• Ernest Bloch
  • Evocations: Symphonic Suite (1937)

  • G Schirmer Inc (World)
  • 3222/4231/timp.3perc/cel.hp.pf/str
  • 17 min

Programme Note

“Evocations” does not need many “explanations,” I think. The subtitles seem to be sufficient to enlighten and perhaps stimulate—orient—the listener. The music is simple at the outside—and does not present, for the listener, and “technical” difficulties.

However, as simple as it appears, this work has caused me a terrific amount of labor; sketches and sketches and infinite changes and modifications until it reached its actual concise form. But this is the “cooking” and, I believe, does not concern the public.

Perhaps it may interest the listener, on the other hand, to know how it was conceived, that is, its “outside” story. For the “inside,” all artistic creation, is so mysterious and complex that the composer himself may be deluded. It would take a Freud-musician to trace the real sources, probably very different from the appearances. But what can the composer say? If not what he wanted to do, what was his aim, “to the best of his knowledge,” as they say officially in the U.S.?

It was, thus, in the spring of 1930, in the spring of San Francisco, that I wrote down two sketches, the No. I in part, only, and a few measures of the No. II. There were no titles, but on the No. II, the mere vague indication, “War.” The first one bore no mark; in my mind, was related to a very quiet and peaceful “Stimmung” —Buddhistic. I had just been looking through an illustrated book on Chinese art which, undoubtedly, had stimulated my imagination, with these musical results. Then the sketches were abandoned for a long time. Gestation is very slow with me, and often lasts for years.

I left San Francisco, and lived several years in Roveredo, Switzerland. There I composed my Sacred Service (1930-33), and sketched other works, here and there. Among other sketches, a reminiscence, or nostalgia, of San Francisco’s Chinatown was laid down. It is the initial motif of Evocation No. III.

In the spring of 1937 I found the sketches for “Evocations” but had no title. My booklet of notes bears “Esquisses Orientales,” and I had once thought of “Upanishads,” but this applied only to the No. I.

Thus, in August, 1936, I restarted I and II and was interrupted again, by studies of orchestration. In October I spent a few weeks in Italy, achieved the II and sketched the III. Later, in Geneva, I made innumerable changes again! In December, back in Chatel, I began the instrumentation—and again, modifications! 1937, Paris, I finished the instrumentation on March 4, but the title—provisory—had changed again into “Gods,” which did not please me, either!

I knew vaguely what it was all “about,” but it is so subtle, the musical language, what we imagine it to be and a title is so precise and limiting, whereas music is vague and unlimited.

I tried to find one. I re-read parts of the “Upanishads,” the “Bhagavad Gita,” the “Thoughts of Buddha,” and Lao Tse, went to the Musee Quartet, read books of Marcel Granet—“La Civilisation Chinoise.”

Here and there I found marvelous quotations which might apply to the first (in Buddha and “Bhagavad Gita” especially), but nothing which would fit the II and still less the III as there was no God of Spring, of Renouveau. But Houang-Ti, God of War, as well as a little statue of said master of war (as well as Tche-Yeou) seemed to be possible!

For the first movement I thought of “T’ai-P’ing” (“The Great Peace”), but this first movement seemed more related to Hindu philosophy than to Chinese. And the last one is more “Chinese” again! Finally, I rejected all these suggestions sae “Houang-Ti,” and became conscious once more that these three pieces were not at all descriptive or imitative or attempt even to “picture” oriental subjects, but were merely my personal reactions to certain Oriental stimuli, as in many other works of mine, particularly the “Nirvana.” The pieces were much less descriptive than the “Chinese Theatre” of the “Episodes,” in which I use, beside motives of my own, authentic Chinese melodies. Thus they were merely “Interpretations,” and I was about to use that title, when a friend of mine suggested “Evocations,” which seemed preferable to me, and I adopted it, with the subsequent subtitles.

—Ernest Bloch