Bruch, Max


Bruch, Max

Achilleus, Dichtung nach Motiven der Ilias op. 50 for soli, choir and orchestra (Vocal Score with German & English libretto)

SKU: 1617b Categories: ,


Max Christian Friedrich Bruch – Achilleus

(b. Cologne, Rheinprovinz, Königreich Preußen, January 6, 1838 – d. Friedneau, October 20, 1920)

Dichtung nach Motiven der Ilias, op. 50 for soli, choir and orchestra
(double winds, four horns, three trumpets and trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp and strings)
First performance:
28 June 1885, Bonn Music Festival,
under the direction of the composer, from manuscript parts


Max Bruch was a German composer who wrote over 200 works, notably his moving Kol nidrei for cello and orchestra, op. 47, and the first of his three violin concertos (Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, op. 26 1866), which has become a staple of the violin repertory. Although he was raised Rhenish-Catholic, the National Socialist party banned his music from 1933-1945 due to his name, his well-known setting of a melody from the Jewish Yom Kippur service, and his unpublished Drei Hebräische Gesänge for mixed chorus and orchestra (1888).
Bruch was also an accomplished teacher of music composition from 1892-1911, conducting seminars and ensembles at the Royal Academy of Arts at Berlin (Königliche Akademie der Künste zu Berlin). British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams studied with Bruch, describing him as a proud and sensitive man. Bruch actively resisted the Lisztian/Wagnerian musical trends of time, and modeled his works on those of Mendelssohn and Schumann. His concerti share structural characteristics with Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, omitting the first movement exposition and linking multiple movements. His most lasting contributions to chamber music include works written for his son Max, who was a clarinetist.

Child of his time

Bruch was born in the same decade as Johannes Brahms, Georges Bizet, and four of the Russian Five or “Mighty Handful” (Могучая кучка). At the age of fourteen (1852), he was awarded the Mozart Prize of the Frankfurt-based Mozart Stiftung, which enabled him to study with virtuoso Ferdinand Hiller. In 1858, he moved on to Leipzig and then held posts in Mannheim (1862-1864), Koblenz (1865-1867), and Sondershausen (1867-1870).
Beginning in his early twenties, he received commissions for chorus, orchestra, and soprano solo such as Jubilate Amen, op. 3 (1858) and Die Birken und die Erlen, op. 8 (songs of the forest for men’s and women’s choruses with soloists, 1859). Max Bruch followed Hiller’s advice, and planned to travel to Leipzig in early 1858. With its famous Conservatory, the Gewandhaus Orchestra, and its internationally respected music publishers such as Senf, Kistner, and Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig was a center of considerable significance. Although the Gewandhaus was under the direction of Julius Rietz at this time, the influence of Mendelssohn and Schumann still dominated the musical life of the city.
After his arrival in Leipzig, the young composer befriended Ferdinand David, leader of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, soloist in the first performance of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, and teacher of Joachim. The friendship led to David and his colleague, Friedrich Grützmacher, the principal cellist of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, playing the first performance and receiving the dedication of Bruch’s Piano Trio, op. 5. Breitkpof & Härtel took Bruch on as a composer; they published his Opp. 3-5, 7-15 and 17 during the next five years

Choral works

During his lifetime, Bruch was renowned for his large-scale oratorios, most of them inspired by the Prussian political activity that led to Germany’s unification (1871), and of which Bruch was an eager supporter. His oratorio subjects focused on national leaders as role models (the Greeks Odysseus and Achilles, the Germans Arminius and Gustav Adolf, and the biblical Moses). As a young man, Bruch showed a preference for ancient literary material. Works like Frithjof: Szenen aus der Frithjof-Sage, op. 23 (1864), an oratorio based on a thirteenth-century Icelandic saga reworked by the Swedish poet Esaias Tegner as an epic poem in 1820, were well-received by audiences.
Bruch went on to compose dozens more such works that were snapped up by amateur and professional choruses. They ranged eclectically across time and nationality for their content, but still emphasized early texts. Examples include Schön Ellen, op. 24 (a ballad by Geibel for Bremen, 1867) and Salamis: Siegesgesang der Griechen, op. 25 (a work for male chorus and soloists by H. Lingg, Breslau, 1868).
The highpoint of this period coincided with Bruch accepting a position in Berlin in 1870. Here, he wrote the two women’s cantatas of op. 31 (1870, Die Flucht nach Egypten and Morgenstunde); Normannenzug, op. 32 (setting a balled by J. V. von Scheffel, unison male voices and baritone soloist, 1870); three mass movements, op. 35 (Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei,
1870) for two soprano soloists and mixed chorus with orchestra; the full-length oratorio Das Lied von der Glocke, op. 45 (after Schiller, 1872), and his greatest success in Berlin, Odysseus: Szenen aus der Odyssee, op. 41 (written for soloists and mixed chorus to a text by W. P. Graff, 1872).
He held several prestigious positions, directing the Liverpool Philharmonic (1880-1883, which inspired his secular oratorio Achilleus) and leading notable concerts in Berlin and northern German cities. He went on an American tour (during which he worked on the full score of Achilleus) and directed singing societies. He continued to compose for men’s chorus (Kriegsgesang, op. 63 and Leonidas, op. 66, 1894-1896) and for mixed chorus (over twenty more works in German dating from the 1870s through his last choral work in 1919: Trauerfeier für Mignon, op. 93 (after Goethe).

