Tracks

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Track

Time

No. 1 Processional 02:50
No. 2 Affirmation 04:16
No. 3 Rhapsodie 06:38
No. 4 Meditation 04:04
No. 5 Processional 02:16
 

Liner Notes

Of Ernest Bloch’s six-dozen published works, about one quarter bear Jewish titles, reveal a Jewish ethos on closer examination, or include traditional Jewish musical elements. The first six, forming the Jewish Cycle, were written between 1911 and 1916; the remaining Jewish compositions were completed between 1923 and 1955. The penultimate work in the latter category was originally entitled Five Jewish Pieces for Viola and Piano, but soon afterward became reconfigured into two independent works: Suite Hébraïque and Meditation and Processional—both completed in 1951. Although Bloch composed only two other works for viola (the Suite for Viola and Piano—or Orchestra—of 1919, and the unfinished solo Suite for Viola of 1958),[1] his compositions for this instrument have made a decisive impact on the classical repertoire. 

I shall first investigate here the history behind the Five Jewish Pieces, and then analyze the music—primarily from the perspective of the traditional elements embedded within them.

History of the 1950 Bloch Festival in Chicago

In mid-1949 Samuel Laderman—a Chicago businessman of Polish-Jewish background,[2] proud possessor of an impressively large record collection, and uncle of the renowned American composer Ezra Laderman (1924–2015)—approached Rabbi Herman E. Schaalman, then director of the Chicago Federation of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (CFUAHC)[3] with a view to securing sponsorship for a substantial celebration of Bloch’s music the following year, in honor of the composer’s seventieth birthday.[4]

Although Bloch had never lived in Chicago, there was great enthusiasm for such a project, and the CFUAHC, with the collaboration of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, acceded wholeheartedly to Laderman’s request.[5] A not-for-profit Ernest Bloch Festival Association (EBFA) was established “to stimulate interest in Ernest Bloch, the composer, and his art” and “to promote education in the field of music.”[6] Rabbi Schaalman was appointed executive secretary of the EBFA, with Sam Laderman as its secretary.

At the end of eighteen months of intense activity, Laderman, the CFUAHC (chief sponsoring organization), and nearly 300 individual sponsors and institutions saw the fruits of their labor in the shape of A Six-Day Ernest Bloch Music Festival, presented by “The Ernest Bloch Festival Association with the co-operation of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Fine Arts Quartet, and distinguished soloists” in November and December 1950.[7]

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra participated in the festival as part of its sixtieth season celebrations and gave three concerts, two conducted by the Czech-born conductor and composer Rafael Kubelik (1914–96), and one by Bloch. The “distinguished soloists” were Ludmila Bertlová (Kubelik’s wife: violin), Florence Kirsch (piano), Ida Krehm (piano), Zara Nelsova (cello), Milton Preves (viola), George Schick (piano, and assistant conductor of the CSO), and George Sopkin (cello, and member of the Fine Arts Quartet).

The festival booklet (27 pages in all) consisted of a photograph of Bloch on the front cover and a letter of congratulations to Ernest B. Zeisler (chairman of the EBFA) from the eminent English musicologist and music critic Ernest Newman (1868–1959) on the inside front cover. The succeeding pages comprised an introduction; a list of the directors of the EBFA; a note on the CFUAHC; and a summary of all the festival events scheduled from Tuesday, November 28, until Sunday, December 3. Detailed program notes were providedfor every one of the twelve scheduled works (spanning most of Bloch’s creative life). They were—in chronological order of appearance in the festival: the First String Quartet, the Piano Quintet (no. 1), Sonata (no. 1) for Piano and Violin [sic], Voice in the Wilderness (cello and piano version), the Second String Quartet, Concerto Grosso (no. 1), Suite for Viola and Orchestra, Two Symphonic Interludes from Macbeth, Three Jewish Poems, Scherzo Fantasque for Piano and Orchestra,[8] Schelomo for cello and orchestra, and Suite Symphonique.[9]The next two pages were devoted to a list of Bloch’s works up to 1950 (not entirely accurate) and information about recordings. The final two pages presented the names and positions of the directors of the EBFA (repeated from the beginning of the booklet), the names of the members of the EBFA executive committee, the sponsoring organization (CFUAHC), and an enormously long list of additional sponsors (“as of November 17, 1950”) in alphabetical order.

