Friday, April 10, 2015

Max Bruch (1838-1920)

No. 193 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


For the remaining three Fridays in April, I have programmed a short series on the concertos of Max Bruch, featuring the violin concertos played by the Canadian violinist James Ehnes. James will be contributing a concerto every week in this short arc, beginning this week with Bruch’s first violin concerto, one of the most popular violin concertos in the repertoire.

The concerto was first completed in 1866 and its first performance was given in April of that year with violinist Otto von Königslow, Bruch himself conducting. The concerto was then considerably revised with help from celebrated violinist Joseph Joachim and completed in its present form in 1867. Joachim was the soloist for the first performance of the revised concerto in January 1868.

Bruch was born in Cologne and received his early musical training under the composer and pianist Ferdinand Hiller (to whom Robert Schumann dedicated his piano concerto in A minor). At the age of nine he wrote his first composition, and took his first lessons in serious music theory at age 11. From then on music was his passion, his studies having been enthusiastically supported by his parents.

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. At the height of his career he spent three seasons as conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society (1880–83). He taught composition at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik from 1890 until his retirement in 1910.
His complex and unfailingly 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.

In the realm of chamber music, Bruch is not well known, although his "Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola and Piano" are occasionally performed – as they are here today. We note that Bruch’s son, Max Felix, was a fine clarinetist and may have been composed for him to play. The Concerto for Clarinet, Viola, and Orchestra in E minor was composed in 1911 for his son and received its first performance in 1912, with Willy Hess (viola) and Max Felix Bruch (clarinet) as the soloists.

At the end of World War I, Bruch was destitute, having been unable to enforce the payment of royalties for his works because of chaotic world-wide economic conditions and died shortly thereafter in his house in Berlin-Friedenau in 1920.

I think you  will love this music too.

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