1911 marked a watershed in Achron’s life: he encountered Salomon Rosovsky (1878–1962), a student of Rimsky-Korsakov and President of the new Society for Jewish Folk Music, which had been founded in St Petersburg in 1908 by the composer Joel Engel (1868– 1927), a Taneyev student in Rimsky-Korsakov’s circle. The Society included composers such as Mikhail Gnesin and Lazar Saminsky and aimed to recreate a national Jewish art-music style based on authentic sources. They were inspired by ethnographic expeditions to Jewish communities across Russia, and by the published results of field work such as an anthology of Jewish tunes recorded and transcribed by Zusman Kiselgof, a source much favoured by Achron. By 1913 the flourishing Society had spread to numerous cities including Moscow, as well as Vienna and Berlin.
Achron was so inspired by his encounter with Rosovsky that he immediately composed his Hebrew Melody, Op 33, in just half an hour. Stated slowly at the outset, the Hasidic melody, recollected from his childhood, is repeated passionately in a higher octave, with varied harmonization. The theme gains in intensity over pulsating chords, and is then gradually embellished before a fervent cadenza. Its final appearance, with a more pleading tone in a higher register, is coloured with rarefied trills, until a closing utterance in the rich lower octave. Rapturously received when Achron premiered it at the Czar’s ‘ball-concert’ in 1912, it was taken up by Heifetz and became the composer’s most popular work. Like several of Achron’s pieces from this period, the Hebrew Melody was written with piano accompaniment and later orchestrated.