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Ernest Bloch

Schelomo - Hebraic Rhapsody for Violoncello and Orchestra

"I do not propose or desire to attempt a reconstruction of the music of the Jews … or to base my work on melodies more or less authentic. I am not an archaeologist. I believe that the most important thing is to write good and sincere music – my music. It is rather the Hebrew spirit that interests me, the complex, ardent, agitated soul that vibrates for me in the Bible. The vigor … of the Patriarchs, the violence … in the books of the Prophets, the burning love of justice … the sorrow and the grandeur of the Book of Job, the sensuality of the Song of Songs. All this is in us, all this is in me, and it is the better part of me."

One finds this spirit in spades in Bloch's 1916 masterpiece Schelomo (Hebrew for "Solomon"), the one work which has kept his name before the public. Virtuoso cellists love to play it. The magnificence of the part, its overwhelming emotional range, is both unprecedented and unique in the cello's literature. The cellist gets the rare opportunity to play both hero and prophet. Like Dvořák and Elgar before him, Bloch employs a huge orchestra to build great peaks of sound and yet so meticulously plans them, that the orchestra never obscures the soloist.

With characteristic modesty, Bloch subtitles the work a "rhapsody" and so may mislead a listener. The idiom certainly sounds rhapsodic, but Schelomo follows a very sound blueprint. The more one listens, the more the inevitability and logic of the music's course comes to the fore. Still, the work impresses the listener emotionally above all. Here, we have the magnificence of Solomon's court, the great yearning and nocturnal world of the Song of Songs, and the weary meditations of Ecclesiastes, capped by the passionate outcry, "Vanity of vanities." Five times, the music rises from the low murmurs of the cello to a splendid orchestral crash, only at the end to fall back, as if exhausted with the effort.

Almost every major cellist has recorded Schelomo. Pick your favorite.

Copyright © 1995 by Steve Schwartz.