by Tracie D. Price
At the tender age of ten, Ernest Bloch wrote a vow that he would become a composer. He then built a mound of stones in the shape of an altar and burned the paper over the stones in ritual fashion. Before age 15, he made good on his vow, having composed both a string quartet and an Oriental Symphony. However, it was with the composition of his epic Schelomo: Rhapsody for Violoncello and Large Orchestra, that he proved to the world that he had indeed become a composer of world class ability. After a performance in November of 1923, the San Francisco Chronicle review affirmed the accomplishment, reporting: "Schelomo is a magnificent work by one of the greatest living composers. Splendid as it is in brilliant coloration, it is not in the vivid pictures that its greatness lies so much, as in the burning sincerity, the richness of passion, the poignant spirituality and the profound penetration into the psychology of a race." 1
This paper will examine the genesis and composition, as well as provide an analysis of the style, form and content, of one of Ernest Bloch's greatest masterworks, Schelomo. It will include a discussion of what elements constitute the characteristics of Bloch's Jewish Cycle and how these characteristics are manifested in the work.
Ernest Bloch was born July 24, 1880, in Geneva, Switzerland, to a clockmaker and his wife. He began his musical studies on the violin, but had desires to become a composer. His music professors included such luminaries as Jaques-Dalcroze in Geneva and Eugene Ysaÿe and Fran¨ois Rasse at the Brussels Conservatory. He also spent a year each at the Frankfurt Conservatory under Ivan Knorr and in Munich studying with Ludwig Thuille. During his early period, he worked in Paris, where he wrote his first published work, Historiettes au Crépuscule, for voice and piano in 1903. By 1909 he had completed his opera Macbeth, as well as two tone poems and four songs. Bloch spent 1909-10 conducting orchestral concerts at Lausanne and Neuchâtel, and became professor of composition and aesthetics at the Geneva Conservatory in 1915, a position that was ended when he made his first trip to America in 1916 as a conductor for Maud Allen's dance troupe. He taught at the Mannes School of Music in New York from 1917-1920, and served as the first director of the Cleveland Institute of Music until 1925, becoming a United States citizen in 1924. Following this, he headed the San Francisco Conservatory for five years.
In the 1930's, Bloch lived in Switzerland and conducted in various European cities, returning to the United States in 1939 due to a desire to retain his U.S. citizenship. He settled in Agate Beach, Oregon, where he lived the remainder of his life. Bloch spent summers teaching at the University of California at Berkeley until his retirement in 1952. In July of 1959, Ernest Bloch succumbed to cancer and passed away.
Ernest Bloch's creative output can be divided into several distinct periods, including his early period, which is comprised of the works he composed in Geneva, his so-called "Jewish Cycle" from 1911-1926, and his later period after 1927 when he wrote much in the neo-classic style. His early compositions were considered somewhat undisciplined and it was not until his Jewish Cycle that Bloch achieved his own distinct musical identity. "By 1912 Bloch began to recognize what he at first took to be an Oriental flavor in his music as having its roots in his own Jewish race; and, caught up by the spirit of the Jewish Renaissance in Europe prior to World War I, he apparently determined to let this quality have full opportunity of expression in his art." 2 Bloch's Jewish works constitute less than one-fifth of his entire output, yet it is by these works that he is almost exclusively known, and upon which his reputation is based. The music from this period has tremendous force of expression and its richly variegated coloring and exotic harmonies are overlaid with deeply spiritual significance. It was these works "which firmly established Bloch as a great composer, admired by both Jew and Gentile." 3
In 1920, the Italian essayist Guido M. Gatti confirmed the consensus that Bloch's compositional abilities had indeed reached a pinnacle with the greatest masterwork of this period, Schelomo. In an article on Ernest Bloch for La Critica Musicale, Gatti writes:
Even though the title Jewish Cycle has been attached to this period of Bloch's creative output, Bloch did not generally write music based on specific Jewish melodies but rather as an expression of feelings that he experienced as a result of his Jewish heritage and his study of passages in the Bible. As a result, there has been some controversy over the labeling of Bloch as a "Jewish composer" based on these works. Bloch himself addressed this topic sereral times during his life, saying on one occasion:
Exactly what constitutes Jewishness in Bloch's music has been the source of much speculation, despite statements such as this. In his writing can be found numerous examples of augmented seconds and fourths, which are characteristic of Near-Eastern scales and there are modal tonalities and melismatic melodies that are similar to Hebrew chant, although literal quotations are rare. There are various examples from Bloch's instrumental works that bear a close resemblance to Jewish song. However, many authorities, such as Alfred Einstein and A.Z. Idelsohn, "feel that Bloch belongs to that group of composers who have recreated their people's music out of themselves. He is Jewish...in the same sense that Debussy was French, Sibelius Finnish, or Bartôk Hungarian, and in that sense he may be identified with a kind of Hebrew Nationalism." 6
There are a number of common characteristics evident in the works of Bloch's Jewish Cycle; these are outlined in Table 1. The employment of many of these techniques as they specifically relate to Schelomo will be discussed in the section on analysis of the work.
