Yulian Kreyn (or Julian Krein) was a composing prodigy who went on to a solid career in Soviet music, though not well known outside the borders of the former Eastern bloc. He came from a musical family that originated in Lithuania. His grandfather Abram Kreyn, was a musical scholar, collector of Jewish folk music, and highly esteemed klezmer violinist, who moved his family to Niznhy-Novgorod (later Gorkii) in Russia.
Abram's seven sons received their musical education from him. Three went on to become professional musicians. Alexander (1883-1951) was a cellist and composer who was famous in the 1920s as the head of a newly emerging Jewish school of composition. After Stalin's consolidation of power around 1930, Alexander Kreyn felt the need to eliminate specifically Jewish references in his music; his 1920s composition Jewish Melody was published in 1934 as, simply, Melody, Op. 43. One of his ballets, Laurentsia, has gained some international fame. David Kreyn (1869-1926) was a noted chamber and orchestral violinist who was concertmaster of the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra.
Grigory Kreyn (1879-1955) joined Alexander as a member of the Jewish school of Russian composers. Both gained some fame abroad but, like his brother Alexander, de-emphasized his Judaism after 1930.
Yulian was a son of Grigory, who taught him his first music lessons. He showed remarkable talent as a boy, and achieved his first publications at the age of 13. He initially picked up the strain of Jewish heritage that he heard in his uncle's and father's music. In 1927, he was sent to Paris, where he was among the few students accepted for study by the great French teacher and composer Paul Dukas. From him Yulian gained strong skills in orchestration. In common with his exact contemporary Benjamin Britten, Yulian Kreyn was strongly pacifistic, and expressed it in early music, most notably a symphonic prelude, Destruction, written when he was 16. His cello concerto was performed in Barcelona under Casal's baton (with Eisenberg as soloist) in 1931.
He graduated from the École Normal in Paris in 1932 and returned to live in Moscow in 1934. His harmonic style and the sound of his orchestration was affected by his studies in France. His melodic style is somewhat reminiscent of that of Gabriel Fauré, though he tended to use harmonies that derive from the Impressionist school. Nevertheless, he retains a Romantic quality to his writing. In common with his father and uncle, he eliminated overt Jewish references in his melodies, though sometimes one can hear veiled references to the kinds of exotic scale formations that are common in klezmer and other Yiddish-theater Jewish music and similar folk music. However, these elements are muted, and can also be taken as references to other exotic folk music found in and around the Soviet Union.
Kreyn did not receive the benefit of the kind of support from the State and Party controlled musical organs of the Soviet Union that gentile Russian composers got as a matter of course. Hence, he did not gain international recognition, and even suffered on the national scene, especially during the Stalin and Brezhnev eras.
In addition to being prolific as a composer, he was a leading musicologist and frequently appeared as a pianist.