Creative Spirit

ERNEST BLOCH: Creative Spirit


This book is out of print.  As time permits sections of this book will be copied and posted here.

Part Two: Program Notes for Bloch’s Compositions, by Suzanne Bloch is over 60 pages in length. Anyone wishing to inquire as to the whether notes for a certain composition can be found here, should utilize the “contact us” feature of this website.

Selections From

[COVER] Ernest Bloch: Creative Spirit


Prepared by Suzanne Bloch, in collaboration with Irene Heskes,




DANIEL ROSE, President

ARTHUR ROTMAN, Executive Vice-President

HERBERT MILLMAN, Executive Vice-President Emeritus

HAROLD ARIAN, Coordinator, Jewish Educational and Cultural Programs





[same content as cover]


ERNEST BLOCH: Creative Spirit

Copyright (c) 1976

by JWB Jewish Music Council


[Photo of EB perusing a musical manuscript]


“There is no progress in art; all beautiful things belong to the same age.” (Oscar Wilde)



It is my particular pleasure to salute our colleague of the Executive Board of the JWB Jewish Music Council, Suzanne Bloch. A gifted musician, creative intellect and charming personality, Suzanne Bloch has labored with steadfast dedication in the development of this new resource.

I am personally privileged to acknowledge the capable leadership of Irene Heskes, Director of the JWB Jewish Music Council, and to particularly note her devoted collaboration and technical guidance in bringing this significant publication to fruition.

This opportunity is also taken to thank all associated with JWB for extraordinary support and encouragement of the Council and its work.


Chairman of the JWB Jewish Music Council

Summer 1976


[ “Title Page: Bloch’s Handwriting”]

“O America, because you build for mankind, I build for you. (Walt Whitman)


an epic Rhapsody in three Parts



This Symphony has been written in Love for this Country.

In reverence to its Past

In faith in its Future

It is dedicated

to the Memory of Abraham Lincoln


Walt Whitman

whose vision have upheld its inspiration



We wish to express our gratitude to all who have enabled us to prepare this Program Source Book on Ernest Bloch.  Special appreciation first is extended to The Ernest Bloch Society for making available inclusion of so many exceptional materials on Bloch and his music, particularly the Society’s annotated catalogue listing of his compositions. Our resource publication may encourage many to join the Society in its significant activities, and therefore we note that membership information may be obtained by writing to:

[address label affixed here]

Ernest Bloch Society

34844 Old Stage Road

Gualala, CA 95445

For the inclusion of extensive information and of articles, we are please to acknowledge the following: The London TimesAperture Magazine of Photography; Summy-Birchard, Publishers; E.P. Dutton Company, Publishers; Yehudi Menuhin; Gary P. Letherer; Eric Johnson; Alex Cohen; Mrs. Isadore (Riva) Freed; and, the estates of: Serge Koussevitzky; Ernest Newman; Olin Downes; Jacob Epstein; and, Carl Engel. Of course, a warm “thank you” is extended to Ivan Bloch and to Lucienne Bloch Dimitroff, who have blessed this project with supportive enthusiasm and much kindness.

Beyond thanks-giving, we are indebted to JWB and its leadership, with helmsmen Daniel Rose and Herbert Millman.  The dedication of the JWB organization and its nation-wide constituency of Jewish Community Centers and YM-YWHAs, to the advancement of the quality of American Jewish life has enabled this publication, as well as many other Jewish Music Council projects, to reach happy fruition.

In addition, our warm appreciation for their encouragement goes to our colleagues, the Executive Board membership of the JWB Jewish Music Council and its Chairman, Shalom Altman. Much thanks also to the following JWB staff: Seymour Warsaw, art director; Maria Cubria, varitypist; Elvita Hook and Rose Bresloff, secretaries; and Jack Rosen, archivist.

This book is dedicated to music-makers and music-lovers everywhere, and to the living memory of Ernest Bloch, who viewed musical composition as an act of faith.