Many fourths and fifths
Close relationship with Jewish Song
Motifs derived from Hebrew language
"Bloch Rhythm" (Scotch-snap)
Frequently changing meters/tempo
Repeated passages feature decreasing note values
Solo "vocal" lines utilize rhythmic freedom
Parallel fourths and fifths
Parallel six-four chords
Chords built on fourths and fifths
Use of simple triads for expressive purposes
Unison voicing for emphasis
Melodically, Bloch had a knowledge of Synagogical chant and motives of Jewish folk tunes, although, as previously stated, he rarely employed direct quotations from these. His melodies are often constructed with an abundance of fourths, fifths and augmented intervals. He also occasionally employed the use of quarter tones. His use of these intervals was not, as with many of his contemporaries, to explore new tonalities, but simply as a means of expression.
Bloch's rhythmic patterns often mimic spoken Hebrew. For example, in Hebrew there is a tendency to place the accent towards the last syllable of the word. In his vocal works, he employs frequently changing meters and strong accents in order to be faithful to the texts. When he uses these techniques in instrumental works, he is actually thinking in terms of Jewish song. The frequently appearing "Bloch rhythm" can be derived from many Hebrew words such as "Le-cho (sixteenth--dotted eighth) and Shema (thirty-second--dotted eighth)." 7 One expert on Jewish music sees Bloch's phrases as containing a veering of the climax toward the ending, which he sees as paralleling the linguistic phrase of spoken Hebrew. Often in his instrumental works, Bloch will apply this by writing repeated and sequential motives that decrease in note values until the maximum intensity is reached.
Harmonically, Bloch does not avoid use of traditional harmonies, however, he also does not seem to be bound by rules that would hamper his freedom of expression. His works are replete with unresolved dissonances and parallel fourths and fifths. One of the marks of his brilliance is his use of simple triadic formations when he wishes to make the most profound expression. He often uses simple six-four chords in close position to create an exotic effect. Harmonically Bloch's music stands as a bridge between the old and the new. He often expressed his belief that music should evolve organically, not through artificial creation. Regarding his compositional techniques he commented: "Art, for me, is an expression, an experience of life, and not a puzzle game -- or an icy demonstration of imposed mathematical principles -- or dissection in a laboratory. I would add that in not one of my works have I tried to be 'original' or 'modern.' Theories, like 'novelty,' pass so quickly. And what remains? In revenge, my sole desire and single effort has been to remain faithful to my Vision, to the True." 8
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Bloch became increasingly concerned regarding the misery of the war. During this time, he was particularly moved by the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, and began sketches for a work for voice and orchestra based on the book as an outlet for his feelings regarding the pain of war. The following text which served as inspiration for what was to become Schelomo, is an excerpt from Ecclesiastes as presented by Avraham Soltes in his book Off the Willows: The Rebirth of Modern Jewish Music:
(Ecclesiastes 1:2-9)" 9
In 1933, Bloch wrote program notes for a performance of Schelomo by the Augusteo Orchestra of Rome in which he related the circumstances and inspiration that resulted in the composition of the work.
