The Composer Max Bruch
Max Bruch (German, 1838-1920) was a romantic composer. His most famous composition is his first violin concerto and his Scottish Fantasy, also a composition for violin and orchestra. Like Johannes Brahms’ (German, 1833-1897), Bruch’s works were complex and well-structured while the works of Franz Liszt (Hungarian, 1811-1886) and Richard Wagner (German, 1813-1883) belonged to more popular classical music called “New German School”.
Childhood and Youth of Bruch
Max Bruch was the son of Wilhelmine and August Bruch. While August was a lawyer who became vice-president of the Cologne police, Wilhelmine was a soprano singer who sang on festivals during the 1820s. After losing her voice early, she focused on giving singing lessons. Also her son Max received his first music and piano lessons from her. When Max was 9 years old, he composed his first piece, a song for the birthday of his mother. This was the start of his passion for music which was very much supported by his parents.
When he was 11 years old, he received formal music education and published his first compositions. In 1852, when Max Bruch was 14 years old, his Symphony No. 1 was performed by the Cologne Philharmonic Orchestra. In the same year, Bruch won a scholarship for 4 years of the Mozart-Foundation. He used it for studying composition and piano in Cologne from 1853 until 1857.
From 1858 onwards, Bruch lived and composed his works in different cities of Germany. 1866, at the age of 28, he composed his most famous work, his first violin concerto in G minor, Op. 26. In 1880, Bruch became conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society, England. He married the singer Clara Tuczek in 1861 and they had 4 children together. From 1881 until 1891, Bruch was director of the Breslau Orchestra, Poland. He also taught composition at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik from 1890 until his retirement in 1910. Bruch died in his house in Berlin in 1920.
Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 (1866) is one of the most popular Romantic violin concertos. It uses several techniques from Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor (composed 1838-1844). These include among others the linking of movements and the skipping of the classical opening by the orchestra.
Bruch’s works display his sense for catchy melodies and traditional form. However, throughout his life, Bruch lived in the shadow of his overwhelming friend Johannes Brahms (Germany, 1833-1897).
Also, all his life and even nowadays, the composer Bruch would be especially recognized only due to his Violin Concerto No. 1. This fact filled even Bruch himself with bitterness. The main reasons for the disregard of his many other considerable works might be that Bruch was above all a conservative composer who opposed new musical development. Another reason might be his successful and now widely played composition Kol Nidrei, Op. 47 (1881) which consists of a series of variations on two main themes of Jewish origin. This composition for cello and orchestra led to the assumption that Bruch was of Jewish origin and when the National Socialist Party was in power (1933-1945), they banned all of Bruch’s works. Finally, Bruch’s works were even more neglected and forgotten in German-speaking countries. Ironically, none of Bruch’s ancestors were Jews.