Search This Blog

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Enest Bloch - Helvetia; Suite pour alto et orchestre; Suite Hébraïque (2003)

I have enjoyed the music of Ernest Bloch since I was a teenager, my first introduction being his concerti grossi for orchestra. This recording contains some other works by him, and I think this is the first time I have heard Helvetia.

Liner Notes:

Ernest Bloch (1880-1959)

This Swiss composer was born on July 24,100 in Geneva in a Jewish family. He composed his first masterpieces in Switzerland, Macbeth (his only opera) and the Jewish Cycle (Psalms, Three Jewish Poems, Israel, Schelomo). But his works did not have the audience they deserved and the Swiss cultural institutions did not offer him enough means for a proper living. In July 1916, he leaves for America; it will be «the greatest tragedy of his life

The United States will recognize him as one of the best musicians of his time when he creates the First Quartet in December 1916 and the Jewish Cycle in May 1917 in New York. It has to be kept in mind that, in spite of the fact that he is considered the greatest Jewish Composer, only one third of his works is of Jewish inspiration. Aside from the Suite Hébraïque, the other works appearing on this record are not thus inspired.

From 1920 to 1930, Bloch will the head of the Cleveland of Music and then the San Francisco Conservatory. It is during this period that he becomes an American citizen.

After a stay in Europe between 1930 and 1938, during which he composes the Sacred Service in 1933 in Switzerland, Bloch travels back to the U.S.A.

In 1941 he acquires a huge residence facing the Pacific Ocean at Agate Beach, Oregon and teaches half-time at the University of California at Berkeley from 1940 to 1951. He dies on July 15, 1959 at the Portland hospital, in Oregon.


Bloch first composes a Suite for viola and piano in May 1919 in New York. In August, this work wins the first great international competition set up since the end of the war : the Berkshire Prize (Pittsfield, Mass.). It is dedicated to the sponsor who organized it, Mrs. F. S. Coolidge.

The composer belongs to the musical avant-garde. His fame reaches Europe. Consequently Zoltan Székely (viola) and Bela Bartók (piano) will create this composition on January 18, 1922 in Budapest, Hungary.

The Suite for viola and Plano is orchestrated in March 1920 in New York where it is created on November 5, 1920 by the French violist Louis Bailly accompanied by Artur Bodanzky conducting the National Symphony Orchestra. Bloch writes: «From the beginning, I had the idea of an orchestral version and took notes to that effect.

First of all my Suite does not belong to my so called "Jewish works", though perhaps, in spite of myself, one may perceive here and there, in a very few places, a certain Jewish inspiration. lt is rather a vision of the Far East that inspired me: Java, Sumatra, Borneo—those wonderful countries I so often dreamed of, though I never was fortunate enough to visit them in any other way than through my imagination. I first intended to give more explicit—or picturesque—titles to the four movements, as: I. In the Jungle; II. Grotesques; III. Nocturne; IV. The Land of the Sun. But those titles seemed rather incomplete and unsatisfactory to me...»

At this period, very few composers were attracted by the viola and Bloch was considered a forerunner. He wrote to Louis Bailly:

«The viola has always been one of my favorite instruments. It can express the whole range of feelings and passions with an intensity and colour that very few people imagine


After World War II, Jewish inspired works become rare. The most important one is the Suite Hébraïque for viola and orchestra written in March 1951 at Agate Beach, Oregon and dedicated to a Jewish organisation, the Covenant Club of Illinois This association had organized a «Six-Day Ernest Bloch Music Festival» in Chicago between November 28th and December 3, 1950 to celebrate Bloch's seventieth birthday.

The work is created on January 1, 1953 in Chicago by Rafael Kubelik conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with the participation of Milton Preves, principal viola.

Bloch writes in the Program notes: «It was to show my gratitude that I thought of writing these Jewish pieces, which were the first work I composed after the Chicago Festival.

In some of them I have used old and traditional melodies; but I have absorbed them to such a point that it may be difficult to determine what is traditional and what is Bloch

Bloch composed five pieces for viola and piano, then three pieces were later orchestrated.

The three movements (Rhapsodie - Processional - Affirmation) of the Suite Hébraïque for viola and orchestra are linked by a real unity between atmosphere and writing. They are in the style of his Baal Shem Suite.

The Jewish melodies are clearly tonal. Most of them are derived from the Jewish Encyclopedia.

There is a violin version of this work, but the viola, instrument originally chosen by the composer is much better adapted to the Suite Hébraïque because of its coloured vibrant intensity.


The Land of Mountains
and its People
A Symphonic Fresco for Orchestra

Bloch composes Helvetia in San Francisco in March 1929. The first drafts were made as early as 1900. After having celebrated the land of his ancestors with the symphony Israel (1916) and his land of adoption with America (1927), Bloch honors his mother country with Helvetia, therefore producing a trilogy.

The work is dedicated: «To all lovers of Mountains and Freedom, and to the memory of Ferdinand Nadler

Bloch writes:

«I dreamed of old Switzerland, the Switzerland so admirably depicted by the great painter Ferdinand Hodler. And the background of my work is not in the present, but in the past of a small people in the process of formation, fighting for their liberties, their independence.
This Symphonic Fresco includes five parts:
I.  It depicts the Mountain itself, its mystery, its rocks, its forests.
II.  Then Dawn. The awakening of the Mountain and men.
III.  There is the «Landsgemeinde» the gathering in the open air, where events are discussed. With dignity but tragically, the «Elders» announce that «The Fatherland is in danger».
IV.  But suddenly the people arise! Their mountains shall not be enslaved! And then a true medieval battle is raging. It ends in a Victory, which I have symbolized by an old song of Geneva «Cé qué le no» (The One Who is Above).
V.  The mountain is freed, serene again, as after a storm.»

The first world performance is given on February 18, 1932 in Chicago by Frederick Stock conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.


The composer reveals his essential thoughts in the Program notes of the first performance of Helvetia in Geneva, Switzerland on March 5, 1932. Ernest Ansermet was conducting the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.

«Most of my works have been inspired by a poetic or philosophic idea, even sometimes unconsciously. Art for me is an expression, an experience of Life, and not a jigsaw puzzle or an application in cold blood of mathematical theories—a laboratory dissection

«I would simply say that in none of my works have I cared about being «original» or «modern» Theories like «novelty» pass away so quickly. My only desire, on the contrary, my sole effort, has been to be faithful to my Vision, to be true

Dr Joseph Lewinski

 Track List:
  1. Helvetia
  2. Suite pour alto et orchestre - I. Lento - Allegro - Moderato
  3. Suite pour alto et orchestre - II. Allegro ironico
  4. Suite pour alto et orchestre - III. Lento
  5. Suite pour alto et orchestre - IV. Molto vivo
  6. Suite Hébraïque pour alto et orchestre - I. Rhapsodie (andante moderato)
  7. Suite Hébraïque pour alto et orchestre - II. Processional (andante con moto)
  8. Suite Hébraïque pour alto et orchestre - III. Affirmation (maestoso)
Download Links: Enjoy the Music.

Other Recordings of music by Ernest Bloch:

No comments:

Post a Comment