March 2013

Bruch's Ineffable Magic

March 28, 2013 09:17

This first appeared at The Classical Girl

Max Bruch, German composer of the Romantic Era, wrote over 200 works. Ask any violinist and they’ll nod, maybe even roll their eyes, saying “of course, the violin concerto. Played it. Everyone student has.” Or heard it. Or heard Bruch’s celebrated Kol Nidrei for Cello and Orchestra. Or his Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra. And that sums up Bruch for most.

Bruch wrote two more violin concertos, that, possibly, you’ve never heard (not to mention a gorgeous Serenade for Violin and Orchestra). He wrote three symphonies that, likely, you’ve never heard. I’m listening to the second one right now. It’s cracking my heart open.

The problem with poor Bruch was, you see, he was born too late. He had to follow in the footsteps of German masters of the Romantic Era such as Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms. He learned a lot from them. He loved their structured, balanced, lyrical style; it was what he did best. However, by the time Bruch had a really good sound going, the times, they were a-changing. A new kind of Romantic music was piquing the interest of the public, the more flamboyant, passionate styles of Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Wagner, Bruckner. Big sound, larger than life drama and pathos and redemption all built in. Bigger orchestras. Bigger risks. More attention when those risks paid off.

And like that, the tides had shifted. While Bruch continued on with a successful career, composing, teaching, conducting, what have you, history turned its back on him. It cast him as a side note to the masters and deemed his repertoire, with the exception of his violin concerto and Kol Nidrei, largely forgettable. Not music you will hear too frequently in today’s concert halls.

I love Bruch’s other violin concertos, his Serenade for Violin and Orchestra (op. 75), his Romance for Violin and Orchestra (op. 42), his Im Memoriam (op. 65). And his symphonies. The No. 2 in F-minor, in particular. The second movement. I am utterly smitten.

I play it over and over and it’s as if I can feel the spirits of Schumann and Beethoven—heck, the whole gang of them. They are all clustered around me here as I sit and listen. Where did it come from, this music? What made Bruch write the movement this way, with those swirls of otherworldly emotion, so very much like Schumann’s own Symphony No. 2, third movement? It’s uncanny. I get that same prickly feeling, both elated and close to tears, and it’s like I’ve consumed a shot of something heady, like antique scotch, and instantly my emotions are running higher, as is the extravagance of my thoughts, my descriptions of the music, along with this increased need, almost frantic, to get it right, to explain it all with words.

I step outside myself, study myself, and wearily shake my head. Observe the stubborn soul, so set on the obscure notion of blogging about classical music, not the best market-oriented decision for a working writer, not one of those things that will get circulated via the Internet mainstream. And not only do I chose an obscure subject to blog about, but a relatively obscure composer and his relatively forgotten work.

And yet, really, isn’t that the reason, right there, to do it? To hold something up, turn on the mic, and shout your find out to the world. To say, “Folks, this one is a gem. You have to hunt down a copy and give it a good listen. This is pure genius.” No, wrong word. It wasn’t pure genius, pure originality on Bruch’s part. I’d have to give those awards to Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann. But what Bruch produced, is art. Pure unadulterated art that seems to give off an invisible radiance, one you can feel on your flushed cheeks, deep within your heart as you listen. This is art that got overlooked because it came just a little too late in the cycle of things, in the relentless push of progress, seeking out a new sound, something less romantic, more gritty and provocative.

I love Mahler. Love his work. I think it’s one-of-a-kind. But just right at this moment I want him to take a back seat to the deserving art of Max Bruch and the ineffable magic he has conjured, particularly in his second symphony, second movement. I’m not sure how many people will agree with me on this. Reviews I’ve found online call it “not very memorable” and, while faithful to the style of the German masters, “nothing as tuneful or engaging.” And I play the second symphony again, listen, and shake my head at how wrong the reviewer got it.

