The Music of Bruch and Beethoven
Written by Nicky Gluch
According to Joseph Joachim, “The Germans have four violin concertos. The greatest, the most uncompromising, is Beethoven’s. The one by Brahms vies with it in seriousness. The richest, the most seductive was written by Max Bruch. But the most inward, the heart’s jewel, is Mendelssohn’s.” Leaving aside Joachim’s characterisation of the four concerti, what interests me is his grouping of these four men, for it reminds me of a comment made by Christoph von Dohnanyi. When asked how he selected works for a concert program, Dohnanyi explained that he sought a common mentality, as diverse as the works might be. Thus Bruckner, for him, went with Mozart, not Beethoven, just as I posit Beethoven and Bruch share a common soul. A bon accord that may find its origins in the city of Bonn…
Though Beethoven is referred to as a composer of the First Viennese School, he was born and raised in Bonn. Pre-COVID, many had planned to visit the city, and specifically the Münsterplatz, to celebrate 250 years since the composer’s birth. It is in the Münsterplatz that one finds the famous Beethoven Monument; unveiled in 1845 to commemorate what would have been Beethoven’s 75th birthday, it was the realisation of an idea, long in the works, initiated by musicology professor Heinrich Carl Breidenstein.
It was with Breidenstein that the young Bruch allegedly had his first music theory lesson. Born in Cologne in 1838, Beethoven’s city lay just 30km away. When the 11-year-old Bruch visited, he would have seen the Monument shining in its newness. Beethoven’s legacy was thus inescapable, be it physically or through Breidenstein’s teachings, and that Bruch felt an affinity for Bonn is evidenced in his decision to return in 1873. He would spend five years there, working privately, before moving to Liverpool and, eventually, Berlin.
Berlin was Mendelssohn’s city. He was 18 when Beethoven died, and had already written some of his masterworks, including the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and his String Octet. Almost 100 years later, Bruch would write his own, though his octet was for eight instruments, as opposed to the double-quartet of Mendelssohn’s conception. Mendelssohn, the conductor, was a Beethoven advocate, and in 1844 he conducted the Violin Concerto with Joachim as soloist. The work became key to Joachim’s repertoire, and he to the piece’s acceptance in the canon. When Brahms heard him perform it, he was deeply impressed, and so began a long and fruitful friendship.
Program aired on Thursday 2 October at 2pm