Composers

Joseph Achron

  • Four Improvisations, op. 63 (1927)
Joseph Achron

The Russian-born violinist Joseph Achron (1886-1943) earned an early reputation as a child prodigy and later found world fame as a concert soloist. Less remembered is that he was also an important twentieth-century Jewish composer. Born in the Russian shtetl of Lodzey (present-day Lithuania), the son of a ba'al tefillah (prayer leader), Achron made his concert debut in 1893 to great acclaim. He went on to study with two of the greatest violin teachers of all time, Leopold Auer of the St. Petersburg Conservatory and Joseph Joachim in Berlin. Continue Reading »

Leo Zeitlin

  • Five Songs from the Yiddish (ca. 1913-1921)

1. Eyli, eyli (My God, My God)
2. Iber di hoyfn (Over the Fields)
3. Patsh, patsh kikhelekh (Pattycake, Pattycake)
4. Shoyn nito der nekhtn (Last Night is Over)
5. Der kadish fun reb Leyvi-Yitskhok (The Kaddish Prayer of Rabbi Levi-Isaac Leo Zeitlin (Tseytlin) (1884-1930) is one of the most important Russian Jewish composers to resurface, after decades of neglect, as a leading figure in the history of twentieth-century Jewish art music. Continue Reading »

Dmitrii D. Shostakovich

  • String Quartet No. 4 in D major, op. 83 (1949)
Dmitrii D. Shostakovich

Dmitrii D. Shostakovich (1906-1975), the Soviet Union's greatest composer, was also a revered and controversial figure known equally for his passionate music and opaque politics. Though he was not Jewish, Shostakovich also strikingly advocated the idea of Jewish art music through supporting his Jewish colleagues and through his own artistic example. His legendary friendship with the composer Mieczsław Weinberg, for instance, literally saved the latter musician's life. Continue Reading »

Michel Michelet

  • Elegie for String Orchestra, op. 4 (1923) Arr. by the composer for string quartet and piano
Michel Michelet's sheet music cover

For decades Michel Michelet (1894-1995) was known in Hollywood as a leading film composer, responsible for more than a hundred film scores, including some of the classic film noir soundtracks of the 1940s and 1950s. What his movie music fans did not know was that the apparent Frenchman was actually a Jew from Kiev, born Mikhail Isaakovich Levin. Furthermore, this self-professed "Russian-French-American" composed one of the great Jewish piano quintets of the twentieth century. Continue Reading »

Aleksandr Zhitomirskii

  • Dem rebens nigun, op. 3 (1910) for string quartet

Today the composer Aleksandr Matveevich Zhitomirskii (1881-1937) is nearly absent from the history of classical music. But in his day he was an important figure in both the Jewish and Russian musical worlds as a composer and educator, respectively. Like many of his fellow Russian Jewish composers, he was born in the Pale of Settlement, in his case in the city of Kherson (present-day southern Ukraine). Continue Reading »

Mieczsław Weinberg

Mieczsław Weinberg

Mieczsław Weinberg, also known as Moisei or Moyshe Vaynberg (1919-1996) is surely one of the twentieth century's most important and least known composers. He was born in Warsaw, the son of a violinist and Yiddish theater music director and graduated from the Warsaw Conservatory with a degree in piano in 1939. That year Weinberg fled the Nazi invasion of Poland, settling in Soviet Minsk, where he studied composition at the Belorussian State Conservatory. Continue Reading »

Sergei Prokofiev

Sergei Prokofiev

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) was born in a small village in Russian Ukraine, the son of an agricultural engineer originally from Moscow. Beginning the study of piano at age three, he began to compose at six and produced his first opera when he was all of eight years old. He enrolled at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1904, and continued his studies for several years, quickly drawing acclaim. Continue Reading »

Szymon Laks

Szymon Laks

Szymon Laks (1901-1983) was born in Warsaw, studied mathematics for two years at the Vilnius University, and then entered the Warsaw Conservatory in 1921 as a violin and composition student. He left Poland in 1926 to continue his musical studies in Paris. In 1941, he was arrested by the Nazis and spent three years imprisoned at the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps. Continue Reading »

Alexander Krein

  • Jewish Sketches, #2, op. 13 (1910)
Alexander Krein

Alexander Krein (1883-1951) was one of the leading modernist composers of the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s. He was born in the Russian city of Nizhni Novgorod into a family of traditional Jewish folk musicians. His father, Abraham, was a folk violinist, seven of whose ten children became professional musicians, notably David (1869-1926), the concertmaster of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater orchestra, and Gregory (1879-1975), also a composer, in addition to Alexander. Continue Reading »

Osvaldo Golijov

  • The Dreams & Prayers of Isaac the Blind (1994)
Osvaldo Golijov

Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960) has emerged in the past decade as one of the most acclaimed and original composers in contemporary classical music. A Pulitzer Prize winner, he is highly regarded by critics and audiences across North America and Europe for his unique blend of traditional folk music materials and modern classical idioms. Continue Reading »

Joel Engel

  • The Dybbuk Suite, op. 35 (1922)
Joel Engel

Joel Engel (1868-1927) was a composer, critic, and scholar widely regarded as the "father of modern Jewish music." Known in Russian as Iulii Dmitrevich and in Hebrew as Yoel, he was born on the Crimean coast of the Russian Empire, went on to receive a law degree from the University of Kharkov in 1890, and then at the urging of Tchaikovsky enrolled at the Moscow Conservatory in 1893. Continue Reading »

Mikhail Gnesin

  • Piano trio, "Requiem for Our Lost Children," op. 63 (1943)
Mikhail Gnesin

Mikhail Fabianovich Gnesin (1883-1957) was one of the leading Jewish musical voices to emerge in early twentieth-century Russia and went on to occupy a prominent place among the first generation of Soviet modernist composers. Born in the city of Rostov-on-Don to a local rabbi, he came from a long line of Jewish musicians. Continue Reading »

Solomon Rosowsky

  • Piano Trio "Fantastisher Tants," op. 6 (1914)
Solomon Rosowsky

Solomon Rosowsky (1878-1962) was a pioneering composer in the Jewish national school who went on to have a huge influence in Israeli and American Jewish musical life, particularly as a scholar and pedagogue. A fourth-generation Jewish musician, Rosowsky had the distinction of being the son of one of the first graduates of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, Borukh-Leyb Rosowsky (1841-1919). His father went on to become a legendary cantor in Riga, where Rosowsky was born and raised. Continue Reading »