Ernest Bloch
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Ernest Bloch is best known for his composition Schelomo for cello and large orchestra but he wrote a ton of music for “large orchestra.” We take an esoteric look at his Avodath Hakodesh: Sacred Service for Sabbath Morning, written for orchestra and chorus.


Avodath Hakodesh (Sacred Service)

Composer, Ernest Bloch (24 July 1880–15 July 1959); orchestra, New York Philharmonic

Composer, Ernest Bloch (24 July 1880–15 July 1959); orchestra, New York Philharmonic

The piece was completed in 1933 and flows between massive hyper-emotional segments interspersed with delicate gauze-like textures in the orchestra and chorus. The 1930s were the era of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. Sacred Service is not in that tradition but rather forges its own identity — as did Bartok and Stravinsky.

There is a spiritual element to Bloch’s music that is grounded in the Jewish culture but often exceeds the confines of a specific tradition. Bloch’s intention with Sacred Service was not to be exclusively Jewish but to provide a piece for all who seek to worship.

Bloch was born in Switzerland in 1880 and immigrated to the United States in 1916. Bloch was associated with several conservatories in the U.S. He was the first director of the Cleveland Institute of Music and the second director of the San Francisco Conservatory. He taught part time at U.C. Berkeley until 1952 after moving to Agate Beach, Oregon, in 1941.

Sacred Service is a glorious piece of music. I would welcome the opportunity to hear it performed live. Of course, when and where that might occur is a mystery. The recording here is by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.

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