Sonata No.1 in for Violin & Piano
Ernest Bloch (1880-1959) was born in the Swiss city of Geneva. He received violin lessons as a child but started composing on his own. He eventually enrolled at the Brussels Conservatory where he studied violin with Eugène Ysaÿe and then later studied composition with Iwan Knorr at the Frankfurt Conservatory. In 1916, he moved to the United States where he remained for the rest of his life. He became a prominent teacher, serving as the first director of the Cleveland Institute of Music and later of the San Francisco Conservatory. Among his many students were George Antheil, Frederick Jacobi, Bernard Rogers, and Roger Sessions.
Bloch's early works show the influence of of Richard Strauss but also of Claude Debussy. Once can hear elements of post-Brahmsian late German romanticism as well as French impressionistic effects works from this period. As time went on, he tended to use Jewish liturgical and folk music for his inspiration. He composed in virtually every genre.
His Violin Sonata No.1 dates from 1921 and must be considered among his most important large scale chamber music works. It is an entirely tonal work, but not in the traditional sense and some respects bears similarities with Bartok’s approach from this same period. The massive opening movement, Agitato, begins with a powerful, driving theme. There is then a transition to a more lyrical melody tinged with Hebraic overtones. The rest of the movement explores the potentialities of each theme. The hauntingly beautiful second movement, Molto quieto, opens with the piano playing gentle arpeggios over which the violin sings a long-lined melody. Tension is raised and then released in slow building and receding waves. The robust finale, Moderato, bursts forth with a dance-like series of of heavy double stopping and in someways recalls the beginning of the first movement. However, it is the second theme from that movement which is elegantly reconstituted which dominates the bulk of the movement before it quietly concludes with thoughts from the second movement.