Isadore Freed was born in Brest-Litovsk, Russia on March 26, 1900. At the age of three, his family immigrated to the United States and settled in Philadelphia, PA. Freed studied music formally at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in music at the age of 18. In 1923, Freed spent five months in Berlin studying piano with Josef Weiss. Freed made his compositional debut in 1926 at a concert sponsored by the Friends of Chamber Music in Philadelphia. The program included a Sonata for Violin and Piano, a Suite for Viola and Piano, his first String Quartet, and a Rhapsody for Clarinet, String Quartet, and Piano. The Rhapsody was performed three more times that year in New York City, first at Aeolian Hall, then at Columbia University, and finally at the Brooklyn Museum. That same year, Freed helped to found the Philadelphia Society for Contemporary Music.
In 1928, Freed moved to Paris for a period of five years, during which time he studied composition with renowned teachers Ernest Bloch, Vincent D’Indy and Nadia Boulanger. A year after returning to the United States, Freed founded the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra and Composers’ Laboratory. The Laboratory was a unique project that allowed young composers to submit new works to be read by the Chamber Orchestra in a private rehearsal. Many of the compositions submitted to the Laboratory were performed as part of the Chamber Orchestra’s annual concert series.
Aside from his compositional activities, Freed was also involved in music education. Starting in 1937, he joined the music faculty at Temple University and accepted a post as organist and choirmaster at Temple Keneseth Israel in Philadelphia. In 1944, Freed headed the Composition Department at the Julius Harrt Musical Foundation in Hartford, Connecticut. Two years later, he was commissioned by the Harrt Foundation to write the opera, “The Princess and the Vagabond,” which was premiered on May 13, 1948 by the Foundation's Opera Department.
In the early years of Freed’s tenure at Knesseth Israel he began to experiment with composing music for the synagogue. In 1939 he published his first liturgical work, the ‘Sacred Service for Shabbat Morning.’ In 1951, Freed was hired as a Harmony instructor at the newly established Hebrew Union School of Sacred Music. Freed expanded his course offerings to include a class devoted to Jewish modes. In 1958, Freed published the treatise, Harmonizing the Jewish Modes, in which he offers a systematic harmonic language by which to understand the Jewish modes as they have been treated by a variety of synagogue composers (e.g. Hirsch Weintraub, Abraham W. Binder, David Nowakowsky, Adolph Katchko, Heinrich Schalit and more). While rooting the Jewish modes in a Western music theoretical structure, Freed stressed the subtle difference inherent in the Jewish treatment of the synagogue mode. He believed that the synagogue mode, unlike the Western major-minor scale system, was characterized by its non-dominant coloring. His later synagogue compositions include the Hasidic Service (1954), Psalm settings, and a selection from Salamone de Rossi's Ha-shirim asher li-Shelomo arranged as a service for cantor, chorus, and organ (1954). Freed also served as the president of the Jewish Music Forum (1942-44), and as a member of the Board of Governors for the Jewish Liturgical Society and the Hebrew Union College of Sacred Music.