pf: Vladimir Jurowski cond/ Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
0:00 - Waves
4:00 - Chanty
7:45 - At Sea
During the summer of 1921, before moving from New York to Cleveland where he had become the director of the Cleveland Institute of Music, Bloch took his family for a vacation to the little village of Percé, in Canada, at the edge of the Gaspé Peninsula. In those days all was still isolated. There were no automobile roads. One came by a slow rural train that at times stopped to shoo off a cow that blocked the tracks. There was only one hotel at Percé and the summer visitors were mainly people from Montreal and Quebec.
This was ideal for the Blochs who hated resorts and crowds. The magnificent beaches were never crowded. The little fishing village was picturesque with the sort of natives that delighted Bloch, who always liked the simple people close to the soil. Old seamen who spoke in a hard to understand French full of 16th Century expressions liked to talk to this strange sympathetic man who seemed to be so interested in their lives. Bloch was indignant at the way these fishermen were exploited. He met some remarkable people among the visitors, one being Monseigneur Gaultier, Archbishop of Montreal, with whom he paced the beach singing together in full voice Gregorian Chant. Another person he admired was a woman of over 55 years of age who cut trails all over the wilderness and had discovered a large crevasse in the hills, which became known as “La Craque à Mme. Chauvin.” His admiration for her trailmaking had such impact that we Bloch children, as often as we could, tried to cut trails in whatever wilderness we encountered in our young years.
During his solitary walks on the Percé beaches, Bloch began to think of music, which he jotted down in a little book. The following year in Cleveland, he composed these three pieces which he generally called The Sea Pieces: Waves, Chanty, At Sea. He was able to give a special tang in them, of these colder northern seas, for the music surely doesn’t bring to mind a type of tropical ocean. It is the sea of a Brittany, an Ireland, of the old-time sailors who settled the American Eastern Coast.
The music is tonal and straight-forward. Bloch had no intention of producing world-shaking new music. What he wrote fitted his purpose. Bloch prefaced these pieces with a poem quotation from Walt Whitman, the American poet he admired:
“In cabin’d ships at sea,
The boundless blue on every side expanding,
With whistling winds and music of the waves, the large imperious waves,
Or some lone bark buoy’d on the dense marine.
Where joyous, full of faith, spreading white sails,
She cleaves the ether ‘mid the sparkle and the foam of day, or under
many a star at night,
By sailors young and old haply will I, a reminiscence of the land, be read,
In full rapport at last.”