June 1976


[Photo.  Self Portrait: Bloch and his children, Geneva, Switzerland, 1911]



In 1956 the JWB Jewish Music Council dedicated the festival theme of Jewish Music Month to “The Music of Ernest Bloch.”  At that time a program manual was compiled with the purpose of guiding the many organizations that planned lectures and concerts dealing with Bloch. I was asked to assist Leah Jaffa who organized the material. Though at first my father had been skeptical about the project, he warmly approved of it when he saw the results. Over the following years, that program manual was a useful source of information to individuals and groups.

After Bloch’s death, it became increasingly evident that there were very few practical and up-to-date sources of information on his life and music. Irene Heskes, Director of the JWB Jewish Music Council, broached the subject to me, suggesting that an expanded program manual on Ernest Bloch was very much needed. I agreed wholeheartedly to make a new edition of the old resource book, and thought we would simply add information that had not previously been available. In the process, what was to be a modest brochure grew as we met and planned, while I gathered material. Soon it became imperative that this manual should become the first comprehensive collection of information on Bloch’s works including publication sources, a complete discography, and a section of program notes for all the works. I used as much as I could from Bloch’s own writings, and also added my own notes. We further decided to augment these materials with articles — biographical and informative — thus giving life to this collection.

Being the musician in our family, Bloch’s music has been my responsibility since his death. He left sketches well-classified on his shelves, with masses of pedagogical notes stemming from the many courses he gave. The total comprises an immense amount of material, such as several booklets with his counterpoint studies. At the age of forty-eight, he decided he needed to do these again. In the studies is to be found a study of basso ostinato in the mixolydian mode whose theme, repeated over and over in different rhythms, is the one he used as a base for his Avodath Hakodesh.  Included also are detailed analyses of Bach’s fugues from the “Well Tempered Clavichord,” the pages of studies of Beethoven sketches used for his courses on Beethoven’s “Eroica” and other works. All the musical examples were written out by him in the most beautiful penmanship, as if he cherished every note he put down, and all this with much commentary appended.

There are also notes in French outlining the 110 lectures Bloch gave in Geneva between 1911 and 1916. At the time, he was also writing what is generally called his “Jewish Cycle.” There are lectures he gave in the United States after he settled here. Thus, besides his compositions, there remains the essence of his deep thinking, and of the constant studies which he continued to the end of his life.

It has also been my task to be currently engaged in writing his biography, and emotional as well as arduous load, for facing the myriads of his letters bring back moments of torment and crisis. Bloch was all of many people, true to his many facets, never reticent, wanting to share all he felt with the ones near him. In such close relationship,


one cannot help being subjective at first, and at times it has been difficult to find the right perspective. Yet, already looking back on the many decades, there stands the consistent strength of Bloch’s musical integrity, never swerving from the idealized vision of the art he wished to serve and so dramatically expressed already in his own teenage letters. There was also a great family feeling, this Hebraic traditon deeply ingrained, creating conflicts with his artistic temperament, conflicts that tore at him at times, but which in the end were resolved with a family unity that would continue after his death in the sense of the heritage received by his children.

An Ernest Bloch Society had originally been founded in England in 1937, with Albert Einstein as Honorary President, and with a roster of such important names as Sir Thomas Beecham, Serge Koussevitzky, Havelock Ellis, Romain Rolland, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Sir Henry Wood and Sir Donal Tovey. For that earlier Society, concerts had been given and articles written, leaving an impact still felt to this day. With the advent of World War II, and its devastation of London, the Bloch Society had to dissolve. In 1967 it was decided, with the encouragement of many musicians, to revive that Society here in this country.

It was my privilege to write the introduction to the first issue (March 1967) of the Bulletin for the newly re-established Ernest Bloch Society:

“During the period from 1937 to the beginning of the War when the Ernest Bloch Society was thriving in England, its eloquent voice often expressed itself through the tireless pens of some of its members. Articles, letters to newspapers, stirring discussions would crop up, creating an awareness of Bloch’s unique and rather lonely stand in the musical world.

