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Max Bruch – better than Brahms

Suppressed by the Nazis, but not because he was Jewish

Max Bruch – something beyond the standard romantic repertoire
Max Bruch – something beyond the standard romantic repertoire

Every now and then I wonder about composers of classical one-hit-wonders. You know, composers such as Ruggero Leoncavallo with Pagliacci, Pietro Mascagni with Cavalleria Rusticana, or Max Bruch with his Violin Concerto. What else did they write and is it any good?

Video:

Max Bruch - `Moses`

Oratorio for chorus, soloists and orchestra, op. 67

Oratorio for chorus, soloists and orchestra, op. 67

For the purposes of this article, I took an extended listen to Max Bruch. To start off, the Bruch Violin Concerto, which we all know and love, is the first of three violin concertos. There are also three symphonies, a concerto for clarinet and viola, a concerto for two pianos, several romances for violin and orchestra along with romances for cello and orchestra. There are a dozen or so pieces of chamber music and four complete operas. What I found surprising was an extensive list of choral music including oratorios based on Odysseus, Achilles, and Moses.

Everything I listened to appeals directly to my taste in classical music. Bruch was a straightforward German Romantic composer and, apparently, I like that. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that from listening to Bruch, I prefer his music to his immediate contemporary Johannes Brahms.

Video:

Bruch: Kol Nidrei

hr-Sinfonieorchester ∙ Mischa Maisky ∙ Paavo Järvi

hr-Sinfonieorchester ∙ Mischa Maisky ∙ Paavo Järvi

I like Brahms but I always feel as though he is the leafy green of the Romantic Era. He’s that thing you’re supposed to consume for your musical health and you like it but don’t necessarily love it. With Bruch, I just love it, all of it, from what I’ve heard so far.

During his lifetime, Bruch was primarily known for his large-scale oratorios. His topics – Odysseus, Achilles, Moses – could be considered national characters who defined their respective cultures. Bruch was a nationalist and supported the idea of a unified Germany under Prussian rule. In that light, his oratorios aren’t quite propaganda but can certainly be considered political pieces of music.

Video:

Bruch Symphony No 3

Gurzenich Orchester - Koln, James Conlon

Gurzenich Orchester - Koln, James Conlon

Despite his nationalistic convictions, Bruch was suppressed by the Nazis. There is no evidence that Bruch was Jewish but one of his most popular pieces of music is Kol Ninsei, a fantasy for cello and orchestra. Kol Ninsei uses Jewish folk music. The publisher described it as an “Adagio on 2 Hebrew Melodies for Cello and Orchestra with Harp.”

This music made the Nazis consider Bruch to be a possible Jew, and therefore they restricted performances of his music. Are the Nazis to blame for Bruch’s current obscurity? I am not sure but they didn’t help.

I listened to all three of Bruch’s symphonies and I find them to be phenomenal. They are shorter, 30 to 37 minutes, than Brahms’s symphonies. However, they are comparable to the length of symphonies by Robert Schumann or Felix Mendelssohn.

I also listened to all three violin concertos. I find the second and third concertos to be just as appealing as the famous first.

Video:

Violin Concerto, No. 2

Op. 44, 1878

Op. 44, 1878

If you’re looking for something beyond the standard romantic repertoire, Bruch is sitting there waiting patiently.

December Immortal Beauty columns just uploaded:

Dec. 10 Even the Jewish atonal master Arnold Schoenberg wrote Yuletide music

Dec. 17 Informal concerts in 2021 not kind to San Diego

Dec. 24 Christmas is about motherhood

Dec. 31 Wagner takes Lohengrin beyond Star Wars and Gladiator and Indiana Jones

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Max Bruch – something beyond the standard romantic repertoire
Max Bruch – something beyond the standard romantic repertoire

Every now and then I wonder about composers of classical one-hit-wonders. You know, composers such as Ruggero Leoncavallo with Pagliacci, Pietro Mascagni with Cavalleria Rusticana, or Max Bruch with his Violin Concerto. What else did they write and is it any good?

Video:

Max Bruch - `Moses`

Oratorio for chorus, soloists and orchestra, op. 67

Oratorio for chorus, soloists and orchestra, op. 67

For the purposes of this article, I took an extended listen to Max Bruch. To start off, the Bruch Violin Concerto, which we all know and love, is the first of three violin concertos. There are also three symphonies, a concerto for clarinet and viola, a concerto for two pianos, several romances for violin and orchestra along with romances for cello and orchestra. There are a dozen or so pieces of chamber music and four complete operas. What I found surprising was an extensive list of choral music including oratorios based on Odysseus, Achilles, and Moses.

Everything I listened to appeals directly to my taste in classical music. Bruch was a straightforward German Romantic composer and, apparently, I like that. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that from listening to Bruch, I prefer his music to his immediate contemporary Johannes Brahms.

Video:

Bruch: Kol Nidrei

hr-Sinfonieorchester ∙ Mischa Maisky ∙ Paavo Järvi

hr-Sinfonieorchester ∙ Mischa Maisky ∙ Paavo Järvi

I like Brahms but I always feel as though he is the leafy green of the Romantic Era. He’s that thing you’re supposed to consume for your musical health and you like it but don’t necessarily love it. With Bruch, I just love it, all of it, from what I’ve heard so far.

During his lifetime, Bruch was primarily known for his large-scale oratorios. His topics – Odysseus, Achilles, Moses – could be considered national characters who defined their respective cultures. Bruch was a nationalist and supported the idea of a unified Germany under Prussian rule. In that light, his oratorios aren’t quite propaganda but can certainly be considered political pieces of music.

Video:

Bruch Symphony No 3

Gurzenich Orchester - Koln, James Conlon

Gurzenich Orchester - Koln, James Conlon

Despite his nationalistic convictions, Bruch was suppressed by the Nazis. There is no evidence that Bruch was Jewish but one of his most popular pieces of music is Kol Ninsei, a fantasy for cello and orchestra. Kol Ninsei uses Jewish folk music. The publisher described it as an “Adagio on 2 Hebrew Melodies for Cello and Orchestra with Harp.”

This music made the Nazis consider Bruch to be a possible Jew, and therefore they restricted performances of his music. Are the Nazis to blame for Bruch’s current obscurity? I am not sure but they didn’t help.

I listened to all three of Bruch’s symphonies and I find them to be phenomenal. They are shorter, 30 to 37 minutes, than Brahms’s symphonies. However, they are comparable to the length of symphonies by Robert Schumann or Felix Mendelssohn.

I also listened to all three violin concertos. I find the second and third concertos to be just as appealing as the famous first.

Video:

Violin Concerto, No. 2

Op. 44, 1878

Op. 44, 1878

If you’re looking for something beyond the standard romantic repertoire, Bruch is sitting there waiting patiently.

December Immortal Beauty columns just uploaded:

Dec. 10 Even the Jewish atonal master Arnold Schoenberg wrote Yuletide music

Dec. 17 Informal concerts in 2021 not kind to San Diego

Dec. 24 Christmas is about motherhood

Dec. 31 Wagner takes Lohengrin beyond Star Wars and Gladiator and Indiana Jones

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