Max Bruch

Max Bruch was a German composer and conductor of the Romantic era, best known for the melodic qualities of his works. He composed symphonies, chamber music, operas and choral works, however his Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 is his crowning masterpiece.

Max Bruch was born in Cologne on 6 January 1838. His father August Carl Friedrich Bruch was a police official and his mother Wilhelmine, a singer. Max studied music as a child and his earliest musical education was given to him by his mother. He began composing at the age of nine and two years later he was already beginning to show significant signs of his future composing style. Bruch was only fourteen when he was awarded the Frankfurt Mozart-Stiftung Prize. This award gave him the opportunity to study with composers including Hiller and Reinecke, which greatly aided the young composer's development.

Bruch's first major work was his opera Scherz, List und Rache, Op. 1, based on Goethe's Scherz. It received reasonable success during the time of its performance in Cologne in 1858. Following this performance, he was encouraged by his teachers to travel to other German cities and he did so, spending some time in Leipzig. He spent the majority of his time however, in Mannheim between the years 1862 and 1864. His next opera, Die Loreley was very successful. The opera was based on the Rhine legend and its libretto was written by Emanuel Geibel. The opera enjoyed many successful productions around Europe until the early 1900s; however, it was forgotten for many decades until its next performance Oberhausen in 1984 and in London in 1986. Bruch completed one other opera during his career titled Hermione; however it did not enjoy the same success nor attract the same popularity as Die Loreley.

From 1865 - 1867, Bruch was the musical director to the court at Koblenz. During this post he composed his first Violin Concerto in G minor, Op. 26 - which became one of his most popular works. Several of Bruch's close friends were violinists, including the renowned Joseph Joachim, and because of this he was given abundant advice on the instrument and was inspired to write many works for it. It is also likely that Bruch's fondness for strong melodies encouraged him to compose a lot of his music for violin.  The work is made up of three movements in free sonata form. Bruch admitted to modelling the form of the work from the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor. Similar to the majority of Bruch's works, the main focus is the melody and it is thought that Bruch re-wrote the work approximately seven times before he was satisfied with the result.

Bruch signed the violin concerto manuscript: Joseph Joachim in Verehrung zugeeignet. The word Verehrung (respect) is crossed out and replaced with Freundschaft (friendship). 

He composed a further two violin concertos, but neither have had the same level of fame as the first.

Joseph Joachim in V̶e̶r̶e̶h̶r̶u̶n̶g̶ Freundschaft zugeeignet.

Between 1867 and 1870, Bruch held another court position at Sondershausen while he continued his work as a composer. Several years later, between 1878 and 1890, he began to work as a conductor, holding positions in Berlin, Liverpool and Breslau.

Bruch's music is known for its melodic strength and qualities. Bruch was drawn to folksongs and many of his works have derived from the native music of Scotland, Sweden and Russia. Bruch's Scottish Fantasy op.46, Das Feuerkreuz op.52, Serenade on Swedish Melodies op.posth., Swedish Dances op.63, Suite on Russian Folk Melodies op.79b convey his enthusiasm for and insight into folk melodies. Though melodically strong, Bruch’s music often lacks harmonic qualities as a consequence of both his melodic prioritisation and his negative opinion towards the progressive ideas of composers such as Wagner and Liszt. Bruch refused to compose in an innovative style and instead he continued to produce music that was perceived as somewhat in its day, including the chamber music he wrote near the time of his death. He felt isolated and rejected as a composer when he died aged 82, particularly due to the fact that he had continuously lived in the shadow of Johannes Brahms for the majority of his life - even in the 20 years after Brahms' death.

Bruch's most popular work was arguably his Violin Concerto, No. 1, Op. 26 and due to its success, Bruch grew to dislike it as it overshadowed his other works, such his much later Romance for Viola and Orchestra (1911). He confessed at one stage that he wished not to hear his 'dreadfully popular work'.

Max Bruch lived a very long life for a composer of his era but he was not overly popular. Due to his lack of tolerance for the emerging compositional styles of innovative composers, his music was often lost and forgotten towards the end of his life. However, due to a small number of his more successful and earlier works, such as his popular Violin Concerto, his name will live on as a gifted and significant composer of his time. 

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