Serenade for violin and orchestra Op. 75
Serenade in A minor for Violin and Orchestra, op. 75
(b. Cologne, 6 January 1838 – d. Friedenau near Berlin, 2 October 1920)
1. Andante con moto p.3
2. Allegro moderato, alla marcia p.30
3. Notturno p.74
4. Allegro energico e vivace p.92
Besides vocal music, for which he expressed a preference during his student years, and which makes up a large part of his oeuvre, Max Bruch also had a strong predilection for the violin. His catalogue contains no fewer than nine single- or multi-movement works for solo violin and orchestra, including three concertos expressly labeled as such. Judging from his own statements, what attracted him to the instrument was its closeness to the human voice and its resultant affinity for melody – a fundamental aesthetic precept from a man who once referred to melody as “the soul of music.”1 His Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, op. 26, has remained in the standard repertoire of violinists the world over and is regularly heard in concert. In contrast, his other works have always stood in the shadow of the First Concerto and gradually fell into oblivion after his death.
This was the fate that befell the Serenade in A minor for Violin and Orchestra, op. 75. It was composed in summer 1899, partly at the Igel farmstead near Bergisch Gladbach2 – a place to which the composer felt a lifelong attachment and where he often fled for rest and relaxation. The outside movements frame a march-like second movement and a melancholy slow movement called a Notturno. An essential component of the opening movement is a freely adapted Nordic melody3 that recurs in the finale. In every movement the solo part captivates with its vein of elegance, and for large sections at a time its graceful and melodious character seems tailor-made for the violin. This is especially true of the opening movement and the Notturno, where Bruch’s distinctive voice, with its proximity to vocal music, comes especially to the fore in the lyrical passages. Similarly, the warm orchestral sound – a typical feature of Bruch’s orchestration – is reflected throughout the piece.
As in his earlier works for violin and orchestra, Bruch drew upon the expertise of a violinist for the Serenade. Joseph Joachim, who had already advised Bruch in his First and Third Violin Concertos (opp. 26 and 58, respectively), had a hand in marking up the solo part. Joachim’s involvement is surprising in that the composer actually wrote the piece for the Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate.4 However, to his disappointment, Sarasate lost interest in the Serenade after his initial enthusiasm, which led to a profound breach between the two artists.5
Owing to its four-movement design, the Serenade bears an interesting resemblance to the Scottish Fantasy in E-flat major for violin and orchestra, composed twenty years earlier (op. 46). And as in the Fantasy, it harbors a problem which the composer, a man beholden to the classical-romantic tradition to the end of his days, faced when it came to choosing a title: the four-movement design departed from the three-movement pattern established for the concerto in the eighteenth century and followed by the vast majority of concertos in the nineteenth. Considering his other pieces for violin and orchestra, we immediately notice that works laid out in the traditional three movements (opp. 26, 44, and 58) are invariably called “concertos,” suggesting that Bruch had a conservative approach to this generic term. This conservatism is particularly noticeable in the fact that for a while he considered applying the “concerto” tag to both the Scottish Fantasy and the Serenade only to reject it in the end.6 In a letter of 17 February 1911 to his publisher Fritz Simrock, he directly addresses the problem of formal design in connection with his two-movement Concert Piece in F-sharp minor for violin and orchestra (op. 84), which may retrospectively explain his reluctance to apply the term to the Serenade and the Scottish Fantasy:
“I cannot choose this title
Violin & Orchestra
210 x 297 mm