Today, the Geneva-born composer Ernest Bloch is primarily known for the neo-romantic cello rhapsody “Schelomo,” which has been performed by nearly every major cellist. His relative obscurity today belies his tremendous impact on American classical music as both a teacher and composer.
Bloch wrote “Schelomo,” inspired by the story of King Solomon, in 1915-1916, at a time when he was interested in Jewish themes and often incorporated biblical elements into his compositions. One item in Leo Baeck Institute’s sheet music collection, a rare print of his 1913 Psalms for voice and orchestra, also comes from this period.
Though Bloch has said he was more interested in spiritual aspects of Judaism than Jewish folk or liturgical music, a postcard in the LBI archives shows him corresponding with the writer, cantor, and anthologist of synagogue music Arno Nadel.
In 1916, Bloch moved to the United States, where he directed a touring version of the controversial dancer Maude Allan’s ballet, “Noir the Slave.” As a teacher at the David Mannes School in New York and then as Director of the Institute of Music in Cleveland, Bloch had a major impact on the careers of students who went on to play a significant role in 20th century American Music, including Roger Sessions, George Antheil, Quincy Porter, and Mark Brunswick.