Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in G min Op 26 (1868)
Max Bruch (1838-1920)
- Vorspiel: Allegro moderato
- Finale: Allegro energico
Max Bruch’s first violin concerto is one of the most famous of all concertos for the violin (unlike his other two). Bruch felt aggrieved that he became famous primarily for this work, particularly as he was paid a one-off fee by his publisher, Simrock, and hence didn’t reap any financial benefit from the work’s ultimate success. After World War I, Bruch was destitute and sent his copy of the score to the Sutro sisters in New York, asking them to sell it and send him the proceeds. Bruch never received any money from the sale, and died poverty stricken in Berlin the following year.
Bruch was born in Cologne, Germany, learning initially from his soprano mother. By the time he was 14 he had composed his first symphony, the start of a prodigious composing career, honoured in 1893 with an honorary doctorate from Cambridge. The Romantic German style of Bruch’s compositions echoed that of Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Schumann, eschewing the more progressive influence of Liszt and Wagner.
The first violin concerto was premiered in 1866, to a lukewarm reception. Bruch, too, was unsatisfied, and sought the advice of the influential Hungarian virtuoso Johann Joachim. Joachim had popularised both the Beethoven and Mendelssohn concertos, and later was to make a major contribution to Brahms’ concerto. Bruch adopted many of Joachim’s suggestions and added some changes of his own, resulting in the version we hear today, premiered by Joachim in January 1868.
The unusual first movement is a “Vorspiel” or “Prelude” to the rapturous second movement, which follows without a break. Because of the lack of a formal development section in the first movement, Bruch proposed at one stage calling the work a “fantasy” rather than “concerto”, but Joachim disagreed. The second movement contains some of the most glorious writing for violin in the whole repertoire. The lively but subdued gypsy-inspired final movement presaged Brahms’s concerto 10 years later
Performed: 23/3/2014, 30/3/2014, 17/6/2018