As much as Bloch asserted that the work had no definite program, he did follow the above statement with a commentary he called a "psychoanalysis" of the work. He stated that the violoncello is the voice of Solomon, the rhapsodist of Ecclesiastes, proclaiming the usefulness in all things, while the orchestra "represents the world surrounding him and his experiences of life; at the same time, the orchestra often seems to reflect Solomon's inward thought while the solo instrument is giving voice to his words." 11
Schelomo is a rhapsody in three large sections, each of these containing a powerful orchestral climax. The work combines the concerto principle of a contrasting solo instrument with orchestra with the concept of the symphonic poem. Although rhapsodic in nature, the piece is based on a solidly conceived formal structure. "In three parts-slow, fast and slow-there are two principal themes which dominate the entire composition, the first as the main subject of part one, the second as the main subject of part two. The third part is a slow development and recapitulation of the preceding material." 12 A brief outline of this structure including excerpts of the main themes of each section is presented in table 2.
First Section- slow tempo
Development and Recapitulation
The first section of the Rhapsody opens with a lengthy cello cadenza, which represents the voice of Solomon himself. According to Bloch, it is as though ". . . Schelomo himself were telling us what has led him to his sad conclusions. . . ." The opening theme is in three sections (Examples 1a, 1b, and 1c respectively in Table 2). The first section (Example 1a) is a melismatic lament lasting five bars accompanied by sparsely orchestrated descending chords moving in parallel motion with the solo cello. This leads into a more metered section of seven bars marked pi¯ animato - con somme espressione (Example 1b) which evolves into a descending line of sixteenth and thirty-second notes that increase in power and tension as they descend over a range of three octaves and evolve into a dotted thirty-second and sixty-fourth note rhythm in the final measure; this passage contains examples of augmented seconds and is highly chromatic. Following this is another cello cadenza (Example 1c), this one unaccompanied, beginning in the low register, and containing several dramatic pauses before finally climbing out of the depths of the low range by means of a sequence of triplets that ascends the distance of an octave with each statement. The passage reaches a high point on a D, three octaves above where it begins, and then falls back down in anguish; the final statement of the triplet sequential figure being one of utter despair and hopelessness.
The full orchestra enters at the andante moderato following the cello cadenza with themes that have just been presented. Here can be found examples of Bloch's use of parallel six-four chords in the celeste, harp, and three soli violins, enhancing the viola melody with an even more exotic atmosphere. The cello takes up this theme and alters it considerably against a tambourine figure that foreshadows the theme from the second major section of the rhapsody. The woodwinds then take up Theme One in parallel fourths while the strings adopt the rhythmic tambourine figure. This section excellently demonstrates one of Bloch's most colorful devices. It is a kind of organum-passages of parallel octaves containing the bare fifth and fourth, which Bloch often adapts in his works either as an integral part of thematic material or its development, or as accompanying counterpoint. In this section he uses it in both respects, with the main theme in the woodwinds, and accompanimental figures in the strings, harp and flutes also using open fifths. Bloch's characteristic "Scotch-snap" rhythm, a melodic sixteenth and dotted eighth note figure, is introduced two bars later by the cello and English horn in unison. Bloch then takes the melodic material presented thus far and breaks it into smaller and smaller units and develops it, played by sections of the orchestra against rhapsodic passages of scales and arpeggiated figures in the solo cello. The orchestra answers the increasingly emphatic cello with a thickly orchestrated statement of the viola melody from the beginning of the andante moderato which features parallel fourths, flourishing scalar passages, col legno effects in the strings, diminishing note values for emphasis, and bold brass statements. The agitated orchestra calms again as the cello ascends out of the din to restate the opening cadenza of the rhapsody in an altered form against a sparse string accompaniment. Other instruments join in with fragments of the various themes as the cello continues and increases in volume and tempo. All this activity comes to a dramatic halt with the cello freely making an