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Piano Quintet No.1

Ernest Bloch (b. 1880 - d. 1959)

Cedric Pescia

Cedric Pescia

Composer
Ernest Bloch (b. 1880 - d. 1959)
Composition Year
1921-3
Work Movements
1. Agitato
2. Andante mistico
3. Allegro energico
Artists
Cédric Pescia [piano], Monika Leskovar [cello], György Kovalev [viola], Mairead Hickey [violin], Nurit Stark [violin]

Programme Note Writer:
© Clodagh Whelan

The Festival has a tradition of seeking out seldom played piano quintets, which leads to much fascinating research on the byways of musical history. Very often they are youthful works barely acknowledged by the mature composer, Bartók and Gubaidulina spring to mind, but Ernest Bloch’s first quintet dates from his maturity.

 

He was living in America and working as Director of the Cleveland Institute of Music at this time.  He began it in December 1921 and completed it in March 1923, though it is drawn from earlier sketches of an unfinished cello sonata.  The work displays many of the characteristic traits of Bloch including the cyclical nature of the piece, frequent changes of tempo and dynamics, as well as his use of melodic fourths and sevenths.  The use of quarter notes from the opening, a quintessential reference to his Jewish heritage, is applied differently here. The use of quarter tones combined with the driving rhythm in the opening statements impresses upon us an urgent anxiety rather than the usual bittersweet sentiment.  Despite Bloch’s denial that any programme was intended here, many commentators have speculated on the meaning of this work, with quite an array of conclusions being drawn.

The opening Agitato quivers with suppressed energy and long-hidden feelings that momentarily attempt to burst out. Bloch claimed the motif was one he hummed as a child expressing a feeling of revolt against arbitrary authority, while his use of quarter-tones adds colour and atmosphere to the unfolding drama. The dreamy mood of the Andante mistico is in dramatic contrast with its tranquil and solemn opening as its motifs calmly ebb and soar. It is here observers hear echoes of the Pacific Islands whose exotic beauty Bloch imagines from tales told by travellers.  Here, the material from the opening movement is re-told in a new and more hopeful way.

The massive Allegro energico reworks material from the first movement in a frenzied excitement. Bloch plays with tempo variations to give hints of the exotic with bird call motifs adding to the imagery once more enhanced by his use of quarter tones.  The energy builds to a monumental symphonic climax before gradually winding down in a long molto calmo epilogue that gradually modulates back to C major. In the slightly overwrought words of Ernest Newman: There is no more welcome, more impressive, more clinching, more conclusive, more authoritative C major chord in all music. The key carried special spiritual connotations for the composer and serves as the perfect resolution of the Quintet’s many ambiguities.

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Piano Quintet No.1

Composer: Ernest Bloch (b. 1880 - d. 1959)
Performance date: Saturday 9th July 2016
Venue: Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,

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Composer Ernest Bloch (b. 1880 - d. 1959)
Work Title Piano Quintet No.1
Composition Year 1921-3
Work Movements 1. Agitato
2. Andante mistico
3. Allegro energico
Artist(s) Cédric Pescia [piano], Monika Leskovar [cello], György Kovalev [viola], Mairead Hickey [violin], Nurit Stark [violin]
Performance Date Saturday 9th July 2016
Performance Venue Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,
Event Finale
Duration 00:31:41
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category Piano Quartet/Piano Quintet
Instrumentation 2vn, va, vc, pf
Programme Note Writer © Clodagh Whelan

The Festival has a tradition of seeking out seldom played piano quintets, which leads to much fascinating research on the byways of musical history. Very often they are youthful works barely acknowledged by the mature composer, Bartók and Gubaidulina spring to mind, but Ernest Bloch’s first quintet dates from his maturity.

 

He was living in America and working as Director of the Cleveland Institute of Music at this time.  He began it in December 1921 and completed it in March 1923, though it is drawn from earlier sketches of an unfinished cello sonata.  The work displays many of the characteristic traits of Bloch including the cyclical nature of the piece, frequent changes of tempo and dynamics, as well as his use of melodic fourths and sevenths.  The use of quarter notes from the opening, a quintessential reference to his Jewish heritage, is applied differently here. The use of quarter tones combined with the driving rhythm in the opening statements impresses upon us an urgent anxiety rather than the usual bittersweet sentiment.  Despite Bloch’s denial that any programme was intended here, many commentators have speculated on the meaning of this work, with quite an array of conclusions being drawn.

The opening Agitato quivers with suppressed energy and long-hidden feelings that momentarily attempt to burst out. Bloch claimed the motif was one he hummed as a child expressing a feeling of revolt against arbitrary authority, while his use of quarter-tones adds colour and atmosphere to the unfolding drama. The dreamy mood of the Andante mistico is in dramatic contrast with its tranquil and solemn opening as its motifs calmly ebb and soar. It is here observers hear echoes of the Pacific Islands whose exotic beauty Bloch imagines from tales told by travellers.  Here, the material from the opening movement is re-told in a new and more hopeful way.

The massive Allegro energico reworks material from the first movement in a frenzied excitement. Bloch plays with tempo variations to give hints of the exotic with bird call motifs adding to the imagery once more enhanced by his use of quarter tones.  The energy builds to a monumental symphonic climax before gradually winding down in a long molto calmo epilogue that gradually modulates back to C major. In the slightly overwrought words of Ernest Newman: There is no more welcome, more impressive, more clinching, more conclusive, more authoritative C major chord in all music. The key carried special spiritual connotations for the composer and serves as the perfect resolution of the Quintet’s many ambiguities.