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Max Bruch

German composer Max Bruch subtitled his Kol Nidrei "An Adagio on Hebrew Themes for Cello and Orchestra." Composed in 1881, the work is based on two Jewish themes that Bruch described as "first-class." "The first is an age-old Hebrew song of atonement, the second (D major) is the middle section of a moving and truly magnificent song 'O Weep for Those That Wept on Babel's Stream' (setting words by the English poet Byron), equally very old. I got to know both melodies in Berlin, where I had much to do with the children of Israel in the Choral Society," wrote the composer. However, as has been pointed out by Jewish musicians and scholars since the work's premiere, Bruch's secular treatment of the themes hardly qualifies his Kol Nidrei as a piece of Jewish music. As Bruch himself recognized, his Kol Nidrei is no more a Jewish work than his Scottish Fantasy is a Scottish work. In both works, Bruch treated the themes as folk tunes that he took as themes for art music compositions. Bruch was, nevertheless, a master at transforming his "folk tunes" into art music, but still retaining their folk elements. The combination of Bruch's late Romantic expressive harmonies and his Jewish themes created a work of great power and beauty that has maintained its place in the repertoire.

-- James Leonard, All Music Guide