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BLOCH, Ernest  (1880-1959)

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Bloch, Ernest, remarkable Swiss-born American composer of Jewish ancestry, father of Suzanne Bloch; b. Geneva, July -~ 24,1880; d. Portland, Oreg., July 15,1959. He studied solfeggio with Jaques-Dalcroze and violin with Louis Rey in Geneva (1894—97); then went to Brussels, where he took violin lessons with Ysaye and composition with Rasse (1897—99); while a student, he wrote a string quartet and a “symphonie orientale, indicative of his natural attraction to non-European cultures -~ and coloristic melos. In 1900 he went to Germany, where he studied music theory with Iwan Knorr at the Hoch Cons. in Frankfurt and took private lessons with Ludwig Thuille in -~Munich; there he began the composition of his 1st full-fledged sym., in C-sharp minor, with its 4 movements orig. bearing tides expressive of changing moods. He then spent a year in Paris, where he met Debussy; Bloch’s 1st publ. work, His toriefles au crepuscule (1903), shows Debussy’s influence. In 1904 he returned to Geneva, where he began the composition of his only opera, Macbeth, after Shakespeare; the project of another opera, jëzabel, on a biblical subject, never materialized beyond a few initial sketches. As a tribute to his homeland, he outlined the orch. work Helvetia, based on Swiss motifs, as early as 1900, but the full score was not completed until 1928. During the season 1909-10 Bloch conducted symphonic 1928. Bloch conducted symphonic concerts in Lausanne and Neuchàtel. In 1916 he was offered an engagement as conductor on an American tour accompanying the dancer Maud Allan; he gladly accepted the opportunity to leave war-tom Europe, and expressed an almost childlike delight upon docking in the port of N.Y. at the sight of the Statue of Liberty. Maud Allan’s tour was not successful, however, and Bloch returned to Geneva; in 1917 he received an offer to teach at the David Mannes School of Music in N.Y., and once more he sailed for America; he became an American citizen in 1924. This was also the period when Bloch began to express himself in music as an inheritor of Jewish culture; he explicitly articulated his racial consciousness in several verbal statements. His Israel Symphony, Trois poèmes juifs, and &helomo, a “Hebrew rhapsody” for Cello and Orch., mark the height of Bloch’s greatness as a Jewish composer; long after his death, Schelomo still retains its popularity at sym. concerts: In America, he found sincere admirers and formed a group of greatly talented students, among them Roger Sessions, Ernst Bacon, George Antheil, Douglas Moore, Bernard Rogers, Randall Thompson, Quincy Porter, Halsey Stevens, Herbert Elwell, Isadore Freed, Frederick Jacobi, and Leon Kirchner. From 1920 to 1925 he was director of the Inst. of Music in Cleveland, and from 1925 to 1930, director of the SF cisco Cons. When the magazine Musical America announced in 1927 a contest for a symphonic work, Bloch won 1st prize for his “epic rhapsody” entitled simply America; Bloch fondly hoped that the choral ending extolling America 65 as the ideal of humanity would become a national hymn; thework was performed with a great outpouring of publicity in 5 cities, but as happens often with prizewinning works, it failed to strike the critics and the audiences as truly great, and in the end remained a mere by-product of Bloch’s genius. From 1930 to 1939 Bloch lived mostly in Switzerland; then returned to the U.S. and taught classes at the Univ. of Calif., Berkeley (1940-52); finally retired and lived at his newly purchased house at Agate Beach, Oreg. In his harmonic idiom Bloch favored sonorities formed by the bitonal relationship of 2 major triads with the tonics standing at the distance of a tritone, but even the dissonances he employed were euphonious. In his last works of chamber music he experimented for the 1st time with thematic statements of 12 different notes, but he never adopted the strict Schoenbergian technique of deriving the entire contents of a composition from the basic tone row. In his early Piano Quintet, Bloch made expressive use of quarter-tones in the string parts. In his Jewish works, he empha sized the interval of the augmented second, without a literal imitation of Hebrew chants. Bloch contributed a number of informative annotations for the program books of the Boston Syni., N.Y. Phil., and other orchs.; also contributed articles to music journals, among them “Man and Music” in Musical Quarterly (Oct. 19333. An Ernest Bloch Soc. was formed in London in 1937 to promote performances of Bloch s music with Albert Einstein as honorasy president and with vice presi dents including Sir Thomas Beecham, Havelock Ellis and Romain Rolland.