impassioned plea against the shimmering tremolo of the strings and flutes, culminating in yet another cadenza-like passage which ends with a dramatic upward leap of a minor ninth followed by a two octave downward jump to a fermata, where the intensity is finally allowed to relax. The texture starts thinly with a sparse viola accompaniment, and gradually begins to thicken as more and more instruments join in and add intensity to the increasing tempo. The cello finishes with a statement of the second part of Theme One (Example 1b) as the orchestra takes over, bringing the music to a wild climax of complex layerings of themes, rhythmic figures, and exotic orchestration. There are fanfares of parallel fifths, octave doublings, decreasing note values on repeated material, and changing meters and tempi. This section ends with a dramatic statement of the material from the last cello cadenza by flutes, oboe, clarinet, and violins, supported by a powerful unison accompaniment in the low winds, low brass and low strings, and pulsating sixteenth notes in the horns. Particularly interesting is a line of ascending quarter notes in parallel diminished seventh chords by the low winds, brass and strings, during the climactic statement of the passage. The orchestral climax finishes with four bars of parallel fifths leading into four bars that are marked Quasi una Cadenza (ma in tempo), which are a wild collage of thirty-second note and sixteenth note flourishes. This orchestra cadenza leads directly into yet another solo cello cadenza, this one being restatement of the cello cadenza material from Example 1c, which now provides the bridge to the second section of the rhapsody.
"Theme Two (Example 2) at allegro moderato is announced by the bassoon playing the rhythmic figure heard earlier in part one, this time against a rustling of tremulant violins on the bare fifth E-B." 13 The theme is stated in its entirety a few bars later by the oboe. This theme consists of a rhythmic melody of seven measures followed by a pi¯ animato passage of diatonically moving quarter and half notes. This theme is also the only genuine Jewish melody used in the rhapsody. It is based on a South German Jewish melody, Kodosh Attoh (Holy art Thou) that Bloch remembers being sung to him by his father when he was young. Immediately following the oboe, the cello repeats the second cadenza of Theme One (Example 1b), and at the same time, Theme Two is played against it in parallel fourths as a counter melody in the woodwinds. The solo cello only states the militaristic second theme a single time during the entire rhapsody, which is significant when one considers Bloch's regular use of the various themes as motivic building blocks. After the cello states this theme, which is quite agitated and played a step lower than that of the oboe, it embarks upon a lengthy restatement of the opening cadenza theme (1a). This section is remarkable in that the orchestra develops the rhythmic second theme as if preparing for war, while the voice of Solomon freely laments over the top of all that is happening. The cello writing is rhythmically indefinite, often notated with eighth note quintuplets against the driving rhythms below.
In this passage, it is very much as if the voice of the cello is trying desperately to persuade the rallying orchestra not to continue along its current path, but the orchestra will not heed the cello's cries. The orchestra only grows in intensity, with the low strings and low winds even bringing in material from the last section of the opening cadenza (Theme 1c). The cello continues its empathic restatement of Theme One, building to a tremendous climax, but it is in vain and the frantic sound of the solo instrument is overpowered by the ever increasing sound and texture of the orchestra. The second orchestral climax of the rhapsody follows, this one characterized by a complex layering of all the motivic fragments of both main themes. The strings, with the exception of the contrabass, along with the flute keep the music driving forward and intensifying by furiously pounding out Theme 1b, rising chromatically one half step each half measure. Along with this, the brass and contrabasses cry out the second portion of theme two. The music builds to a high point only to come crashing downward using the melismatic sixteenth and thirty-second note passage from the opening cadenza. However, just when one thinks the music will start to calm down, the winds enter with the piercing second theme and stir things up yet again. Once more, Bloch layers the second theme with Theme 1c, building over three bars until the entire orchestra unifies in one massive statement of the last part of Theme 1c. Only now do things finally begin to calm, as the orchestration thins out and the two themes alternate in the transition to part three of the rhapsody.
