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Is Ernest Bloch a Swiss composer or American composer?


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Author Topic: Is Ernest Bloch a Swiss composer or American composer?  (Read 452 times)
dhibbard
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« on: December 04, 2016, 12:05:54 am »

I know this may be a dumb question, but there was a heated discussion about this on another forum. 
Since he finally became an American citizen, I say he is an American composer and not a Swiss composer.
What do you say?

Here is his bio from wiki:




Bloch was born in Geneva on July 24, 1880 to Jewish parents.[2] 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 Eugčne Ysa˙e. He then travelled 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 American citizenship in 1924.

He held several teaching appointments in the U.S., 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 he was director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music until 1930.

In 1941, Bloch moved to the small coastal community of Agate Beach, Oregon[4] and lived there the rest of his life. He taught and lectured at the University of California, Berkeley until 1952.

He died on July 15, 1959 in Portland, Oregon, at the age of 78. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered near his home in Agate Beach.
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Gauk
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« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2016, 06:19:09 pm »

Then you would have to consider Arnold Schoenberg (inter alia) as an American composer, which I don't think many people would. And Igor Stravinsky!
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2016, 08:35:26 pm »

We have discussed this issue quite often on here. It frequently causes some disagreement.

My own rough rule of thumb is to consider the individual composer, to take into account how much of his life was spent in his country of birth and how much in his adopted country, but also take into account his own perception of his nationality. Stravinsky, I am sure, continued to consider himself as a Russian long after he had left his country of birth.
Although-to pick an example-Malcolm Williamson settled in the UK from 1950 when he was 19 years old he certainly continued to count himself an Australian. But Arthur Benjamin is a slightly more difficult case. He arrived in the UK in 1911 aged 18, returned briefly to Australia between 1919 and 1921, and lived and worked in Canada during World War One.

I think of Bloch as Swiss but he appears in a book on American Romantic Composers.
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relm1
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« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2016, 01:46:31 am »

Then you would have to consider Arnold Schoenberg (inter alia) as an American composer, which I don't think many people would. And Igor Stravinsky!

And Rachmaninoff. 
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Amphissa
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« Reply #4 on: December 11, 2016, 11:54:05 pm »

I've always tried to consider a composer in the context of his work, rather than the country of birth, as many of them immigrated for various reasons.

Bloch wrote only a small number of pieces before arriving in the U.S. Almost all of his adult life was spent in the U.S. as an American citizen. The vast majority of his opus was penned and published in the U.S. and pretty much all of his professional activity took place in the U.S.

So I would personally consider him a Swiss born American composer.

More complicated is Gian Carlo Menotti, who was Samuel Barber's partner in life. He called himself an American composer, lived almost all his life in the U.S., and composed in the U.S. But he remained an Italian citizen, died at a home he owned in Monaco and was buried in Scotland!
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relm1
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« Reply #5 on: December 12, 2016, 12:45:05 am »

I've always tried to consider a composer in the context of his work, rather than the country of birth, as many of them immigrated for various reasons.

Bloch wrote only a small number of pieces before arriving in the U.S. Almost all of his adult life was spent in the U.S. as an American citizen. The vast majority of his opus was penned and published in the U.S. and pretty much all of his professional activity took place in the U.S.

So I would personally consider him a Swiss born American composer.

More complicated is Gian Carlo Menotti, who was Samuel Barber's partner in life. He called himself an American composer, lived almost all his life in the U.S., and composed in the U.S. But he remained an Italian citizen, died at a home he owned in Monaco and was buried in Scotland!


What would you say of Bax?  English or Irish where his spirit belonged?  How about Rachmaninoff who spent much of his life in the US though his heart was very clearly Russian?  Schnittke...Russian or German?
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« Reply #6 on: December 12, 2016, 12:16:11 pm »

Whichever criteria one attempts to use difficulties occur.

It is usually taken for granted that Iain Hamilton was a Scottish composer. He was born in Glasgow but his family moved to London when he was seven. Hamilton was educated in London, was based there until he moved to Duke University, North Carolina in the early 1960s, settled in New York but returned to London where he died in 2000. Hamilton is "only" Scottish by birth although the BBC certainly seemed to regard him as Scottish. William Wordsworth was born in England, moved permanently to Scotland when he was 53, settled in Invernessshire and remained there until his death in 1988. The BBC in Scotland treated him as, at least, an "honorary Scot".
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autoharp
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« Reply #7 on: December 12, 2016, 06:30:51 pm »

Whichever criteria one attempts to use difficulties occur.

I regard Bloch as Swiss: Varese, Carlos Salzedo and Dane Rudhyar as American for no better reason that their music seems more readily linked to that of the so-called American "Pioneers" (Ives, Ruggles, Cowell, Crawford et al) than European models. Doesn't really make sense, I suppose.

Added to which, someone will point out that Bloch has a connection with both Ornstein (love of octatonicism) and Antheil whom he taught: compare the beginning of Bloch's 1st violin sonata with early 1920s Antheil . . .

At least the way Stern plays it . . .

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Amphissa
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« Reply #8 on: December 12, 2016, 11:42:58 pm »

What would you say of Bax?  English or Irish where his spirit belonged?  How about Rachmaninoff who spent much of his life in the US though his heart was very clearly Russian?  Schnittke...Russian or German?

