Max Bruch Biography

(German Romantic Composer, Conductor & Educator)

Birthday: January 6, 1838 (Capricorn)

Born In: Cologne, Germany

Max Bruch was a distinguished German Romantic composer, conductor and teacher widely recognised for his famous masterpiece Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minorOp. 26, counted among the most popular violin concertos in solo violin repertoire. Two of his other signature pieces that are still widely heard in concert programs include the compositions Scottish Fantasy in E-flat major for violin and orchestra; and Kol Nidrei, Op. 47 for cello and orchestra. Bruch started taking musical lessons as a child, wrote his first composition at age 9 and penned down a symphony at age 14 that won him a scholarship enabling him to study at Cologne. His rich oeuvre of over 200 works includes operas like Die Loreley, orchestral works like Swedish Dances, works for soloist(s) and orchestra such as Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 44, and choral works like Odysseus: Szenen aus der Odyssee. His works for choir and orchestra garnered him considerable success in his lifetime and remained popular among German choral societies during the late 19th century. He held several musical posts including in Koblenz, Mannheim, Sondershausen, Berlin and Bonn. He served as a professor at the Berlin Academy of Arts; as conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society; and taught composition for two decades at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik. His use of Jewish folk music in Kol Nidrei led many to erroneously believe that he was Jewish and although Bruch and later his surviving family repeatedly denied this, performance of his music was restricted as long as the Nazi Party was in power. His music was thus mostly forgotten in German-speaking countries.

Quick Facts

German Celebrities Born In January

Died At Age: 82


Spouse/Ex-: Clara Tuczek

father: August Carl Friedrich Bruch

mother: Wilhelmine Almenräder

children: Ewald Bruch, Hans Bruch, Margarete Bruch, Max Felix Bruch

Born Country: Germany

Educators Composers

Died on: October 2, 1920

place of death: Friedenau, Berlin, Germany

City: Cologne, Germany

Childhood & Early Life

Max Bruch was born on January 6, 1838 in Cologne, Prussia, in the family of attorney August Carl Friedrich Bruch and singer Wilhelmine (née Almenräder). His father served as vice president of the Cologne police and his mother worked as a singing teacher. He had one sister called Mathilde (Till). His father taught him French and English conversation.

Bruch received his first piano lessons from his mother and his first official musical training from German composer, conductor and pianist Ferdinand Hiller. Bruch displayed remarkable talent in music from an early age and this was recognised by Bohemian piano virtuoso and composer Ignaz Moscheles.

Bruch penned down his first composition, a song for his mother’s birthday, at just nine years of age and since then became passionate about music. At fourteen, Bruch wrote a symphony and won a scholarship that led him to study at Cologne. His early works, few of which survived, included piano pieces, motets, a string quartet, psalm settings, violin sonatas, as also orchestral works like the prelude to a planned opera, Joan of Arc.

In 1849, he came under the tutelage of Professor Heinrich Carl Breidenstein, a German musicologist, who gave him his first music theory lesson. Breidenstein was a friend of Bruch’s father and while taking lessons from Breidenstein, Bruch resided at an estate in Bergisch Gladbach owned by an attorney and notary called Neissen. Bruch wrote most of his music there. The Zanders family later bought the estate and a member of the family named Mana later became a friend and patron to Bruch.

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Bruch wrote his first opera titled Scherz, List und Rache in 1858 while working as music teacher in Cologne. In his expansive musical career as a composer, conductor and teacher, Bruch held several musical posts in various places in Germany including in Mannheim from 1862 to 1864, in Koblenz from 1865 to 1867, in Sondershausen from 1867 to 1870 and in Berlin from 1870 to 1872. From 1873 to 1878, he worked privately in Bonn.

The structural, complex and diverse works of Bruch composed in German Romantic musical tradition made him part of the camp of Roman classicism, which included his friend and noted German composer, pianist, and conductor Johannes Brahms,  rather than that of New German School of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. While serving as director of concerts of the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde from 1872 to 1875, Brahms made sure that the orchestra included only professionals and conducted a repertoire which ran from Johann Sebastian Bach to the 19th century composers who were not part of New Music and included among others Franz Schubert, Ferdinand Hiller and Bruch.

