Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from A-E

Bloch, Ernest

music america american composition

Bloch, Ernest, remarkable Swiss-born American composer of Jewish descent, father of Suzanne Bloch; b. Geneva, July 24, 1880; d. Portland, Ore., 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 studied 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 theory with Knorr at the Hoch Cons, in Frankfurt am Main and took private lessons with Thuille in Munich; there he began the composition of his first full-fledged sym., in C-sharp minor, with its 4 movements orig. bearing titles expressive of changing moods. He then spent a year in Paris, where he met Debussy; Bloch’s first publ. work, Historiettes au crépuscule (1903), shows Debussy’s influence. In 1904 he returned to Geneva, where he began the composition of his only opera, Macbeth , after Shakespeare; another opera, Jézabel , 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 concerts in Lausanne and Neuchâtel. 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-torn Europe, and expressed an almost childlike delight upon docking in the port of N.Y. at the sight of the Statue of Liberty. 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 went to America; he became a naturalized American citizen in 1924. This was also the period when Bloch began to express himself in music as an inheritor of Jewish culture, explicitly articulating his racial consciousness in several verbal statements. His Israel Symphony, Trois poèmes juifs , and Schelomo , a “Hebrew rhapsody” for Cello and Orch., mark the height of Bloch’s greatness as a Jewish composer. In America, he found sincere admirers and formed a group of greatly talented students, among them Sessions, Bacon, Antheil, Moore, Rogers, Thompson, Porter, Stevens, Herbert Elwell, Isadore Freed, Jacobi, and Kirchner. From 1920 to 1925 he was director of the Inst. of Music in Cleveland, and from 1925 to 1930, director of the San Francisco Cons. When the magazine Musical America announced in 1927 a contest for a symphonic work, Bloch won first prize for his “epic rhapsody” entitled simply America; Bloch fondly hoped that the choral ending extolling America as the ideal of humanity would become a national hymn; the work 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; he then returned to the U.S. and taught classes at the Univ. of Calif, at Berkeley (1940–52); finally retired and lived at his newly purchased house at Agate Beach, Ore. In 1937 he was elected a member of the National Inst. of Arts and Letters, and in 1943 of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1947 he was awarded the first Gold Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1952 he received 2 N.Y. Music Critic’s Circle awards for his String Quartet No. 3 and Concerto Grosso No. 2.

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 first 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 emphasized 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 Sym., N.Y. Phil., and other orchs.; he also contributed articles to music journals, among them “Man and Music” in Musical Quarterly (Oct. 1933). An Ernest Bloch Soc. was formed in London in 1937 to promote performances of his music, with Albert Einstein as honorary president and with vice-presidents including Sir Thomas Beecham, Havelock Ellis, and Romain Rolland.

Bloch, Felix [next] [back] Blitzstein, Marc(us Samuel)

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or