In Memoriam, Adagio in C-sharp minor for violin and orchestra, op. 65
Max Christian Friedrich Bruch
(b. Cologne, 6 January 1838 – d. Berlin, 2 October 1920)
Adagio in C-sharp minor for violin and orchestra, op. 65 (1892-93)
Max Bruch and the violin: what a success story! – in conjunction, of course, with Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), the great and stylistically formative German violinist of the latter half of the nineteenth century. In no other genre did Bruch make such a signal contribution as in his works for violin and orchestra, though the irony of history is that he turned out his most successful work at the very outset of his career. This work – the only one permanently remaining in the canonical repertoire – was his First Violin Concerto in G minor, op. 26 (1865-67), a piece known to every violinist and found in the repertoire of every solo artist. Bruch tried to build on this success, of course, but only his Scottish Fantasy approached anything near the popularity of the G-minor Concerto. Other works for violin and orchestra followed this first concerto: the Romance in A minor (op. 42), the Second Violin Concerto in D minor (op. 44, 1877), the Scottish Fantasy (op. 46, 1879-80), Konzertstück: Adagio appassionato (op. 57), the Third Violin Concerto in D minor (op. 58, 1891), the Swedish Dances (op. 63), In memoriam (op. 65), the great four-movement Serenade in A minor, his longest work for soloist and orchestra (op. 75, 1899-1900), and Conzertstück in F-sharp major (op. 84, 1910).
The largest single movement in this complex is In memoriam, a grand vocal scena for instruments. Bruch, writing from Berlin, sent the handwritten score to Joachim on 9 January 1893, enclosing the “work’s first provisional solo part” so that Joachim could “change everything in it that seems unidiomatic to the violin.” At this point the title was apparently still undefined, for Bruch added:
“Perhaps you’ll think of some characteristic apposition in lieu of the rather nondescript title Adagio? The piece is actually a dirge, a sort of instrumental nenia, but I couldn’t say that I wrote it in memory of any particular person or occurrence. If I were to say ‘In memoriam 1888,’ the title would kindle memories of the two dead German emperors; but they would have to be honored by vocal pieces for large forces – a violin piece seems to me unsuitable, and in any case the moment has passed.”
When his publisher Simrock asked him to add other movements to the new slow movement, Bruch was adamant in his reply: “In Memoriam is so well-rounded and self-contained that nothing can follow it. If it had been my original intention to write a small concerto (or Konzertstück) consisting of an adagio and a finale, I would have designed the adagio with this in mind from the very beginning; but that wasn’t my intention, and now I would most likely bowdlerize a piece born of the spirit if I were to add something for commercial reasons (which, incidentally, I understand quite well) for which I feel no inner compulsion. I myself considered all of this at length, of course, at first alone and later, in January of this year, with Joachim, and Joachim came exactly to my conclusion. Now both of us know of Joachim’s failings, but whatever the case he remains a great musician, and in higher matters of art his powers of judgment are far superior to Sarasate’s, despite the latter’s prowess as a soloist.”
Scored for large orchestra with cor anglais and contrabassoon, the Adagio indeed displays Bruch at his most intimate and moving. Yet it is conceivable that the addition of a fast movement would have greatly increased its popularity. Though perhaps his most magnificent instrumental piece altogether, it leads a wallflower existence, being fundamentally ill-suited to display the soloist’s attainments or to excite the audience.
Once the work was finished, Joachim may well have given the première of In Memoriam in Berlin, but no date for such a performance has yet resurfaced. The score was published by Simrock in Berlin before the year was out. Our volume faithfully reproduced that first edition of 1893.
Translation: Bradford Robinson
For performance material please contact the publishers Boosey & Hawkes, Berlin.
Violin & Orchestra
210 x 297 mm