Jadassohn was born to a Jewish family living in Breslau, the capital of the Prussian province of Silesia. This was a generation after the emancipation of the Jews in Central European German-speaking lands and during a time of relative tolerance. First educated locally, Jadassohn enrolled at the Leipzig Conservatory in 1848, just a few years after it had been founded by Felix Mendelssohn. There he studied composition with Moritz Hauptmann, Ernst Richter and Julius Rietz, as well as piano with Ignaz Moscheles. At the same time, he studied privately with Franz Liszt in Weimar. On 13 April 1851 in Weimar he was the soloist at the first performance, under Liszt's baton, of Liszt's arrangement for piano and orchestra of Carl Maria von Weber's Polonaise (Polacca) brillante "L'hilarité" in E major, Op. 72.
Because he was Jewish, Jadassohn could not qualify for the many church jobs as music directors or organists which were usually available to Christian graduates of a conservatory such as Leipzig, as they required deep knowledge of Christian liturgy and practice. Instead he worked for a Leipzig synagogue and a few local choral societies as well as teaching privately. Eventually, he was able to qualify for a position at the Leipzig Conservatory, teaching piano and composition.
Over the years, he became a renowned teacher, and Edvard Grieg, Ferruccio Busoni, Frederick Delius, Paul Homeyer, Richard Franck, Sigfrid Karg-Elert, Ruben Liljefors, Emil Reznicek and Felix Weingartner, Bernard Zweers and Cornelis Dopper were among his many students. Americans also studied with him, including the song composer Jean Paul Kürsteiner and George Strong, a composer of the late 19th and early 20th century. He died in Leipzig, aged 70.
Jadassohn composed more than 140 works in virtually every genre, including four symphonies, four Serenades for Orchestra and one for Flute and String Orchestra, two piano concertos, lieder, sonatas, opera and a considerable amount of chamber music, including a string quartet, four piano trios, three piano quartets, three piano quintets and a serenade for flute and string quintet. These chamber works rank among his finest compositions. Considered a master of counterpoint and harmony, he was also a gifted melodist, following in the tradition of Mendelssohn. His works also show the influence of Wagner and Liszt, whose music deeply impressed him. In addition, he wrote several important books on composition and music theory.
The general consensus is that Jadassohn and his music were not better known for two reasons: the first is the pre-eminence of his contemporary Carl Reinecke. Reinecke was a world-famous piano virtuoso and composer, but also an important professor at the Leipzig Conservatory, where Jadassohn taught. Reinecke later served as its director and, at the same time, held the post of conductor of the renowned Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.
The second reason was the influence of the rising tide of antisemitism in late 19th century Wilhelmine Germany. In the wake of Wagner, many music critics attacked Jadassohn's works, labeling it academic and dry, epithets which have stuck with it since.
Since his death, his music has been seldom performed, but in the 21st century, a reevaluation of it has begun with new performances and recordings. Cameo Classics commenced a programme of recording his neglected orchestral works. His Symphony No.1 was recorded with the Belarusian SSO with Marius Stravinsky conducting. Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 Op. 89 in C minor was performed to acclaim at a public premiere (since his death) by soloist Valentina Seferinova and the Karelia State Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Denis Vlasenko in Petrozavodsk, Russia on 20 December 2008. A CD including these works was issued by Cameo Classics in January 2009. Jadassohn composed four Serenades for Orchestra and the first three received their premiere recordings from Cameo Classics in 2011, along with his Serenade for Flute and Strings (Soloist Rebecca Hall) with the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, and his Serenade No. 4 will complete the recorded set in 2012, in the CD series 'Jewish German Composers'. Hyperion Records released a recording of Jadassohn's two piano concertos.
The record label cpo has announced they will be recording and releasing all four of Jadassohn’s symphonies with Israel Yinon and the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie. Some of these recordings have already been made and broadcast on local radio stations.Symphony 1 in C major, Op.24 (1861)
Symphony 2 in A major, Op.28 (1865)
Symphony 3 in D minor, Op.50 (1876)
Symphony 4 in C minor, Op.101 (1889)
Piano Concerto 1 in C minor, Op.89 (1887)
Piano Concerto 2 in F minor, Op.90 (1888)
Fantasie in G minor, Op. 95
Cavatina for Cello and Orchestra, Op.120
Sextet for piano 4 hands, 2 violins, viola, cello, Op.100 (1888)
Piano Quintet 1 in C minor, Op.70 (1883)
Piano Quintet 2 in F major, Op.76 (1884)
Piano Quintet 3 in G minor, Op.126 (1895)
Piano Quartet 1 in C minor, Op.77 (1884)
Piano Quartet 2 in G major, Op.86 (1887)
Piano Quartet 3 in A minor, Op. 109 (1890)
String Quartet in C minor, Op.10 (1858)
Piano Trio 1 in F major, Op.16 (1858)
Piano Trio 2 in E major, Op.20 (1860)
Piano Trio 3 in C minor, Op.59 (1880)
Piano Trio 4 in C minor, Op.85 (1887)
Violin Sonata in G minor, Op.5 (1857)
Notturno op.133 for flute and piano
Capriccio op.137 for flute and piano
Serenade No. 3 in A major, Op. 47 (1876)