Ernest Bloch Studies Review

by Mark Glanville, edited by Alexander Knapp and Norman Solomon

Ernest Bloch, who was born in Switzerland in 1880 to a Jewish family but spent most of his adult life in America, was the prototypical “citizen of nowhere”. “In Switzerland,” he lamented, “they say I am a Swiss renegade – in America: a Swiss expatriate who steals the prizes from our native composers… in Germany, I am a ‘Frenchman’ because I fought for Debussy! – in France, I am a ‘German’ because I defended G. Mahler – and now… the Jews put me ‘out’, saying I am not a ‘Jew’ … where must I go to live and to belong(!) … the Moon?!!!”

Bloch did not help his cause by making the antisemitic composer Richard Wagner (“my Messiah”) his role model. Klára Móricz, quoted by Malcolm Miller in his illuminating essay, “Bloch, Wagner and Creativity: Refutation and Vindication”, writes that,

Bloch’s image of himself as a racially determined Jewish composer, though conceived as a refutation of Wagner’s accusation that Jews are creatively impotent, ultimately remained true to Wagnerian principles. It accepted Wagner’s first premise, namely, that art can be genuine only if based on an indefinable, mysterious racial essence.

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