Robert Bloom was a world-famous oboist and oboe teacher with a summer house on Great Cranberry Island.
He was the husband of Sara Lambert Bloom.
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The following is an article by Norman B. Schwartz © 2004
THE PAVAROTTI OF THE OBOE
Robert Bloom (1908-1994)
Ten years have passed since Robert Bloom died in 1994. The sound goes on.
Robert Bloom, son of a Pittsburgh cantor, was one of the first generation of wind-players to study free-of-charge at the Curtis Institute with the legendary Marcel Tabuteau, first oboist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. With the encouragement of that great orchestral colorist Leopold Stokowski, Tabuteau was responsible for changing the sound of the instrument from a bucolic double-reed often associated with shepherds and bag-pipers to one of the most vibrant and expressive singing instruments of the modern symphony orchestra.
So all pervasive was Tabuteau's influence that at one time in musical history almost every principal oboe chair in American symphony orchestras was held by one of his pupils. From coast-to-coast --- Ralph Gomberg in Boston, brother Harold Gomberg in New York, John DeLancie in Philadelphia, John Mack in Cleveland, Bert Gassman in Los Angeles and Marc Lifschey in San Francisco. What has come to be called the American sound of the oboe was in fact the Tabuteau sound, a Frenchman's present to his new country. To many, Robert Bloom was the most brilliant recipient of that gift. The Pavarotti of the oboe.
Bloom started his orchestral career playing second oboe and then English horn with the Philadelphia Orchestra (1930-36); his first job as principal was with Jose Iturbi in the Spanish maestro's pre-MGM days as conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic. In 1938 Bloom was invited to be the first oboe in the orchestra the National Broadcasting Company collected for Arturo Toscanini. Bloom left the NBC Symphony after six years. (The story goes that knowing how much Toscanini admired his playing --- they were like father and son --- Bloom asked the management for a raise and was refused.)
Undaunted and supremely self-assured, Bloom went on to become one of the highest paid free-lance wind players in the United States: most in demand in that select group of session musicians in New York City who recorded with orchestras under such all purpose names as the RCA Victor Symphony, and the Columbia Symphony. Enormously confident of his ability to sight-read, Bloom prided himself in his ability to walk into any studio in town, look at his part, and instantly play for anyone from Stravinsky to Jackie Gleason.
By temperament Bloom was the quintessential soloist. Robust of sound as well as personality, he was beloved by many conductors, particularly by his first, Stokowski, for whom he continued to play with the recording ensemble known as "Stokowski and his Orchestra." Stokowski once wrote: "Dear Mr. Bloom, You played so wonderfully in the Bach, I feel I must write to tell you what deep musical satisfaction I had from listening to your solos, and to making music with you."
There were others, however, the great Bruno Walter for one, who were not so enamored and often disagreed with the oboist's extraverted and uninhibited interpretations. Most telling was a remark Walter made on the famous recording of the rehearsal of the Mozart Linz Symphony with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. Walter stopped the orchestra to admonish: "Please Mr. Bloom, you are only playing a harmony part."
One can choose to interpret that remark in many ways. To those who knew and loved Bloom's playing, it was yet another instance of a man so in love with the music that he was sometimes carried away in his desire to be expressive. To others it was proof that this great artist, larger than life, was simply too big to fit in with any conventional orchestral ensemble.
Wherever he played, Bloom was always an orchestral star with a star's temperament. There was something in his character which would not permit him to cringe in the presence of the omni-powerful conductor. He was fortunate that the very first leaders for whom he played, Stokowski and Toscanini, encouraged the young artist to be himself, to be in a word, spontaneous. Bloom loved to imitate Toscanini pleading with the orchestra: "PUT something! DO something bad, but do SOMEthing." That something, the unique fearless expressiveness unmistakably Bloom delighted some, as it sometimes offended others.
"And the oboe it is clearly understood
Is an ill wind that no one blows good."
Danny Kaye sang this in the 1947 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The year before the philanthropist and scholar William Scheide founded the Bach Aria Group in New York City. Had the comedian heard Bloom play, he might have changed his mind. For it was in that ensemble that Bloom truly came into his own as one of the great soloists of his time. Bloom joined the Bach Aria Group in 1946 and remained with that ensemble as one of its principal members until his retirement.
When Scheide came up with the then revolutionary idea of creating a musical ensemble devoted solely to playing the cantata music of Bach, there were few singers who specialized in the baroque repertoire, to say nothing of instrumental soloists. Scheide had the genius to interest the best free-lance recording players --- Bloom, Julius Baker and Bernard Greenhouse --- in this then difficult and obscure music. To join them he found such unlikely candidates as the Metropolitan Opera tenor, successor to Caruso, Jan Peerce.
Peerce (né Jacob Pincus Perelmuth), a great cantor in his own right, and Bloom the son of another, had both grown up listening to liturgical (if hardly Lutheran) music; both men understood that the arias from these great vocal works required a resonant cantabile style hitherto not associated with Bach. Some critics of the day objected strongly, claiming that the vocal works of the Leipzig Kapellmeister were not operas, but those of us who were there at the legendary Town Hall concerts thrilled to the ringing and vibrant sound that these two great performers and their soulful collaborators from the world of opera produced.
