Hyperion Records

Suite hébraïque
1951; for violin or viola and orchestra or piano; originally entitled Cinq pièces hébraïques

'Bloch & Ben-Haïm: Violin Music' (CDA67571)
Bloch & Ben-Haïm: Violin Music
Movement 1: Rapsodie
Movement 2: Processional
Movement 3: Affirmation

Suite hébraïque
From the early years of the twentieth century until deep into the 1920s, Bloch struggled with a biblical opera on the story of Jezebel. In order to revive his interest in the subject once he had settled in New York in 1917, he searched through the 1901–06 edition of the twelve-volume Jewish Encyclopedia for traditional melodies from all over the Jewish world, and he wrote most of them in a manuscript book that bears the name Chants juifs. Although Jézabel never progressed beyond a mass of sketches, now preserved in the Library of Congress, Washington DC, Bloch used many of the collected materials in other works, including his Suite hébraïque of 1951. An extant sheet of paper in Bloch’s handwriting identifies all the most prominent traditional Jewish melodies incorporated into the three movements of the suite. The first movement, Rapsodie, includes Shemot, the Jewish ‘profession of faith’ as it is chanted traditionally at the end of the Day of Atonement in Ashkenazi synagogues. The second movement, Processional, contains two melodies: Kerobot, a melody for a strophic hymn text by the ancient Jewish poet Kallir, and Ahot Ketannah, a tune dating back to 1533 in Salonika. Bloch has used two traditional melodies in the last movement entitled Affirmation: Geshem in the Perso-Arab-Jewish manner, and a short fragment of Ashkenazi Hazzanut (cantorial chant).

The suite began life as Cinq pièces hébraïques for viola and piano in 1951. Three of the five movements were selected and scored for full orchestra two years later; and the work can be played by violin or viola, with piano or orchestral accompaniment. It was conceived following a week-long seventieth-birthday Bloch Festival in Chicago in 1950, comprising chamber music, synagogue performances, and two concerts by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Jan Kubelík. The driving force behind the festival was Samuel Laderman, Chairman of the Music Committee of the Covenant Club of Illinois. Bloch, on returning to his home in Oregon, wrote this suite in a popular, ‘classical’ Jewish style as a gift to the Covenant Club in gratitude for the festival.

from notes by Alexander Knapp © 2007

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