Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op. 26

(Cover of Heifetz Concerto Collection, BMG 1994)

Max Bruch wrote three violin concertos, most of us (myself included) are only aware of his first, which is extremely popular on concert playbills as well as recordings. To average classical music lovers, what’s attractive of this piece can be summed up in one word: melody. We can analyze the inner working of the motifs, themes and structure of this piece all we want, highlighting the “unusually short” first movement, and trying to mold the piece into some kind of form…but all those analysis will simply pale at the endless melodies pouring into your ears. As the great late 19th-century violinist Joseph Joachim pointed out, Bruch’s G minor concerto is “the richest” and “most seductive”[1].

1. Vorspiel: Allegro moderato

The first movement’s playing time is actually about the same as the Adagio, I guess when we consider the movement “short”, it could mean being structurally short, not having all parts as in a typical sonata form (yet, why does it have to be sonata form, or any form?). The movement starts with the introduction on woodwinds:

then comes the two main themes:

Theme 1:

Theme 2:

then a brief virtuosic playing by the violin leads to a passionate tutti:

and the music soon quiets down. After a short repeat of the opening theme, the orchestra plays a variation of it and slides into the second movement:

It’s the point when the tutti comes in, or even when the opening scores are repeated, that a full movement would normally starts further development (of a, say, sonata form) after exposition, yet Bruch quickly brings it to and end that leads to next movement.

2. Adagio

The Adagio is most heartfelt and warm, filled with lush and irresistibly beautiful melodies. Say no more:

Theme 1:

Theme 2:

Theme 3:

3. Finale: Allegro energico

The finale is probably the only significant mood changer in the whole concerto. More like a rondo with dance-like rhythms and contrasting melody, the violin and orchestra take turns, pushing the music to a climactic ending.

The first theme surely reminds us of the opening bars of the finale in Brahms’s violin concerto, which was written over a decade later.

The 2nd theme is more lyric, first cut in by the orchestra:

it’s further extended before the first theme comes back:

[1] Program notes, Michael Steinberg.

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