Ernest Bloch

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Bloch in 1917

Ernest Bloch (July 24, 1880 – July 15, 1959) was a Swiss-born American composer.[1] Bloch was a preeminent artist in his day, and left a lasting legacy. He is recognized as one of the greatest Swiss composers in history.[2] As well as producing musical scores, Bloch had an academic career that culminated in his recognition as Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley in 1952.[3]


Bloch was born in Geneva on July 24, 1880 to Jewish parents.[4] He began playing the violin at age 9. He began composing soon after. He studied music at the conservatory in Brussels, where his teachers included the celebrated Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. He then traveled around Europe, moving to Germany (where he studied composition from 1900–1901 with Iwan Knorr at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt), on to Paris in 1903 and back to Geneva before settling in the United States in 1916, taking US citizenship in 1924. He held several teaching appointments in the US with George Antheil, Frederick Jacobi, Quincy Porter, Bernard Rogers, and Roger Sessions among his pupils. See: List of music students by teacher: A to B#Ernest Bloch.

In 1917, Bloch became the first teacher of composition at Mannes School of Music, a post he held for three years. In December 1920 he was appointed the first Musical Director of the newly formed Cleveland Institute of Music, a post he held until 1925. Following this his lover Ada Clement[5] appointed him as the director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music until 1930. He spent most of the following decade in Switzerland where he composed his Avodath Hakodesh ("Sacred Service") before returning to the US in 1939.[6]

In 1941, Bloch moved to the small coastal community of Agate Beach, Oregon[7] and lived there the rest of his life. In 1947 he was among the founders of the Music Academy of the West summer conservatory.[8] He taught and lectured (mostly summers) at the University of California, Berkeley until 1951. In 1952 he was named "Professeur Eméritus de l'Université de Berkeley," even though he was not a full-time professor. He composed "In Memoriam" that year after the death of Ada Clement.[5]

He died on July 15, 1959 in Portland, Oregon, of cancer at the age of 78.[1] In keeping with a special tradition, his daughter, Lucienne Bloch, and her husband, Steve Dimitroff, prepared several death masks of Ernest Bloch. This once-common practice was usually undertaken to create a memento or portrait of the deceased, but it is unusual for an immediate family member to make the death mask. The Center for Creative Photography and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music each have a copy of Bloch's death mask. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered near his home in Agate Beach.[9]


Bloch's musical style does not fit easily into any of the usual categories. He studied variously with Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, Iwan Knorr and Ludwig Thuille, as well as corresponding with Mahler and meeting Debussy. Many of his works - as can be seen from their Hebrew-inspired titles - also draw heavily on his Jewish heritage. Bloch's father had at one stage intended to become a rabbi, and the young Ernest had a strong religious upbringing; as an adult he felt that to write music that expressed his Jewish identity was "the only way in which I can produce music of vitality and significance".[10]

The music of Bloch uses a variety of contemporary harmonic devices. These are enumerated in Vincent Persichetti’s book Twentieth Century Harmony.[11] According to Persichetti, these include the use of the Dorian mode and of harmony with extensive alterations in his Concerto Grosso No. 1, tone clusters in his Piano Sonata No. 1, the percussive use of harmony, as well as serial harmony, in his Piano Quintet.


Ernest Bloch with his children Suzanne, Ivan and Lucienne.

Ernest Bloch and his wife Marguerite Schneider (1881–1963) had three children: Ivan, Suzanne and Lucienne.

Ivan, born in 1905, became an engineer with the Bonneville Power Administration in Portland, Oregon.

Suzanne Bloch, born in 1907, was a musician particularly interested in Renaissance music who taught harpsichord, lute and composition at the Juilliard School in New York.

Lucienne Bloch, born in 1909, worked as Diego Rivera's chief photographer on the Rockefeller Center mural project, became friends with Rivera's wife, the artist Frida Kahlo, and took some key photos of Kahlo and the only photographs of Rivera's mural (which was destroyed because Lenin was depicted in it).


The Western Jewish History Center,[12] of the Judah L. Magnes Museum, in Berkeley, California has a small collection of photographs taken by Ernest Bloch which document his interest in photography.

Bloch's photography was discovered by Eric B. Johnson in 1970. With the encouragement of Bloch's children, Johnson edited and printed hundreds of his photographs.[13]

Many of the photographs Bloch took—over 6,000 negatives and 2,000 prints many printed by Eric Johnson from the original negatives—are in the Ernest Bloch Archive at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson along with photographs by the likes of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Richard Avedon.[14]

Some of the pictures that Bloch took in his Swiss residence are visible online.[15] The snapshots have been donated to the Archivio audiovisivo di Capriasca e Val Colla by the Associazione ricerche musicali nella Svizzera italiana.


