Bloch’s Building Blocks


Ernest Bloch was a Swiss-born composer who gained popularity in the 20th century. As with most composers, he went through something of an identity crisis as he tried to find his unique musical voice. We’d like to think of his life as a series of Building Blocks that led him to writing the music that you can hear in Building Blochs and Birkenstocks on Saturday 4 February at Fairfield Halls.


On 24 July 1880, Ernest Bloch was born in Geneva to Maurice and Sophie Bloch, both of whom were of Jewish heritage. The young Ernest was a keen musician, first picking up the violin aged 9 and starting to compose soon after. Ernest had a strong religious upbringing; Maurice had even intended to become a rabbi at one stage and this influence can be heard in his later music.

Ernest had a desire to travel and moved to Germany in 1903. During his Germanic years, he began his lifelong confrontation with issues of spirituality and religion. His compositional style up to this point spoke to post-romantic influences including Debussy, Mahler and Strauss but he began to break away from this from 1911-26. Commonly referred to as his ‘Jewish Cycle’ (although not titled this by the composer himself), the compositions in these years marked a turning point for the young composer and included Schelomo and ‘Prayer’.


The ‘Jewish Cycle’ put Ernest on the musical map, but the composer had his own feelings about how his music should be interpreted:

‘It is not my purpose, not my desire, to attempt a ‘reconstitution’ of Jewish music or to base my works on melodies more or less authentic. It is the Jewish soul that interests me…In my work termed Jewish…I have listened to an inner voice, deep, secret, insistent, ardent…a voice which seemed to come from far beyond myself, far beyond my parents…a voice which surged up in me upon reading certain passages in the Bible…This entire Jewish heritage moved me deeply; it was reborn in my music. To what extent it is Jewish or to what extent is it just Ernest Bloch, of that I know nothing. The future alone will decide.


Bloch is gaining more and more recognition as time goes on. He received acclaim, prizes and honour during his lifetime and his music was performed regularly. His best-known works are becoming popular with a whole host of orchestras, including us! You may not have known much about him before, but we hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit more about the man and his music.