Romanze for Violin and Orchestra in A Minor, op. 85

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            Bruch was a talented and respected composer whose musical style was firmly in the camp of his contemporary, Johannes Brahms.  Not for him the extravagant and progressive orientation of Wagner, Liszt, and their popular followers.  Rather, like Brahms he composed in the more conservative tradition of Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and their admirers.  He was a precocious musician, composing from an early age, and displaying through his long career a remarkable gift for lyricism and the ability to craft a melodic line.  Active in many genres—operas, symphonies, choral music, chamber music, and song—he is most known for his immensely popular first violin concerto, a staple of the repertoire to this day.  He came to rue its popularity, hoping musicians would perform more frequently his many other fine compositions, but alas.  To be sure, some of his other compositions garnered renown, though, including the Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra and the Kol Nidrei for violoncello and orchestra.  The reception of the majority of his compositions suffered to some degree owing to his living in the shadow of Brahms, the lack of appeal to British audiences (before and during WWI) of his often German-themed works, and the mistaken assumption by Germans in the 1930s that he was Jewish.  To top it off, his dyed in the wool romanticism was old hat by the time of his death in 1920.  History is often not kind.

            A romanze is a very old musical genre--originally vocal--with a lyrical melodic style and a text that emphasized love, gallantry, simplicity and naturalness.  But by the late eighteenth century that character began to be imported into instrumental genres that reflected the same style.  Bruch’s Romanze stems from 1911, and displays all of the lyricism, harmony suavity, and melodic gifts for which he is justly known.  The work was dedicated to the principal violist of the Paris Opera, Maurice Vieux.  Opening with his signature warm, expansive melodic style for the soloist, the composer goes on to put the viola through a variety of moods, harmonic and melodic excursions, all the while retaining the lyricism of the initial section.   From time to time, the winsome melody returns, not always in the solo part.  It ends as it began, featuring Bruch’s romantic, lush writing for the viola—and reminding us that Brahms didn’t have dibs on all masterful German romantic music.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2015 William E. Runyan