Here in America, Maurice
Schwartz had the idea to draw A. to the Yiddish
theatre, giving him the opportunity to compose music
for some of his productions. Thus, A. composed the
music for (a free adaptation of Goldfaden’s)
“The Tenth Commandment” (18 November 1926), for
Asch’s “Kidush hashem” (15 September 1928) and
Sholem Aleichem’s "Stempenyu" (6 March 1929).
One of A.’s first and
most famous compositions was "Hebrew Melody” for
violin and piano, as well as for violin and
orchestra (with a text in Yiddish recorded by
Seymour Rechtzeit). It was performed by the greatest
violin virtuosos such as Jascha Heifetz and Mischa
Elman, and the most distinguished symphony
orchestras. In this short composition, one can
strongly hear as remarked by Sholem Rau: ”The [eygnartiker]
version, style, special Yiddish rhythm and also the
expression of the composer’s individual musical
character.... The sources of wonderful composition came
from a melody Achron had once heard in a Chasidic
synagogue in Warsaw. It took him less than half an
hour to compose it.
A. composed music for
Peretz’s “After the Funeral”, and “Stempenyu Suite”
which was also performed by virtuoso violinist
Joseph Szigeti. A. composed “The Tsadikim Dance”,
“The Golem Suite", "sonatas" for violin and choir,
three concertos for violin and orchestra, a few
piano compositions, an elegy in the style of
composer Joel Engel, a symphonic variation on the
melody “El yivneh haglalil” [ God will build
Galilee?]. However, “Kabalat Shabbat [Evening
Service of the Sabbath]" is considered the highlight
of his creation, and an extremely significant
contribution to Jewish music. This is perhaps the
greatest composition that he left behind. In
“Kabalat Shabbat” he revealed himself as a true
great Jewish composer, a master of Yiddish sounds
A. passed away in
California on 29 April, 1943.
Herman Swet wrote:
“Joseph Achron is today the greatest master of form
and the most refined Yiddish composer of local
Jewish themes. A few years ago, we heard his music
for “Balthasar”(?) and fragments of Weiter’s “Fortag”
(?). These are rarities antiken(?) of great
artistic and national Jewish accomplishment”.
M. Yardeini wrote:
"The crown of Achron’s works is his “Kabalat Shabbat”
(“Evening Service of the Sabbath”) with its pure
Jewish style which is very …… ???? contribution to
Jewish music. This is his greatest achievement, his
greatest work that has remained after him. In this
composition, he has revealed himself to be a great
Jewish musician, a master of Jewish sounds and tone.
In this work, Achron expressed fine harmony that
has been interwoven with mystical tener(?), a legacy
of generations of Jewish life, Jewish suffering,
Jewish hope, Jewish longing, deep Jewish emotions, Golus [Diaspora] experiences, the Jewish spirit,
Jewish qualities merging into an exceptional mosaic
with the text(?)."
Joseph Achron had a deep
Jewish national belief, old Jewish optimism and
confidence. He did not ponder about the long years
he lived away from home in a non-Jewish
environment. This was the basic trait of all his
creation and musical motifs”.
Sholem Rav characterized
him as follows:
“Unlike others, he did not hide his Judaism, but
constantly searched to present his musical works to
the world, which he produced in the course of a few
scores of years. Through Joseph Achron, the Jewish
character receives a musical tikun.
Achron was filled with Jewish spirit, mood and
feeling. In his works, his deep national spirit was
clearly expressed[. A. not only loved Jewish music,
he was also deeply convinced that Jewish music could
be equaled to the national creations of other
nations and that he was capable of proving it.
Joseph Achron firmly
believed in our trope [musical accents used in
cantillating the Torah]; the trope as a basic
element and the basis of Jewish vocal music. He
constantly spoke about the subject , took every
opportunity (batonen?), that the rich tonality of
our trope has not yet been sufficiently explained
compositions stand out in form(?) and (?). He
successfully presented us with the Yiddish melody in
a harmonious attire; not just the ”obershlack” but
the ”untershlack" as well. He shaped it, gave it a
“face”, teeth, eyes, heart, soul, and life. Every
competition of his achieved results has left its
“mark” on the process and development of Jewish
music in all its branches. He was positively…. in
his creation(?).……He did not have a precursor ….He
took a few tones from “Akdamus” (Akdamut is an
Aramaic liturgical poem for Shavuot) for his music
for Sholem Asch’s “Kidush Hashem” and through
various variations built up a composition.
Joseph Achron was one of
the most unobtrusive and finest Jewish musicians and
composers I have ever met. He did not pursue honor,
nor material comforts. Throughout his whole life,
Achron was most truly a true artist and creator.”
Josef Achron, “Menorah”, Vienna, No. 9-10, 1928.
Herman Swet – The music in the Yiddish Moscow Royal
Theatre, "Literarishe bleter", Warsaw, G. [No.??] 46, 1928.
Herman Swet – Joseph Achron,
"Literarishe bleter", Warsaw, G.[, No.??],
M. Yardeini – World famous Yiddish artist, “The
American”, N.Y., 19 September, 1947.
Gdal Saleski -- Famous Musicians of Jewish Origin,
New York, 1949, pp. 3-6.
Sholem Rav – Joseph Achron the Jewish composer,
“Morgen freyheyt”, N.Y., 18 September 1963.