A striking picture, isn’t it? Dead wood – a finger pointing at the sky? Two arms raised above the head – in desperation? A skeleton? I got all kind of crazy ideas when I saw this dead tree during a walk not too far from home. It was about the time I spent a lot of time listening to works from the Swiss-American composer Ernest Bloch (1880-1959), and when I listened to his Sonata for Piano and Cello, written in 1897, I knew right away which picture to pick as an illustration for this post. As for the reasons, I don’t quite know myself. It was just like: It has to be this picture or no one!
Bloch studied composition with the Swiss composer Emile Jaques-Dalcroze in Geneva and, from 1896 on, violin with Eugène Ysaÿe in Brussels. The pianist John York, who has recorded the sonata with the cellist Raphael Wallfisch, writes that the piece was possibly “a composition exercise or submission to his teacher”. Bloch wrote it at the age of 17, “impeccably hand-written but unpublished ever since 1897”, York explains. “The discipline with which it is worked out, the thoroughness of the developments, the thematic economy where everything derives from the first few bars, to the point of obsession, is astonishing and very attractive. The music has the French flavour of [Gabriel] Fauré and the Germanic heroics of Richard Strauss.”
There is little more than I can add. Except that I enjoy this piece for its dynamics, its undecided mood, not really sad, not really optimistic either, but still full of energy. And I am always amazed when a young student produces such a well-conceived piece out of the hat, just like that. Ladies, Gentlemen – Ernest Bloch!
© Charles Thibo