Ernest Bloch (July 24, 1880 - July 15, 1959) was a Swiss-born American composer. Bloch was a pre-eminent artist in his day and left a lasting legacy. He is recognised as one of the greatest Swiss composers in history. 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.
Bloch was born in Geneva on July 24, 1880 to Jewish parents. 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 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 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 he was 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.
In 1941, Bloch moved to the small coastal community of Agate Beach, Oregon and lived there the rest of his life. He taught and lectured (mostly summers) at the University of California, Berkeley until 1951. In 1952 he is named "Professeur Eméritus de l'Université de Berkeley," even though he was not a full-time professor.
He died on July 15, 1959 in Portland, Oregon, of cancer at the age of 78. In keeping with a special tradition, 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.
Bloch's musical style does not fit easily into any of the usual categories; he studied variously with 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".
The music of Bloch uses a variety of contemporary harmonic devices. These are enumerated in Vincent Persichetti's book Twentieth Century Harmony. 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.
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).
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.
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.
Some of the pictures that Bloch took in his Swiss residence are visible online. The snapshots have been donated to the Archivio audiovisivo di Capriasca e Val Colla by the Associazione ricerche musicali nella Svizzera italiana.
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. 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 will be formally dedicated in 2018.