Schönberg apparently earned his living during Germany's Weimar Republic (1919-1933) as a pianist, music critic, conductor and composer. He wrote articles for the Nürnberger Zeitung and served as a musical consultant for Bavarian Radio in Munich. Bavarian Radio performed some of his orchestral compositions. He also worked in films as a "musical conductor and illustrator" and some of his film music was published by Schott's Söhne, Mainz, and Hawkes and Son, London. Schönberg was interested in composing instrumental music — especially orchestral. His first orchestral work, Prelude Symphonique, premiered in 1923.
Although some music critics detected a hint of "Oriental" flavor in Schönberg's earlier works, his style of composition took a decidedly Jewish turn after the Nazis took power in 1933, and Jewish musicians could no longer be employed by Germany's state-supported cultural institutions. In 1934 Schönberg transcribed the folk songs and dance tunes of several halutzim (pioneers) visiting Germany from Palestine. The following year he published Shire Erets Yisrael (Songs of the Land of Israel), an anthology containing 230 Hebrew songs (Berlin: Jüdischer Verlag, 1935). From this time until, at least, when he left Germany, these Israeli melodies would figure prominently in Schönberg's work. He set several of them for voice with piano and voice with flute and viola. His Suite für Orchester, 3 Sätze utilizes a Horra melody from the anthology. Schönberg's orchestral Horras appear to have been extremely popular in Nazi Germany, and were performed numerous times by the Jüdischer Kulturbünde between 1936 and 1938, in both Berlin and Frankfurt-am-Main
Jakob Schönberg emigrated to England in August 1939. There is little information in the collection about his years there. He came to New York City in January 1948. His setting of the Sabbath prayer V'shomru was premiered by Cantor David Putterman and the Park Avenue Synagogue Choir in May of that year. The Hora movement from his Chassidic Suite for piano, 1937, was performed at Carnegie Hall by pianist Ray Lev in November 1948.
Schönberg revised several of his pieces during his final years in New York. Although there is a list of his compositions within a promotional pamphlet, ca. 1940, a chronology of all his works is difficult because of a scarcity of information. He taught at New York's Trinity School and then was engaged to teach a number of musical subjects at The Carnegie School of Music in Englewood, New Jersey. Jakob Schönberg succumbed to a brain tumor on May 1, 1956. He was survived by his wife, Fanny, and his sister, Mrs. [?] Fraenkel of Berlin.
Note: biographical information comes from The Jakob Schönberg Collection, and
from the following published sources:
- Krause, Gerhard. "Jakob Schönberg in Memoriam… ." Israelitische Kultusgemeinde, Fürth (September 1966).
- Landau, Annaliese. "Jewish Music and Jewish Composers in the Diaspora, 1. Germany, Jakob Schoenberg." Musica Hebraica 1-2, Jerusalem (1938).
- Rothmüller, Aron Marko. The Music of the Jews. South Brunswick, N.J., New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1967.
- Saleski, Gdal. Famous Musicians of Jewish Origin. New York: Bloch Publ. Co., 1949.