Born in Switzerland in 1880, Ernest Bloch emigrated to the U.S. in 1916 with his wife and three children, after studying music in Belgium, Germany, and France. Working as a teacher and director of music schools, he became a U.S. citizen in 1924.
He did move back to Switzerland in the 1930s, returning to America in 1939 upon the outbreak of war. Many of his works reflected his Jewish heritage.
Inspired by his arrival in New York Harbor, Bloch composed America, An Epic Rhapsody in the mid-1920s. The three parts cover American history from Native Americans until what was Bloch’s present day. As part of Passport to America: The Immigrant Story, the Cape Symphony will perform Part III, entitled “1926,” which has two movements, “The Present” and “The Future.”
In 1927, Bloch submitted America, An Epic Rhapsody to the magazine Musical America, which was holding a contest with the goal of uncovering the best American symphonic work. Sitting in judgement for the contest were the greatest conductors of the age: Walter Damrosch of the New York Symphony, Serge Koussevitzky of the Boston Symphony, Leopold Stokowski of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Frederick Stock of the Chicago Symphony, and Alfred Hertz of the San Francisco Symphony.
Bloch was unanimously awarded the $3,000 prize. In late 1928, prominent orchestras in San Francisco, Ann Arbor, Providence, New York, Cincinnati, and Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Cleveland performed America, An Epic Rhapsody, elevating Bloch’s status and fame.
"This Symphony has been written in love for this country in reverence to its Past – In faith in its Future. It is dedicated to the memory of Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman whose vision has upheld its inspiration. The ideals of America are imperishable. They embody the future credo of all mankind: a Union, in common purpose and under willingly accepted guidance, of widely diversified races, ultimately to become one race, strong and great.”
In 1941, Bloch moved to a coastal community outside Portland, Oregon, and was one of Oregon’s most prominent citizens for the rest of his life.
The Chatham Chorale will join the Cape Symphony for this beautiful piece on September 22 and 23. For more information about Passport to America: The Immigrant Story or to buy tickets, visit capesymphony.org or call 508-362-1111.