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Max Bruch (1838 - 1920) – Scottish Fantasy, for Violin and Orchestra (1880)

Introduction: Grave
1. Adagio cantabile
2. Scherzo - allegro; Adagio
3. Andante sostenuto
4. Finale: Allegro guerriero

The popularity of “the” G minor Violin Concerto is nothing new: Bruch himself grumbled that it hogged the limelight at the expense of his other two concerti and six other concertante works. Who can blame him? Nobody likes the idea that his first effort is his best. An undeservedly poor second in the popularity stakes, the Walter Scott-inspired Scottish Fantasy (1880) exemplifies his fascination with folk music. 

His inclusion of a harp reflected his belief that the violin and harp epitomised Scottish folk music, whilst a pervasive feel of “verse and refrain” confirms that virtually all the material is based on actual folk melodies: following the Introduction’s gloomy “Celtic lament” (1) Auld Rob Morris, which reappears twice further down the road, is turned over emotively, instrumental parts entwining engagingly; (2) The Dusty Miller swings his kilt, spry but stern, bass drones hinting at bagpipes; (3) I’m Down for Lack of Johnnie gets a bit heated, in the best Bruch tradition; (4) Scots Wha Hae, words attributed to Robert the Bruce, is suitably less spry and much sterner. 

However, unlike Mendelssohn - whose Violin Concerto surely furnished the model for the “bridging” adagio - Bruch never visited Scotland, so presumably he’d never heard either a real Scottish fiddle or a real Celtic harp, and his tunes came from the second-hand shop. 

Disparagingly, a friend of mine thinks listeners are “only waiting for the finale’s fireworks”. I think any listeners thus blinkered miss much wonderful scenery, because Bruch’s characteristic refinement creates and encapsulates its own magical, mythical Scotland. Enjoy it - all - at your leisure. 

Note originally commissioned by the Vancouver Symphony for a concert given on 30 October 2004

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© Paul Serotsky
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