The Kennedy Center

Selections from Children's Suite

About the Work

Joseph Achron Composer: Joseph Achron
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

"Joseph Achron," according to Arnold Schoenberg, "is one of the most underestimated of modern composers." Achron was born on May 13, 1886 into a musical family in Lozdzieje, Poland (now Lazdijai, Lithuania)--his younger brother, Isidor, became a composer and pianist, and was Jascha Heifetz's accompanist from 1922 to 1933--and began studying violin with his father when he was five, shortly after the family had moved to Warsaw. Joseph made his public debut there as a violinist at age eight, and entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory four years later to study violin with Leopold Auer and composition with Anatoly Liadov. After graduating in 1904, Achron moved to Berlin to begin his career as a soloist, but returned to St. Petersburg in 1907 to resume his studies at the Conservatory. In 1911, he organized a society for the research and cultivation of Jewish folklore with several other Jewish musicians, and composed several pieces based on the traditional melodies he discovered. He joined the faculty of the Kharkov Conservatory in 1913, but interrupted his teaching career to serve in the Russian Army from 1916 to 1918. After the end of World War I, he toured extensively as a concert artist in Europe, the Near East and Russia, taught in Leningrad, and composed for the Hebrew Chamber Theater in St. Petersburg (by then Petrograd). In 1922, Achron settled briefly in Berlin before moving first to Palestine (in 1924) and then to New York (1925), where he taught and performed; he appeared in the premiere of his Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1927. Achron became a United States citizen in 1930, and four years later moved to Hollywood to compose for films and concerts, to play in the studios, and to continue his solo career. In 1936, he appeared as soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in his Violin Concerto No. 2, and in 1939, Jascha Heifetz commissioned and premiered his Violin Concerto No. 3. Achron died in Los Angeles on April 29, 1943.

Achron composed his Children's Suite in 1925, shortly after settling in New York, for the Stringwood Ensemble, which clarinetist Simon Bellison had formed the year before to perform the works that had been written for Zimro as well as more traditional repertory; the premiere was given at Aeolian Hall on November 6, 1925. The suite's twenty movements, which incorporate traditional cantillation motifs from the Jewish liturgy (though without any religious implications), are tiny character pieces with the variety of moods and references suggested by their titles.