Henri Akoka

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Henri Akoka (23 June 1912 – 22 November 1976) was an Algerian Jewish clarinetist.

Akoka was born on 23 June 1912 in Palikao, Algeria. He was the second of six children of Abraham Akoka, a trumpet player, who in 1926 moved the family to Ponthierry, France, so that the children could pursue music. Henri began playing in the band at the wallpaper factory where his father worked, and also performed in silent film soundtracks beginning at age 14. During this period, he studied under Briançon.[1]

Akoka graduated from the Paris Conservatory with the first prize in clarinet in 1935. He first joined the Orchestre Symphonique de la Radio-diffusion de Strasbourg, and later became a member of the Orchestre National de la Radio in Paris. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Akoka was sent to a military orchestra in Verdun, where he met Étienne Pasquier and Olivier Messiaen.[1] All three were captured by Nazi forces in June 1940. While they were awaiting transport to a German prison camp, Akoka sight-read Messiaen's composition "Abîme des Oiseaux" for solo clarinet, though he "grumbled" about its difficulty.[2] They were then sent to Stalag VIII-A, where they met violinist Jean Le Boulaire.[3] It was for this ensemble that Messiaen composed his Quatuor pour la fin du temps, premiered in the camp in January 1941.[4] After the war, Akoka stated that this quartet was "the only memory of the war that I wish to keep"; however, he never again performed it.[5]

Akoka's release from the camp was arranged by Karl-Albert Brüll, a guard who provided false papers for Messiaen. However, he was removed from the transport truck "because of his Jewish looks". He later escaped in April 1941 by jumping onto the top of a moving train "with his clarinet under his arm".[6] He returned to the Orchestre National de la Radio, which was operating out of the Free Zone of Marseilles.[7]

Akoka died on 22 November 1976 of cancer.[8]


  1. ^ a b Rischin 2006, p. 11.
  2. ^ Rischin 2006, pp. 12–13.
  3. ^ Rischin 2006, p. 15.
  4. ^ Rischin 2006, p. 2.
  5. ^ Rischin 2006, pp. v, 96.
  6. ^ Haven, Cynthia (5 November 2008). "100th birthday of Messiaen celebrated with a concert series". Stanford News. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  7. ^ Rischin 2006, p. 85.
  8. ^ Rischin 2006, p. 96.
  • Rischin, Rebecca (2006). For the end of time: the story of the Messiaen quartet. Cornell University Press. ISBN 9780801472978.