Samuel Adler

Samuel Adler

Samuel Adler (b. 1928)

Samuel Adler was born March 4, 1928, Mannheim, Germany and came to the United States in 1939. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in May 2001, and then inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in October 2008. He is the composer of over 400 published works, including 5 operas, 6 symphonies, 12 concerti, 9 string quartets, 5 oratorios and many other orchestral, band, chamber and choral works and songs, which have been performed all over the world. He is the author of three books, Choral Conducting (Holt Reinhart and Winston 1971, second edition Schirmer Books 1985), Sight Singing (W.W. Norton 1979, 1997), and The Study of Orchestration (W.W. Norton 1982, 1989, 2001). He has also contributed numerous articles to major magazines and books published in the U.S. and abroad.

Adler was educated at Boston University and Harvard University, and holds honorary doctorates from Southern Methodist University, Wake Forest University, St. Mary’s Notre-Dame and the St. Louis Conservatory. His major teachers were: in composition, Herbert Fromm, Walter Piston, Randall Thompson, Paul Hindemith and Aaron Copland; in conducting, Serge Koussevitzky.

He is Professor-emeritus at the Eastman School of Music where he taught from 1966 to 1995 and served as chair of the composition department from 1974 until his retirement. Before going to Eastman, Adler served as professor of composition at the University of North Texas (1957-1977), Music Director at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas (1953-1966), and instructor of Fine Arts at the Hockaday School in Dallas, Texas (1955-1966). From 1954 to 1958 he was music director of the Dallas Lyric Theater and the Dallas Chorale. Since 1997 he has been a member of the composition faculty at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, and was awarded the 2009-10 William Schuman Scholars Chair. Adler has given master classes and workshops at over 300 universities worldwide, and in the summers has taught at major music festivals such as Tanglewood, Aspen, Brevard, Bowdoin, as well as others in France, Germany, Israel, Spain, Austria, Poland, South America and Korea.

Some recent commissions have been from the Cleveland Orchestra (Cello Concerto), the National Symphony (Piano Concerto No. 1), the Dallas Symphony (Lux Perpetua), the Pittsburgh Symphony (Viola Concerto), the Houston Symphony (Horn Concerto), the Barlow Foundation/Atlanta Symphony (Choose Life), the American Brass Quintet, the Wolf Trap Foundation, the Berlin-Bochum Brass Ensemble, the Ying Quartet and the American String Quartet to name only a few. His works have been performed lately by the St. Louis Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Mannheim Nationaltheater Orchestra. Besides these commissions and performances, previous commissions have been received from the National Endowment for the Arts (1975, 1978, 1980 and 1982), the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, the Koussevitzky Foundation, the City of Jerusalem, the Welsh Arts Council and many others.

Adler has been awarded many prizes including a 1990 award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Charles Ives Award, the Lillian Fairchild Award, the MTNA Award for Composer of the Year (1988-1989), and a Special Citation by the American Foundation of Music Clubs (2001). In 1983 he won the Deems Taylor Award for his book, The Study of Orchestration. In 1988-1989 he was designated “Phi Beta Kappa Scholar.” In 1989 he received the Eastman School’s Eisenhard Award for Distinguished Teaching. In 1991 he was honored being named the Composer of the Year by the American Guild of Organists. Adler was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship (1975-1976); he has been a MacDowell Fellow for five years and; during his second trip to Chile, he was elected to the Chilean Academy of Fine Arts (1993) “for his outstanding contribution to the world of music as a composer.” In 1999, he was elected to the Akademie der Künste in Germany for distinguished service to music. While serving in the United States Army (1950-1952), Adler founded and conducted the Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra and, because of the Orchestra’s great psychological and musical impact on European culture, was awarded a special Army citation for distinguished service. In May, 2003, he was presented with the Aaron Copland Award by ASCAP, for Lifetime Achievement in Music (Composition and Teaching).

Adler has appeared as conductor with many major symphony orchestras, both in the U.S. and abroad. His compositions are published by Theodore Presser Company, Oxford University Press, G. Schirmer, Carl Fischer, E.C. Schirmer, Peters Edition, Ludwig-Kalmus Music Masters, Southern Music Publishers, Transcontinental Music Publishers, and Leupold Music. Recordings of his works have been done on Naxos, RCA, Gasparo, Albany, CRI, Crystal and Vanguard.


Tzvi Avni


Tzvi Avni is one of the foremost composers of Israel today. He was born in Saarbrücken, Germany, in 1927, and came to Israel as a child. Initially self-taught he continued his studies with Abel Ehrlich and Paul Ben-Haim. In 1958 he graduated from the Israel Music Academy in Tel Aviv under Mordecai Seter and later furthered his studies in the U.S.A. at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center with Vladimir Ussachevsky and in Tanglewood with Aaron Copland and Lukas Foss. Since 1971 he has been teaching at the Jerusalem Rubin Academy of Music and Dance where he holds the position of Professor of theory and composition and served as head of the Electronic Music Studio.  

