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Like many composers, Max Bruch was captivated by both the idea and the sound of folk music. Nowhere is this more evident than in his Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra.
This work received its UK premiere while Bruch was rather grumpily in charge of the Liverpool Philharmonic in 1881, some seventeen years before he took over at the Scottish Orchestra. His time in Scotland was no more successful than his tenure in Liverpool.
Despite the fact that Bruch was a virtual stranger to Scotland at the time he wrote his Scottish Fantasy, there is nothing to suggest that the work is based on anything other than wholly authentic Scottish melodies. Its opening movement uses ‘Auld Rob Morris’; from there, we move on to ‘Dusty Miller’, before ‘I’m down for lack of Johnnie’ in the third movement and, to conclude, the ebullient ‘Scots Wha Hae’ in the finale.
Interestingly, Bruch uses a harp in the Scottish Fantasy – strongly suggesting he thought the instrument was a central part of authentic Scottish folk music. Whether he had actually heard a Celtic harp played at the time he wrote the piece is still very much open to debate.
Tasmin Little (violin); Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Vernon Handley (conductor).
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Illustration: Mark Millington