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Bruch’s Liverpool Battle


By the summer of 1882 the German composer Max Bruch had been the Director of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society for two years. It had not been an entirely happy experience for Bruch. He was at odds with musicians who were past their prime, and at least one member of the women’s chorus made a habit of ridiculing Bruch’s conducting in a voice that could be heard by the audience in the front row. Bruch also objected to the huge sums paid to guest artists, singers in particular.

Bruch hoped to alleviate his situation by working with artists he knew and respected. Among them was the pianist Ferdinand Hiller. Bruch wanted him to play a Mozart piano concerto in the opening concert of the 1882-83 season. Bruch offered Hiller a modest 50 pounds for a fee, and then had to withdraw the offer altogether when fees paid to singer Emma Albani and other prima donnas created a deficit.

Forced to withdraw the offer, Bruch wrote Hiller an angry, embarrassed letter:

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Now it has been shown that these people-who generally understand as much about music as a donkey does about lute playing-had something else planned and no power in Heaven or Hell will compel them to change their plans and adopt ours. There are too many cooks on the committee and I don’t have to tell you that they very often put too much salt in the porridge. I was so annoyed by the stupidity of these wretched cotton-merchants that I was unable to write to you until several days after the Committee meeting.

Bruch pinned his hopes on a generous offer from Edinburgh to direct a new conservatory to be established there—an offer that would enable him to leave Liverpool. But the Scottish plan fell through for lack of money, and Bruch’s association with Scotland was to remain imaginary, taking the form of music inspired by Scottish tunes—most notably the popular Scottish Fantasy.

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