Transcript for the Piece Audio version of Ernest Bloch: The Man and His Music
INTRO: Swiss-born composer Ernest Bloch was first and foremost known around the world for his music, blending a variety of musical influences, including Jewish, Swiss, and Native American. In later years, Bloch lived on the Oregon coast, and was inspired by its natural beauty. Bloch’s works are still being performed to this day. Fans might not know that Bloch was also an avid amateur photographer. The Oregon Jewish Museum is showing an exhibit featuring forty of his black and white photographs. Stage & Studio's Tali Singer has this story
NARRATION: Photography is not art. At least that’s what Ernest Bloch once told famed photographer Alfred Stieglitz at a dinner in New York City.
ERIC JOHNSON: When Bloch comes to America, he comes from a Romantic tradition of music, Wagner, Debussy, this great expression of emotion, not willing to believe that a camera, even though he was an avid amateur photographer, a camera could be really vehicle for significant art.
NARRATION: That was Eric Johnson. He’s a professor of art and design at California Polytechnic State University. Johnson curated the exhibit at the Oregon Jewish Museum called Ernest Bloch: Framing a Vision of the World. The exhibit includes photos, music scores, personal letters, videos, and even his Underwood manual typewriter. There’s also a concert and some lectures to make a Bloch mini-festival. Talk to anyone who knows a thing or two about Ernest Bloch, and they’ll tell you this story. That includes Bloch’s grandson, Ernie Bloch.
ERNIE BLOCH: And so one day, Stieglitz said to Bloch, “We’re going to go out and we’re going to take some pictures. And then we’re going to come back and we’re going to print them.” And so they did. And they got back to the laboratory and they printed them out, and they had both taken pictures of the same thing. And Stieglitz said to Bloch, what do you think of the two pictures? And Bloch says, “Well yours is better,” and he says “that’s because you don’t have any self confidence.” And what Stieglitz was trying to do was to was to say you could have two different photographs by two different people that would look different, and each one was a piece of art.
FADE UP AND UNDER: SCHELOMO
NARRATOR: Ernest Bloch was Jewish, although he was ambivalent about religious observance. Still, being Jewish had a profound influence on his music. He composed several works based on Jewish prayers and on Biblical history. This work is called Schelomo. That’s Hebrew for “Solomon”. In this particular recording, from 1949, Bloch was conducting the London Philharmonic.
CROSS FADE WITH AMERICA.
NARRATOR: Bloch first came to America in 1916, and moved with his family here the following year. He became a US citizen in 1924.
ERNIE BLOCH: He came, and immediately his music became quite popular, quite well known.
NARRATOR: Bloch spent time in New York, Cleveland, and San Francisco.
ERNIE BLOCH: But he disliked living in the cities. He still felt he wasn’t really where we wanted to be to do what he thought his mission in life was, and that was to compose the music that was inside him.
NARRATOR: Bloch spent most of the 1930s composing back in Europe. But as the Nazis became increasingly powerful, Ernest Bloch feared for his safety. He returned to the United States permanently in 1939. In 1941, he settled in Agate Beach, Oregon, where he lived until his death from cancer in July 1959, not long before his 79th birthday. Ernie Bloch remembers how much his grandfather loved the Oregon coast.
FADE UP AND UNDER MUSIC: SUITE MODALE
ERNIE BLOCH: He was absolutely blown away by the scenic beauty of the Oregon coast. His letters to his family clearly said, “I have found my last place.” My parents, after he died, used a quote for a plaque that was put on a rock near the house from a poem of Walt Whitman. And it was inscribed with “Give me peace, give me nature, and give me solitude.”
NARRATOR: More than half a century after his death, Ernest Bloch’s work is still performed around the world, everywhere from China to the Oregon Coast. But now visitors to the Oregon Jewish Museum can see another side of Bloch.
NARRATOR: At the opening reception, museum visitors fill the main room of the exhibit. Museum Director Judith Margles.
FADE UP AND UNDER: MUSEUM AMBI
JUDY MARGLES: This exhibit has just provided us with a wonderful opportunity to feature an artist who is known as a composer, and to really show this other side of him, which is a photographer.
NARRATOR: Margles points to one of her favorite photos—a shot of Bloch’s children.
JUDY MARGLES: There’s a photo on the wall that just shows the three children holding hands, the back of them, in Switzerland, walking down a path. There’s a lot of love in that photo. He wasn’t just taking a photograph of three children, he was taking his children. And I think that the photo really reveals his love for his family.
NARRATOR: Two friends, Elaine Savinar and Harriet Bodner have long admired Ernest Bloch.
ELAINE SAVINAR: I think his photography and particularly his self-portraits are so interesting. This is a wonderful show.
HARRIET BODNER: This is one of the most exciting exhibits that they’ve produced. And we’re just thrilled to be here on opening night.
ERNIE BLOCH: Here’s the whole thing with trees, and you can see, this one is Bloch’s image of Bach.
NARRATOR: Ernie Bloch looks around the exhibit for the first time.
ERNIE BLOCH: This one of Beethoven. So you’re going from the very light and delicate to much more substantial. And the next one is that of Mozart. And finally we have the image of Debussy, to contrast with the other ones. This is good.
CROSS-FADE AMBI AND MUSIC (CONCERTO GROSSO 2nd Movement)
ERNIE BLOCH: I’ve always thought of Bloch and his legacy being Ernest Bloch: the man and his music. Because he was more than just a composer.
RON BLESSINGER: This project was an opportunity to learn more about Bloch, learn about where he was coming from in his life, how his life experience was informing his music, and how the pictures kind of completed the puzzle.
NARRATOR: Ron Blessinger is a violinist for the Oregon Symphony and the artistic director of Third Angle Ensemble in Portland. The Oregon Jewish Museum invited Third Angle to perform Bloch’s work in three multimedia concerts in the museum’s intimate auditorium. Blessinger says learning how to play Bloch’s music is hard work.
RON BLESSINGER: But I have to say, the stories of Bloch’s tenacity and his strength of character really give me the first clue about how to approach it and what kind of attitude and what kind of posture that I’m trying to assume as I’m playing the piece. My approach has to be the same way, of someone who has lived through a lot, has seen a lot, and understands the world in a very wise and experienced way, and is telling an epic tale. If you will, that’s the character that I think we’re trying to take on when we play his pieces.
NARRATOR: Ernie Bloch says one reason his grandfather's music lives on is because of the emotional impact it had on people.
ERNIE BLOCH: When I think of him and the effect he has on individuals, everybody has a different opinion, a different feeling, a different sense, and that’s really what music is about. It is supposed to be something that you not only hear, but you feel. And his music obviously has that capacity. That’s what makes his music continue to be heard today. It’s what it does to people when they hear it.
NARRATION: For Stage and Studio, I’m Tali Singer.Back