Hebrew Melody

Joseph Achron

Hebrew Melody in A Minor

Op. 33

About this work

Premiered at the Czar's ball in 1912 in St. Petersburg, this composition came to be the most popular of the composer's works. It was the first of many pieces built on traditional Jewish themes, and is said to have been written within the space of a half-hour's fevered inspiration after Achron's first meeting with composer Salomon Rosowsky, who was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov, and who was president of the newly-formed "Society for Jewish Folk Music."

A portion of the melody, derived from Hassidic tradition, creates a somber, even gloomy atmosphere in the brief introduction in the lower bass register. The solo violin enters to the gentle pulsing of a chordal accompaniment. The atmosphere changes to a plaintive nostalgia filled with tender and sad memories. The repeated tones are like sighs; the initial grace-note embellishments like gentle weeping. And yet, the tenderness of the mood is still reassuring and comforting.

The melody moves up an octave and becomes more like a mental reflection. This is accompanied by flowing arpeggios and a rotating chordal figure in the upper registers. The harmonization changes back to the pulsations heard before, but with the new major key, the melody becomes more hopeful and even more tender.

The older tensions soon return, however, and the music begins to wander far afield. Virtuoso runs fill the air until a furious rush downward brings everything to a still resonance that hangs, suspended until the accompaniment enters after a brief pause with the familiar pulsing interwoven with slowly moving lines. Quasi-improvisationally this accompaniment continues as the violin re-enters with the melody, this time highly embellished with trills that ascending to the highest ranges.

But the soloist reminds us again of the mood at the beginning by repeating only a few measures of the introduction as a coda that leaves the listener wanting more but satisfied that a definitive conclusion was never reached.