“Nowadays, this sort of activity is not possible. The pressure of competition, the immense number of concerts, and the lack of newspaper space are the price paid for the modernization and expansion of our artistic world. One must have promotion in order not to be forgotten, or wait patiently for time to bring creative art in its rightful perspective.

“Thus, after a few devoted memorial concerts following Bloch’s death in 1959, there came the inevitable lull, with occasional performances of his well-known works. Little by little came the realization that, although most musicians spoke of Bloch with admiration and respect, very few seemed to know or want to know about the music written in the last twenty years of his life when he settled in Oregon and isolated himself from the musical world in order to compose and fulfill what he had set out to do all his life.

“Only recently some of these later works have seen the light. We are grateful to the artists who have brought forth this music, and it is because of them that we feel we must bring Bloch before the public and have him known; not only as the musician but as the scholar, the writer, the teacher and the man. All who had contact with him remember his richness, his uncompromising artistic honesty, and at times, his irritated impatience


with the phony, the calculated, the dry cerebral approach in music which he could not accept. Art to him was always the expression of the highest aspirations of man. He was not, however, an ivory-towered snob. On the contrary, he was an earthy person: simple, often with a sardonic sense of humor.

“A year following his death, I was approached by several young people who, discovering Bloch through recordings, felt something should be done to have more of his music performed and recorded. They wanted to know about this man who was only a legend to them. Having heard about the past Bloch societies, they suggested that this be revived in the United States. At first, I was skeptical, knowing how much labor would be involved in such a plan and not being certain it would have much of a future, and that the tide is bound to turn as it always does. I decided to start by writing to some of Bloch’s friends and key-figures in the artistic world.

“The immediate, warm, affectionate response from all encouraged me. It was heartening to receive prompt letters of acceptance from those from whom membership was solicited for the Honorary and Advisory Boards. Many plans were suggested. As ideas poured in, the decision was made to start simply by having Bloch speak for himself through the Bulletin with his letters, articles and notes. We would give something of deep meaning to interested readers. In the same spirit that Bloch gathered and treasured the good thoughts of men, the magnificent statements of great minds throughout history, so we would give out some of his richness. Out of little folders, yellowing notebooks, shoe-boxes full of letters, file-cards with quotations copied in his most careful and beautiful handwriting, we would take out riches to be shared by followers and eventual members of this Society. Of course, we shall also give news, and note musical events where Bloch’s work can be heard; we shall ask for communications and for suggestions. We hope the Society can become a focal point for the exchange of ideas and even heated discussions as between friends. The main idea is to make this Society alive and human; thus it will be true to the Bloch creed.”

Over the past years, the Bloch Society’s annual Bulletin has included “Bloch memorabilia”, such as translations of hitherto unknown letters, quotations, articles anecdotes, reviews, news of perfances and recordings. These materials are considered by the former Chief of the Library of Congress’ Music Division, Dr. Harold Spivacke, to be a most valuable biographical contribution and “a real collector’s item,” adding much information on Ernest Bloch’s life and work. I am therefore grateful to the Society for its particular cooperation in my preparation of this publication.

This new and much-augmented version of the JWB Jewish Music Council Ernest Bloch Program Manual will be an excellent addition to the Bloch Society archives; and I hope that it will enhance the understanding of Ernest Bloch and encourage the performance of his music.

Suzanne Bloch

June 1976


[A page from Bloch’s Studies of Hebrew in relation to his writing the “Adon Olam” for “Sacred Service”]


