A nton Bruckner’s cloistered upbringing in the Augustinian monastery of Sankt Florian would seem to have fitted him for a lifetime of refection, emotional calm, and most of all sobriety. Yes, he had a thing for young girls, but that was less about embracing a racy lifestyle and more about wanting to be sure he married a virgin.

Anton Bruckner

There are occasional hints that Bruckner liked a dram or two. On one occasion, after a particularly rewarding rehearsal of his Fourth Symphony in 1881, the socially awkward Bruckner slipped a gratuity to the conductor Hans Richter: “When the symphony was over,” Richter recalled, “Bruckner came to me, his face beaming with enthusiasm and joy. I felt him press a coin into my hand. ‘Take this,’ he said, ‘and drink a glass of beer to my health.’” Whether they then retired to a public house we do not know, but Richter retained the coin as a keepsake and wore it on his watch-chain for the rest of his life.

Prior to that, Bruckner had laboured for decades to rise above his Austrian peasant stock origins. Even as...