The third part of the composition is marked andante moderato and does not employ any new thematic material. However, it does cast a new light on the previously introduced material. From the outset, there is a remnant of the martial second theme, now played softly by timpani underneath a tremolo and open fifths in the strings. The solo cello writing in this section is extremely somber and it is here that Bloch employs a single quarter tone in his writing:
The lament of the cello is continued until it sinks into a mood of hopelessness on a low C# fermata and finally comes to rest, dejectedly, on a low D.
The orchestra enters peacefully with a shimmering sixteenth-note accompaniment supporting a dolce statement of the melody from the first section that seems to draw the lamenting Solomon out of his hopeless state into a more dreamlike world. The second theme can still be heard in the distance in the oboe, but overall there is an air of peace. The cello seems to be off in its own private world, dreaming of better things as it ascends into the stratosphere of its range in an irregular rhythm.
This dreamlike state does not last for long, as the cello once more falls nearly three octaves and is brought back to earth and reality. After several episodes recalling the previous themes, the final orchestral climax is reached. This one is much simpler in texture, but otherwise still on a grand scale. The fantasies of a better world that began the third section fail to raise Solomon's spirits, and the rhapsody closes in a mood of profound despair. The climax retreats into a subdued, yet somewhat tense atmosphere of tremolo strings and descending cello and bass pizzicati as the solo cello makes it's final sorrowful statement with one last tirade of the theme one cadenza: "Vanity of vanities! Nothing!" Bloch said regarding the ending of this work, "Almost all my works, however gloomy, end with an optimistic conclusion or at least with hope: This is the only one which ends with an absolute negation. But the subject required it."
Ernest Bloch was a composer who placed expression above everything else, and he never hesitated to use any device which suited his artistic purpose. While he employed elements that reached beyond traditional practices of the time-parallel voicing, unresolved dissonances, exotic scales and intervals, he did so with the greatest concern for the musical results, and only after first mastering the classical approach. Many writers described Bloch's style or form as "Rhapsodic" rather than "Symphonic," dependent upon cyclical principals for unity, and inclined to let fully developed melodic formations take the place of gradual thematic evolution. However, Bloch even in his great Hebraic Rhapsody, still employs elements of classical sonata form with its contrasting first and second subjects, developmental sections, recapitulation, and coda. One writer commented regarding Schelomo, "...for never did a rhapsodist bring to his composing a profounder understanding of classical techniques or a more urgent desire to apply them in the struggle for perfection in his works. Schelomo is a magnificent rhapsody, yet one very real reason for its being so is that its unusual structure is most rigidly controlled. Hardly a bar could be lifted from it without seriously damaging the form....Thus it will be seen that the romantic element in Bloch has always been contained by the strong discipline of classical craftsmanship." 14 Bloch himself commented regarding what inspired him to compose: "I hold it of first importance to write good, genuine music, my music. It is the Jewish soul that interests me, the complex glowing agitated soul that I feel vibrating throughout the Bible; the freshness and naivete of the patriarchs; the violence which is evident in the prophetical books; the Jew's savage love of justice; the despair of the preacher in Jerusalem; the sorrow and immensity of the Book of Job; the sensuality of the Song of Songs. All this is in us, all this is in me, and it is the better part of me. It is all that I endeavor to hear in myself and to transcribe in my music." 15 Certainly, with the creation of his Hebraic Rhapsody, Schelomo, he achieved his goal.
 Ernest Bloch: Biography and Comment. Mary Morgan Company, 1925.
 Henrichs, William Lee. "The Music of Ernest Bloch: A Critical Survey." Master's Thesis, Texas Christian University, 1958.
 Gatti, Guido M. "Ernest Bloch." The Musical Quarterly 7, no. 1 (January 1921): 20-38.
 Henrichs, William Lee. "The Music of Ernest Bloch: . . ."
 Soltes, Avraham. Off the Willows: The Rebirth of Modern Jewish Music. New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1970.
 San Francisco Symphony Orchestra Program Notes. 1955-56
 Henrichs, William Lee. "The Music of Ernest Bloch: . . ."
 Gilman, Lawrence. Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra Program Notes. October 1954-May 1957.
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