Bloch stated that his tormented Violin Sonata No 1 in three movements was written soon after World War I: ‘the terrible war’ and ‘the terrible peace’ that followed it. The first movement, Agitato, begins with a violent, ritualistic motif on the violin, combined with intricate cross-rhythms in the piano, depicting the ‘atmosphere of battle’. The second subject provides a dream-like contrast. An interesting modal feature is Bloch’s use of motifs based upon an eight-note scale, comprising the intervals of two disjunctive minor tetrachords separated by a semitone: A–B–C–D–Eb–F–Gb–Ab. The second movement, Molto quieto, was written after Bloch had read a book about Tibet. (Although he never visited the Far East, its impact upon him finds expression in several works.) The composer has described this movement as mournful and restless at the beginning, leading to a spectacular outburst of emotion which then abates. The flowing cantilena is interrupted by a striking passage of tremolo pizzicato. In the piano part ‘chime’ effects are produced by the bitonality of the broken chords spread across two hands. Bloch described the last movement, Moderato, as a barbaric march – a vision of an angry, pitiless, primitive deity; but at the end there is an atmosphere of resignation, and then the acceptance of peace. Originally, Bloch intended to end this work with a different finale, but it was rejected on the grounds that its colour was too Jewish and therefore incompatible with the first two movements. The significance of this is that the Sonata No 1, dedicated to the American music critic Paul Rosenfeld, was written soon after the ‘Jewish Cycle’, and Bloch was keen to establish a new idiom for himself. Bartók, whose first sonata for violin and piano appeared at about the same time, performed Bloch’s work in Europe with different violinists during the early to mid-1920s.
from notes by Alexander Knapp © 2005