Max Bruch and Hebrew Melody

An unusual mix for a German composer was that as a Protestant he happened to be deeply moved by traditional Hebrew melody. I’m speaking here about Max Bruch, who was born in Cologne on January 6, 1838 and after a notable career as both composer and conductor died this day, October 2, 1920 in Friedenau near Berlin.

Bruch is best known for his excellent Violin Concerto in G minor, the Kol Nidrei for cello and orchestra, and the Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra. My particular favorite happens to be Kol Nidrei, which he never presumed to write as a work of Jewish music: he only wished to incorporate Jewish inspirations into his own compositions. Here it is on YouTube performed by cellist Jacqueline Du Pre with Daniel Barenboim conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra: Kol Nidrei.

Indeed, Bruch wrote in a letter to cantor and musicologist Eduard Birnbaum (December 4, 1889): “I became acquainted with Kol Nidrei and a few other songs (among others, ‘Arabian Camel’) in Berlin through the Lichtenstein family, who befriended me. Even though I am a Protestant, as an artist I deeply felt the outstanding beauty of these melodies and therefore I gladly spread them through my arrangement.

…As a young man I had already …studied folksongs of all nations with great enthusiasm, because the folksong is the source of all true melodies—a wellspring, at which one must repeatedly renew and refresh oneself—if one doesn’t admit to the absurd belief of a certain party: “The melody is an outdated view.” So lay the study of Jewish ethnic music on my path.”

Bruch’s Violin Concerto was introduced in Coblenz on April 2, 1866, with Otto von Koenigsloew as soloist, and the composer conducting.

References: Encyclopedia of Concert Music by David Ewen; Wikipedia

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