Swiss-born US composer. His music is highly coloured in its orchestration and rhythms, often drawing on elements of Jewish folk music. Among his works are the lyrical drama Macbeth (1910), Schelomo for cello and orchestra (1916), five string quartets, and Suite Hébraique for viola and orchestra (1953). He often used themes based on Jewish liturgical music and folk song.
Born in Geneva, Switzerland, he was a pupil of Émile Jaques-Dalcroze at first, then of Eugène Ysaÿe and Rasse at the Brussels Conservatory, and later at the Hoch Conservatory at Frankfurt, where Iwan Knorr was his composition master. His last teacher was Ludwig Thuille at Munich, and he then went to live in Paris, where he began the opera Macbeth on a French libretto by Edmond Fleg. It was produced in Paris in 1910, but he had in the meantime returned to Switzerland to conduct subscription concerts at Lausanne and Neuchâtel. He was professor of music aesthetics at the Geneva Conservatory 1911–15. In 1916 he went to the USA and settled in New York as professor at the David Mannes School of Music. A second opera, Jézabel, begun there in 1918, was unfinished.
From 1920 to 1925 Bloch was founder-director of the Cleveland Institute of Music, and in 1925 he was appointed head of the San Francisco Conservatory. In 1930 he retired to Switzerland to live quietly in remote places. Some interest was shown in his work in England and a good deal in Italy, where his Sacred Service was produced in Turin and Macbeth was revived in an Italian translation in Naples in 1938. But the anti-Semitic movement encouraged by the fascists put an end to this appreciation. As a US citizen he could no longer remain absent from the USA without losing his adopted nationality, and he returned there to live in retirement at the end of 1938.
OrchestralSchelomo for cello and orchestra (1916), Voice in the Wilderness for cello and orchestra (1926); violin concerto (1938); two violin and piano sonatas, viola and piano suite, Concerto grosso for piano and strings.
VocalSacred Service (Avodath Hakodesh) for baritone solo, chorus, and orchestra.
Chamber piano quintet; Baal Shem three pieces for violin and piano; From Jewish Life (three pieces) and Méditation hébraïque for cello and piano.