Table of Contents

Preface . . .  V

Acknowledgements . . .  VII

Foreword, by Suzanne Bloch . . .  IX

Part One

Ernest Bloch — A Biography, by Alex Cohen and Suzanne Bloch . . . 3

Correspondence: An Exchange Between Bloch and Koussevitzky on Schelomo . . . 9

My Sacred Service: Ernest Bloch . . .  11

Two Review Articles on Bloch, by Ernest Newman . . . 17

On Ernest Bloch, by Jacob Epstein . . . 20

A Great Composer at 75, by Olin Downes . . . 21

Ernest Bloch as Teacher, by Isadore Freed . . . 24

The Story of a Sculpture, by Suzanne Bloch and Ivan Bloch . . . 26

A Composer’s Vision: Photography by Ernest Bloch, by Eric Johnson . . . 29

Bloch and The Library of Congress, by Carl Engel . . . 35

Part Two

Program Notes for Bloch’s Compositions, by Suzanne Bloch . . . 39

NOTE: This section presents general background information and non-technical descriptions of the music.  These Program Notes for about 65 works have been arranged in a chronological order so that the material is also in the nature of a biographical and musicological narrative. Any use of these texts must be accompanied properly with quotation marks, notice of Suzanne Bloch’s authorship and the full title of this resource publication.


Part Three

Discography: Ernest Bloch, by Gary P. Letherer . . . 107

Selected Bibliography, by Suzanne Bloch . . . 117

Catalogue of Bloch’s Published Works, by the Ernest Bloch Society . . . 121

Part Four

How to Use this Resource Publication, by Irene Heskes . . . 137


Holography Copy of Bloch’s Own Manuscript: Excerpt from the Cello Part of the Orchestral Work Voice in the Wilderness . . . Cover Page

Photograph of Ernest Bloch . . . III

America — Title Page in Bloch’s Handwriting . . . VI

Self-Portrait: Photography With His Children, Geneva, Switzerland, 1919 . . . VIII

Page from Bloch’s Studies of Hebrew in Relation to His Writing the Adon Olam for the Sacred Service . . . XII

{Between pages 36 and 37}

Bust of Ernest Bloch, by Sculptor Jacob Epstein, 1949 . . . End of Part One

Bloch in Roveredo, Switzerland, 1931 – Composing Sacred Service . . . end of Part One

{Between pages 36 and 37}

Anthem: America . . . End of Part Four

Sketch of Bloch, 1957, by Lucienne Bloch Dimitroff . . . End of Part Four

– 1 –



– 26 –


By Suzanne Bloch and Ivan Bloch

[As found on pp. 26-28 of  “ERNEST BLOCH: Creative Spirit, A Program Resource Book” prepared by Suzanne Bloch in collaboration with Irene Heskes, 1976, Jewish Music Council of the National Jewish Welfare Board.]

Ernest Bloch has been known as a Jewish composer, a voice expressing the proud heritage of Israel. Yet always visible on a wall in Bloch’s home, wherever he lived there was an almost life-size wooden carving; Christ on the Cross! In the vastness of Bloch’s last home in Agate Beach, Oregon, overlooking the Pacific, “the Christ” dominated the living room not so much by its physical presence as by the deep aura of its meaning in Bloch’s life.

Very few people have really known the true symbol which this figure represented for Bloch. Some expressed surprise at what they termed an anachronism – – a Jewish composer with a crucifix? Others took it as a pose, a sardonic expression of Bloch’s universality. In the course of his life zealots wrote him letters calling him a traitor and a renegade. They did not know the story, the reason why he kept “this Christ.”

In the Spring of 1903 at a festival of Swiss and German music in the town of Basle, there was given a performance of two movements from a symphony by a totally unknown young Swiss composer who himself conducted his work. This twenty-three year old musician, Ernest Bloch, arrived in the town full of hopes, very shy, naïve and unworldly. At a preliminary banquet in honor of the musicians taking part in the festival, no place had been reserved for him. He felt solitary and rejected, but thought that when his music would be played the musicians would recognize and accept him as one of them.

He was grateful for the two periods allotted him to rehearse his symphony. He felt fortunate to see Gustav Mahler at a distance, to hear him rehearse, though he was too shy to approach him and tell him of his great admiration.

When the performance came the young man put all the fervor of his soul in his conducting, certain that the music would stir his listeners as it had stirred his teacher Ysaye earlier when he showed him the score. These illusions were quickly shattered. The public was cold, the critics attacked him violently. One of them wrote that a young upstart of this caliber having the effrontery to write that sort of dissonant and violent music should be jailed permanently with bread and water for sustenance.

