Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ida Haendel: Ernest Bloch's Baal Shem 'Nigun'

Ida Haendel performs Ernest Bloch’s Baal Shem (Nigun), the second piece from the “Three Pictures of Chassidic Life” at the Great Synagogue (Plzeň Velká Synagoga ) at Pilsen, Czech Republic, on September 17, 2009. The pianist is Misha Dacic. 


Ernest Bloch [1880-1959], the Swiss-born composer, married Marguerite Schneider, a young German music student, in 1904. They had three children: Ivan in 1905, Suzanne in 1907, and Lucienne in 1909. When the English dancer Maude Allan hired him to lead the orchestra for her American tour, Bloch left for the United States from Liverpool, England, arriving in New York City after an eight-day boat ride on July 30, 1916.

On June 7, 1917, Bloch returned briefly to Europe for a vacation in Switzerland and his beloved mountains. He then emigrated with his wife, son and two daughters to New York City on October 19, 1917. He became an American citizen in 1924. Bloch completed his Baal Shem Suite, "Three Pictures of Chassidic Life," while he was director at the Cleveland Institute of Music (1920-1925), in  Cleveland, Ohio, 1923. As Michael Jameson writes:
[T]he triptych Baal Shem belongs to a distinctive and unmistakable genus of pieces, in which Bloch's personal voice was now powerfully established as being "Jewish" in utterance above all else. But as the critic Erik Levi suggests, it is important to remember that "Bloch's Jewishness derived from an inner impulse, not through a conscious absorption of Hebraic folk elements." To this we could also add Bloch's own assertion: "it is neither my purpose nor desire to attempt a reconstruction of Jewish music, nor to base my work on more or less authentic melodies...I am not an archaeologist; for me the most important thing is to write good and sincere music."
The suite is composed of Vidui (contrition), Nigun (prayer), and Simchas Torah (rejoicing). The Nigun, as played here, is full of emotion and gives rise to all the hopes, dreams, sorrows, and happiness of the Jewish people. Ida Haendel, who turns 83 today, plays the piece beautifully; you can enjoy the performance here.

Ernest Bloch [1880-1959]: Standing with three children.
Photo Credit: Bain News Service; taken between 1910 and 1930.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Div.

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