KOL NIDREI is nowadays one of the most famous instrumental compositions of MAX (CHRISTIAN FRIEDRICH) BRUCH. After the great success of his works for violin – especially the Concerto No 1 and “Scottish Fantasy”, for a long period he was reluctant about writing for a different instrument, but the persistent request of cellist Robert Hausmann to create a play for him led him to the idea of the elegiac “Adagio after Hebrew Melodies”. Bruch was close to the family of Jacob Liechtenstein, a cantor at the Jewish synagogue in Berlin, where the composer listened to and was deeply moved by the beauty of ancient religious songs. He was especially attracted by the prayer “Kol Nidrei” (from Aramaic – “All vows”), the traditional beginning of the evening service before the greatest Jewish holiday “Yom Kippur”. The tenor timbre of his cello seems closest to the idea of the voice of a Jewish religious singer. The play was completed in 1880 and premiered by Hausmann on November 2nd the same year. Bruch shared in a letter to his publisher Fritz Zimrock that he made a violin arrangement immediately. (Later variations for viola and piano, solo piano, cello and organ, and solo organ appeared.) The work consists of two parts – the first is made after the melody of Kol Nidrei, and in the second part Bruch introduced an ancient Jewish song – an Isaac Nathan’s (1791 – 1864) version of the hymn of Lord Byron “Oh Weep for Those that Wept on Babel’s Stream ” from his cycle of 30 poems “Hebrew Melodies ”.
Because of “Kol Nidrei” the society began to suspect that, despite being a Protestant, Bruch may have been of Jewish descent, and during the years of the Nazi regime his music was banned and forgotten for a long time.