The festival took place in several prestigious venues in Chicago: chamber music recitals at Temple Sholom and Sinai Temple, orchestral concerts at Orchestra Hall. The Testimonial Dinner of Sponsors, attended by some five hundred guests, took place at the Knickerbocker Hotel on the last day of the festival, Sunday, December 3. The speakers were Bloch,[10] Felix Borowski (1872–1956, British-American composer and teacher), and Olin Downes (1886–1955, American music critic). The mayor of Chicago was also present.

At this stage, no direct relationship appears to have existed between the CFUAHC and the EBFA on the one hand, and the “Covenant Club of Illinois” (CCI) on the other.[11] However, on the Monday afternoon, i.e., the day after the official conclusion of the festival, Laderman invited all the members of the orchestra to a banquet at the CCI premises at 10 North Dearborn Street. Bloch was deeply moved by the gift of a Swiss gold watch (“with the days, months, phases of the moon, a miracle!”)[12] that he received from Joseph H. Braun, CCI president. In his letter of thanks to Braun, sent from his home in Agate Beach, Oregon,[13] Bloch expressed his emotions as follows:

When I returned from Chicago, my heart was still overflowing with the feeling of warmth and brotherhood which surrounded me during those wonderful days in Chicago. I was particularly impressed with the fine atmosphere of the Covenant Club, and by the wonderful and symbolic gift which the members presented to me . . .

Although the festival events were not broadcast, the press coverage was extensive and enthusiastic,[14] and Bloch—to judge from his letters to family and friends—was completely overwhelmed. Here, for example, is an extract from an unpublished letter that he wrote to his English friend Jack Percal[15] from Agate Beach on May 1, 1951:

The festival in Chicago . . . brought me much satisfaction. Interpreters were great, I had hardly a word to tell them—they grasped my intentions as if they had known me for ever—The audience were respectful and most responsive—the orchestra, first class, followed me in all details and gave superb performances—Kubelik, a great and imaginative conductor and M. Preves, admirable violist, revived my Viola Suite, in its orchestral form in a stupendous way—I had heard this great work only once in 1919 and was somewhat apprehensive that the ultra subtle score could not, materially, be brought out. . . .  But it was a revelation to me and I think it is probably the most extraordinary orchestral piece I have written. And I was surrounded by a crowd of most devoted and active friends. The hotel had put at my disposal for my whole sojourn a suite de luxe, complimentary! Now, the committee has formed an EB Society and will pursue their efforts on behalf of my music—try to have all my works recorded, organize other festivals in other cities. After Chicago, my desk was overfilled with letters, papers, matters to classify! More than I could cope with.

It is clear, then, that for Bloch, a high point of the festival was the deeply insightful interpretation of his Viola Suite (1919) by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Kubelik, with their first violist, the American Milton Preves (1909–2000) as soloist, on the evening of Thursday, November 30, and again on the afternoon of Friday, December 1. 

“It was to show them my gratitude that I thought of writing these Jewish pieces, which were the first work I composed after the Chicago Festival.”[16]

Five Jewish Pieces

The earliest working title of this set of new works, written (and revised) between December 1950 and March 1951, was Five Jewish Pieces. The sketches and piano scores initially comprised a Rhapsodie Hébraïque that Bloch completed on February 9, 1951; a Meditation dated February 16; and Processionals I, II, and III, all dated February 17.[17] When these were subsequently recast into two separate groups, the following structure was adopted. 

Suite Hébraïque:

(i)        Rapsodie [sic], originally Rhapsodie Hébraïque, the first of five movements
(ii)       Processional, originally Processional II
(iii)      Affirmation, originally Processional III 

Meditation and Processional:

(i)        Meditation, originally Meditation
(ii)       Processional, originally Processional I 

Each of these pieces was structured in simple or modified ternary form.

Milton Preves (viola) and Helene Brahm (piano) gave the world premiere of all five pieces at a Musicale at the CCI on March 3, 1952.[18] And it was at this point that the CCI—with Joseph H. Braun continuing as president, and Samuel Laderman listed, at the foot of the program, as the chairman of the CCI Music Committee—seems to have taken on a more prominent role in the propagation of Bloch’s music. The success of this event was so immense that the “Board of directors of the Covenant Club” voted to sponsor a recording by the same two instrumentalists. The result was a ten-inch LP disc, Bloch: Five Jewish Pieces—for Viola and Piano (E2-CL-3628/9), featuring a blue-tinted photograph of Bloch on the front and an informative but anonymous commentary on the back. Side A comprised Suite Hébraïque (11½ minutes) dedicated to “The Covenant Club of Illinois.”[19] Side B consisted of Meditation and Processional (6 mins.) dedicated to “Mr. Milton Preves.”No date is given on the LP itself or on the front or back cover, but the evidence suggests that the recording was made later in 1952.[20]

