A pair of natural wonders of the classical music world come to life this weekend when The Florida Orchestra performs the most popular works of Max Bruch and Franz Schubert, featuring Concertmaster Jeffrey Multer.
Bruch might be described as a kind of one-hit wonder, as his Violin Concerto transcends everything else he wrote. Had he burned all of his more than 100 manuscripts except this G Minor gem, his reputation in today’s concert halls wouldn’t budge.
Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 is a wonder of another ilk: arguably the greatest incomplete opus of the repertoire. Although Schubert signed off on only two of four intended movements, the aptly named “Unfinished’’ Symphony stands alongside the most polished creations of the 19th century.
Saturday and Sunday (no Friday concert), Multer will show why Bruch’s concerto continues to ride the classical hit parade more than 150 years after its first performance.
“It’s just beautiful,’’ said Multer, a Juilliard-trained violinist who took over as concertmaster in 2006. “But it’s not just about beauty. If it isn’t coupled with the right timing and structure, it doesn’t work.’’
That structure is unusual. Most marquee violin concerti follow a pattern of three or four contrasting movements. Bruch wanted a more continuous flow of sound. He wanted the music to melt.
The opening prelude is so lyrical it could have been happy as an opera aria. It dissolves like butter into a heavenly adagio that follows, one of the most hypnotic moments in the literature. The music is ripe with bewitching violin phrases and encourages a natural-sounding conversation between soloist and orchestra.
“Every great violin concerto is different, but the Bruch is unique in many ways,’’ said Multer, who also leads the Palladium Chamber Players. “It’s wonderful in the way it begins with this slow introduction that goes right into a big romantic slow movement. The way the harmonies work, the whole piece really is continuous.’’
Much of what Bruch wrote didn’t “work’’ for listeners of his day. But his Violin Concerto has found a place alongside those of his more famous peers such as Mendelssohn or Tchaikovsky.
“He definitely knew how to write for the violin,’’ Multer added. “It has the perfect combination of everything, without a superfluous note. He hit a magic zone with this piece.’’
Schubert hit the magic zone with his “Unfinished’’ Symphony in B Minor, which he not only left incomplete, but nearly lost altogether. For more than 40 years, the manuscript lay hidden, unseen and unheard, which fueled speculation about the number of symphonies Schubert actually composed (there is no Seventh Symphony, by the way).
The story is sketchy, but scholars agree on the basics: The score dates from October 30, 1822, and the first performance took place December 17, 1865. In between, it was kept in the home of a minor Austrian composer named Anselm Hüttenbrenner. Once rediscovered, it hit the music world like a boxer’s jab.
But how can a masterpiece be, well, unfinished? The short answer is because the two surviving movements serve as an organic, completely satisfying symphonic experience. They don’t need a third or fourth movement to convince listeners of the power of Schubert’s narrative or the apocryphal clash of darkness and light.
The bigger question is why Schubert failed to complete the work. Experts have offered a number of possible clues: He set it aside to work on other compositions, or couldn’t figure out how to follow the monumental first and second movements. More likely, Schubert had contracted syphilis and was seriously ill.
“No matter what Schubert thought of it or whatever reason he didn’t finish it, it’s pure genius in the most Schubertian way,” said Edward Parsons, the orchestra’s general manager. He added that the work stands apart in its “uncanny use of melody, rhythm, key relationships, orchestration, and overall creativity.”
So, Schubert left us a torso, a sort of Venus de Milo in music. Today, the “Unfinished’’ has secured its place among the most performed symphonies worldwide.
If you go
Jeffrey Multer Plays Bruch
Larry Rachleff, conductor
Berlioz: Roman Carnival Overture
Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1
Schubert: Symphony No. 8, “Unfinished”
Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis
Sat, Nov 18, 8 pm, Mahaffey Theater
Sun, Nov 19, 7:30 pm, Ruth Eckerd Hall
Tickets: $15, $30, $45
Free tickets for kids and teens available in advance, with adult ticket purchase.
Click to buy tickets
In residence at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg, these internationally renowned soloists and chamber musicians bring vibrant interpretations of the great classic chamber repertoire. Led by Jeffrey Multer, and including Violist Danielle Farina, Cellist Edward Arron and Pianist Jeewon Park, the group’s 5-concert season begins Jan 10. Click for ticket information