In spite of the shock and disappointment, Bloch wrote his fianeee, Marguerite, a young German pianist who lived in Hamburg, that there was nothing for him to do but to return to Geneva and make his living in his father’s business, a large store of Swiss souvenirs, of cuckoo clocks and music boxes. But, he added, he was determined to continue to write music.

A few weeks later he was surprised to read a new article about the Festival in Le Temps, a newspaper published in Paris. To his amazement, the correspondent wrote that there had been nothing of value presented at the concerts in the new works, except two movements of a symphony by “one Ernest Bloch of whom we know nothing.” The music was highly praised and the writer signed his article “R.G.”

Bloch at once wrote to this “R.G.”  It was Robert Godet, a former political correspondent of Le Tempswho lived in Switzerland. A great friendship ensued, lasting ten years.

Godet was older, highly cultivated. His knowledge of music, art and literature was phenomenal. He was an ardent champion of the music of Moussorgsky and a close friend of Debussy. Through him Bloch’s horizon opened and there is no doubt that the impressions he received from Godet’s vivid descriptions of his travels in tropical countries, such as Java, influenced Bloch’s use of exotic motifs in some of his later works, mainly the Suite for Viola and the first Piano Quintet.

It was Godet who encouraged Bloch in his decision of 1906 to express his Hebraic heritage in music, as he listened to Bloch’s impassioned aspirations. These two men presented an interesting contrast – – Bloch, ardent, effusive, naïve – Godet, sophisticated, almost “precieux” in the deliberate way he chose to express himself with choice vocabulary. For years he was involved with the French translation of a large publication of which he said little to Bloch. But at times Marguerite heard Godet say, “Ernest, today I have worked on pages, some of which would make you very unhappy.”

They often discussed the philosophy of Tolstoi and the concepts of Christian ethics. Though Bloch had greatly admired Tolstoi he doubted that there could ever be true, completely true “Christians” other than “the original Christ.” In these discussions Godet would question the authenticity of Christ’s being a Jew!

One day in 1906 Godet urgently asked Bloch to accompany him to Berne. There was something in a small antique shop that he felt Bloch should buy. It was a large statue of Christ with the tired face of a Jew, with all the suffering of humanity in his weary body.

Bloch did not hesitate to buy the sculpture at once. He hung it in his study. His parents were shocked. He explained that this was not a religious symbol to him. It was a profound expression of all times, all races, all beliefs. Yet he wondered why Godet had urged so persistently that he buy it. He would tell Marguerite, “I am puzzled. I don’t understand. What was in the back of Godet’s mind to insist that I own this crucifix?”

One day, a terrible day for Bloch, he received from Godet the book which he had been so long in translating. With it was a short note written in Godet’s usual precise style which read that though this was certainly not the sort of book that he, Godet, would recommend to Bloch, they had known each other too long and he had lived too long with the book to hold back from offering it to him. There was a certain refined cruelty in the wording of the note, for the book proved to be Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s The Genesis of the XIXth Century, the book that preached the superiority of the Aryan race, the book that later Hitler would read and which would influence all his thinking.

Though Bloch had no conception of the future horrors this book would unleash in the world, its contents then stunned him. He was immediately aware of its dangers. These theories of extreme racism so carefully analyzed, so powerfully expounded could only create untold harm.

And this, this terrible document, had for years been in the hands of the one he thought to be among his closest friends, to whom he had poured out his innermost thoughts. This man had listened to him like a wise mentor – this man had coldly observed him, applying to him the theories of H.S. Chamberlain. What kind of gigantic treachery had this been? Was Godet after all as “demoniaque” as some people had said in the past, and which he had refused to believe? Why had Godet singled him out and sincerely expressed his faith in his talent? Why had he encouraged their friendship? Why “the Christ?”

He broke relations with Godet. He said over and over again that this was the great tragedy of his life. “The Christ” remained on the wall, a silent witness to his sorrow.