There was something distinctly both bright and dark about Bloom's sound, someone once called it "chocolately," so rich you could taste it. Many attempts have been made to analyze it technically. Was it his unique way of shaping of the reed, or the way he held the reed in the mouth so that the wood might vibrate more fully, or was it his extraordinary diaphragm control which allowed for the most elaborate of legato solos to appear as if they were accomplished with a single breath --- all of this or none of it? There is no doubt that Bloom was a master of the instrument, but beyond that there was always something else, not predicated on sheer virtuosity which made him the great artist he was. To my mind, it was his musical presence, the command of the stage, the spontaneity, his honesty of impulse, even the risk-taking that we associated with the great opera singers whose magnetic personalities draw our eyes (and ears) to them alone.
In the late 1950's Bloom whose recording schedule had been so intense that he previously had little time to teach, began taking on students. As was the case with his teacher, the great Tabuteau, it can now be said of Bloom that there is hardly an orchestra in America that has not employed or is not presently employing one of his pupils. The list is endless but it includes among its many principals Ray Still of Chicago, David Weiss and Alan Vogel in Los Angeles, Steven Taylor of the Orpheus and the Lincoln Center Chamber Society in New York, and William Bennett in San Francisco.
Bloom died in 1994. A few years later he was honored by becoming the first American oboist to be listed in Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians. His widow, Sara Lambert Bloom, oboist and teacher in her own right, has painstakingly collected and published a forty-two volume set of her husband's editions of eighteenth-century solo and chamber music complete with her husband's own comments and articulations.
Perhaps the greatest tribute ever paid his artistry is the enduring work of the many men and women in orchestras all over the world who followed his example and continue to carry on that unmistakable singing vibrant sound which
began with Tabuteau and which resounds today in the many recordings we have now of Bloom and his students.
One of his colleagues, Wayne Rapier, has said it best and with simple eloquence:
Robert Bloom was "one of our greatest singers . . . who happened to play the oboe."
--- NORMAN B. SCHWARTZ © 2004
Norman B. Schwartz, theater director, playwright and teacher, is the artistic director of the Victoria Hall Theater Company in Santa Barbara. He will be teaching acting at the NYU Tisch graduate film school in the fall of 2002. He credits his love of the oboe and oboists to his childhood friendship with Ronald Roseman; they grew up together in New York's Greenwich Village. "Ronny taught me that of all the vicissitudes we might encounter in life nothing is more frightening than a low B-flat entrance."
Norman B. Schwartz
P.O. Box 1008
NYC, NY 10276
The following is a press release from Sara Lambert Bloom, June 2008:
We celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of
with the release of
THE STORY OF A WORKING MUSICIAN
including his book on pedagogy:
The Oboe, A Musical Instrument
dictated in 1975-1976
by Robert Bloom (Pittsburgh, 1908-Cincinnati, 1994)
Sara Lambert Bloom, editor and contributor
Often hailed as one of last performers of the Golden Era of classical music in America, a “grand, grand artiste” in the words of Pablo Casals, called “caro” by Arturo Toscanini, and favorite of conductors ranging from Leopold Stokowski to Igor Stravinsky to Robert Shaw, the legendary oboist Robert Bloom left behind a treasure of inspiration as well as practical advice for the aspiring oboist.
Concert artist, composer, teacher, conductor, and editor of eighteenth-century music, Bloom was lauded by Philip Nelson, Dean of the Yale University School of Music, as a “consummate musician, oboist (and one-time cellist), cabinet maker, exceptional chef, lively pedagogue, raconteur extraordinaire, world traveler, and a ‘gentleman for all seasons,’” one of the most admirable and likable champions of the 20th century.
Robert Bloom’s contributions have at last been lovingly and intelligently gathered into a reader by Sara Lambert Bloom, a distinguished oboist, teacher, and scholar in her own right, who enjoyed a unique twenty-eight-year-long association with Bloom, first as his pupil, then as his spouse. Daniel Stolper, the prominent American oboist and pedagogue, has written, “Her erudition and burning commitment to this project shine through on every page . . . her prose often reads like poetry.”
Augmenting Bloom’s unique and passionately rendered oboe pedagogy are documents giving his collegiate
curriculum and preferred repertoire, his published and unpublished essays, his complete discography, selected
correspondence and reviews, anecdotes from milestone events during his long and distinguished career, and excerpts
from transcripts of interviews in which some of America’s most prominent musicians discuss with him the art, the politics of the art, and musical and career highlights of the man “generally considered to be one of the greatest oboists of his generation and perhaps of all time.” --New Haven Register, March 1980
Calling Bloom’s playing “cynosure,” brilliant enough to navigate by, Bernard Jacobson, program annotator and musicologist of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Artistic Director of the Residentie Orkest, The Hague, considers Bloom “a player of phenomenal gifts, not merely technical, though in that sphere he can have had few rivals, but in the fields of musicianship, of expressivity, and also--a salutary revelation in these days when we think we are the first generation to have discovered the truth about Baroque style--of taste in the interpretation and embellishment of eighteenth-century texts.” Bloom’s pioneering work as a founding member of the Bach Aria Group, which he joined in 1946 at the invitation of the most revered American-born Bach scholar, William H. Scheide, is documented with excerpts from Sara Lambert Bloom’s book A Time For Bach: The Story of the Bach Aria Group (1946-1996).
Now available exclusively at www.rdgWoodwinds.com.
Made possible by generous support provided by William H. and Judith Scheide and Abby N. Wells
To purchase individual CDs or the 7-CD archive The Art of Robert Bloom go to www.BostonRecords.com.
To purchase individual volumes or the 42-vol set of The Robert Bloom Collection go to www.RDGWoodwinds.com.