He was a teacher, conductor and violinist as well as a composer. His most popular composition is his first violin concerto in G minor, a work that tended to eclipse all of his other works for violin and orchestra, a fact which he grumbled about many times in his life. The Scottish Fantasy was inspired by the writings of Sir Walter Scott, a popular author among the Romantics. He included a harp in the work as he thought of it as a Scottish instrument, along with the violin. Although Bruch never visited Scotland until three years after he composed the piece, he had an interest in folk music and used some Scottish folk tunes in the work.
Bruch wrote the work at the request of the Spanish virtuoso Pablo Sarasate. Bruch wrote the first half of the work very quickly, and contacted Sarasate and requested a meeting to discuss its progress. Sarasate failed to reply, and Bruch then turned to Joseph Joachim who advised him and in return Bruch asked him to give the premiere of the work. Bruch was not pleased with Joachim's performance, and he reconciled with Sarasate who went on to play the piece with great success.
The Scottish Fantasy is in four movements:
I.Introduction; Grave - Adagio cantabile - The introduction is dark and represents Scotland, the land of myth and mystery. The Adagio cantabile is the beginning of the first movement and is based on the Scottish tune Through the Wood Laddie.
II.Scherzo; Allegro - The next movement is based on the song The Dusty Miller and is played on the violin while the orchestra plays a bagpipe-like accompaniment. There is a short transition to the third movement and a fragment of Through The Wood Laddie is heard.
III.Andante sostenuto - Bruch uses a derivative of the tune I'm A' Doun for Lack O' Johnnie to showcase the lyrical singing of the solo violin. The movement grows quiet and ends peacefully.
IV.Finale; Allegro guerriero - The last movement is based on the song Scots, Wha Hae and other tunes. Bruch varies the main tune, interlaces it with other tunes. The directions Allegro guerriero (fast and war-like) may be a clue that the music is a tribute to the Scottish history of courageousness in battle. A part of Through The Wood Laddie makes one final appearance before the work ends.