The Kennedy Center

Hebrew Suite

About the Work

Julius Chajes Composer: Julius Chajes
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Julius Chajes, born in 1910 in Lemberg, Galicia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, today Lviv in western Ukraine), began studying music with his mother, a concert pianist, at age seven; he gave his first recital two years later and wrote a string quartet at thirteen. After playing his own Romantic Fantasy for piano and orchestra in Vienna in 1925, Chajes (pronounced chai-yes) was accepted as a student by Moritz Rosenthal, a pupil of Liszt and one of the most estimable pianists of the day (and a fellow native of Lemberg). Chajes won the First International Piano Competition in Vienna in 1933, but he emigrated to Palestine the following year in the face of the growing Nazi menace; the famed Rosé Quartet gave the premiere of his String Quartet No. 2 at his farewell concert. He settled in Tel Aviv to chair the piano department of the city's conservatory, and there began to assimilate ancient and contemporary Jewish musical sources as well as the folk music of the region into his compositions. He moved to New York in 1938, had his Psalm 142 for chorus and organ performed at the World's Fair there in 1939, and the following year became music director of the Jewish Community Center in Detroit. Chajes was a leading member of Detroit's musical and Jewish communities for the next 45 years, founding a symphony orchestra at the JCC, directing the music at Temple Beth El, serving on the faculty of Wayne State University, premiering his own piano concerto with the Detroit Symphony conducted by Paul Paray in 1950, co-founding the Society for the Advancement of Jewish Music, chairing the Detroit Round Table for Catholics, Jews and Protestants, and composing many liturgical and secular pieces, including the cantata The Promised Land to commemorate Israel's tenth anniversary and a three-act opera, Out of the Desert (1966), spanning Jewish history in the Near East from the Exodus to the modern state of Israel. Julius Chajes died in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak on February 24, 1985.

Hebrew Suite of 1938, resonant with the ethos and idioms of Palestine that profoundly influenced Chajes' creative work, opens with a contemplative Prayer that recalls the cantorial melodies of the synagogue. In Galilee, a melancholy duet for clarinet and viola that finds expressive and formal contrast in the quicker dance rhythms of its central episode, is a musical tribute to the storied region that became home to many of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 and a center of Jewish learning. The Horah, here given in a spirited version with the instruments in close imitation, is the best-known of the traditional Jewish dances, typically performed in a circle at weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and other festive occasions. The keening, deeply felt In Jerusalem is Chajes' homage to Israel's capital and the holiest city in Judaism.