Alexei Haieff


Born: August 25, 1914; Blagoveshchensk, Siberia   Died: March 1, 1994; Rome, Italy  
In the middle of the twentieth century, Alexei Haieff was one of the rising stars among American contemporary composers, but by the end of it, he was all but completely forgotten. Born in Siberia, Haieff arrived in the United States by way of Harbin, China, in 1931, already having received some instruction in music there. Haieff enrolled in the Juilliard School and studied with Rubin Goldmark and Frederick Jacobi; he later finished his studies Read more with Nadia Boulanger. Haieff worked as an accompanist to singers and, for a brief time during 1946, led the Woody Herman Orchestra while it was on tour. Haieff was made a Guggenheim fellow twice and won the prize to study at the American Academy of Rome in 1947; a letter of congratulations was sent to him from no less than Randall Thompson. Haieff was an uncannily well-connected composer, and by the late '40s he could count such divergent personalities as Aaron Copland, John Cage, and Samuel Barber among his close friends. Haieff was particularly close to Barber, and in 1953 Haieff's String Quartet No. 1 was paired with Barber's Hermit Songs on a CBS LP that featured Leontyne Price and Barber's own performance of the cycle. In 1952, Haieff's Piano Concerto had won a New York Critic's Circle Award as one of the three best compositions of the year, and from there it looked like the only way forward for Haieff was "up."

However, Haieff moved into academia, first through teaching at the American Academy of Rome in the 1950s. He subsequently became a visiting music professor at SUNY Buffalo, taught at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in the early '60s, and beginning in 1968 Haieff was composer-in-residence for two years at the University of Utah. From 1970, Haieff was based mostly in Rome, although for some years he commuted between Italy and the United States. By the end of the 1970s, however, Haieff had settled permanently in Rome; when he died in 1994, Haieff and his music were already completely forgotten.

Haieff wrote in an appealing neo-Classical style that was razor sharp, clean-cut, and inspired equally by Stravinsky and jazz rhythms. Like his friend Samuel Barber, Haieff chose not to move into the realm of International Serialism that took hold in the late '50s. Perhaps in the twenty-first century, Haieff's music will enjoy a higher profile; his work is ripe for rediscovery and all of it is located in the Special Collections Division of the New York Public Library, where it was donated by his wife Sheila after Haieff's death. Read less

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