Ernest
bloch

The natural beauty of Agate Beach inspired this renowned composer.


Story by Nancy Steinberg

Strolling the beaches and streets of Newport, you hear a symphony of sounds: crashing waves, squawking gulls, barking sea lions, diesel engines of fishing boats. On Agate Beach just north of town, you might hear an entirely different symphony, one of lush melodies, soaring violins, percussive piano, resonant cello, lilting flutes: the ghost of the magnificent music of renowned composer Ernest Bloch. He lived and composed music in a house overlooking Agate Beach from 1941 until his death in 1959. His inspiration for many of his later works came from the Pacific’s crashing waves and the beach’s changing sands.

Earnest Bloch Silouette against the beach

Ernest Bloch was born in Geneva in 1880 and took up the violin at age 9, but found his true musical calling in composing. His notable early works include his 1903 Symphony No. 1 in C-sharp minor and his only opera, based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1909). He wrote his self-described “Jewish Cycle” between 1912 and 1916, including his best-known work, the cello rhapsody Schelomo (1916).

Earnest Bloch
On Agate Beach, you might hear the ghost of the magnificent music of renowned composer Ernest Bloch.

Bloch began the long westward journey that would ultimately take him to Agate Beach with a move to New York in 1916. In 1920, he was invited to serve as the first musical director of the brand-new Cleveland Institute of Music. He remained in Cleveland until 1925, when he continued his journey west to San Francisco.

Bloch served as artistic director at the fledgling San Francisco Conservatory of Music for five years, during which time he composed three prize-winning works: Four Episodes for chamber orchestra (1926); America: An Epic Rhapsody (1927); and Helvetia (1929).

The Agate Beach Years

Arriving at Agate Beach in 1941, he found his final home (the only one he ever owned) purely by chance. As grandson Ernest Bloch II tells it, he was driving from Portland to Berkeley, California, along Highway 101. The highway was blocked near Agate Beach by a condition all too familiar to coastal residents: flooding. Then and there he found a house for sale, a vacation home built by Salem newspaper magnate Ashael Bush, and bought it.

As David Z. Kushner wrote in his 2002 book about Bloch, the move to Agate Beach “shaped both the personal and professional side of Bloch’s life in ways that could not have been foreseen.” It provided the solace and soothing natural beauty that helped restore his creativity after the Second World War ended.

Bloch wrote some of his most magnificent and renowned works in the house at Agate Beach. His String Quartet No. 2, written in 1945, was awarded both the very first Gold Medal for Music of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the prestigious New York Music Critics’ Circle Award. They honored him again in 1953 for two other Agate Beach works, the String Quartet No. 3 and the Concerto Grosso No. 2. Other works written during these years include his Piano Quintet No. 2, his Symphony in E-flat major, and a series of solo string suites. Bloch’s final work is appropriately entitled Two Last Poems (Maybe . . .), the first subtitled Funeral Music and the second, Life Again?

Bloch loved to collect mushrooms in nearby wooded areas and hunt for agates on the beach. ” His daughter Lucienne commented that her father had a

“sense of being uprooted his entire life. . . . The only thing that gave him a sense of belonging was nature."

Locals in Lincoln County still remember Bloch. Peggy Rariden, a community legend who passed away in 2004, probably had the most vivid childhood memories. Upon seeing an imposing cloaked figure striding the beach, the overwhelmed young girl asked Bloch, “Are you Superman?” He responded mischievously, “Oh, no, I’m somebody much more important than that!”

Current Siletz resident Judy Yeager grew up in the Agate Beach neighborhood Bloch walking on beachand recalls that she and her friends loved trick-or-treating at the Bloch house on Halloween, because he gave out nickel candy bars rather than penny candy, a rare treat. Judy wrote in 2005, “. . . for several years he never forgot us—and needless to say we never forgot him.”

Newport is honored to have been the home, solace, and inspiration to such a creative powerhouse. As outlined in the sidebar, the Bloch house is now for sale, and there is hope in Newport and beyond that it will once again ring with music.

 

preserving a legacy

While the number of people who actually knew Ernest Bloch during the time he lived in Agate Beach is dwindling, locals are working to preserve his legacy. Frank Geltner and the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts have undertaken the Ernest Bloch Legacy Project, with support from the Oregon Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kellogg Foundation, and a private donor.

The project, which will soon be operating under the nonprofit Ernest Bloch Legacy Foundation, has produced an extensive booklet

focused on Bloch’s time on the Oregon Coast and has rededicated the Ernest Bloch Memorial. It was recently moved from an obscure spot near the house to the grounds of the Newport Performing Arts Center.

Project personnel have also conducted extensive video interviews with Bloch family members and family associates. The big task ahead is to determine the feasibility of purchasing the Bloch house, recently placed on the market, to serve as a museum, retreat center, or institute.

Newport has long celebrated the com-poser’s body of work and legacy with the annual Ernest Bloch Music Festival. This year, the festival will be on hiatus while the festival’s sponsoring organization, BAY Music Association, retools and reworks the event. Festival fans should stay tuned and contact BAY Music Association baymusic@newportnet.com for more information.

For more information about the Bloch Legacy Project, see the Web site www.ernestblochlegacy.org or contact Frank Geltner at fgeltner@coastarts.org.

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