When he left Switzerland with his family in 1917 to go to America, he had to sell everything he owned, but he could not bring himself to give up this sculpture. It had been part of his creative growth, his aspirations as a young man, and his great disillusions. He took it with him, and with him it remained a silent reminder until his death.


– 37 –


– 38 –

“I am a Jew. I aspire to write Jewish music because racial feeling is a quality of all great music which must be an essential expression of the people as well as the individual. Does anyone think he is only himself? Far from it. He is thousands of his ancestors. It he writes as he feels, no matter how exceptional his point of view, his expression will be basically that of his forefathers . . .

“In all those compositions of mine which have been termed “Jewish’, I have not approached the problem from without, i.e., by employing more or less authentic melodies . . . or more or less sacred ‘oriental’ formulas, rhythms of intervals! No! I have hearkened to an inner voice, deep, secret, insistent, burning, an instinct rather than any cold, dry reasoning process, a voice which seemed to come from far beyond, beyond myself and my parents, a voice which surged up in me on reading certain passages in the Bible . . . .

“It was this Jewish heritage as a whole which stirred me, and music was the result. To what extent such music is Jewish, to what extent it is just Ernest Bloch — of that I know nothing. The future alone will decide.”

Ernest Bloch

– 39 –


– 61 –



After Bloch finished a Jewish cycle of compositions in 1916 with his Israel Symphony, the works that followed were composed with no particular attempt to express his racial consciousness. Bloch had never intended to specialize solely in one idiom. Thus, when people read Hebraic strains in some of his more abstract works, he strongly dissented and at times was irritated. Yet when he deliberately set out to write Jewish music, he let go wholeheartedly, with gusto. This is what he did when writing the Baal Shem Suite.

In 1923, when stimulated by the presence of Andre de Ribaupierre, the splendid Swiss violinist whom he had engaged to teach at the Cleveland Institute of Music, he began to think of writing short violin pieces for his friend “Ribau.” These would be less serious than his Violin Sonata or the Viola Suite.

The Baal Shem pieces that ensued were disapproved of by many of Bloch’s friends. They felt that he was slipping. Bloch himself knew that this Suite was of a totally different caliber than his other works. He knew well that this couldn’t be compared with his Violin Sonata.  He enjoyed telling the story of his visit to the office of Carl Fischer who was to be the publisher of the music.  After he and Ribaupierre had finished playing the Suite, Carl Fischer got up excitedly, slapped Bloch on the back and exclaimed, “Now, Bloch, you are improving and really getting somewhere.”

The Suite became successful, eclipsing his other works for a time. He was unhappy about that.  But if anyone said a word of criticism about the Baal Shem pieces, he would bridle at once. Bloch dedicated the work to the memory of his mother, who, though having had little knowledge of serious music, would have understood these pieces and liked their titles.

The first, Vidui (Contrition) has a meditative quality and could serve as a prelude leading to the following piece, Nigun (Improvisation), which has been the most played of the trio. Bloch let go and pulled out all the stops of violinistic emotions and drama.  He gave himself a musical holiday, well aware that he would incur the displeasure of the highbrows, the purists, but also would be the delight of uninhibited violinists.

The last piece, Simchas Torah (Rejoicing) shows Bloch in his most expansive mood. This the Bloch who liked to tell a good Jewish story, have a good meal, look around at his family and friends, and pour out his unique warmth and sense of well being.

In this piece he inserted a Jewish melody which he must have heard in his youth. The refrain of the tune contained in the text the name Mezinka.  That fragment comes near the end with gusto.  An amusing addition to this is that during the epoch he was writing these pieces, Bloch bought his first car, A Ford, whose particular manufacturer had then openly professed anti-semitic views.  Bloch, with his usual sense of sardonic humor, at once named his car Mezinka.

At the request of his publisher, he later prepared an orchestral version of this Suite.


This book is out of print.

As time permits sections of the book will be typed and compiled here.