His works include several orchestral pieces, chamber music for various combinations, vocal and choral music, several electronic works, as well as music for ballet, theater, art films, radio plays, etc. They have been performed world-wide by numerous soloists and ensembles and by all Israeli orchestras including the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, The Israel Chamber Orchestra, as well as the Berlin Radio Orchestra, the Saarland Radio Synphony Orchestra, the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra, Bochum Symphony and others.

In his early works Avni followed the line of the so-called Mediterranean Style which was still prevalent in Israel in the 1950s. His encounter in the early 1960s with some of the newer trends in musical thinking, including the electronic medium, were a turning point in his style, which now became more abstract and focused on sonorism and post-Webern developments though preserving some of its former characteristics. Avni's interest in Jewish mysticism since the mid 1970s left a further mark on his musical language in which some neo-tonal elements manifest themselves in a new synthesis.

Avni is a recipient of several prizes, including the ACUM Prize for his life achievements (1986) and the Kuestermeier Prize awarded to him by the Germany-Israel Friendship Association (1990), The Israel Prime Minister's Prize for his life achievements (1998), the Culture Prize of the Saarland (1998) and the Israel Prize (2000).

Constantly active in Israel's public musical life, Tzvi Avni served in the past as Chairman of the Israel Composers' League and led the World Music Days which took place in Israel in 1980. For several years he was Chairman of the Music Committee of the National Council for Culture and Art, served twice as Chairman of the Jury of the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition (in 1989 and in 1992) and is currently Chairman of the Directory Board of the Israel Jeunesses Musicales. He has been constantly lecturing and publishing articles on musical topics for professional musicians as well as for a general public.


Steven Barnett

Steve Barnett is known internationally as an award-winning independent recording producer for Minneapolis-based Barnett Music Productions. He received his second and third classical Grammy® awards for his production of Chanticleer’s world-premiere recording of Sir John Tavener’s “Lamentations and Praises” with the Orchestra of the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston, and received his first classical Grammy® for his production of Chanticleer’s “Colors of Love”. Both CDs are on the Warner Classics/Teldec label.

He was also a Grammy®-award nominee for his productions of “Walden Pond” (Dale Warland Singers on the Gothic label), “Our American Journey” (Chanticleer on the Teldec label), and an all-Argento orchestral/choral CD (Philip Brunelle conducting on Virgin Classics). In addition, he received the British Gramophone “Opera of the Year” award in London for his production of the world-premiere recording of Britten’s first opera Paul Bunyan (Philip Brunelle conducting, also on Virgin Classics). His major label production credits include CDs with Warner Classics, Teldec, Archiv, Virgin Classics, RCA/BMG “Red Seal”, Harmonia Mundi, PentaTone Classics, Gothic, Collins Classics (BMG), Avie, and also many independent labels.

Steve's recording productions include such ensembles and soloists as Chanticleer, Anonymous 4, Cantus, The Swingle Singers, The King’s Singers, The Dale Warland Singers, Philip Brunelle’s VocalEssence Ensemble Singers, The San Francisco Girls Chorus, Chicago A Cappella, The Princeton Singers, The Washington Bach Consort, The Cathedral Choral Society of the National Cathedral and Cappella Romana; the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra, Houston Symphony, Philharmonia Orchestra of London (as both conductor and producer), guitarist Sharon Isbin, the Newberry Consort, Vivica Genaux and Les Violons du Roy, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, Sopranos Joyce DiDonato, Susan Graham, Frederica Von Stade, composer/pianist Jake Heggie, members of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Chamber Orchestra of Lausanne, The Minnesota Opera (a world premiere opera recording), and the Royal Swedish Opera (including two world premiere opera recordings). He was the initial recording producer for the American Composer’s Forum’s independent innova records label.

For 25 years, Steve was music producer of the Peabody- and ASCAP Deems Taylor-award winning, internationally-broadcast chamber music program Saint Paul Sunday® on Public Radio.

As a Composer/Arranger/Conductor, Steve Barnett is also known internationally for his compositions and arrangements published by Oxford University Press, Boosey & Hawkes, Hinshaw Music, Transcontinental (distributed by Hal Leonard), and ADAR Music Ltd.

His orchestral commissions include performances by the New York Philharmonic, Minnesota Symphony Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Kansas City Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Phoenix Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Cantor Benzion Miller and the Barcelona Philharmonic, and the San Antonio Symphony.

His choral commissions include performances and recordings by Chanticleer, The Dale Warland Singers, Philip Brunelle’s Ensemble Singers (VocalEssence), the San Francisco Girls Chorus, the Zamir Chorale and a number of other choruses. The Milken Archive of American Jewish Music chose Steve as one of the selected composer/arrangers whose recorded works appear on the Naxos label’s releases of the largest collection of original American Jewish music ever assembled.