Whereas the second of the two dedications is natural and uncontroversial, the first presents a conundrum. Both the official festival booklet and the brochure, and all the attendant press publicity, quite clearly stated that the sponsoring organization of the Bloch Festival of 1950 was the CFUAHC. Why, then, did Bloch dedicate Suite Hébraïque not to CFUAHC, but instead to CCI? Conversely, why was the only mention of CCI on page 24 of the booklet, where it comes forty-fifth in an alphabetical list of nearly three hundred sponsors? And to what extent, if at all, was Bloch aware of these anomalies? Rachel Heimovics Braun, in her remarks delivered at the Chicago Jewish Historical Society open meeting at Roosevelt University on June 12, 2011,[21] raises many important issues but does not attempt to resolve the mystery. Our conjecture is that Bloch dedicated the Suite to the CCI because, although it was not the major sponsor of the 1950 festival, it sponsored the world premiere of the five pieces in 1952 and, subsequently, the recording.

So this Suite Hébraïque . . . is dedicated to the Covenant Club of Illinois. I hope that when all of you hear the music, it will speak to your hearts better than my clumsy words, and that you will feel my own heart beating fraternally with yours.[22]

Traditional Elements in Suite Hébraïque

Although the immediate stimulus for Bloch’s creation of the music under discussion sprang from the 1950 Chicago festival, it might be argued that the actual genesis of Suite Hébraïque could be traced back to ca.1918, when Bloch, having recently settled in New York with his family, was making regular visits to the New York Public Library to copy out examples of traditional Jewish music from many parts of the world, as presented by Rabbi Francis Lyon Cohen (1862–1934)[23] in The Jewish Encyclopedia (JE).[24]Why did he do this? After all, he had been quoted, in numerous published interviews, as saying with great conviction that he composed Jewish music out of himself: “I am not an archaeologist.”[25] What is musical archaeology if not searching for and gathering materials from preexisting written sources?

For well over a decade Bloch had been discussing a biblical opera on the theme of Jézabel with his friend and colleague, the French-Jewish novelist Edmond Fleg (1874–1963), who had written the libretto for their opera Macbeth (1909). Although Bloch produced a vast number of sketches for Jézabel (now housed in the Library of Congress), he seems to have suffered a loss of energy and inspiration; and Fleg’s intention was to help Bloch breathe life into this, their second operatic venture, by suggesting that he explore Jewish melodies and motifs (mainly liturgical) that were sprinkled liberally throughout JE. Sadly, by the mid-1920s, Jézabel had in effect been abandoned. But the 85-page manuscript book entitled Chants Juifs (CJ), into which Bloch had copied almost all the examples contained within the encyclopedia, proved to be an enormously valuable resource. And so it was to this book that Bloch turned for traditional materials when composing Suite Hébraïque some three decades later.

Among other fascinating documents in her personal archive,[26] Bloch’s daughter Suzanne (1907–2002) preserved an undated sheet of notepaper in her father’s handwriting (henceforth referred to as Bnotes), giving: (a) full details of each of the three movements of the suite, (b) the names of the traditional Jewish motifs or melodies incorporated, (c) the page numbers of CJ in which they appeared, (d) page and bar references to the piano score published by G. Schirmer in 1953, (e) the volume and page number of the JE from which they had been extracted, and (f) observations on their historical and ethnic provenance. The material is laid out neatly in clearly demarcated columns.[27] A paraphrase of these details will now be discussed in the commentaries on each movement, to facilitate direct comparison between JE and Bloch’s piano score.

When did Bloch assemble his Bnotes? It must have been sometime after he had written to Joseph Braun in relation to the movements of Suite Hébraïque: “I have used, in some of them, old and traditional melodies; but I have absorbed them to such a point that it may be difficult for future musicologists to determine what is traditional and what is Bloch.”[28] For Bnotes makes this task astonishingly simple.

Before proceeding to the analyses, four points should be clarified:

(a) The twelve volumes of JE were brought out over a period of six years (1901–6); therefore, when reference is made to a particular volume, the year of its publication is given in parentheses.

(b) Whether Bloch chose the melodies from JE primarily on musical grounds or for their historical/ethnic interest or for their text-related and religious significance has not been established. What is clear, however, from his annotations in CJ, is that he had read the commentaries provided in the encyclopedia by Rabbi Cohen, and that he was therefore aware of their respective texts and contexts.[29] 

(c) Jewish modes are not merely scales; they are entire frameworks for cantorial improvisation or composition, each with its own associations regarding religious service, liturgical occasion, season, and mood, just as in the case of Arabic, Turkish, and Indian modalities (maqam, makam, and raga) etc. The German/Yiddish term Steiger/Shtayger has been applied by scholars and commentators to the Ashkenazi modes, their scales, and their typical patterns; but, whereas Western scales replicate exactly in each octave, these shtaygers may include scales whose intervals above the upper tonic and below the lower tonic are different from those within the main octave (as shown in the notes below).

