Sunday, February 2, 2014

Bruch - Symphony No. 2 In F Minor

Max Bruch is perhaps more well known for his works for solo violin and orchestra. His Violin Concerto No. 1 is still popular and the Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra still garners performances in the concert hall and on recordings, and during his lifetime was most well known for his vocal music. But he wrote over 200 compositions and made contributions to most of the traditional musical forms of the late 19th century. The style and character of all of his works puts him squarely in the conservative Brahms camp versus the progressive Liszt/Wagner camp. He lived a long life (1838 - 1920) and became somewhat of an anachronism. But his music is very well constructed, and the best works have a late Romantic drama to them that is more appreciated now then in the last years of his life.

Bruch's musical education began with Ferdinand Hiller and continued in music theory with a friend of his father's. Bruch's general education was not neglected, as he learned to speak and understand French and English as well as German. He was nine when he composed his first piece, and held many different positions as kappelmeister and teacher. He retired from teaching in 1911 and devoted the rest of his life to composition.
Bruch's successful  Symphony No. 1 In E-flat Major (1867) was followed by his Symphony No.2 In F Minor (1870).  The work is in three movements:

I. Allegro passionato, ma un poco -  This movement is in sonata form and begins with a short, dark introduction by the timpani and strings. The main theme is sounded out quietly by the strings and then loudly by the full orchestra.  The next theme is a more flowing one that remains in the minor. A third theme appears, just as dramatic as the preceding ones. Other themes enter, the number of which depends on what the listener's ear makes of the material whether it is an actual theme, a connecting melodic bridge to a theme, or a short motif. Themes are developed as the music constantly moves towards the end of the movement, when the opening theme quietly closes out the movement.

II. Adagio ma non troppo - The strings carry the main theme of this movement in music lighter in feeling than the first movement, but still in the minor mode, this time of C minor. Bruch follows the same general procedure as the first movement by introducing themes and developing them in a loose sonata form. The movement closes with a gentle reference to the main theme, and goes directly to the last movement without pause.

III. Allegro molto tranquillo -  The movement begins with a syncopated figure played by the strings. The music swells slightly until the main theme in F major is played by the strings. The woodwinds have their turn with the theme. A theme in dotted rhythm is played by the strings as the volume increases and the horns state an extension of the second theme which is developed until it reaches a climax with the full orchestra in dotted rhythm. The development section begins with the first theme played in the oboe and parts of the theme are then passed to other members of woodwind.  The recapitulation has themes return, some in different keys. The end of the symphony emphasizes the dotted rhythm in the horns and brass while the strings add rapid and surging figures as accompaniment.

The symphonies of Bruch aren't ground breaking works by any means. Thematic material isn't very striking, and his forms and developments aren't overly original. But what is evident is his skill in musical construction and orchestrating, as well as his sense of the dramatic.

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