Edition 32
September 2000   Elul 5760
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In the year 1840 in the city of Berlin, the first choir director in the history of the synagogue was appointed. At the Heiderautergasse Temple, and later at the new Oranienburgerstrasse Temple, Louis Lewandowski (1821-1894) conducted the music of his Viennese mentor, the great Cantor Salomon Sulzer, as well as his own compositions. The music of German synagogues had for centuries consisted of cantorial recitatives and congregational responses, and Lewandowski's choral compositions introduced a new and popular type of service.

Louis LewandowskiLouis Lewandowski was born in the Polish town of Wreschen. At the age of twelve, after his mother's death and because of his family's extreme poverty, he left for Berlin here he became an apprentice for cantor Asher Lion. Soon the boy's musical ambition reached out beyond the ghetto. With the help of Alexander Mendelssohn (cousin of the composer Felix Mendelssohn), Lewandowski became the first Jew to attend the Berlin Academy of the Arts. But after showing great promise in the field of secular music (including a prize for composition from the prestigious Berlin Singakademie), Lewandowski succumbed to a serious nervous disorder and was forced to relinquish his scholarship and abandon his studies. It was after his partial recovery that the lad decided to devote himself fully to the music of the synagogue.

Oranienburgerstrasse Temple
The Oranienburgerstrasse Temple

For twenty-four years Lewandowski worked as choirmaster at the Heidereutergasse Temple in Berlin, conducting the music of Salomon Sulzer. But in 1864 the building of the Oranienburgerstrasse Temple, which was equipped with an organ, offered Lewandowski the opportunity of creating an entire new service with organ accompaniment a task never before undertaken. The culmination of his career came in 1882 with the publication of his magnum opus, Todah ve-Zimrah (Thanks and Song), a setting of the entire liturgical cycle for four soloists, cantor and organ.

Lewandowski was among the most significant composers of synagogue music, reproducing the traditional melodies in a more classical form and giving freer treatment to the organ music than his distinguished predecessor Cantor Sulzer had. He exerted a strong influence on Western Ashkenazi synagogal music through his activities as a teacher at the Jewish Free School and the Jewish Teachers' Seminary in Berlin. He based his compositions on the liturgical tradition of the Old Synagogue, on the one hand, and on the East European tunes he received from immigrant cantors, on the other. His choral settings following the style of Mendelssohn's oratorios and works for choir. Among Lewandowski's principal works are Kol Rina u-Tfillah (1871), Todah ve-Zimrah for four soloists, cantor and organ (1876-1882), and 18 liturgical Psalms for solo, choir and organ.


Todah ve-Zimrah
cover of Todah ve-Zimrah

megaphoneMa Tovu Ohaleha Yaakov — "How Goodly are your tents, O Jacob" from the daily and Sabbath liturgy. Music by Louis Lewandowski, sung by the Zamir Chorale; Joshua Jacobson, conductor; Dr. Jules Rosenberg, solo.

megaphoneLecha Dodi — "Come by beloved to meet the [Sabbath] bride" — from the Friday evening hymn welcoming the Sabbath. Music by Louis Lewandowski, sung by the Zamir Chorale, Joshua Jacobson, conductor, Dr. Jules Rosenberg, solo

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From: Zamir Chorale of Boston "The Majesty of Holiness."
sources CD-booklet "The Musical Tradition of the Jewish Reform Congregation in Berlin"produced by the Feher Jewish Music Center at Beth Hatefutsoth, Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, Tel Aviv.
Booklet for accompanying the Zamir Chorale of Boston CD, "The Majesty of Holiness" (recorded 1985, 1997).

CHOIR Table of Contents



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