This is “Concerto Grosso for Strings with Piano Obligato” by Ernest Bloch. The strident unison themes of the prelude, the warm and sad resolution of the dirge, weeping gypsy violins, those shimmering violins, melodies that remind me of falling in love, dancing – they are called “rustic dances” – stately dances as if for a wedding, the fugue, the wonderful inevitable fugue, the declamatory strumping finale.
There is something about the concerto grosso – as a form – that has inspired a great deal of music that I in turn find most inspiring. A daring artist will constrict himself, bind himself to a form – the sonneteer’s 14 line iambic pentameter Italian rhyme – and from this constriction will be distilled intangible feeling, a perfectly articulated passion. Our feelings are so elusive and amorphous they must be conveyed in the context of a highly disciplined backdrop or frame in order to be comprehensible to others.
I could not define a concerto grosso, I do not know the rules for the form. And yet I know when I hear one. Some of the most inspiring compositions by the baroque Italian “-ellies” – Corelli, Locatelli, Torelli – and by Handel and Vivaldi – are of this form. The one I am playing at this moment is, however, from 1924. But it still has that special grossoesque quality.
Concerto grossi are usually for string orchestras and the fact that I am a string player must have something to do with my affinity for the form. The solos for violins, viola, and cello are always so tuneful and intricate; the movements from few to many are so lush and textured. These pieces are almost archetypal to me. I carry the melodies of specific works – Corelli’s “Christmas Concerto,” Vivaldi’s “Spring,” Handel’s “Concerto Grosso No. 3, in E Minor” – with me everywhere. It is as if the form explains – leads to other truths. It is as a musician too that I love these works, they are always so playable. I have performed many of these in orchestras including this masterpiece by Bloch.
Ernest Bloch, Concerto Grosso No. 1 for String Orchestra with Piano Obbligato, No publisher (1925). From Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra, Howard Hanson conductor, Ernest Bloch, Concerto Grosso No 1/Concerto Grosso No. 2, Mercury Records, SRI 75017 (No date). Album design – Not credited.