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"Break Forth in Melody & Song":
Ernest Bloch

(1880 - 1959)


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Ernest Bloch recalled:

For years I had a number of sketches for the Book of Ecclesiastes which I had wanted to set to music, but the French language was not adaptable to my rhythmic patterns. Nor was German or English, and I hadn't a good enough command of Hebrew. Thus the sketches accumulated and ... lay dormant.

Eventually the sketches were turned into the Schelomo: Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra. The Library recently acquired the complete autograph score of the work, on whose title page is: "Schelomo Rhapsodie hébraïque pour Violincelle Solo et Grand Orchestre par Ernest Bloch Partition ... Pour Alexandre et Catherine Barjansky." At the end of the sixtythree-page manuscript, with erasures, corrections, and alterations in pencil and blue, black, and brown crayon, the composer inscribed: "Ernest Bloch Janvier-Febrier 1916 Geneve."

Bloch was thirty-six years old when he completed his masterpiece in his native city. Later his work took him to the United States, to France, and back to America. A good portion of his oeuvre was on Jewish themes, among them Trois Poemes Juifs (1913), the Israel Symphony (1916), and Avodath Hakodesh ("Sacred Service") (1933).

Bloch recalled how he turned sketches which lay dormant into the Schelomo:

One day I met the cellist Alexander Barjansky and his wife.... I played my manuscript scores for them, Hebrew Poems, Israel and the Psalms, all of them unpublished and about which nobody cared. The Barjanskys were profoundly moved ... Finally in my terrible loneliness, I had found true and warm friends. My hopes were reborn, and also the desire to write a work for this marvellous cellist. Why shouldn't I use for my Ecclesiastes-instead of a singer limited in range, a voice vaster and deeper than any spoken language-his cello? ... The Ecclesiastes was completed in a few weeks, and since legends attribute this book to King Solomon, I named it Schelomo.


Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, (DC: Library of Congress, 1991).

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