Ernest Bloch

Baal Shem: 3 pictures of Hassidic life, for violin & piano (or orchestra)

    Description by Michael Jameson

    Ernest Bloch composed his Baal Shem, Three Pictures from Hassidic Life in 1923, the year in which he procured American citizenship. Along with his most familiar work, Schelomo, Rhapsody for cello and orchestra, his three pieces From Jewish Life, the Méditation hébraïque, and the Sacred Service of 1930, the triptych Baal Shem belongs to a distinctive and unmistakable genus of pieces, in which Bloch's personal voice was now powerfully established as being "Jewish" in utterance above all else. But as the critic Erik Levi suggests, it is important to remember that "Bloch's Jewishness derived from an inner impulse, not through a conscious absorption of Hebraic folk elements." To this we could also add Bloch's own assertion: "it is neither my purpose nor desire to attempt a reconstruction of Jewish music, nor to base my work on more or less authentic melodies...I am not an archaeologist; for me the most important thing is to write good and sincere music."

    Baal Shem continues the process of thought. "What interests me," wrote Bloch, "is the Jewish soul, the enigmatic, ardent, turbulent soul that I feel vibrating throughout the is all this that I endeavour to hear in myself and to transcribe into my music; the venerable emotion of the race that slumbers way down in our souls." Bloch's Baal Shem is made up of I. "Vidui" (Contrition) -- Un poco lento; II. "Nigun" (Improvisation) -- Adagio non troppo; III. "Simchas Torah" (Rejoicing) -- Allegro giocoso. As Erik Levi writes, "Nigun is the most extrovert composition. Here, Bloch attempts to recreate the feeling of ecstatic religious chanting through a highly charged and ornate melodic line that rises to a fever pitch of spiritual intensity before dying away to a gentle close. Before this comes Vidui in which the fervour of a sinner returning to God is evoked by cantilena writing of considerable nobility. The final section of Baal Shem, Simchas Torah, inspired by the moment when Moses handed down the torch to the children of Israel, is a lively, optimistic and exhilarating piece." The trilogy was originally intended for violin and piano; however, Bloch also produced an edition with orchestral accompaniment in 1939; Baal Shem is also occasionally performed by cellists, with either form of accompaniment.


    1. Vidui (Contrition)
    2. Nigun (Improvisation)
    3. Simchas Torah (Rejoicing)

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2015 Brilliant Classics 95015BR
    2015 Sony Classical 88875026162
    2015 Ars Produktion ARS 38177
    2015 Melodiya MELCD 1002300
    2013 Naxos 8570829
    2013 Canary Classics CC 10
    2013 Meridian Records CDE 84620
    2011 Decca CDDCA785
    2011 Solo Musica 150
    2011 Decca 4782826
    2009 Denon Records 00795041940865
    2009 Oehms Classics 113
    2009 Capriccio Records 5001
    2009 BIS 1650
    2009 BIS 1662
    2009 Decca 4781149
    2009 Decca
    2008 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2008 Phoenix Records 5637427185
    2007 Hyperion CDA67571
    2007 Naxos 8557757
    2006 Cambria 1029
    2006 Romeo Entertainment 7246
    2001 Gallo 1066
    2001 Andante 2991-2994
    2000 Opus 111 OPS30-232
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 73501
    1997 London 452851
    1997 ASV / Quicksilva 6186
    1996 Sony Classical 67196
    1996 Orion 7813
    1996 Sony Music Distribution 64533
    1993 ASV 714
    1993 Arabesque 6606
    1993 ASV 785
    1993 IMP Classics 1012
    Decca 000797002
    Vox 5086
    Accord 220342
    Biddulph Recordings 070
    Dynamic 1U
    Koch 7116
    IBS 1028