Works: opera: Macbeth (1904-9; Opéra-Comique, Paris, Nov. 30, 1910). ORCH.: Poêmes d’automne, songs for Mezzosoprano and Orch. (1906); Prelude and 2 Psalms (Nos. 114’ and 137) for Soprano and Orch. (1912-141; Vivre-aimer, symphonic poem (1900; Geneva, June 23, 1901); Syrn. in C-sharp minor (1901; 1st complete pad., Geneva, 1910; 1st American~perf., N.Y. Phil., May 8,1918, composer conducting); Hiverprinternps, symphonic poem (1904-5; Geneva, Jan. 27, 1906); Israel, sym. (1912-16; N.Y., May 3,1917, composer conducting); Trois poemes juifs (1913; Boston, March 23, 1917, composer conducting); Schelomo, Hebrew rhapsody for Cello and Orch. (1916; N.Y., May 3, 1917, composer conducting); Concerto Grosso No. I for Strings and Piano (1924-25; Cleveland, June 1, 1925, composer conducting); America, symphonic poem (1926; N.Y., Dec. 20, 1928; next day simultaneously in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and San Francisco); Helvetia, symphonic poem (1928; Chicago, Feb. 18, 1932); Voice in the Wilderness, with Cello Obbligato (1936; Los Angeles, Jan. 21, 1937); Evocations, symphonic suite (1937; San Francisco, Feb. II, 1938); Violin Concerto (1938; 1st perf. by Szigeti, Cleveland, Dec. 15, 1938); Suite symphonique (Philadelphia, Oct. 26, 1945); Concerto symphonique for Piano and Orch. (Edinburgh, Sept. 3,1949); Scherzo fantasque for Piano and Orch. (Chicago, Dec. 2, 1950); In Memoriam (1952); Suite hebraique for Viola and Orch. (Chicago, Jan. 1, 1953); Sin fonia breve (BBC, London, April 11, 1953); Concerto Grosso No. 2 for String Orch. (BBC, London, April 11, 1953); Sym. forTrom- bone Solo and Orch. (1953-54; Houston, April 4,1956); Sym. in E-flat (1954-55; London, Feb. 15, 1956); Proclamation for Trumpet and Orch. (1955). CHAMBER: Episodes for Chamber Orch. (1926); Quintet for Piano and Strings, with use of quarter-tones (1923; N.Y., Nov. 11,1923); 1st String Quartet (N.Y., Dec. 29, 1916); 2 Suites for String Quartet (1925); 3 Nocturnes for Piano Trio (1924); Suite for Viola and Piano (won the Coolidge prize, 1919); 1st Violin Sonata (1920); 2nd Violin Sonata, Poème mystique (1924); Baal Shem for Violin and Piano (1923); Meditation hebraique and From Jewish Life, both for Cello and Piano (1925); Piano Sonata (1935); 2nd String Quartet (London, Oct. 9,1946; received the N.Y. Music Critics Circle Award for chambermusic, 1947); 3rd String Quartet (1951); 4th String Quartet (Lenox, Mass., June 28, 1954); 5th String Quartet (1956); 3 Suites for Cello Unaccompanied (1956); Piano Quintet No. 2 (1956; Dec. 6,1959); Suite modale for Flute Solo and Strings (1957; Kentfield, Calif., April 11, 1965); 2 Suites for Unaccompanied Violin (1958); Suite for Unaccompanied Viola (1958; the last movement incomplete); 2 Last Poems for Flute and Chamber Orch.: Funeral Music and Life Again7 (1958; anticipatory of death from terminal cancer) pt.~.r,to Poems of the Sea, In the Night, Nirvana, 5 Sketches in Sepia vocAi: A modem Hebrew ritual, Sacred Service (1930-33 world premiere, Turin, Italy, Jan. 12, 1934); Historzettes au crëpuscule, 4 songs for Mezzo-soprano and Piano (1903)