Length: c. 24 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings, and solo violin
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: February 22, 1920, Walter Henry Rothwell conducting, with Amy Neill, soloist
About this Piece
Max Bruch is one of those marginal—nominally “unimportant”—musical figures who, if he were alive today, could live off the royalties of one work, the present Concerto. In view of the few compositions by Bruch that have survived in the repertory, one might think that he was a string player. Certainly, there is everything in the present Concerto, in the Scottish Fantasy (also for violin and orchestra), and in that cellist’s staple, Kol Nidrei, to lead to that conclusion. Bruch was, in fact, a youthful prodigy not as an instrumental virtuoso but as a composer who would gain his greatest renown for his vocal music. His love for the voice was instilled by his mother, a professional singer and his first teacher.
Young Max already had numerous compositions to his credit when, at the age of 14, he created a stir throughout Germany by winning a major prize for his First Symphony. Then, at age 20, he set up shop as a music teacher in his native Cologne, whereafter he quietly established a reputation as a solid, reliable composer whose accessible, conservative works—for chorus more often than not—were assured of a public hearing in Germany and Austria.
The British love for choral music in general and, for a time, for Bruch’s in particular, gained him the post of chief conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society’s orchestra and chorus in 1879. After touring as a guest conductor in the late 1880s, including engagements leading his own music in Boston and New York, he settled down to teaching at the Berlin Academy, where he was in charge of the masterclass in composition until his retirement from public life in 1910.
There are sketches for the G-minor Violin Concerto that date as far back as 1857, when Bruch was only 18, and a first version of the complete work was heard in public as early as 1865. But he was less happy with it than the critics were, and the score underwent extensive revision during the following year, whereupon it was sent to the great violinist Joseph Joachim for his approval.
Joachim, after suggesting certain changes, accepted the dedication of the concerto and premiered it in Bremen in 1867. It was an instantaneous success, and its sweetly melancholy strains have retained their hold on listeners and grateful virtuosos to this day. —Herbert Glass