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Max Bruch and his Violin Concerto No. 1

Max Christian Friedrich Bruch (January 6, 1838–October 2, 1920), also known as Max Karl August Bruch, was a German Romantic composer and conductor who wrote over 200 works, including three violin concertos, the first of which has become a staple of the violin repertory. Bruch was born in Cologne, Rhine Province, where he received his early musical training under the composer and pianist Ferdinand Hiller, to whom Robert Schumann dedicated his piano concerto in A minor. Bohemian composer and piano virtuoso Ignaz Moscheles recognized his aptitude. Bruch had a long career as a teacher, conductor and composer, moving among musical posts in Germany: Mannheim (1862–1864), Koblenz (1865–1867), Sondershausen, (1867–1870), Berlin (1870–1872), and Bonn, where he spent 1873–78 working privately.

Bruch’s complex and well-structured works, in the German Romantic musical tradition, placed him in the camp of Romantic classicism exemplified by Johannes Brahms, rather than the opposing “New Music” of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. In his time he was known primarily as a choral composer. He wrote many pieces in the chamber music tradition, of which his Septet in E-flat major (1849) is noteworthy. His Violin Concerto No. 1, in G minor, Op. 26 (1866) is one of the most popular Romantic violin concertos. It uses several techniques from Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor. These include the linking of movements, as well as omitting the Classical opening orchestral exposition and other conservative formal structural devices of earlier concertos.

Other works by Bruch include more two concerti for violin and orchestra, No. 2 in D minor (1878) and No. 3 in D minor (1891),and a lovely and melodic Concerto for Clarinet, Viola and Orchestra, along with many more pieces for violin, viola or cello and orchestra. His three symphonies, while devoid of originality in form or structure, still contain distinctive German Romantic melodic writing effectively orchestrated. Two other works of Bruch which are still widely played were also written for solo string instrument with orchestra. One is the Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra in E flat major, Op. 46 (Berlin, 1880), which includes arrangement of the tune “Hey Tuttie Tatie.” The other is Kol Nidrei for cello and orchestra, Op. 47 (Berlin, 1881), subtitled “Adagio on Hebrew Melodies for Violoncello and Orchestra,” which starts and ends with the solo cello’s setting of the Hebrew incantation Kol Nidre which begins the Jewish Yom Kippur service.

At the height of Bruch’s career he spent three seasons as conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society (1880–83). His two string quartets, No. 1 in C minor, Op. 9, and No. 2 in E major, Op. 10, were written while conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society. There he met his wife, Clara Tuczek. He taught composition at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik from 1890 until his retirement in 1910. In the realm of chamber music, Bruch is not as well known, although he is remembered for his “Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola and Piano,” Op. 83 (1910), that became part of the popular repertory due to the rare combination of instruments. To this triple output he added three orchestral suites in later life, Suite No. 1 on Russian Themes, Op. 79b (Berlin, 1903), Suite No. 2 on Swedish themes (Berlin, 1906), and Suite No. 3 for Orchestra and organ (Berlin, 1904-1915).

Violinists Joseph Joachim and Willy Hess advised Bruch on his writing for that instrument, and Hess premiered some of his works including the Concert Piece for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 84, which was composed for him. The Concerto in A-flat minor for Two Pianos and Orchestra, Op. 88a, was finished in 1912 for the American duo Sutro pianists Rose and Ottilie Sutro. Towards the end of his life, in 1918, he once more considered smaller ensembles with the composition of two string quintets, of which one served as the basis for a string octet, written in 1920 for four violins, two violas, cello and a double bass . Bruch died in his house in Berlin-Friedenau in 1920.

My collection includes the following works by Bruch:

Adagio after Celtic Themes in em, op. 56.
Ave Maria after a theme from the dramatic cantata “Das Feuerkreuz” (op. 52) for violincello and orchestra, op. 61.
Canzone in BM for Violincello and Orchestra, op. 55.
Double Concerto for Clarinet, Viola, and Orchestra, op. 88.
Kol Nidrei: Adagio for Violincello, Harp, and Orchestra after Hebrew Melodies, op. 47 (1880).
Scottish Fantasy for Violin with Orchestra and Harp, op. 46 (Fantasia for the Violin and Orchestra with Harp, freely using Scottish Folk Melodies, 1880).
Violin Concerto No. 1 in gm, op. 26 (1864).

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