Ernest Bloch

Special Interpetations

Solving the Ernest Bloch Enigma

The eminent Israeli conductor and Bloch specialist, Prof. Dalia Atlas, has done much to promote Bloch’s music – particularly the neglected works – through her numerous international performances and recordings. Here she looks into the enigma why most of Bloch’s compositions were forgotten and why only a few unique works survived.

Ernest Bloch (1880–1959) was a rare composer, different from any other in many areas of musical styles and composition. One of the most striking phenomena was that, after his death, history neglected about 90% of his entire compositions, which the present generation are not familiar with. Apart, that is, from a small number of works in the Jewish style which have survived and continue to be performed until this day.

All musicologists who deal with Bloch are still struggling with this mysterious Enigma: how can it be that such phenomenal compositions, all of them masterpieces, from the hand of a truly great composer, were either forgotten, neglected, left unpublished or lost? Especially bearing in mind that most of these very works won prizes and awards and were frequently performed by the greatest conductors and artists during Bloch’s lifetime!

Here is the great Enigma: How is it that these pieces suddenly disappeared after his death? And why was it that only Bloch’s works in the Jewish style survived?

Since the very start of my research into Bloch’s neglected and unknown works, beginning in June 1996, I have carried out many graphological tests on Bloch’s handwriting – as I usually do for any composer that I conduct. This tool, among others, enables me to reach – as far as is possible – an accurate evaluation of information and interpretation, as well as allowing me to understand and penetrate the composer’s personality and soul.

Studying Bloch’s scores, I have been fascinated by his unlimited abilities for change, moving from sphere to sphere in search of different styles and ideas in which to express himself. In short, he was a ‘multifaceted’ composer working in a vast array of styles, and this is actually the key to solving the great Bloch Enigma.

My solution, based on style analysis, reveals that each composer has constructed his own typical style with personal patterns that belong only to him and which can be identified as a kind of fingerprint – or as an ‘icon’, even.

Bloch’s music cannot be judged unless one is familiar with the full range of his compositions, as well as the sheer variety of his ideas, philosophies and styles. On the other hand, where precisely can the ‘Bloch iconic style’ be found in that huge forest of exploration and wandering through the many different styles as found in his music: the Romantic, Impressionist, Expressionist, Serial, Sacred, Neo-Romantic, Jewish, Chinese, Pre-classical, Polyphonic, Contemporary and Ethnological? These were Bloch’s styles, not to mention his historical reviews in music of the three nations close to his heart: Israel, Helvetia and America. Among his neglected compositions, there are so many interesting, masterful and beautiful works, none of which today’s listeners would immediately recognize as ‘typical’ Bloch music.

History’s collective memory made up its mind and declared that the sole genuine and authentic Bloch style to be identified as an ‘icon’ was the Jewish style! And it was only these works that survived, while all the others disappeared.

Bloch was blessed with prophetic insights. His attachment to Jewish music was based not only on Jewish prayers and melodies, but mainly on his profound inner imaginary vision. Through his reading of the Bible, he interpreted and imagined the sounds, the sufferings and the emotions and atmosphere of the Jewish experience. This was his true inborn language. So much so that professional musicians, when analysing his scores, might be surprised to find several traces of Jewish scales or motifs inside his ‘multi-style’ music, consciously or unconsciously.

My recordings over the last thirteen years of thirty neglected Bloch works are a contribution to revealing and reviving the true complete picture of his music. As well as to promoting and returning Ernest Bloch to his pedestal, as one of the greatest composers of genius of the 20th century.