Although Bruch garnered fame during his lifetime mainly as a choral composer, he also gained attention for some of his remarkable orchestral compositions. One of the most famous works of Bruch was Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26, which till present remains one of the most popular Romantic violin concertos in solo violin repertoire. The concerto, which is in three movements, used many techniques from Violin Concerto in E minor of Felix Mendelssohn and was first completed in 1866. The piece was thereafter revised considerably with assistance of Bruch’s friend and distinguished Hungarian violinist, conductor, composer and teacher Joseph Joachim and the present version was completed in 1867. The musical composition has been recorded often and continues to enjoy popularity in both repertoire and audience terms.

Two other signature pieces of Bruch that are widely played till present are Scottish Fantasy, a composition for violin and orchestra; and Kol Nidrei, Op. 47, a composition for cello and orchestra. Scottish Fantasy in E-flat major, a four-movement fantasy on Scottish folk melodies, was completed in 1880 and dedicated to Spanish (Navarrese) violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate. Kol Nidrei, which has emerged as the second most frequently performed piece of Bruch after his Violin Concerto No. 1, was completed in 1880 in Liverpool, England, and published in the following year in Berlin. It was dedicated to and premiered by notable 19th-century German cellist Robert Hausmann. The use of Jewish folk music in the composition led many to believe that Bruch was Jewish. Although no evidence was found that Bruch was of Jewish ancestry, moreover the composer himself actively tried to correct this erroneous belief during his lifetime and later his surviving family also denied this misconception, performance of his music was restricted during 1933–1945 when Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party controlled the country as he was considered a possible Jew. His compositions were thus almost forgotten in German speaking nations.

Other notable works of Bruch, who continued to compose within the Romantic tradition avoiding the forward-looking modern trend and the revolutionary spirit of the era, includes Hermione (1872), an opera in 4 acts, Op. 40; Odysseus: Szenen aus der Odyssee (1872), a secular oratorio (opus 41); the concert piece Romance for Violin and Orchestra in A minor, Op. 42, (1874); the Swedish Dances (1892), Op. 63, a set of fifteen dances; and Octet for Strings in B-flat major, Op. (1920).

Meanwhile on February 23, 1880, Bruch was inducted as the principal conductor of Liverpool Philharmonic Society. While serving the post, Bruch experienced conflict with the society’s committee and expressed his annoyance on behaviour of the audience. While members of the committee disagreed with each other, standards of both the orchestra as well as the choir deteriorated, and eventually Bruch resigned on January 1883. Thereafter he served as director of the Breslau (presently, Wroclaw, Poland) Orchesterverein.

In 1890, Bruch joined Berlin Hochschule für Musik and taught composition there till his retirement in 1910. He retained his position as a professor in the university till his death in 1920. Some of his notable students there included Fritz Brase, Clara Mathilda Faisst and Edward Joseph Collins. From 1890 to 1911, he also served as a professor at the Berlin Academy of Arts.

Bruch was swindled by American duo-pianist sisters Rose Sutro and Ottilie Sutro. The two sisters, also infamous as tricksters, took advantage of trusting nature of Bruch and duped him repeatedly. Bruch was so delighted to hear them play his Fantasy in D minor for 2 pianos, Op. 11, in 1911 that he agreed to write a double concerto for them. He wrote the Concerto in A flat minor for Two Pianos and Orchestra, Op. 88a for them in 1912 giving them sole performing rights to the work and permitting them to play the piece only within the Americas and not beyond. The Sutros however never played the piece in its original version and made and published unauthorized changes to the piece. They also took advantage of and deceived Bruch when he was in an impoverished condition at the end of the First World War and sent the autograph copy of his most famous masterpiece Violin Concerto No. 1 to them to sell it in the US and send him the money. The Sutro sisters however kept the score with them and sold it in 1949 for their own profit, almost three decades after Bruch’s death.

Personal Life

Bruch met singer Clara Tuczek in 1880 during a concert tour and the two married on January 3, 1881. Clara was born into an Austrian musical family and her sister Felicia Tuczek was a composer and pianist. Clara, who occasionally sang at Bruch’s concerts, died on August 27, 1919, in Berlin. The couple’s eldest child and only daughter Margarethe was a writer and poet; eldest son, Max Felix, was a musician and conductor; second son Hans was a painter; and third son Ewald commenced his career in forestry and later joined the police force following First World War.

Bruch died on October 2, 1920, in his home in Berlin-Friedenau and was interred at the Old St. Matthäus churchyard at Berlin-Schöneberg beside his wife’s grave. His daughter later carved the words Music is the language of God on his gravestone.

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