(1880–1959) was an internationally acclaimed composer & the first director of the
Cleveland Institute of Music (1920-25). Born in Geneva, Switzerland, to Jewish parents, Bloch was to become a creator of great spiritual expression; a masterly composer of music for strings, he wrote four string quartets, Schelomo–A Hebrew Rhapsody (for cello and orchestra), and A Voice in the Wilderness (for orchestra and cello obbligato), deeply emotional works that rank among the most distinguished achievements in the neo-classic and neo-romantic idiom of early 20th-century music. His pupil Roger Sessions praised him for his special ability to express “the grandeur of human suffering.”
It was the successful premiere by the Boston Symphony of his Trois Poemes Juifs in 1917 that led Bloch to settle in the United States. When his Israel Symphony was performed for the second time by the Cleveland Orchestra in March of 1952, composer/music critic Herbert Elwell wrote of it in The Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Bloch’s ‘Israel’, heard here some 20 years ago, has not aged. It still rings with a sense of majesty and poetic grandeur, and it speaks with prophetic authority, vast and deeply moving.”
By Unknown author – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ggbain.25575. Public Domain.
Many of Ernest Bloch’s compositions, such as his powerful Concerto Grosso No. 1 for Strings (written in Cleveland), are still being recorded by major orchestras and musicians; Mstislav Rostropovich recorded his moving Schelomo; and Leonard Bernstein, Bloch’s Sacred Service—both of which can be heard on Youtube. According to Vincent Persichetti’s highly regarded book Twentieth Century Harmony, Bloch’s innovative composing includes the use of tone clusters in his Piano Sonata No. 1, the percussive use of harmony, as well as serial harmony, in his Piano Quintet, and the Dorian mode and harmony with extensive alterations in his thrilling Concerto Grosso No. 1 for strings and piano obligato (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IX46ph9qok).
Recordings of many of these works can be found on Youtube, along with Bloch’s 1929 piece for orchestra, Helvetia; Three Scenes from Jewish Life (performed by Amit Peled); Baal Shem (with Isaac Stern); Nigun (for violin and orchestra); Prayer (from Jewish Life); the three cello suites; String Quartet No.1; and A Voice in the Wilderness