The Kennedy Center

Kol Nidrei, Adagio on Hebrew Melodies for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 47

About the Work

Max Bruch Composer: Max Bruch
© Richard Freed

Bruch composed this brief work in 1880 and conducted the premiere in Liverpool the following year. The work enters the repertory of the National Symphony Orchestra in the present concerts.

In addition to the solo cello, the score calls for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, harp, and strings. Duration, 11 minutes.

In 1880 Bruch settled in Liverpool for a three-year term as director of that city's Philharmonic Society, and in the same year he composed two concerted works on ethnic themes which have proved to be his only compositions besides the enormously popular Violin Concerto in G minor to earn places in the permanent repertory. These are the Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra (Op. 46) and the single-movement Kol nidrei for cello and orchestra (Op. 47). Bruch himself was neither Scottish nor Jewish, but he was productively intrigued by the folk music of various cultures (as shown further in his other instrumental works on Swedish and Russian themes), and he composed the Kol nidrei as a gift to the Jewish community of Liverpool, which had been conspicuous in its support of the Philharmonic Society.

The chant on which this work is based is the solemn one with which the service begins for the eve of Yom Kippur--the Day of Atonement, a fast day and the highest of all the Jewish holy days. The chant is said to have originated at the time of the Inquisition in Spain, when many Jews, known as Maranos, outwardly adopted Christianity but continued to practice their hereditary faith in secret. The words "Kol nidrei" mean "All vows": the text is a renunciation of false allegiance sworn under duress. The chant itself has the character of a lament; by way of leavening, Bruch balances this theme with a second, more radiant one, set in the major, which dominates the second part of the piece and brings it to its serene conclusion.