Ernest Bloch's "exotic" shofar: Jewish identity in Proclamation for trumpet and orchestra
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Type of Workapplication/pdf
DepartmentTowson University. Department of Music
SubjectsBloch, Ernest, 1880-1959
Bloch, Ernest, 1880-1959. Proclamation
Music by Jewish composers
Richard Wagner argued in his notoriously anti-Semitic 1850 essay, Das Judentum in der Musik (Judaism in Music), that composers must descend to their racial roots in order to achieve universality in art. This idea was inherently problematic for Jewish composers, who could not escape Wagner’s extensive influence on European music yet lacked a coherent set of racial bonds. Despite the emancipation of Jews in Europe throughout the nineteenth century, they largely retained outsider status in this era. Accordingly, Jewish composers who endeavored to be accepted into the pantheon of “great” European artists had to renounce their Jewish identity in the public sphere. Ernest Bloch, however, was the first composer to attempt to outwardly express his Jewish identity in his idiomatically European art music. While Bloch’s large-scale religious works have garnered much attention, his lesser-known Proclamation for Trumpet and Orchestra serves as an ideal model for understanding the Jewish aspects of his music. A biographical sketch of Bloch puts this piece in context, focusing on both the evolution of his racially Jewish musical style as influenced by Wagnerian ideology, and on Bloch’s relationship with Samuel Laderman, to whom he dedicated the piece. Little research on Laderman exists, but his correspondence with Bloch, preserved at the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library of the University of Georgia, reveals the importance of this figure in Bloch’s life. Previous research holds that the premiere of Proclamation took place on November 13, 1957, with Charles Bruck conducting the Orchestre Colonne, and Ludovic Vaillant as the soloist. However, previously-undiscovered announcements in the CBC Times and Globe and Mail indicate that “a CBC Montreal orchestra” conducted by Alexander Brott actually performed the piece on February 15, 1956. Finally, an investigation of the historical sources of Bloch’s characteristic Jewish markers in Proclamation including cantorial-like melodies, augmented intervals, open fourths and fifths, and shofar “calls”—informs a theoretical analysis of the work. These markers allowed him to justify the “Jewish” label on his music while also providing a means for exoticizing Jewish culture in an attempt to make his art palatable to the European majority. However, filtering the markers through the lens of a modern-day understanding of racial essentialism raises the question of whether they truly represented a national Jewish art or simply his conception of Judaism.