(d) All bar numbers refer to the piano scores of Suite Hébraïque published by G. Schirmer, Inc. in New York in 1953, and of Meditation and Processional published the following year. 

(i) Rapsodie

Like Nigun, the centerpiece of Bloch’s Baal Shem Suite: Three Pictures of Chassidic Life for violin and piano (composed in 1923, and orchestrated by Bloch in 1939),[30]Rapsodie begins in G minor, the home key, and, following modulations into closely related keys, concludes on a D-major chord, giving the impression of an imperfect cadence. But this is, in fact, a perfect cadence in the Jewish ahava rabba mode on D,[31] which comprises the same notes as G harmonic minor. Rapsodie and Nigun also share several other features in common, such as, for example, numerous rapid scale passages and tetrachordal figures based on melodic and harmonic forms of the minor key, and scales incorporating two augmented seconds (i.e. between second and third degrees and between sixth and seventh degrees). Again, like Nigun, this movement is replete with dotted and double-dotted rhythms.

Rapsodie contains two overtly Jewish themes. The first, in the Jewish magen avot mode on G,[32] is stated at the very opening of the work (bars 1–2); and it is related to the motifs of the Oren chant as they appear in JE vol. IX (1905), p. 431.[33] (CJ p. 61). Although Bloch had included this theme in CJ (p. 61), he did not refer to it in Bnotes. However, he may have absorbed it either while attending services at the Geneva synagogue during his childhood or from his father, Maurice,[34] who enjoyed singing snatches of cantorial music in the home. Indeed, this theme is heard frequently in the Ashkenazi prayer chant repertoire, as evidenced by dozens of appearances in Abraham Baer’s Baal T’fillah[35]—an enormous and authoritative compendium of liturgical music in the Ashkenazi tradition for the entire liturgical calendar.

The second theme is entitled Shemot—as chanted in many Ashkenazi synagogues at the very end of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). This “fragment” (as it is described in Bnotes) occurs in JE vol. IX (1905), p. 220, under the general heading Ne‘ilah (Concluding Melodies)[36]and is shown in lines 3–4 of II. Shemot (Profession of Faith).[37]It concludes with a typical High Holy Day cadence. In Bloch’s piano score, the melody—embellished with double, triple, and quadruple stops on the viola—can clearly be identified in bars 33–38; on the piano in bars 53–57 (extended to bar 59); and finally in an abbreviated version on the viola in bars 86–87. In CE (pp. 57–58), Bloch describes this theme as “théâtral, d’abord” (“theatrical, foremost”). 

Reference should be made to three further themes of particular interest in this movement. First of all, the two-bar motto in bars 22–24 and 79–81 that Bloch borrowed not only from his cello rhapsody Schelomo (Schirmer Study Score no. 30, New York, 1918, bars 269–70) but also from several other works of the Jewish Cycle. Second, the first four bars of the dramatic cadenza (bars 62–65), preceding the recapitulation of the main theme (bar 69), which bear striking melodic and harmonic resemblances to passages in the first movement of the Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms (exposition: bars 250–53; and recapitulation: bars 491–94). And third, the similarity between the last bars of the cadenza (bars 67–69) and the latter part of the cadenza in Nigun (piano score, bars 88–89).[38] 

(ii) Processional

This movement opens with an ostinato four-chord motif that shares the essential contour of the first theme of the preceding Rapsodie, but the mood here is entirely different. For this is a slow march in strict 4/4 meter, in which the quarter-note rhythm dominates. Occasional excursions into 2/4 and 3/4 meter occur in the contrasting middle section. 

There are two Jewish themes, the first vigorous, the second more lyrical.

The first, forming the second part of the A section of this movement, is an “ancient” melody in the so-called Jewish Phrygian mode,[39] shown in JE vol. VIII (1904), p. 470, under the heading Kerobot[40] (Melodies for Kaliric Strophic Hymn),[41] no. 3. Andantino, lines 1–2. This corresponds to its appearance in Bloch’s piano score, bars 9–12, and in a modified form in bars 37–41. On p. 38 of CE, Bloch has added the name “Naboth” in the margin, thus designating the melody as a leitmotif for this character in Jézabel. It follows on immediately from the first melody of the A section, which is also in the Phrygian mode.

