When we think of the innovators of classical music, continental European composers like Bach, Chopin, and Mahler come first to mind. Though their contributions were genre-defining, there was an entire movement of Jewish classical composers in Russia that is often overlooked. As a result of history, anti-seminitism, and cultural bias, even the most avid classical music fans miss the opportunity to enjoy their groundbreaking work. To help you explore some of the incredible works, we’ve put together a list of five Russian Jewish composers to start.
Listen To: Melody in F
Anton Rubinstein was a Jewish Russian pianist that founded the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. Known at the time as a virtuoso, he was most famous for his live concerts. A prolific composer, Rubinstein’s music is known for following traditionalist structures but with sweeping grandiosity that is strongly emotionally stirring.
Alexander Moiseyevich Veprik
Listen To: Sonata No. 2, Op. 5
Alexander Moiseyevich Veprik was one of the founders of the Society for Jewish Music in Moscow. During his life, he was known as one of the greatest composers in Russia. Unfortunately, Veprik’s was filled with tragedy, as he was sentenced to the Gulag for being a “Jewish Nationalist” and spent years four years doing hard labor. His later work reflects this hardship.
Listen To: Symphony No. 1
Nicolas Slonimsky was a prolific writer and composer that wrote a number of musical criticism and reference books. After his family fled Russia during the Russian Revolution, Slonimsky settled in the United States where he became a frequent guest on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. He is best known for his great sense of humor and contemporary style.
Listen To: Tarantella
Nikolai Rubinstein was the younger brother of Anton Rubinstein. He was an extremely popular pianist and composer who helped co-found the Russian Musical Society and the Moscow Conservatory. Though his body of work is small, his work had a major impact on his friend Tchaikovsky who dedicated a number of works to him.
Joseph Yulyevich Achron
Listen To: Hebrew Lullaby
Joseph Yulyevich Achron was a violinist and classical composer from Lozdzieje that studied at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. He worked for the society of Jewish Folk music and served in the Russian Army before emigrating to the United States and settling in Hollywood. In his lifetime he performed over 1,000 concerts and wrote a number of moving classical pieces inspired by the Jewish experience.
Though not an extensive list, these five composers provide a great introduction to the often forgotten Russian Jewish composers. To learn more about the history and impact of Russian Jewish composers, the Multicultural Arts Exchange can help. We offer live concert series to explore the impact of lesser-known musical styles and composers of Russian Jewish composers. We also offer cultural and historical education to provide the context to truly enjoy these moving works.