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BLOCH: America / Suite Hebraique

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Ernest Bloch (1880-1959)

America (An Epic Rhapsody for Choir and Orchestra) Suite hebra?»que

Born in Switzerland, Ernest Bloch studied the violin andcomposition there, before first moving to Brussels as apupil of Eug?¿ne Ysa??e, then continuing his studies inFrankfurt-am-Main and later in Munich. He returned toGeneva, combining musical activities with work in hisfather's clock-making business, but by 1916 he was inthe United States, conducting, teaching and composing,acquiring a particular reputation as a Jewish composer.

From 1920 to 1925 he was Director of the ClevelandInstitute of Music, thereafter taking on similarresponsibilities at the San Francisco Conservatory. Hehad become an American citizen in 1924, but spentmuch of the 1930s in Switzerland, returning to theUnited States at the end of the decade. His posthumousreputation has rested largely on his works of Jewishinspiration such as Schelomo, Baal Shem and the Suitehebra?»que and Viola Suite.

Bloch was an all-embracing composer, whoseintellect and senses thirsted to learn and feel as much aspossible. He was involved with his surroundings andnature, mankind and ideology, ethnology and history.

No wonder that he underwent several changes in hisstyles. He was involved with his personality andemotions. Still, any kind of spontaneity was at the sametime well controlled, seeking perfection of the art ofcomposing. Above all, Bloch never gave in to thecommon fashion. He always remained true and faithfulto himself. He observed the world profoundly, and usedhis amazing sense of prophecy in his visions, expressedin ideas and sound. He used to say that 35 years after hisdeath, his music would be accepted. He wrote anenormous amount of music, masterpieces of orchestral,instrumental, vocal, and chamber music, but at presentonly a relatively small proportion of all this is beingplayed. Among his symphonies he dedicated three to hisJewish-Swiss-American heritage. He named themIsrael, Helvetia, America.

Bloch wrote America, an Epic Rhapsody in ThreeParts for Orchestra in 1926. The first part treats theearly history of the country: The Soil - The Indians -(England) - The Mayflower - The Landing of thePilgrims - 1620. The second part deals with the CivilWar: Hours of Joy - Hours of Sorrow - 1861-1865 andthe third part moves on to the time of composition: ThePresent - The Future . . . - 1926.

Bloch started the score by quoting Walt Whitman:'O America, because you build for mankind, I build foryou'. The uniqueness of the America Symphony is that itdescribes history and events in the language of soundand is thus so different from any other symphony everwritten. America was created in mysterious changes ofspiritual moods, with tunes for each subject and period,like 'the South - old Ballad played by corno inglese' inthe second part. The symphony covers the periodbetween 1620 and 1926, the year of composition. Heeven wrote the last part, which he named The Future, ina manner of prophecy developing to a style and noises(automobile horn) that doubtless resembles the styles tocome later during the twentieth century. The score isconstructed with Bloch's programme remarks,quotations from Walt Whitman, and instructions for thevarious events to the performers.

Bloch built the symphony by embroidering thethematic material along with micro motifs of the finalanthem, and with tunes that he collected of the varioustypes of folk-music involved: Native America, Pilgrim,Celtic, Negro, Creole, Civil War, mourning, and thenew seeds of the future. He used motifs of the anthemthroughout the symphony and built it towards theenthusiastic climax of the simple pure anthem, beforewhich he commented in the score about a new propheticvision: 'The Call of America to the Nations of theWorld'.

In 1927 the work won the prize in a nationalcompetition sponsored by Musical America magazine.

Its first performance was on 20th December 1928, withthe New York Philharmonic and chorus, conducted byWalter Damrosch. In his preface, Bloch wrote:'This Symphony has been written in love forthis country in reverence to its Past - In faith inits Future. It is dedicated to the memory ofAbraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman whosevision has upheld its inspiration. The ideals ofAmerica are imperishable. They embody thefuture credo of all mankind: a Union, incommon purpose and under willingly acceptedguidance, of widely diversified races, ultimatelyto become one race, strong and great.

Though this Symphony is not dependent on aprogram, the composer wants to emphasize thathe has been inspired by this very ideal.

The Anthem which concludes the work, as itsapotheosis, symbolizes the Destiny, the Missionof America. The symphony is entirely builtupon it. From the first bars it appears, in root,dimly, slowly taking shape; rising, falling,developing, and finally asserting itselfvictoriously in its complete and decisive form.

It is the hope of the composer that thisAnthem will become known and beloved, thatthe audience will rise to sing it, becoming thusan active and enthusiastic part of the work andits message of faith and hope.'A Bloch Festival, organized by the Covent Club ofIllinois, was held in Chicago in December 1950 tocelebrate Ernest Bloch's seventieth birthday. Bloch,deeply moved, decided to present the organizers with asuitable new musical composition, the Suite hebra?»que.

The suite was written first for viola or violin and pianoin 1951. Later, on 10th March 1952, he completedorchestrating the work. The first performance of theorchestral version was on 1st January 1953, with theviola soloist Milton Preves and the Chicago SymphonyOrchestra conducted by Rafael Kubelik. The Suiteconsists of three parts, Rapsodie - Processional -Affirmation. Bloch composed the entire piece in theJewish style, a kind of reminder and nostalgia for hispast Jewish cycle. As a matter of fact the very fewfamous works by Bloch which have remained wellknown to the world of today, belong to that period of hisJewish cycle.

For the Suite hebra?»que Bloch used traditionalJewish melodies. In a comment to J.H. Braun he wrote:'I have absorbed them to such a point that it may bedifficult for future musicologists to determine what istraditional and what is Bloch'.

Prof. Dalia Atlas
Item number 8557151
Barcode 747313215126
Release date 04/01/2005
Category 20th Century
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Matusova, Elena
Shaham, Hagai
Matusova, Elena
Shaham, Hagai
Composers Bloch, Ernest
Bloch, Ernest
Conductors Atlas, Dalia
Atlas, Dalia
Orchestras Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Atlas Camerata Orchestra
Lucnica Chorus
Atlas Camerata Orchestra
Lucnica Chorus
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Disc: 1
Suite hebraique
1 I.
2 II. 1861 - 1865
3 III. 1926
4 I. Rhapsody
5 II. Processionals
6 III. Maestoso
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