Week 172: “Symphony #1 in E flat major, Op. 28 – 3. Quasi Fantasia (Grave)” by Max Bruch


As well as looking strikingly similar to the cover art of an Iron & Wine album, Max Bruch is also one of the 19th century’s most underrated composers.

I’m not sure why this happens with classical music. Maybe it’s a supply-and-demand thing. There are five or six composers who are universally recognized as geniuses, and whose work is performed daily in venues around the world. Others are remembered as one-hit wonders, known only for their most boring piece, while still others are barely performed.

In Bruch’s case, it might be that the musical landscape was shifting dramatically as he neared the end of his life. Composers like Schoenberg and Stravinsky were shaking things up, while Bruch was quietly working within the borders of a style that had run its course over the previous decades. Maybe Bruch’s work started feeling stale and irrelevant as the abstract and expressionist movements of 20th century art made everything else seem irrelevant.

Whatever the case, if you happen to have an orchestra at your disposal, I urge you to help bring back Bruch. Start throwing in his pieces between crowd-pleasing numbers by Bach and Mozart. Have a concert celebrating bearded composers, featuring Max’s orchestral pieces. Do a flash-mob performance of his work in the middle of rush hour. Call it “Bruchfast of Champions”. Let’s introduce Max to the 21st century.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The first minute is super majestic. If I ever emerge from an ocean wearing a cape (and I’m not sure why I would be doing such a thing, but anyway) I would like this minute of music to be playing as it happens.

2. Several of the big cadences, like the one at 3:45, don’t resolve quite as soon as you’d expect them to.

3. He uses the timpani sparingly. No disrespect to Handel, but big percussion loses its effect if you overuse it. When Bruch uses it, he means it.

Recommended listening activity:

Using a brand new camera to take pictures of a really old camera.

Buy it here.