The German composer, Max Bruch (1838-1920), had a longstanding fascination with the “exotic” culture and rugged, enchanting topography of Scotland.
Bruch read German translations of the novels of Sir Walter Scott and created musical settings for several poems by Robert Burns. The Scots Musical Museum was an influential collection of Scottish folk music which was compiled by Burns and the engraver and publisher, James Johnson, between 1787 and 1803. In addition to inspiring composers such as Haydn and Beethoven, the anthology’s 600 songs provided the source material for Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, Op. 46 for violin and orchestra. Completed in 1880 and dedicated to the Spanish virtuoso, Pablo de Sarasate, the four-movement work’s official title was “Fantasy for violin with orchestra and harp, with the free use of Scottish folk melodies.”
The Scottish Fantasy begins with a solemn trombone chorale and cymbals, which open the door to the solo violin’s lamenting, cadenza-like initial statement. Soon, dense Highland mists give way to sunshine and the warm, flowing melody of the folksong, Auld Rob Morris. Throughout the Fantasy, the violin is joined by the harp, with its Celtic connotations.
The first movement (Introduction: Grave – Adagio cantabile) is followed by a Scherzo based on the vigorous dance, Hey, the Dusty Miller. It erupts with the boisterous, unabashed joy of the Scottish fiddle, accompanied by the drone of the bagpipes in the low strings.
With a brief return of Auld Rob Morris, the third movement (Andante sostenuto) follows without pause. It is a set of rhapsodic variations on the tender, nostalgic melody, I’m A’ Doun for Lack O’ Johnnie.
The Finale (Allegro guerriero) erupts with the triumphant vigor of Hey Tuttie Tatie (or Scots Wha Hae). According to legend, this war song was played by the victorious army of Robert the Bruce in 1314 during the First War of Scottish Independence. At the Battle of Bannockburn, an outnumbered Scottish force defeated the English army of Edward II. The melody, Auld Rob Morris, makes a final, wistful return before the exuberant concluding flourish.
Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy was a signature piece for Jascha Heifetz. During his career, Heifetz performed the work 106 times and made the first recording in 1947 with William Steinberg and the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra. In May of 1961, Heifetz made this landmark higher fidelity recording with Sir Malcolm Sargent and the New Symphony Orchestra of London:
In 1971, the 70 year old Heifetz performed this NBC telecast, sponsored by what was then known as the American Telephone and Telegraph Company:
- Bruch: Scottish Fantasy, Op. 46, Jascha Heifetz, Sir Malcolm Sargent, New Symphony Orchestra of London Amazon
2 thoughts on “Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy”: Two Legendary Heifetz Recordings”
I have three records of Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy”, by Jascha Heifetz. One is a 3-disk RCA Victor Red Seal 12-inch 78 rpm recording which interrupts the performance for side-changes in rather awkward spots in the score, and which seems to have a rather “forward” midrange, giving it an almost “canned” sound, as though it had dated from the mid-1930s. The second one is my personal favourite — a 10-inch RCA Victor Red Seal L.P. (#LM-4), which somehow sounds like a different performance from the 78, and has a far more agreeable tonal-balance. This is the record of this piece that I have listened to hundreds upon hundreds of times, ever since the late 1940s when I got it. I bought also the 1962 stereo RCA Victor recording — but the performance, while sounding better, seemed more quirky to me (perhaps because I had a permanent mental “imprint” of the earlier one, as my “standard” on just how this piece “ought” to be played. Heifetz, like so many artists, never absolutely repeated himself in the recording-studio: clearly, by 1962, he felt this music differently from the way that he had in the late 1940s. I have reached an age at which I seem rather “stuck” in my ways. As for “popular” music at home, I still prefer my 1946-1954 78s. And I feel blessed to still have my hearing and my eyesight, as well as my sprightly mobility, when so many my age have gone to the graveyard and others still living cannot hear well at all. I cannot imagine life without playing my records. In case it matters to anyone, I prefer Ortofon 2M cartridges — including the one especially for 78s.
I admire this uniquely elegant and inspiring Scottish Fantasy and has Heifetz’s recording with Sargent. It inspires me in the sense that I hope I will be able to visit the inspiring highland of Scotland in the future. I also has 3 more CDs of this work but the best one in both performance and sound quality for me is by Akiko Suwanai with ASMF under Marriner from Philips which is coupled with the equally superb VC No.1. Highly recommend.