Rachmaninoff is another difficult one. He did live in the U.S. most of his adult life. He is buried in the U.S., alongside his wife. He missed the life and culture he was raised in as a youth in Russia, but all that was lost in the Revolution and he vowed he would never return, even when he was asked to return later in life. The compositions he wrote after emigrating to the U.S. were not insignificant -- Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Symphony No, 3, the Symphonic Dances, Piano Concerto No. 4, Variations on a Theme of Corelli.

However, he did not become an American citizen until shortly before his death. And his most acclaimed and influential works, which established him among the great composers of Romantic era music, were completed or drafted before he left Russia.

So, consistent with my personal inclination to think of composers in the context of their works, as much as I would love to claim him as American, I think of Rachmaninoff as a Russian composer who lived in America.
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relm1
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« Reply #9 on: December 13, 2016, 01:02:42 am »

What would you say of Bax?  English or Irish where his spirit belonged?  How about Rachmaninoff who spent much of his life in the US though his heart was very clearly Russian?  Schnittke...Russian or German?

Rachmaninoff is another difficult one. He did live in the U.S. most of his adult life. He is buried in the U.S., alongside his wife. He missed the life and culture he was raised in as a youth in Russia, but all that was lost in the Revolution and he vowed he would never return, even when he was asked to return later in life. The compositions he wrote after emigrating to the U.S. were not insignificant -- Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Symphony No, 3, the Symphonic Dances, Piano Concerto No. 4, Variations on a Theme of Corelli.

However, he did not become an American citizen until shortly before his death. And his most acclaimed and influential works, which established him among the great composers of Romantic era music, were completed or drafted before he left Russia.

So, consistent with my personal inclination to think of composers in the context of their works, as much as I would love to claim him as American, I think of Rachmaninoff as a Russian composer who lived in America.


This is debatable: "And his most acclaimed and influential works, which established him among the great composers of Romantic era music, were completed or drafted before he left Russia."  Some would say his mature works are masterpieces whereas his early works are derivative (though finely composed).
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #10 on: December 13, 2016, 03:50:19 am »

but all that was lost in the Revolution and he vowed he would never return

This may have been one factor. Another is that he had recently married his own cousin - a breach of the law which put the couple at risk of arrest. (Such a marriage needed a Consent Letter from the Tsar's Office, as they were well aware - which is why they bribed a drunken priest in an outlying suburb of Moscow to marry them. Technically neither was a resident of that parish, and so Rachmaninoff rented a room nearby, without intending to use it - so that he could claim to be a parishioner).

In hindsight, it's very probably that his life would have become difficult if he had not emigrated - but he couldn't have known that for certain in 1917. Unable to find as many commissions as he hoped - and sought out as a solo pianist to play the Prelude he came to detest - it can't be said that his creative life in America was a complete fulfilment of his ambitions either.
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Amphissa
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« Reply #11 on: December 14, 2016, 06:04:28 am »


This is debatable: "And his most acclaimed and influential works, which established him among the great composers of Romantic era music, were completed or drafted before he left Russia."  Some would say his mature works are masterpieces whereas his early works are derivative (though finely composed).

Well, some might say that. I doubt that the vast majority of classical music listeners would say that. His reputation, popularity and influence were already well established by the time he got round to writing the Paganini Variations, the Symphonic Dances and his 3rd symphony.



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Gauk
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« Reply #12 on: December 14, 2016, 08:19:25 am »


This is debatable: "And his most acclaimed and influential works, which established him among the great composers of Romantic era music, were completed or drafted before he left Russia."  Some would say his mature works are masterpieces whereas his early works are derivative (though finely composed).

Well, some might say that. I doubt that the vast majority of classical music listeners would say that. His reputation, popularity and influence were already well established by the time he got round to writing the Paganini Variations, the Symphonic Dances and his 3rd symphony.


His most popular works are the 2nd and 3rd concertos, and the 2nd symphony. The 3rd symphony is the least performed of the three, and the 4th piano concerto is hardly ever played. Towards the end of his life, he regarded himself as "written out".
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ahinton
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« Reply #13 on: December 14, 2016, 09:17:11 am »


This is debatable: "And his most acclaimed and influential works, which established him among the great composers of Romantic era music, were completed or drafted before he left Russia."  Some would say his mature works are masterpieces whereas his early works are derivative (though finely composed).

Well, some might say that. I doubt that the vast majority of classical music listeners would say that. His reputation, popularity and influence were already well established by the time he got round to writing the Paganini Variations, the Symphonic Dances and his 3rd symphony.

His most popular works are the 2nd and 3rd concertos, and the 2nd symphony. The 3rd symphony is the least performed of the three, and the 4th piano concerto is hardly ever played. Towards the end of his life, he regarded himself as "written out".

And yet, although he was writing far fewer works by then because he was spending most of his time as a pianist, he was anything but, as the Symphonic Dances alone demonstrate to perfection; interesting, though, that his leaving Russia meant no more songs...

Schönberg/Schoenberg said that he wished to be remembered not as a 12-tone composer but as a 12-tone composer, mindful of which I respond in this thread not as a Scottish composer but as a Scottish composer.

But of course this isn't principally about Rachmaninoff, Schönberg/Schoenberg or Scottish composers but about Bloch, whom some might describe as a Jewish composer, perhaps more often than Alkan is described as such (although at least there's no doubting that he was French)...
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« Reply #14 on: December 14, 2016, 02:35:21 pm »

Quote
and the 4th piano concerto is hardly ever played

The Concerto Symphonique for piano & orchestra (1948) is rather good IMHO. It deserves to be better known.
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