Movement 1: Introduction: Grave –
Movement 2: Adagio cantabile
Movement 3: Allegro –
Movement 4: Andante sostenuto
Movement 5: Allegro guerriero
The brooding E flat minor Grave which opens the Fantasy seems to transport us straight to the land of Ossian—it is supposed to evoke ‘an old bard, who contemplates a ruined castle, and laments the glorious times of old’. The orchestra carries the main burden, with the solo violin commenting in yearning phrases. Bruch then goes straight into the Adagio cantabile, in which, after an appetite-whetting transition, we hear the first of the Scots melodies, known as ‘Auld Rob Morris’ or ‘Through the wood laddie’: the harp shares the limelight with the violin, which indulges in moody double-stopping. The scherzo-like Allegro, based on ‘The Dusty Miller’, features bagpipe drones in the orchestra and leads—via a brief Adagio quoting from the Adagio cantabile—into the Andante sostenuto, which makes effective use of the lovely old air ‘I’m a-doun for lack o’ Johnnie’. The finale, marked Allegro guerriero, is built on the brilliant trumpet tune ‘Hey tuttie tatie’, said to have been played by the Scots at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Incorporating a ‘Scotch snap’ and also used by Hector Berlioz in his overture Rob Roy, it is often known as ‘Scots wha hae’, because Robert Burns wrote his poem ‘Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled’, his interpretation of Robert the Bruce’s address to the Clansmen before Bannockburn, to this melody. Anyone lucky enough to know the old recording of ‘Scots wha hae’ by the great bass Robert Radford will realize that there is also a tragic dimension to it; but Bruch is having none of that. His warlike Allegro is thoroughly defiant, even aggressive, and the solo violin, which throughout the Fantasy is required to perform the most virtuosic of decorations, is here fully employed in brilliant elaborations and triple- and double-stops. Bruch does provide a more lyrical secondary theme, earlier material is recalled and the Fantasy ends with a final blazing assertion of ‘Scots wha hae’. No wonder many great violinists, notably Jascha Heifetz, have enjoyed playing this work.
Towards the end of August 1880 Bruch moved to Liverpool to begin a three-year stint as director of the Philharmonic Society; and it was there, under his baton, that the Scottish Fantasy was premiered on 22 February 1881—not by its dedicatee Sarasate, but by Joachim, who had helped Bruch by editing the solo part. The composer-conductor was not at all impressed by Joachim’s performance; but after all, the Hungarian was playing a work tailored to the quicksilver personality of Sarasate. Bruch conducted a performance for the London Philharmonic Society at St James’s Hall on 15 March 1883, with Sarasate as soloist. On that occasion the Fantasy was described as ‘Concerto for Violin (Scotch)’; and when Sarasate and Bruch presented it in Breslau, it appeared as ‘Third Violin Concerto’. But writing to Simrock on 30 July 1880, Bruch was adamant that ‘the work cannot properly be called a concerto (this is Joachim’s opinion too), because the form of the whole is so completely free, and because folk melodies are used’.
from notes by Tully Potter © 2014