Ernest Bloch

(1880—1959) Swiss-born American composer

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Jewish composer, a naturalized American born in Switzerland.

Bloch studied at the Brussels Conservatory under Ysaÿe and also in Germany. His opera Macbeth was produced at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1910 to great acclaim. In 1916 Bloch went to the USA as conductor for the Maud Allen Dance Company. Settling in New York, where he taught at the Mannes School of Music, he conducted the Boston Symphoy Orchestra in his Three Jewish Poems (1913), won the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge award for his Suite for Viola and Orchestra (1919), and was appointed director of the Cleveland Institute of Music (1920) and director of the San Francisco Conservatory (1925), where the composer Roger Sessions was among his students. A ten-year grant from a wealthy patron enabled him to give up teaching; after visits to Switzerland and Italy, he returned to the USA and spent his last years at Agate Beach, Oregon, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Bloch's musical language is in direct line of descent from the late nineteenth-century romanticism of Liszt and Richard Strauss and imbued with the potency of his Jewish heritage, apparent in the long sinuous melodies suggesting Jewish cantillation in their oriental improvisatory style. ‘I aspire to write Jewish music because it is the only way in which I can produce music of vitality – if I can do such a thing at all’, he wrote. Among his specifically Jewish works, the rhapsody for cello and orchestra, Schelomo (1916; Solomon), is outstanding; more classically conceived works include the concerto grosso (1925) for strings and piano obbligato, which Bloch wrote as a model for his students.

Subjects: Music.

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