The second movement plays for eleven minutes. For that time (because of course I am listening to it yet again), I will once more puzzle over what makes it work, what is seizing my heart, keeping it hostage. I will come back tomorrow, play it again and again, in the hopes that at some point I will find the clues required to unlock that place, release me from this obsession. And maybe, through that, I can crack the nut of why classical music affects me as it does, and why it feels so important, so vital, that I transcribe.

I’m sure I’ve failed dismally with these extravagant, sentimental words of mine. Or maybe, just by trying, by sending it Out There into the public domain, I’ve set the wheel in motion, the music in motion. One can only try. That, I’ve decided, is obligation to art, and the artists who created it.

* * *

Here is a performance of Bruch's Symphony No. 2; the second movement begins at 12:27.

©2013 Terez Rose

PS: And this. My heartfelt thanks to violinist Salvatore Accardo and his lovely, loving renditions of so much of Bruch’s music. He has my undying devotion.

His "Concertos" link at Amazon

"Symphonies" link at Amazon

11 replies

Please Stop Striking

March 18, 2013 12:02

I've been torn about whether to publicly discuss the San Francisco Symphony's labor dispute, hoping it would simply go away quietly, in a classy sort of way, which would reassure me that the Symphony and its musicians are as extraordinary as I always tell people they are. But it's not going away quietly. And it takes two sides to keep a dispute going. So. I'm going to take a risk here, and speak my thoughts, because, being a writer, it is very uncomfortable to keep them locked up inside my head. I could have kept it solely on my blog, thus not risking offending anyone here who unequivocally supports the musicians. But the truth is, I'd love to bounce this whole thing back and forth with fellow members. It's upsetting me, and I long for others' opinions. Because one thing I can be sure of is that other members here have as deep a love of classical music as I do. So, please. I want to hear your opinion about this strike, even if you want to criticize my words or my stance.

The following first appeared at The Classical Girl

I am so very sad that the musicians and management of the San Francisco Symphony have not been able to settle their differences and come to an agreement. Now cancelled is their prestigious East Coast tour, including performances at Carnegie Hall and Washington DC’s Kennedy Center. This is a disaster, not just financially, but for the symphony’s reputation.

How much does this really mean to me, personally? I chide myself over this urge to obsess about it, to grieve. But by cancelling a tour across the country, it is no longer a local issue. The world is watching the SFS exposing this ugly, contentious side, destroying the illusion of a cohesive organization. I’m not just sad, I’m ashamed. I’ve nattered on here at my blog about the wonderful SFS, my sanctuary from the real world, that has never disappointed me. Does this make a sucker out of me, that I’m so enthusiastically supporting such an institution?

Most of my classical music friends are musicians, and surely support the striking musicians. Will I be endangering their good will if I step out on a limb here and say enough already, that the musicians need to stop being so obstinate? This is not the Minnesota Orchestra here, or the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. The San Francisco Symphony has one of the strongest, healthiest endowments in the classical music world. Its musicians are among the top three best paid in the country. Their argument: they want their pay to keep pace with the other top two orchestras in the country, Chicago and Los Angeles. Management is proposing a pay freeze this year, and a paltry increase next year. The musicians and their union are not biting. Nor is management capitulating.

I’m certainly not qualified to argue cogently for either side in this labor dispute. I can only read articles, listen to others’ opinions. I’m trying to continue to see it from both sides. But it’s getting harder to feel sympathy for either side with each passing day.

In the end, as I said, what I feel is tremendous sorrow. The dispute is ugly and damaging, and both sides are getting damaged, and it’s the paying audience members are being hurt, not to mention the San Francisco Symphony’s fine reputation. Further damage, locally, is the fact that the SFS’s subscription season renewal is in full swing. I don’t know about the other subscribers, but I’m not sure I want to go flinging money at them right now, not when the two sides are squabbling like overtired siblings.

Please solve your dispute, San Francisco Symphony and musicians. All of you are losing so, so much, with each passing day.

©2013 Terez Rose

22 replies

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