Magazine article Musical Times

Fridrich Bruk at 80: Programmatic Narratives and Jewish Folk Influences in Symphonies 3, 10 and 11

Magazine article Musical Times

Fridrich Bruk at 80: Programmatic Narratives and Jewish Folk Influences in Symphonies 3, 10 and 11

Article excerpt

While some have argued in recent years that the future of the symphony as a genre is as uncertain as the institution of the 'symphony concert' that has so long nurtured it,1 in Finland the symphony is currently flourishing through the efforts of composers such as Fridrich Bruk, a Jewish-Russian-Finnish composer, who actively contributes to this genre with a bold compositional style and programmatic narratives which draw the symphony into present-day relevance.2 Bruk's symphonies, perhaps best known currently in Finland and surrounding areas, inspire his audiences in new and interesting ways. For instance, following a 2003 performance in Helsinki of his Symphony no.6: 'Birds of passage', a group of Catalan tourists from Barcelona recognised the composer at his hotel and enthusiastically broke into a song and folk-dance for him.3 Each of Bruk's symphonies is a unique creation and many of them directly reflect folk influences from his Jewish, Russian and Finnish roots. This article, following a short biography and brief overview of Bruk's symphonic output to date, will provide a glimpse into three of his i6 symphonies: Symphony no.3 for orchestra and tenor: 'Artist Chagall' (2000); Symphony no.io: 'Klezmorim-2' (2010); and Symphony no.11: 'The universe' (2000). These particular symphonies share notable inclusions of Jewish folk melodies and themes, woven into the programmatic narrative found in each work. Please note that over the course of this article, all quotations from Bruk, unless otherwise cited, were given to this author through a series of e-mail correspondences and phone conversations with the composer.

Bruk was born in Kharkov, Ukraine, and his childhood and later musical compositions were both decisively shaped by the events of World War 2. His personal experience of the war as a young child and his mother's death on 21 September 1943, a result of Nazi biological warfare on the peaceful population, led to a deep tragedy which still resonates through his music today and can be heard, for example, in his Symphony no.2 for orchestra and piano.4 In the CD liner notes for Nordic legends, Bruk's wife, Nadezhda, describes Symphony no.2 and references 'tense collisions [in the first movement]'. She states: 'It is quite obvious that those are the memories of the composer's childhood during the years of war, of losing his mother and of the everyday world collapsing around him'.5 The prominent inclusion of piano in this symphony lends further relevance to this interpretation, as Bruk's mother was a well-known pianist at the time of her death. Raised by his grandparents, Bruk graduated from the Special Music School for Gifted Children (Kharkov) in 1956 with a silver medal and over the next five years studied composition with V. Voloshinov and B. Arapov at the Leningrad Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory. He lived and worked in Karelia for several years, then Leningrad, heading the department of music at the Lennauchfilm studio. Since 1974 Bruk has lived in Finland with his wife Nadezhda and their son Alexander.

Although he has composed in many other genres (such as chamber works, popular songs, and music for theatre and movies), Bruk is a prolific symphonist. As previously mentioned, he has published 16 symphonies, with the most recent titled Symphony no.16: 'The Dnieper river' (2016). In general, Bruk's symphonies are programmatic; Symphony no.i for orchestra and trombone (1998) contains a musical narrative from the Finnish Civil War of 1918 with its bloody aftermath, and Symphony no.2, as noted by Nadezhda, is loosely autobiographical. Symphonies nos.3 to 15 are each inscribed with meaningful dedications and tributes to great artists, musicians and scholars. The programmes of these symphonies often reflect the life or achievements of the dedicatee, such as Symphony no.3, a musical tribute to the artist Marc Chagall (to be discussed later in this article) and Symphony no. 13: 'Artist Malevich' (2014), a tribute to the Ukrainian painter Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935). …

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