Ernest Bloch House
Nearest cityAgate Beach, Oregon
NRHP reference No.09000049 [16]
Added to NRHPFebruary 9, 2009

Ernest Bloch's home in Agate Beach was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 9, 2009. The Bloch Memorial, which was dedicated by Oregon Governor Bob Straub with Ernest Bloch's three children at his side on April 10, 1976, was moved from near his house in Agate Beach to a more prominent location in front of the Newport Performing Arts Center in Newport, Oregon.[17] In 2009, the City of Newport City Council designated a street in Newport as Ernest Bloch Place. In 2016, the Oregon Department of Transportation Board of Commissioners officially designated the Ernest Bloch Memorial Wayside in the area of Agate Beach where the original Ernest Bloch Memorial was dedicated in 1976. The Ernest Bloch Memorial Wayside and Monument was formally dedicated in 2018.[18]


  1. ^ a b "Ernest Bloch, 78, Composer, Is Dead. Creator of 'Schelomo' Wrote in Terms of Jewish Spirit. Used Bible Themes. Cited By Music Critics. Won Two Awards in 1953. Conducted Premiere of His 'Sacred Service' Here". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-11-27.
  2. ^ "Lists: Rankings About Everything, Voted On By Everyone". Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  3. ^ "Ernest Bloch Honored". 12 October 2009. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  4. ^ "Pittsburgh Post Gazette". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. June 1, 2009.
  5. ^ a b Knapp, Alexander; Solomon, Norman (2017-01-05). Ernest Bloch Studies. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781316683996.
  6. ^ Ginell, Richard S. (June 17, 2013). "Los Angeles Times".
  7. ^ "Bloch Festival Program" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 April 2012. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  8. ^ Greenberg, Robert (26 August 2019). "Music History Monday: Lotte Lehmann". Archived from the original on 7 February 2020. Retrieved 7 February 2020.
  9. ^ "Ernest Bloch". Find a Grave.
  10. ^ Gdal Salesky, Famous Musicians of a Wandering Race (New York, 1927), quoted in Nigel Simeone's notes to Hyperion Records CD CDA68155 (2017)
  11. ^ Persichetti, Vincent (1961). Twentieth Century Harmony. W. W. Norton and Co. ISBN 978-0-393-09539-5.
  12. ^ "Western Jewish History Center -- The Magnes". Western Jewish History Center, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, University of California, Berkeley. 14 June 2006. Archived from the original on 14 June 2006. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  13. ^ "Eric B. Johnson Photography - Fine Art Photography Exploring Cultural Commentary, Internal States of Mind and Poetic Expression". Eric B. Johnson Photography. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  14. ^ "Ernest Bloch Project - Preserving the Legacy of Composer Ernest Bloch (1880-1959)". Archived from the original on 2007-08-07. Retrieved 2021-11-05.
  15. ^ "ACVC Autore". Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  16. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
  17. ^ "Ernest Bloch Project". Archived from the original on 2007-08-07.
  18. ^ "Singing composer Ernest Bloch's praises in Newport". 18 July 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ernest Bloch: Composer in Nature's University by Nancy Steinberg. Oregon Coastal Council for the Arts. July, 2006; Edited by Frank Geltner and members of Bloch family, 2007, 2008; Edited by Frank Geltner, Alexander Knapp, and members of the Bloch family, 2013.
  • Strassburg, Robert. Ernest Bloch: Voice In the Wilderness, California State University & Trident Shop, Los Angeles, 1977 ASIN #B001LO4X86
  • Grove, Gregory Alan. The Life and Music of Ernest Bloch. Thesis (M.A.), San José State University, 1976). San Jose, Calif. San Jose State University, Department of Music 1976.
  • Eric B. Johnson prepared Ernest Bloch: A Composer's Vision for an independent study thesis at the University of Oregon in 1971. Johnson researched, edited and printed many of Bloch's photographs. 40 of these prints from Bloch's negatives are now in the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson AZ along with the entire collection of his negatives and prints. Johnson is currently Professor of Art and Design at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo Ca. An account of his discovery and many of Bloch's images can be found on his website. []
  • Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers, by Walter Simmons. (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004) ISBN 978-0-8108-5728-5
  • Kushner, David Z. The Ernest Bloch Companion, (Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, 2002) ISBN 978-0-313-27905-8
  • Kintner, Helen Johnston. The Ernest Bloch I Knew (Published by Helen Johnston Kinter, June 2009) ISBN 978-0-9743356-3-6
  • Werlin, Joella. Suzanne Bloch: Recollections (Familore, Portland, Oregon, 2007) ISBN 974356-2-2
  • Bloch, Suzanne. Ernest Bloch: Creative Spirit: A Program Source Book (Jewish Music Council of the National Jewish Welfare Board, 1976.
  • Johnson, Eric B. A Composer's Vision (Aperture 16:3, Millerton, New York, 1972)

External links[edit]