The entire B section is devoted to the second of the two Jewish melodies in this movement, which is taken from JE vol. I (1901),p. 295, namely, aḥot k’tanna (from the High Holy Day liturgy).[42] In line with Rabbi Cohen’s entry, Bloch adds the comment: “1533 Salonica, Greek influence” (underlining as shown in Bnotes). In the original source, this theme is itself in ternary form (“aabbaa”). Bloch, in bars 13–24, has given the a section to the viola and repeated the first half of it as a solo piano interlude; this leads immediately to the B section on the viola, and again, the first part only is repeated on the solo piano before the main theme of the Processional is recapitulated. “Scotch snap” rhythms appear in both the A and B sections of aḥot k’tanna. Bloch would have felt an immediate affinity for this theme, since the “Scotch snap” rhythm can be found throughout his oeuvre.

This melody also appears in a four-part arrangement in Sephardi Melodies[43]by Emanuel Aguilar and the Reverend David A. De Sola, Part I: “The Ancient Melodies”: Achot Ketana [sic], pp. 24–25, no. 26. It is fascinating to compare the tonal harmonization (melodic minor) of the Sephardi version with the shifting modalities favored by Bloch. On page 5 of CJ, Bloch has written the abbreviation “Souk” (for the Festival of Sukkot)in the margin, thus earmarking this theme as a “seasonal” leitmotif in Jézabel

(iii) Affirmation

The two themes from JE appear consecutively in the middle section of this majestic but contrapuntally energetic movement.

The first is taken from the first line of Geshem[44][version] C, as shown in JE vol. V (1903), p. 645.[45] In his entry on pp. 643–45, Rabbi Cohen believes that the melody is probably Turkish, but it may have originated in Persia or in the Arab lands. Bloch described it as “Perso-Arab” in his Bnotes. He states the four-bar melody once on the viola and then repeats only the first half an octave lower (bars 19–25) before moving immediately to the second theme from JE, namely, hazzanut (i.e. “cantorial art,” in this case in the ahava rabba mode on E),[46] to be found in vol. VI (1904), pp. 291–92.[47] (CE, p. 32.) Here Bloch presents the first four bars of the traditional melody on the viola and repeats them on the piano before moving to the second line of the original tune in bars 25–35: “only short fragments, mostly modified” (Bloch’s underlinings in Bnotes). In Jézabel, the Festival of Sukkot would have been represented by this theme also.

Evocations of the shofar may be heard in bars 9–11, 50–52, and 56–58. The descending roulades and tetrachords of the cadenza (bars 35–39) recall the cadenza heard in Rapsodie. A descending major scale on the first flute establishes a festive mood in the closing bars of this movement, as does the vigorous plagal cadence, reminiscent of the ending of Simchas Torah—the finale of the Baal Shem Suite.

In fact, Suite Hébraïque shares many character traits with Baal Shem in matters of overall style: Both works are accessible to audiences attuned to Western classical and popular idioms as well as to traditional Ashkenazi melos. There are moments of seemingly free improvisation contrasting with passages in strict rhythm; major and minor tonalities blend with a wide variety of modalities represented by the motifs, melodies, and cadences of the traditional shtaygers; intervals of the augmented 2nd and 4th, perfect 4th and 5th are ubiquitous; resonances of the shofar and frequent changes in tempo and meter enhance the alternating moods of pathos and joyfulness, intensity and relaxation, that create a deeply emotional soundscape.

In Suite Hébraïque specifically, every part of the viola range is explored extensively—from the deepest, almost cello-like sonorities on the C string to the most penetrating timbres high on the A string, as well as the entire gamut in between. But Bloch also made his own arrangement for violin and piano; this version and that for viola and piano were published by G. Schirmer in 1953.

The manuscript draft of the orchestral version of Suite Hébraïque, completed on March 10, 1951, consists of the following instrumentation: double woodwind; four horns and three trumpets; timpani, cymbals, gong, and side drum; harp and strings—a somewhat lighter timbre than that of many of Bloch’s orchestral works. The world premiere took place on January 1 and 2, 1953, in Chicago’s Orchestra Hall. Milton Preves was again the soloist, with Rafael Kubelik conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The orchestral score (with viola solo, plus Bloch’s own alternative version for violin solo) was brought out by Schirmer later the same year.

