The Arty Semite

New Beginning in Brandenburg for Composer Joseph Achron

By A.J. Goldmann

  • Print
  • Share Share
Wiki Commons

The virtually forgotten Lithuanian-Jewish composer Joseph Achron (1886-1943) is getting a premiere this weekend in the German city of Brandenburg an der Havel.

As part of their season-long exploration of music suppressed by the Third Reich, the Brandenburg Symphoniker, conducted by Robin Engelen, will present the first German performance of Achron’s third violin concerto (and the first performance in over 70 years), on a program that also includes Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony and Mozart’s Symphony No. 26.

Born in Lithuania in 1886, Achron was a violin prodigy who made his first public appearance at age 7. He was educated in Warsaw, St. Petersburg and Berlin by some of the great teachers of the age, including Leopold Auer and Joseph Joachim.

In 1911, Achron joined the St. Petersburg Society for Jewish Folk Music, which was founded by students of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov who wanted to write Jewish classical music, and he composed the “Hebrew Melody” for violin and piano, which remains his best known work to this day.

After the First World War, Achron embarked on a massive tour of Europe and the Middle East, which featured over 1000 concerts in four years, and operated a Jewish music publishing company in Berlin before immigrating to the United States in 1924.

He spent a decade in New York, composing for the Yiddish theater and teaching at the Westchester Conservatory of Music. From there he moved to Los Angeles and began writing music for film while continuing his career as a concert performer. He appeared as a soloist in his Second and Third Violin Concertos, which were premiered in the late 1930s by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra (his first concerto had been premiered in 1927 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra). He was 56 when he died in Hollywood in 1943. Arnold Schoenberg, a close friend, eulogized him as “one of the most underrated modern composers.”

Leading the charge for rediscovery of Achron’s work is Samuel Zerin, a 24-year-old Ph.D. candidate at New York University and founder of the Joseph Achron Society. The organization was the outgrowth of a senior research project undertaken by Zerin during his undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan.

In an interview with The Arty Semite last week, Zerin described getting an e-mail from the Brandenburger Symphoniker in the fall. The orchestra had heard and liked Achron’s first violin concerto — which is based on Eicha trop (cantillation for the Book of Lamentations) — and asked Zerin if he could furnish them with the next two. Zerin went through the available manuscripts and put together the performing edition that will be used at this weekend’s concert. In addition to publishing Achron’s work, Zerin is at work on a biography of the composer.

During his lifetime, Achron was known for his association with Jascha Heifetz, who recorded the “Hebrew Melody” and made it famous. Zerin related an anecdote about Heifetz having played (though not necessarily performed) everything that Achron ever wrote for violin.

Zerin sees influences of Alexander Scriabin and Rimsky-Korsakov in Achron’s early style. He notes a shift in the 1920s, pointing out inheritances from Claude Debussy, Paul Hindemith, Sergei Prokofiev, and Dmitri Shostakovich in Achron’s increasingly chromatic and contrapuntal work. His friendship with Schoenberg left a musical mark as well, added Zerin, in late works that flirt with atonality.

Zerin said he was unable to travel to Brandenburg for this weekend’s concert, but said he looked forward to the day when performances of Achron’s work are commonplace.

Listen to Jascha Heifetz play ‘Hebrew Melody’:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: t. Petersburg Society for Jewish Folk Music, Robin Engelen, Music, Jascha Heifetz, Joseph Achron, Hebrew Melody, Classical Music, Brandenburg, A.J. Goldmann

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.