Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Bruch's Violin Concerto. How to NOT Make Money on a Mega Hit

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins,
 and Joe Peterson

The Bruch Violin Concerto in g minor is one of the finest concertos in the violin repertoire - it's been performed by nearly every major soloist since its premiere...

to Joshua Bell.
And it's a great piece to try violins and demonstrate their qualities. Hear how often the staff at Fein Violins uses it on our YouTube channel

Unfortunately, the piece was performed so often in Bruch's lifetime that Max Bruch himself got sick of hearing it. "Every fortnight another [soloist] comes to me wanting to play the First Concerto; I have now become rude, and tell them: 'I cannot listen to this Concerto any more. . . . Go away, and play the other concertos, which are just as good, if not better.'" Well at least the piece got Bruch's name out there. And....Even though it overshadowed his other work, he made a lot of money from it.....Right? WRONG!
The title page of Bruch's g minor Violin Concerto at the Morgan Library

After finishing the work, Bruch decided to sell the score to the music publisher N. Simrock for a lump sum, rather than a small fee plus royalties. Which means he did not retain any copyright for future performances or publishing.  BUT he kept a copy for himself (we'll get to that later). In hindsight, that probably wasn't the best idea. Bruch's g minor violin concerto became his most popular work, overshadowing the other hundred or so, but since he sold it outright, he couldn't collect any royalties. This led to difficulties after World War I. With the chaotic economic conditions around the globe, and particularly in post war Germany, Bruch was unable to enforce the payment of royalties for any of his pieces. He was destitute and without an income.

Music publisher Nikolaus Simrock - a horn playing friend of Beethoven 

But alas, he still had that score! He knew it would come in handy. He had acquaintances in the U.S. who could sell the famous score and send him the money they received for it - he would live comfortably for the remainder of his days. The "acquaintances" were none other than duo-pianists and twins Rose and Ottilie Sutro, whom Bruch wrote his Concerto in A-Flat for two pianos and orchestra for. He decided that they were the right people for the job.
The inscription on the manuscript of Bruch's g minor violin concerto at the Morgan Library

Well... The twins had other plans in mind. Instead of selling the manuscript like they said they would, the sisters kept the manuscript and kept giving evasive stories to Bruch about the sale.When they finally sent him some money, they sent him some German paper money - worthless as a result of hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic.

50 million dollar bank note = good kindling 

Bruch died in 1920 not receiving a penny from the twins Rose and Ottilie Sutro.

In 1949, 29 years after Bruch's death, the sisters really sold the manuscript - this time, to a private collector. It's at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York now. You can go see it, if you want.

Unfortunately, this is all too common a story with musicians and composers. Many people, especially  early in their careers, see a somewhat large flat fee far more enticing than a small fee and royalties. You know, a $1,000 recording session looks a lot better than a $100 recording fee and the promise of megabucks if the piece is a hit. Especially if you owe rent, tuition loan payments, car payments, and are interested in eating a meal that week. Been there? Haven't we all.

You can view the entire manuscript of Bruch's g minor Violin Concerto at this link.

Are you a violinist or interested in becoming one? Take a look at our Fine Violins!

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