Meditation and Processional

Thus far, the focus has been on Suite Hébraïque. But the unjustly neglected Meditation and Processional warrant attention too, for although they are technically perhaps less demanding, they are equally attractive and compelling. Both movements are highly contrapuntal, with numerous instances of canonic imitation. The first, entitled Andante, begins with a chromatic theme on solo viola that nevertheless establishes D minor as the tonic key. There are melodic intervals of the augmented 2nd, as well as open fourths and fifths, and occasional hints of the Eastern Ashkenazi mi shebeirah mode.[48] The second movement, Moderato, has a stately character, reminiscent of some of the organ works Bloch completed in 1950.[49] Mainly pandiatonic, it begins in the Lydian mode on F.[50] There are several motifs that rise and fall by step. Most of the rhythmic material comprises quarter notes and eighth notes, occasionally contrasting with dotted figures and triplet broken chords. There are excursions into a variety of modes, ending in a combined major/minor tonality based on E.[51]

Neither movement appears to quote specific themes from traditional Jewish repertoires or sources.   

Meditation and Processional were not arranged by Bloch for any medium other than viola and piano, and they were published in that form by G. Schirmer in 1954. However, they were later orchestrated by Francis Tursi (1922–91), sometime professor of viola at the Eastman School of Music.

Postscript

Bloch suffered from antisemitism at various times throughout his life. But he also felt a pronounced ambivalence toward the Jewish people. Frequent disappointments led him to think that despite the steady stream of awards and accolades pouring in from all quarters, he was rejected by Jews and non-Jews alike. But Chicago was different.[52] Bloch felt deep gratitude to his Jewish friends in the city—especially Samuel Laderman, who had been the primary source of energy from 1949 onward. The dedication on one of the signed photographs that the composer sent to the festival organizer reads “To Samuel Laderman whose faith has moved mountains and given me a new lease of life. Gratefully, Ernest Bloch, Chicago Nov Dec 1950.”[53]

This deep bond of affection and respect continued to develop over subsequent years, and as a special token of esteem, Bloch dedicated his seven-minute-long Proclamation for Trumpet and Orchestra (also in an arrangement for trumpet and piano)[54] “to my dear friend Sam Laderman.” This work, composed at Agate Beach between March and May 1955 and published by Broude Brothers the following year, was Bloch’s lasting tribute to his loyal and indefatigable friend.

The Paris première of Suite Hébraïque took place on November 13, 1957, at the Salle Pleyel, with the American violinist Miriam Solovieff (1921–2004) as soloist with the Orchestre Colonne under Charles Bruck (1911–95). It may be significant that this performance was given during the First International Conference on Jewish Music, during which the celebrated American musicologist Curt Sachs (1881–1959) made his oft-quoted but misguided, misinformed, and now appropriately rejected comment about so-called Jewish music—albeit perhaps without adequate consideration—defining it narrowly and reductively (in itself a futile exercise, as may be all such attempted definitions) as that music which is made “by Jews, for Jews, as Jews.” (See in the introduction to the Milken Archive and its twenty volumes with regard to the reluctant if practical use of the term “Jewish music” as well as the criteria for inclusion under that umbrella as applied by the Milken Archive, its artistic director/editor in chief, and its editorial board.) Nonetheless, might Suite Hébraïque have been selected to exemplify this “definition”—even though Bloch certainly did not intend the work for exclusively Jewish audiences? As in the case of many other Bloch works published by G. Schirmer, the initials “EB” within a Star of David are placed at the center top of the decorative border of the piano scores of Suite Hébraïque and Meditation and Processional as a gesture of respect for Bloch’s central contribution to promoting and elevating Jewish art music to its rightful place in the Western canon.  


1 In 1989 Broude Brothers Ltd. published an impressively idiomatic Conclusion composed by David L. Sills, the eminent American violist and Bloch scholar.

2 Little seems to be known about Laderman’s life beyond his activities as a labor leader (e.g. member of the national panel on the raising of the minimum wage during World War II, and sometime head of the Furriers’ Union). See Rachel Heimovics Braun, “Ernest Bloch and His Chicago Jewish Colleagues: Remarks delivered at the Chicago Jewish Historical Society open meeting, June 12, 2011, in Rudolph Ganz Memorial Hall, Roosevelt University . . .”, Chicago Jewish History, vol. 35 no. 2 (Spring 2011), p. 5.

