About this Recording
8.570994 - BRUCH, M.: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 (Weimar Staatskapelle, Halasz)
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Max Bruch (1838–1920)
Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2

 

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 6 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 1867, and then, with greater satisfaction, as Court Kapellmeister in Sondershausen, where he had a good orchestra at his disposal and the sympathetic support of Princess Elisabeth of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen. He remained 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, without a permanent appointment as a conductor. After a short time as director of the Stern’scher 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, with pupils that included Respighi and, for a short time, Vaughan Williams. In Berlin he missed the countryside of Bergisch Gladbach near Cologne, and had always hoped that one day he might have taken the position in Cologne long held by his teacher Ferdinand Hiller, much as Brahms, in his earlier career, had hoped vainly for a position in his native Hamburg. He retired in 1911 to devote himself to composition, although now essentially writing in a traditional style that seemed to have passed. His final years brought sadness in the death in 1913 of his son Hans, then of his sister Mathilde, who had once kept house for him in Sondershausen and Berlin, and six years later of his wife Clara. The war brought inevitable changes and sorrows and its political aftermath and the exile of the Kaiser could only appal him. He died in Berlin on 2 October 1920.

It might be added that in 1933, with the assumption of power by the National Socialists, it was suggested that Bruch was of Jewish origin with the name Baruch, a notion, fostered no doubt by the success of his moving and popular Kol Nidrei and Hebrew Songs. Surviving members of his family took pains to dispel the idea and prove their Aryan heredity, for better or worse.

It was with the encouragement of the conductor Herrmann Levi that, in 1867, Bruch turned his attention to the composition of his first symphony. The Symphony No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 28, was started during Bruch’s final period in Koblenz and completed in Sondershausen. The work was dedicated to Brahms and is scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani and strings. There is a brief introduction to the first movement before the first theme is introduced. The more lyrical second subject, in G major, follows a brief oboe solo and a further woodwind intervention. The exposition is repeated and the material is developed in a central section before a very varied recapitulation. Inevitably the G minor Scherzo recalls Mendelssohn in its opening, a suggestion largely dispelled in the G major trio section. The slow movement, Quasi Fantasia, and marked Grave, is in a dark-hued E flat minor. The opening leads to brief solos from cello, oboe, clarinet and viola, the last adding a thematic reference to the first movement. The opening and elements of the solos return before the movement draws to a close. The last movement is again broadly in tripartite sonata-form and dominated by an onward pressing rhythmic vigour. The second theme, in B flat major, has an interestingly varied rhythmic accompaniment, with cross-rhythms between the second violins and violas. The material is duly developed, followed by a varied recapitulation.

With the satisfactory reception of his first symphony Bruch turned his attention to a second. The Symphony No. 2 in F minor, Op. 36, was completed in 1870, dedicated to the violinist Joseph Joachim and first performed in Sondershausen in a concert in aid of soldiers wounded in the Franco-Prussian war. The concert programme included an aria from Weber’s Oberon and an aria by Mendelssohn, as well as Schumann’s Piano Concerto and two Schumann Lieder, indications of Bruch’s own taste and his musical loyalties. The new symphony is scored as before with pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani and strings. It is in three movements, without a scherzo, a fact that Bruch thought might have contributed to its relatively negative reception in Leipzig, where it was performed in November 1870.

The three movements of Symphony No. 2 are each broadly in sonata form. The first movement, marked Allegro passionato, ma un poco maestoso, after the keynote has been heard proceeds to the dark-hued first subject, softly introduced by the strings and answered loudly by the whole orchestra. This and the other thematic material is duly developed and it is the first theme that returns to bring the movement to a hushed ending. The effective C minor Adagio is generally more lightly scored with its principal theme entrusted to the strings. Other thematic material is introduced and developed and it is the opening theme that returns briefly as the music dies away. The last movement, which follows without a break, is in F major, with its first subject announced by the violins, played on the G string in the middle-register tessitura often favoured by Bruch. It is accompanied by the semiquaver figuration of the viola, marked dolce, and the sustained tonic pedal of the lower strings and horns. As in the rest of the symphony there are echoes of Beethoven and reminders, in the full scoring, that this is now the age of Brahms. The German symphony had put on some weight during the course of the century.


Keith Anderson


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