Bucharoff [Buchhalter], Simon
- Maristella Feustle
(b Berdychiv [Yiddish: Berdichev], Ukraine, April 20, 1881; d Chicago, Nov 24, 1955). American composer born in present-day Ukraine. Bucharoff, who was born Simon Buchhalter, was the son of a Jewish cantor, and his brother, Isadore Buchhalter, also enjoyed a successful career as a pianist and educator in the Chicago area. Bucharoff’s personal papers indicate he was singing in choirs at the age of four or five, and that his family immigrated to the United States when he was 11, settling in New York. There, he studied piano with Paolo Gallico and Leopold Kramer. He later traveled to Europe and studied composition with Stephen Stocker and Robert Fuchs, and piano with Emil Sauer and Julius Epstein at the Vienna Conservatory. Bucharoff joined the faculty of the Wichita (Kansas) College of Music in 1907, and quickly became a respected artist in the area.
Bucharoff relocated to Chicago in the early to mid-1910s. Thereafter, his career focussed more closely on composition than piano performance. He secured the patronage of future Vice President of the United States Charles G. Dawes, and obtained a hearing of his first opera, A Lovers’ Knot (libretto by Cora Bennett Stephenson), by the Chicago Opera, which premiered it under the direction of Cleofonte Campanini on 16 January 1915. Despite his successes in the USA, Bucharoff believed he could only fulfill his destiny in Europe.
Bucharoff officially changed his name from Buchhalter in May of 1919, and in later accounts, he gave his birthplace as Kiev rather than Berdychiv. He departed for Europe in 1919, and pursued a project under Pierre Maudru, described in Le Figaro as a lyric drama in three acts, based on the novel La Reine amorouse, by André Geiger, which Bucharoff ultimately found unsatisfactory and abandoned. He arrived in Germany in 1921, commencing a period which saw the peak and beginning of the decline of his success as a composer.
He finished the opera Sakahra in 1919, but had difficulty securing a performance in the United States for the work, described as ‘neo-Romantic in style. However, Sakahra premiered in Germany on 8 November 1924, with a libretto by Isabel Buckingham, translated by Rudolf Lothar. It was a coup for an American composer on German soil. The production was very well received, and was performed eight times in six weeks. In 1925, Bucharoff received the David Bispham Award for Sakahra and A Lovers’ Knot, which enjoyed a revival in 1923.
Amid deteriorating political and economic conditions, Bucharoff entered into a dispute with his publisher, Steingräber, over who owed money to whom, and ultimately involved the USA. Consulate in seeking a resolution. As the political climate worsened, Bucharoff relocated to Italy, storing his compositions in Germany with Hofmeister-Verlag in what he thought was a temporary arrangement. In another slight, Universal Editions, a brand within Hofmeister, chose Eugen D’Albert over him for an opera about the Golem of Prague. However, Bucharoff’s Der Golem became a springboard for several iterations of later work, including his utopian Jewel: The Indestructible Man.
Bucharoff returned to the USA in the late 1920s, enjoying success in having his works performed by the New York Philharmonic, and under Eugene Goosens at the Hollywood Bowl. As the Depression took hold, he also sought income through teaching.
In 1937, Bucharoff began working as a music editor and orchestrator for Warner Bros., a position he held for almost the rest of his life. He worked on films such as Between Two Worlds (1944) and The Sea Hawk (1940), along with a number of other films scored by Erich Korngold, as well as two by Roy Webb, and at least one by Dmitri Tiomkin (Meet John Doe, 1941). He penned several songs in support of the war effort, but it is unclear how widely they were performed. Bucharoff embraced Christian Science later in life, and produced both musical and prose works of a philosophical and metaphysical nature.
After World War II, Bucharoff resumed trying to retrieve his compositions from Germany, but the communist takeover of Eastern Europe kept them inaccessible. He sought compensation through the War Claims Act of 1948, but was ultimately denied in a case which his heirs pursued until a final appeal was denied in 1967. Bucharoff died of cancer in Chicago on 24 November 1955, at the age of 74. His papers and compositions are held at the University of North Texas Music Library.
- Le Figaro (18 October 1920), 3
- E. E. Hipsher: American Opera and Its Composers (Philadelphia, 1927), 86–90
- M. Feustle: ‘“In Case of Sudden Death, Burn This”: the Simon Bucharoff Collection at the University of North Texas Music Library’, Music Reference Services Quarterly, vol.16/3 (2013), 160–69
- Simon Bucharoff Papers (UNT Libraries - Finding Aids) [on-line database: descriptions of contents of the boxes of documents held by the UNT Libraries] http://findingaids.library.unt.edu/?p=collections/findingaid&id=65