3 The CFUAHC was the umbrella organization for eighteen Reform congregations in the Chicago metropolitan area.

4 See Rachel Heimovics Braun, op.cit, 4–6.

5 The UAHC was particularly responsive to the idea because of its gratitude to Bloch for having composed his Avodath Hakodesh (Sacred Service) according to texts drawn from the American Reform liturgy for the Sabbath. See the official booklet In Honor of Ernest Bloch on the occasion of his 70th Birthday: The Ernest Bloch Festival Association with the cooperation of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Fine Arts Quartet and distinguished soloists present A Six-Day Ernest Bloch Music Festival, p. 2.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid:front cover of the brochure and front cover of the official booklet. Bloch arrived in Chicago on November 22 and was invited to receptions, dinners, and religious services in his honor. Some of these additional events, scheduled both before and after the specified dates of the festival, included performances of Bloch’s works such as Psalms 137 and 114. See Bloch’s letter to his niece Evelyn Hirsch sent from Agate Beach on November 16, 1950, quoted in Joseph Lewinski and Emmanuelle Dijon, Ernest Bloch: Sa vie et sa pensée, Tome IV: 1939–1959: le havre de paix en Oregon (Geneva: Éditions Slatkine, 2005), p. 403.

8 This work received its world première during the festival. The soloist was the Canadian-born Ida Krehm (1912–98), one of the directors of the EBFA.

9 Most of these notes were written by Alex Cohen (medical practitioner, keen amateur violinist, great admirer of Bloch, and expert on the composer’s life and music, who lived in Birmingham, UK), but a few of commentaries were contributed by Bloch himself, Ernest Newman, and the Italian music critic Guido Gatti (1892–1973). 

10 His son Ivan and elder daughter Suzanne attended some of the festival events.

11 The CCI was founded ca. 1916 by B’nai B’rith (international Jewish welfare organization), and it soon became a popular social and cultural center in downtown Chicago for Jews of Eastern European background. At its height there were some 2,000 members. It continued its activities until the mid-1980s.

12 Bloch’s letter to Lillian Hodghead and Ada Clement, from Agate Beach, December 14, 1950; quoted in Lewinski and Dijon, Ernest Bloch, vol. 4, p. 417.

13 Published (undated) on the back cover of a private recording sponsored by the CCI and included in the program notes for the orchestral première of Suite Hébraïque at Orchestra Hall, Chicago, on January 1 and 2, 1953.

14 See, for example, Olin Downes, “Bloch Festival: Six-Day Observance in Chicago Honors Composer of Spiritual Power,” New York Times (Sunday, December 10, 1950). In his long article, Downes paid tribute not only to the greatness of Bloch’s music but also to his remarkable skills as a conductor.

15 Jack Percal (who also used the name Jonathan Perkoff) was treasurer of the Ernest Bloch Society (established in London in 1937, but which discontinued its activities because of the disruptive effects of World War II).

16 Bloch to Joseph Braun: see note 13.

17 Manuscripts containing pencil sketches are held at the Music Division, Library of Congress, Washington DC, and rough drafts in ink at the Music Library, University of California at Berkeley.

18 The program also included performances by Suzanne Bloch on the lute, recorder, and virginals.

19 The order of the three movements was altered without explanation: the Rapsodie was placed last instead of first.

20 Lewinski and Dijon, Ernest Bloch, vol. IV, p. 411.

21 Rachel Heimovics Braun, op.cit, p. 5.

22 Bloch to Joseph Braun: see note 13.

23 Cohen was born in Aldershot, England, and educated at Jews’ College, London, and University College, London. He was appointed to pulpits in Dublin, London, and Sydney; and as the author of numerous books and articles, he became an internationally recognized authority on Jewish music.

24 Isidore Singer (ed.), The Jewish Encyclopedia, 12 vols. (New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls, 1901–6).

25 Letter in French, written by Bloch to Philip Hale, translated into English by Hale and published in Boston Symphony Orchestra Program Notes (March 23–24, 1917), pp. 1132 and 1134; reproduced in notes for Concert, by the Society of the Friends of Music, of the Works of Ernest Bloch, Carnegie Hall, New York (May 3, 1917), p. 2; also reprinted in Henry Taylor Parker, “Unique Music by Ernest Bloch Receives Notable Expositions,” Musical America (May 12, 1917), 9.

26 This now forms part of the substantial Bloch Archive at the Library of Congress.

27 A very faint rough draft is also extant. Here, the information is presented more casually. The fact that Bloch refers, in this document, to the earlier names of the three movements (i.e. Rhapsodie, Processional II, and Process III) proves that this sheet is a precursor to Bnotes. 

28 Bloch to Joseph Braun: see note 13.

29 Given that Rabbi Cohen’s commentaries were written in the early 20th century, modern scholarship has advanced dramatically and may well be at variance with the views expressed in the encyclopedia. Nevertheless, this is the information that Bloch read and absorbed.

