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Morris Library

Lionel Semiatin: Composer, Jewish Leader, Immigrant

Brief biography and resources related to Lionel Semiatin, whose musical works are preserved in Morris Library's Special Collections Research Center.

Lionel Semiatin playing a portable organ on the beach at Normandy shortly after D-Day

Lionel Semiatin at work playing a portable organ on the beach at Normandy shortly after D-Day, 1944.

About Lionel Semiatin

Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1917 to a Jewish family, Lionel Semiatin immigrated to the United States with his family when he was three. Semiatin began composing music in his youth. He lived in Baltimore, Wilkes-Barre, and Brooklyn, where he graduated from high school and college. Serving in the Army during World War II, he was sent to Normandy a week after D-Day and assigned to guard the fuel dump of the first air force fighter base there during the night. While in Normandy, he composed part of a chamber orchestra piece, which he completed before the end of the war. Because of his musical abilities, he was assigned to the chaplain’s office overseas and played the organ for troops during services for all denominations. After the war, Semiatin worked in fundraising for a Jewish organization before moving with his wife Edith to White Plains, where he worked at Temple Israel Center, serving as executive director from 1953 to 1982. In 2014 Edward Benyas performed several works by Semiatin during the Southern Illinois Music Festival, which Semiatin attended with his daughter. In 2015 the Southern Illinois Music Festival performed his American Symphony.

Influenced by jazz, Semiatin studied the art and science of composition throughout his life, composing modern chamber and symphonic music that was performed by the Westchester Philharmonic, the Columbia University Orchestra, the Omaha Symphony, the Alexandria Symphony and other symphony orchestras around the United States and Canada. Semiatin never stopped composing and was 98 when he died in 2015.

About His Music

Works in the SCRC

Dated works:

  • Symphony No. 1 (1934), for full orchestra
  • To the Memory of M. C. F. (1938), for full orchestra
  • Chasidic Overture (1939), for full orchestra
  • Transcription of "The Well Tempered Clavier" by Bach (1941), for full orchestra
  • Tidbit #1 (1945), for full orchestra
  • Soliloquy (1948), for full orchestra
  • A Mother's Day Greeting: Score and Parts (1949), for solo violin with violins and violas
  • Sinfonietta for Band (1957), for band
  • Fanfare (1983), for full orchestra
  • A Sweet Suite for Band / Orchestra (1986), for band or full orchestra
  • A Purim Overture [unfinished] (2015), for full orchestra

Undated works:

  • Mozart Goes American, for string orchestra
  • Sinfonietta #2, for full orchestra
  • Sinfonietta, for full orchestra
  • To the Wide Open Spaces: Score and Parts, for full orchestra
  • Sinfonietta in B: 3 Movements, for full orchestra
  • Elegy, A Holocaust Memorial Work for Orchestra, for full orchestra
  • Symphony #2, for full orchestra
  • A Swinging Suite for Bassoon and Small Orchestra, for full orchestra
  • Caintucky Concertino by Johann Sebastian Dunkel, for full orchestra
  • An American Symphony (Bicentenniala), for full orchestra
  • A Century Salute, for full orchestra