Bloch: Concerto Grosso No. 1 for Strings and Piano Obbligato

Bloch was not an incredibly prolific composer, but one must admit that his creations are quite well-conceived and highly expres­sive. He was perhaps more impor­tant as a music educator, and from 1917 until 1930 he taught at the Mannes School in New York, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. As a commentator on music, he expounded a firm belief which is ultimately illustrated in his compo­sitions, that art must emanate from life rather than being produced as an intellectual exercise. In 1917, he wrote an article titled "Man and Music," and several of his ideas seem just as pertinent to the artistic atmosphere of today as they did in the first decades of this century. In remarks that describe the new aesthetic of originality at all costs that arose at the end of the First World War, he says that for the artists, musicians and critics, "an intellectual barrier exists between their emotion and work—a sort of sensory perversion that twists their thoughts, inhibits their inspiration, and warps their taste. They are forever thinking of the development of their art, not as the corollary of a logical growth of thought, not as a spontaneous expression of life, but as a thing-in­itself, apart from life. And the truth is that they neither understand nor are they interested in anything so much as the elaboration of their technique.

True to his beliefs, Bloch's musical works are a proclamation of his humanity rather than his mental powers, even in such a neo-classic work as the Concerto Grosso No. 1. It was composed in 1925 and given its debut performance in June of that year at a concert that marked the composer's final appearance with the Cleveland Institute. Since then, the Concerto has distin­guished itself as Bloch's most popular work.

While the composition is inspired by the instrumental style of the mid­18th century, its harmonic language is clearly modern. For the most part, the music does not conform to the standard of the Baroque concerto grosso, that of dividing the instru­ments into a small ensemble which is pitted against the tutti forces.

The Prelude is the shortest of the four movements, and its stern grandeur is underlined by the word pesante (heavy) in the tempo indica­tion. As demonstrated in this section, the piano merely plays an obbligato role and rarely dominates the score as in a keyboard concerto.

The Dirge conveys the deepest and greatest variety of emotions in the entire concerto. Throughout much of the movement, the dynam­ics are fairly quiet, but beneath the apparent serenity seethes a great tragic tension that is only occasion­ally allowed to surge forth. In the Dirge's most sublime moment, a ripieno group consisting of a string sextet and piano steps forward to assume control.

In the third movement, the warmly-colored Pastorale sections alternate with the exuberant Rustic Dances in which Bloch adapts some of the dances indigenous to his native Switzerland.

Bloch's tribute to the Baroque era ends with an animated Fugue whose subject is first distributed to the entire ensemble. In contrasting episodes, a gentle countersubject is announced by solo instruments. As the drama builds toward the end, the theme of the Prelude makes an unexpected but quite appropriate appearance. Return to classroom second floor..

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