30 Carl Fischer, Inc., had published the original version for violin and piano in 1924, and the orchestral version in 1940.

31 Main octave: D, Eb, F#, G, A, Bb, C, D.

32 Main octave: G, A, Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G

33 Oren is the German-Jewish equivalent of the Eastern Ashkenazi Daven or Davenen: to recite or chant one’s prayers in public or private. See Rabbi Cohen’s entry under Oren in JE IX, pp. 431–32.

34 Maurice was the name Bloch’s father (1832–1913) adopted when he moved to francophone Geneva, having been born in German-speaking Lengnau, a north Swiss village in Canton Aargau. His secular name was originally Moritz and his Hebrew name Meier. Maurice had had direct exposure to liturgical music as a teenage chorister (alto) in the Lengnau synagogue. As a young man, he considered entering the rabbinate, but he went into business instead. 

35 Abaham Baer, Baal T’fillah, oder “Der practische Vorbeter” (Gothenburg, 1877); reprinted in Eric Werner (ed.) et al., Out of Print Classics Series of Synagogue Music, No. 1 (New York: Sacred Music Press of the Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion’s School of Sacred Music, 1953), p. 118 et passim.

36 See pp. 214–22 for Rabbi Cohen’s entry under Ne‘ilah.

37 Klára Móricz states that Bloch might originally have notated this theme from memory, recalling it from his childhood. See Jewish Identities: Nationalism, Racism, and Utopianism in Twentieth-Century Music (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2008), p. 128.

38 See note 30.

39 E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E.

40 These are prayers of “approach” to God, appearing in the Amidah (the core, statutory set of prayers recited while standing) for special Sabbaths, Pilgrim Festivals, and High Holy Days.

41 The information in parentheses also appears in Bnotes. Eleazar Kalir (Kallir), a native of the Levant, was one of the most prolific and influential composers of piyyutim (inserted liturgical poems). No fewer than 200 are known in many parts of the Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Oriental-Jewish world. Details about his life are sketchy, especially his dates of birth and death. Some scholars place him as early as the 2nd century C.E., others as late as the 11th century. Although there seems to be no consensus, it is most likely that he lived sometime between the 6th and 8th centuries. See Rabbi Cohen’s entry in JE vol. VIII, pp. 468–71; and Cecil Roth (ed.), “Kallir, Eleazar,” Encyclopedia Judaica (Keter Publishing House Jerusalem Ltd., 1972), vol. 10, cols. 713–15.

42 The words of aḥot k’tanna (“Little Sister”) are derived from Chapter 8, verse 8, of the biblical Song of Solomon. The melody is a Sephardi pizmon (hymn) for the Eve of the New Year. The acrostic formed from the eight stanzas spell out the name Abraham Hazan, a cantor born in Salonica in 1533. The melody blends Greek and Italian characteristics. See Cohen’s entry on pp. 294–95.

43 Emanuel Aguilar and Rev. David A. De Sola, Sephardi Melodies, being the Traditional Liturgical Chants of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, London; published by the Society of Heshaim with the sanction of the Board of Elders of the Congregation (Oxford University Press, 1931).

44 Geshem is the Hebrew word for rain, and this prayer is chanted on Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of the Festival of Sukkot.

45 In CE, this appears on p. 28, not p. 26 as indicated in Bnotes.

46 Main octave: E, F, G#, A, B, C, D, E.

47 See Rabbi Cohen’s entry on Hazzanut on pp. 289–92.

48 Whose scale is: D, E, F, G#, A, B, C, D.

49 Four Wedding Marches and Six Organ Preludes.

50 F, G, A B (natural), C, D, E, F.

51 E, F#, G#, A, B, C, D, E.

52 Bloch’s letter to his niece Evelyn Hirsch, Agate Beach, January 18, 1954, quoted in Lewinski and Dijon, Ernest Bloch, vol. IV, p. 608.

53 Lewinski and Dijon, Ernest Bloch, vol. IV p. 416 (Bloch’s underlinings).

54 Although the Proclamation is not usually counted among his “Jewish” works, Bloch referred specifically to its Jewish character in a letter to Karl Salomon, dated March 4, 1956. (See Lewinski and Dijon, vol. IV, p. 609.) Indeed, there are several motto themes that could be interpreted as representations of the shofar—for example, the frequent rising and falling perfect fourths and fifths.

By: Alexander Knapp

 

Credits

Composer: Ernest Bloch

Length: 21:03
Genre: Chamber

Performers: Helene Brahm, Piano;  Milton Preves, Viola

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