Ernest Bloch

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

The programme of music by this well known Swiss composer given at Queen’s Hall on February 12th confirmed the impression given by his Israel Symphony, when performed under Sir Henry Wood, that Bloch is a big-scale orchestral composer of rare dimension. Had Bloch been born of another faith a few centuries earlier, he would assuredly have found an outlet for his genius in some monastery, illustrating missals, or spent his time (like Georg Riedel of Konigsberg)2 setting the books of the New Testament to music. His sense of colour, facility of invention and mastery of the composer’s technique are singularly complete and expert; while his individual orchestral fancy glows with warmth and richness, reminding us of Karl Goldmark.

Bloch played works at this concert dating from 1904 to 1930. Even the early works, written when he was but twentyfour, give an impression of maturity of style and expertness of writing as distinguished as the more recently written works. The opening pieces, Winter Spring and the concluding symphony Helvetia, are derived from Nature. Bloch’s genius was more clearly apparent when inspired by his Jewish faith. It was only necessary to listen to the two Psalms for soprano and orchestra - sung with splendid fervour by Tatiana Makushina - and the long Hebrew Rhapsody (Solomon)3 for cello solo and orchestra - the solo part magnificently played by Maurice Eisenberg - to realise how devoutly Ernest Bloch regards his faith. The London Philharmonic Orchestra responded to the composer by continuously magnificent playing.

  1. Riedel (1676—1738) is notable for having set all the Psalms, the whole of St Matthew’s Gospel, and the whole of the Book of Revelations to music. No Baroque scholar seems yet to have had the stamina to revive these works. ↩︎

  2. Solomon is the work better known in latter years as Schelomo. Hiver-printemps is a pair of symphonic poems from 1905; the 2 Psalms date from 1912—14; and Helvetia begun in 1900, was not completed until 1929. ↩︎


Musical opinion, March 1934, p. 528