Achilleus, op. 50

Having composed Odysseus in 1872, it was a logical step to turn to Homer’s Iliad as a source for another work, and a Liverpool performance of that oratorio fired Bruch’s enthusiasm for a new work. The conductor Carl Reinthaler, recommended the literary critic Heinrich Bulthaupt (1849-1905), who was the librarian of Bremen and a notable dramatic writer. Bruch began the collaboration in the spring of 1882 and completed his new oratorio between 1882 and 1885 (on tour in the United States, in Liverpool, and in between concerts at his new post in Breslau). Bruch conducted the premiere in Bonn and repeated the success in Breslau the next year: “Breslau is standing on its head with joy. I have not encountered such a storm of rapture – I cannot express it any other way.”

Achilleus, as a direct sequel to Odysseus is set during the closing stages of the Trojan Wars. A choral Prologue sets the background to the origins of the Trojan Wars. Bulthaupt’s first part begins with Agamemnon releasing his soldiers to return to Greece after a long, unsuccessful campaign. Odysseus reminds them that their victory is assured (all the gods are on their side); this alters the soldiers’ mood, and they resume the battle. Since Achilles had withdrawn his forces due to a battle with Agamemnon, the Trojans begin to gain the upper hand. Achilles’ friend Patroclus disguises himself in Achilles’ armor, leading the charge, but he is killed by Hector’s lance. Achilles curses Hector and asks his mother (the sea goddess Thetis) for help. The final chorus depicts her journey to obtain a special suit of blazing armor for him.

Bulthaupt’s second part presents the Trojan reaction to these events. Hector, his wife Andromache, sister Polyxena, and father King Priam gather to pray for victory and peace. Hector ignores his wife’s pleas not to return to battle, but he duels and is defeated by the divinely protected Achilles. Part Three features a royal burial for Patroclus and a meeting of resolution between Achilles and King Priam. The oratorio ends with a Trojan lament over Hector, a choral epilogue eulogizing the death of Achilles and the fall of Troy.
Although pressured throughout the 1880s to make cuts to the three-hour long work (and eventually shortening some of Andromache’s music), Bruch was lauded by the Neue Musikzeitung for his conducting and the Bonn premiere of Achilleus. Amalie Joachim (Andromache) and George Henschel (Hector) were particularly praised, and the beginning of Part Three (the Ringkämpfer orchestral interlude) was repeated at the audience’s demand. The same festival included Beethoven’s recently discovered Cantata on the Death of Joseph II and selections from Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito. Bruch also conducted Schumann’s Symphony No. 2, Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture and Piano Concerto No. 2, and an aria from Weber’s Oberon (also concluding the concert with a chorus from Achilleus).
Bruch turned three orchestral “games” in honor of Patroclus into a successful suite, and often performed it as a foil to his First Violin Concerto. His favorite performance of music from the oratorio took place at the 1891 Düsseldorf Music Festival, where nearly 800 voices from ten choral societies combined to present excerpts from Das Feuerkreuz, Achilleus, and Das Lied von der Glocke. He wrote to the violinist Joachim, “The singing masses of the Rhineland have remained true to me for twenty years, and it is the case wherever my choral works are sung. There must be something in the music that strikes their hearts and gives them something that I arouse and continually please… Of one thing I am absolutely clear: in spite of everything that the radical parties [i.e. Wagner and his supporters] have done over the years, music based on the principle of Melody and possessing the purity and definitiveness of Form still has its public, and a very large one at that.”

Publications and resources

Christopher Fifield’s Max Bruch: His Life and Works (Boydell, 1988, reissued 2005) is the only full-length documentary biography of Bruch; it includes musical analyses in English of all of his published works, including three German operas and several oratorios. This is the best source for a discussion of Bruch’s letters and other contemporary sources that support his place in the vibrant musical culture of his time.
Simrock (in Berlin) first published full and piano-vocal scores of Achilleus in 1885 (Plate numbers 8543 and 8545),
and the orchestral score has been digitally preserved through the Sibley Library Mirroring Project at the University
of Rochester, US. Kalmus offers a reprint from those plates. John P. Morgan of New York provided the only English translation authorized by the composer; this libretto was published by G. Schirmer in 1885 and distributed in Europe by Simrock. A free digital copy is available through the Librettosammlung der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek. Performance material is available for hire from Boosey and Hawkes.
Laura Stanfield Prichard

Northeastern University and San Francisco Symphony, 2015

For performance material please Boosey & Hawkes, Berlin . Reprint of a copy from the Vera Oeri-Bibliothek der Musik Akademie

Basel, Basel.


For more information on the piece:

Read the preface of the full score  > HERE



Score No.



Repertoire Explorer


Choir/Voice & Orchestra





You may also like…

Go to Top