Max Bruch – Second Violin Concerto in D minor, op. 44
(b. Cologne, 6 January 1838 – d. Berlin, 20 October 1920)
What a rousing success! Max Bruch could truly feel satisfied: hardly had his First Violin Concerto appeared in print than it entered the repertoire of every violin virtuoso of note and was mentioned in the same breath with such famous predecessors as Mendelssohn’s. Despite «words of warning» from well-intentioned contemporaries, Bruch had managed at a single stroke to establish himself as a composer for the orchestra. Thus encouraged, he quickly produced further orchestral works, including his First and Second Symphonies. But why not a second violin concerto?
Bruch had apparently not forgotten the «difficult birth» of his first concerto. The gestation of the G-minor Violin Concerto had lasted a full four years before it at last assumed definitive form. Many pieces of advice were cast his way; some he accepted, others he rejected, but he was nearly worn down utterly by the myriad suggestions for changes and improvements. It therefore comes as no surprise discover that he only began to mull over the prospect of a new concerto in the middle of 1873, five years after completing the First. Encouraged by his friend, the concertmaster Robert Heckmann, Bruch now planned a work in three movements. But before his ideas for the second and third movements were committed to paper he had virtually finished the score of the first. The work, contrary to convention, was to open with a slow movement. But Bruch’s creative powers abandoned him at this point, and the concerto, in his own words, «collapsed to a simple romance.» It was later published, in revised form, as a single-movement Romance in A minor, op. 42.
The spark that ignited the composition of a second full-length concerto came from the Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate. Not only had Bruch become personally acquainted with this celebrated virtuoso, he undertook a joint concert tour with him at the beginning of 1877, during which the First Concerto was performed to great acclaim. Bruch was so taken with Sarasate’s artistry that in no time at all he conceived a new Violin Concerto in D minor, dedicated to Sarasate. As early as 8 March 1877 he wrote to his publisher Simrock that the main melodic ideas were already set. The solo part was first sketched out with the assistance of Robert Heckmann, but its final elaboration was carried out in various rehearsals with Sarasate. This stage of the work’s genesis left behind a large body of sketches, preserved today in the Berlin Staatsbibliothek.
Recalling his Romance op. 42, Bruch clung to the idea of beginning with a slow introductory movement. It was followed by a middle movement fashioned in the style of a recitative and a virtuoso finale in sonata-allegro form. On 15 August, the date appearing at the end of the autograph score (Max Bruch Archive, Cologne), the preliminary version was complete. The première was given in London’s Crystal Palace in the early part of November (3rd or 4th), with Sarasate taking the solo part and Bruch conducting. The rehearsals and the performance made use of handwritten parts (some of which survive today in a private collection), so that changes could be made both before the première and at the three performances that followed in Koblenz, Bonn, and Berlin (late 1877). Bruch made sizeable cuts in the middle movement and rewrote the ending of the finale at Sarasate’s request, the first version being, the violinist felt, insufficiently brilliant. On 4 January 18787 the new concerto was at last complete. This time Joseph Joachim only became acquainted with it in February and thus had no significant role in the shaping of the solo part. Finally, the Second Violin Concerto, op. 44, was issued in print by Simrock that same year.
The early performances of the concerto were very successful, even if many listeners found at first that the slow opening movement took some getting used to. The greatest caviler of all was Brahms, who wrote to Simrock: «The final movement of his concerto caused us no small pleasure, but we hope that no imperial decree is necessary to prevent first movements from often being Adagio. It is not to be borne by normal mortals.» Later Brahms had to concede that he was wrong about the effect of the opening movement. Bruch himself not only considered it the best of the three, he later regretted not having published it as a separate piece. Only Sarasate, he claimed, had prevented him from scuttling the next two movements.
Like many other of Bruch’s works, the D-minor Concerto has been eclipsed by the First Concerto in today’s concert life. Despite the virtuosity of its finale, it may fall short of its predecessor in tunefulness and esprit, but it does not deserve to fall into oblivion, if only for the sake of the Adagio. Our study score is intended to help prevent this from happening.
Translation: Bradford Robinson, 2005
For performance material please contact the publisher Benjamin Musikverlage, Hamburg. Reprint of a copy from the Max Bruch Archiv im Musikwissenschaftlichen Institut der Universität zu Köln.
Vorwort deutsch > HERE