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8.557395 - BRUCH: Scottish Fantasy, Op. 46 / Serenade, Op. 75
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Max Bruch (1838-1920)
Scottish Fantasy, Op. 46 • Serenade, Op. 75

Today Max Bruch is generally known only as the composer of works for the violin. In addition to the Violin Concerto in G minor, the popularity of which continues, and, to the annoyance of the composer, eventually overshadowed much of his other work, we hear from time to time the Scottish Fantasy and the Second Violin Concerto. The fact that Bruch, in his day, was famous for his large-scale choral works is forgotten. Between 1870 and 1900 there were numerous performances of works such as Odysseus, Frithjof or Das Lied von der Glocke, earning for the composer a reputation that momentarily outshone that of Brahms.

Max Bruch was born in Cologne on 6th January, 1838, in the same year as Bizet. He studied there with Ferdinand Hiller and Carl Reinecke. Extended journeys at home and abroad as a student were followed by a longer stay in Mannheim, where his opera Loreley was performed in 1863, a work based on a libretto by Geibel and originally dedicated to Mendelssohn, which brought him to the attention of a wider public. Bruch’s first official appointments were as Kapellmeister, first in Koblenz from 1865 to 67, and then in Sondershausen until 1870, followed by a longer stay in Berlin and a period from 1873 to 1878 in Bonn, when he dedicated himself to composition. After a short time as director of the Sternscher Sangverein in Berlin, in 1880 he was appointed conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, where he succeeded Julius Benedict, leaving England in 1883 to become director of the Orchesterverein in Breslau. In 1891 he moved finally to Berlin and took over master-classes in composition, Respighi being one of his pupils. He retired in 1911 to devote himself to composition, although now essentially writing in a traditional style that seemed to have passed. He died in Berlin on 2nd October, 1920.

Bruch wrote his Scottish Fantasy in 1880 for the violinist Pablo Sarasate, who gave the first performance in September of the same year. For his thematic material he drew on an anthology of six hundred Scottish folk-songs, The Scots Musical Museum, published by the Edinburgh music engraver James Johnson in six volumes between 1787 and 1803, the later volumes with the collaboration of Robert Burns. The collection was influential, although the rival collector George Thomson had little good to say of it, describing it as ‘an omnium gatherum in six volumes, containing a number of tawdry songs which I should be ashamed to publish . . . as much a book for topers as for piano players’. Thomson, who also had the benefit of collaboration with Burns, had dealings with Haydn, Beethoven and others, in the commissioning of arrangements of the tunes collected.

The Fantasy starts with a solemn Introduction in E flat minor, to which the soloist adds rhapsodic comment. The first movement, marked Adagio cantabile, follows without a break, making use of the song Old Robin Morris, the harp, a necessary bardic concomitant, making its extensive appearance. The soloist states the melody with double-stopping, forming the substance of the movement. The second movement, an Allegro, is a dance, using the melody The Dusty Miller, heard, after the orchestral introduction, from the soloist, again in double-stopping, over a characteristic drone. The solo violin enjoys opportunities for virtuoso display in the treatment of the material, and there is a brief reminiscence of the first movement, before the soloist leads the way into the third movement, based on I’m a-doun for lack of Johnnie, material later developed as the violin adds a varied treatment over the theme heard first from the French horn. The Fantasy ends with a movement marked Allegro guerriero, an appropriate direction for a commemoration of Bannockburn with the tune Scots wha hae. Earlier tunes are recalled, framed by the principal melody.

Bruch’s Serenade in A minor, Op.75, for violin and orchestra was written in 1900, and demonstrates the composer’s command of writing for the solo violin, in which he had once had the help of his friend and colleague Joseph Joachim. It is introduced by muted first violins, and answered by clarinets and bassoon before the entry of the soloist, with a fuller form of the melody suggested by the opening motif. Livelier new material is introduced by the orchestra, as the music unfolds, leading to a central section, included in the recapitulation with which the movement ends. The C major second movement opens with the bassoons setting the jaunty march rhythm in which the woodwind, the brass and then the whole orchestra join. This is interrupted by a gentler element, in a section marked un poco meno vivo, followed by the brief return of the opening theme. A G major Animato section allows a display of double stopping from the triplet figuration of the soloist, after which the main theme is heard again, leading to a reminiscence of the earlier un poco meno vivo. A further episode intervenes before the emphatic return of the opening theme, a reminiscence of the secondary theme, and a cadenza-like passage. There is a short introduction to the third movement Notturno, an evening hymn, with its tranquil E major violin melody. Other thematic elements are introduced before the return of the principal theme, accompanied by the embellishments of the soloist. The vigorous final movement is dominated by the energetic principal theme in which the soloist soon joins, but the whole work ends with a nostalgic return to the serene mood of the opening of the Serenade, a work over which the spirits of Schumann and Mendelssohn often seem to preside, with the return of the principal theme of the first movement.

Keith Anderson


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