicated history of revisions. Bruckner finished the original version of the symphony in late 1873 but already made some changes in the following year. Prior to its completion he had had an opportunity to show it to Wagner, to whom the work was dedicated. (Thus, the composition is sometimes called “Wagner Symphony.”) A plan for its first public performance was made in 1874; however, the premiere did not take place because the composition was rejected after it was rehearsed ― it was apparently too difficult to play and to understand. Bruckner made significant revisions between 1876 and 1877 (the second version). He took out passages from his Symphony No. 2 and Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde and the Valkyrie. The second movement was shortened, but a long coda was added to the third. Further alterations were made between 1887 and 1889 (the third version). In this revision Bruckner removed the coda in the third movement that had been newly composed for the second version. He also truncated other parts of the symphony, especially the finale. A critical edition of the final version of the symphony was published in 1959, edited by Leopold Nowak. Today, this edition of the 1889 version is most frequently utilized for performances of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3.