Max Bruch: Scottish Fantasy

Context 

Max Bruch was born on January 6th 1838 in Cologne. He received early musical training by pianist and composer, Ferdinand Hiller. Unlike quite a large proportion of classical musicians, Bruch’s family were very supportive of his music studies, and were often pushing him to take it one step further in the education ladder. Perhaps due to this, Bruch’s compositional output is large and covers many different genres including sacred and secular settings of songs pslams and motets, violin sonatas, piano works, orchestral works and chamber music for strings.

The premiere of Scottish Fantasy, was in Liverpool on February 22nd 1881, with Bruch conducting the Liverpool Philharmonic Society, with violinist Joseph Joachim playing the solo part. However, Bruch was unhappy with Joachim’s performance of his work, and he said that he had ‘ruined the work.’ From there on, Sarasate began playing the solo part, which pleased Bruch a lot more.

 

The Music

As alluded to in the title, the four movements of this work are built on Scottish folk melodies. Below are the movements and the folk melodies they take inspiration from:

  1. Introduction; Grave, Adagio Cantabile – Through the Wood Laddie
  2. Scherzo; Allegro – The Dusty Miller 
  3. Andante sostenuto – I’m A’ Doun for Lack O’ Johnnie 
  4. Finale; Allegro guerriero – Hey Tuttie Tatie, Scots Wha Hae

 

Movement I – Through the Wood Laddie

The first movement was described after the premiere by an associate of Bruch as depicting the image of ‘an old bard who is contemplating a ruined castle and lamenting the glorious times of old.’ The slow introduction is atmospheric and based around Eb minor. The solemn funeral-like sustained chords that start the piece set the scene for the violin to enter very gently around 12 bars in.

The richness of the solo melody is built up through pauses, call and response from the soloist and orchestra, and the use of double stopping and other violin techniques. The introduction gradually leads us into a brighter and major-dominated section of the movement. The first movement stays the same tempo throughout, with the focus being melodic development. The rich development that comes from this movement is resonated throughout the rest of the work.

 

Movement II – The Dusty Miller

The second, much livelier movement, based on The Dusty Miller, picks the pace up and reveals an interesting relationship between the violin and the orchestra. With the driving force of the orchestra, the violin often interrupts with a delicate, heavily ornamented sequence of notes, before the orchestra enter again. The open chords that are played by the basses are resonant of that of a bagpipe, which ties in with the pertinent Scottish theme.

 

Movement III – I’m A’Doun for Lack O’Johnnie 

The tempo slows once more to reminisce the first movement’s melodic framework. This then provides a segue into the third movement, which very much contrasts the second. Throughout the third movement you can certainly hear how Bruch has intertwined ideas from the first movement, as well as utilising the folk song I’m A’ Doun for Lack O’ Johnnie. Bruch’s use of harmony in this movement is most interesting, as he fluctuates between major and minor, reflecting perhaps some confusion or uncertainty within his life.

 

Movement IV – Scots Wha Hae

The Finale is based on the oldest tune of them all, Scots Wha Hae. Entitled ‘Allegro guerriero’ (‘a warlike allegro’), this movement highlights the virtuosic soloist, with a march-like accompaniment from the orchestra. From fast passages and vigorous triple stops from the soloist, the movement also reflects the atmosphere from the first movement, with slow, rich sequences that lead into a final burst of triumph for Scots Wha Hae. 

 

Final Thoughts

Scottish Fantasy gives us a snap shot of where Romanticism was heading in the late 1800s, with Bruch’s extensive use of Scottish folk songs a reflection of past songs set by composers such as Haydn and Mendelssohn. With both delicate and vivacious writing for the soloist, this set of four movements offer many different emotions, atmospheres and interpretations of folk song.

 

Happy reading!

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You might also enjoy… Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Sérénade mélancolique

 

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