Max Bruch (1838–1920)
Max Bruch was a German composer, who was also active as a conductor and a teacher of composition. Despite having composed a large body of work that includes many choral works, three symphonies plus other instrumental works, three operas, and numerous songs, he was (much to his disappointment), and still is, best known for his first Violin Concerto in G Minor, Op. 26.
Born in Cologne on January 6, 1838, Bruch’s compositional gifts revealed themselves early. At age 14, he won the prestigious Frankfurt Mozart-Stiftung Prize, which facilitated studies with Ferdinand Hiller, Carl Reinecke, and Ferdinand Breunung. After his training, Bruch travelled to various German cities, settling for brief periods in Leipzig and Mannheim before becoming court music director in Koblenz. After a similar stint in Sonderhausen, he worked for nearly a decade as a freelance composer, and then took on successive conducting posts in Berlin, Liverpool, and Breslau from 1878 to 1890. His choral works, notably, received consistent and successful performances throughout Germany during this period.
Bruch later established a composition masterclass at Berlin’s Hochschule für Music, which ran from 1890 to 1911. There, he established his reputation as a respected teacher—Ottorino Respighi and Ralph Vaughan Williams were among his students, and Cambridge University awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1893. Bruch died in Berlin on October 2, 1920, at the age of 82.
While most of Bruch’s output remains largely neglected, the few pieces that have endured today on concert programs reveal his undoubted gift for shaping melody. Perhaps it’s not surprising they include that concerto and the Scottish Fantasy. Inspired by his close friendships with violinists Joseph Joachim and Pablo de Sarasate, they are for the instrument that Bruch said “can sing a melody better than a piano, and melody is the soul of music.”