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  Founder: Len Mullenger

Bruch (1838-1920) - Kol Nidrei, for Vc and Orchestra

Believe it or not, in his day Bruch was famous for his epic choral works. In our day, apart from the first of his three Violin Concerti, the Scottish Fantasy, and Kol Nidre, his music seems to have sunk without trace. Yet, dredging the record catalogues, I'm amazed at how much there is hidden in the woodwork. 

Here's another oddity: an old edition of the “Oxford Companion to Music” listed him as “Jewish or part-Jewish”, but elsewhere his religion is described, if it is even mentioned, as Protestant. So, it's odds on that any conversion would have been down to his forbears. Maybe there was some inherited empathy that drew him but, even so, as a presumed Protestant living in an anti-semitic Germany, would you chance your arm on a piece based on a Jewish chant, and would you expect it to out-live your Grand Choral Conceptions? I know that I wouldn't, but that seems to be the case with Bruch - it's a funny old world, isn't it?

Meaning “All Vows”, Kol Nidre is a prayer sung on the eve of Yom Kippur, basically expressing repentance for failure to fulfil promises made to God. Because it came, entirely without justification, to be regarded as a carte blanche for Jews to lie though their teeth in Christian courts, it was removed from the Reform Jewish Liturgy during the Nineteenth Century, being reinstated only as recently as 1945. This makes it a fair bet that, at the time Bruch wrote his piece (1880) Kol Nidre, and the melody associated with it in the Ashkenazic (German) rite, was “history”. So, maybe this cleared the decks for his artistic use of its universal connotation - the idea of repentance for sins committed - with relative impunity. 

There's one final oddity: Bruch was a staunch follower of Brahms, yet in parts of Kol Nidre I am certain that I detect the shadowy influence of Wagner. If so, it must rate as a supreme irony.

However, regardless of the “politics”, this age-old Jewish melody, filtered through a sympathetic Protestant, is heart-stoppingly beautiful. Sung by the rich baritone voice of the solo 'cello (what else?), it echoes through the darkest vaults of the orchestra. Progressing at first from rich simplicity to more overtly agile variations, it finally returns to that opening simplicity, resonating with a timeless solemnity that transcends mere religion.

© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street, Kamo, Whangarei 0101, Northland, New Zealand


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