Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, op. 26
2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings
I. Vorspiel: Allegro moderato
III. Finale: Allegro energico
Composed 1866. First performance: April 24, 1866, cond. Max Bruch. Otto von Königslow, violin.
note by Katherine Baber
Of the nine major works that Max Bruch wrote for violin, his first Violin Concerto in G minor, op. 26, is the most famous—something Bruch resented, even as he valued his friendship with virtuosos like Ferdinand David and Joseph Joachim. Although he did love the instrument because it could “sing a melody better than a piano, and melody is the soul of music,” the fervor of generations of violinists for this piece has overshadowed his other orchestral and chamber works. Still, it is hard to argue with the violinists on this one. Bruch’s ability to balance melodic simplicity and virtuosity, the former rooted in his fascination with folk music and the latter understood through his violinist friends, makes for a compelling work.
The second movement Adagio is perhaps the best example, tempering soaring lines and bravura technical displays with the sweetness of a lullaby. Bruch’s sensitive orchestration also encourages the audience to lean in, particularly in the developmental sections of the first movement, where the passagework of the solo violinist intricately weaves in and out of the string section and converses with the winds. While the first two movements ask the violin to sing in the way that Bruch so admired, the finale is shamelessly corporeal. The first theme lets the violinist and the orchestra leap and whirl, and the second theme has the lyricism of an aria, but one sung boldly, with arms thrown open wide.