He was Assistant Creative Director at Sound 80 Recording Studios for four years, composing, arranging and producing music for radio and TV commercials and industrial and commercial films.

Steve was also Music Director/Arranger/Conductor for Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, and for both national public radio musical variety programs, Good Evening and First House on the Right.

Steve was a choral director for twenty-two years, an Assistant Director of Bands at the University of Minnesota for two years, and conducted three Twin Cities-area community orchestras over a span of ten years.

Steve is a composition and early music graduate of the University of Minnesota and also studied jazz composition and arranging at the Eastman School of Music.


Paul Ben-Haim

Paul Ben-Haim: From Munich to Tel Aviv

-Joshua Jacobson

Paul Frankenburger was born in July 1897 in the Bavarian city of Munich. Munich was a city of high culture, and quite conservative in its tastes. Jews comprised about 2% of the population. Paul’s mother, Anna, came from an assimilated family, and most of her relatives had converted to Christianity.

Paul recalls that his father, Heinrich, although not observant, was a religious man, and attended synagogue regularly. It’s interesting to note that Heinrich, affiliated with the Liberal Jewish community of Munich, was indifferent or even hostile to the Zionist movement.

Heinrich’s father was strictly religious man who served his local synagogue in Uhlfeld as a ba’al tefillah – a volunteer but highly skilled leader of the prayers. Apparently he was a competent musician as well, playing both violin and flute and musically literate. Paul recalled, “The ultra-Orthodox disapproved of his singing in the synagogue from written music, and for this reason he came close to losing his position.”

Paul’s musical talent was soon evident. His violin teacher discovered that the child had perfect pitch. But the violin wasn’t enough for Paul. He wanted to explore harmony and switch to piano. Soon he was enrolled in the Music Academy of Munich where he concentrated on piano and composition. In his student years he was a prolific composer of Lieder (art songs).

In 1916 his music studies were interrupted when he was mobilized to serve as a soldier in an anti-aircraft unit fighting in France and Belgium. This was a traumatic experience for Paul. Not only the shock of battle, and Germany’s loss. He almost died in a gas attack. And his older brother died in combat. And while he was in the service his mother passed away at the age of 51.

Paul returned to Munich in 1918, walking by foot most of the 700 kilometer journey home. Ill and depressed, he found comfort in his music. He resumed his studies at the academy and graduated in June, 1920.

Within a year he had a job at the Munich opera as Korrepetitor -- coach and deputy conductor of the chorus. This was a great opportunity for Paul to work alongside great some of Europe’s greatest singers and conductors.

His next job was at the Augsburger Stadttheater as Third Kapellmeister and Choir Conductor. He received rave reviews for his conducting, and in 1929 he was appointed First Kapellmeister and immediately took the company on an international tour.

December 1929 he arrived in Merano, Italy with his opera company. He loved the city so much he returned there the following spring. He wrote an article for the Augsburg Opera House Bulletin, in which we begin to see Paul’s fondness for a Mediterranean climate:

 How wonderful are the spring evenings in Merano! This is the real south, for which we long so eagerly; although it is not the classic south of Naples or Sicily, its charm bears not a trace of the north. Here is the magic of vineyards and of laurel, myrtle and almond trees, and skies as blue and as smooth as silk. Coming through the Brenner Pass, the glorious Italian breezes caress the brows of those coming from the misty, muddy grayness of the North.

But by 1931 the tide of Anti-Semitism was rising in Germany. Here is an excerpt from a review by Ulrich Herzog in the Neue Badische Landeszeitung of Mannheim: “Paul Frankenburger’s Psalm 126 sounded like an ecstatic hymn. Racially inferior art, of course, but sincere.” In 1931 the new director of the Augsburg Opera told Paul that his contract would be terminated at the end of the season, despite his great successes. He was now without a job.

March 1933 a Nazi government was elected in Bavaria. The racial laws were then applied to the Jewish community. Of the 9,000 Jews living in Munich, only about 800 left the city right away. 140 of them went to Palestine.

April 1933 –the German Musicians Union passed a resolution instructing all branches to work against “racially alien phenomena, Communist elements and people known to be associated with Marxism.”

Later that month Paul’s Concerto Grosso was performed by the Chemnitz orchestra. The Chemnitz newspaper published an article blasting the orchestra’s management for performing a work by a Jew.

Paul knew it was time to leave Germany and he decided to make an exploratory trip to Palestine. And of course Paul Frankenburger was meticulous in his preparations. From the composer’s autobiography:

Because of the rising tide of Jewish immigration from Germany, the English consul piled obstruction upon obstruction. … His first question was: What did I actually want to do in Palestine? I replied: ‘I want to see the country and investigate the possibilities of immigration.’ ‘Very well,’ he said, ‘I am prepared to give you a tourist visa — under the following conditions: 1. You may stay in the country for 6 weeks, and not one day longer. 2. You will submit a formal statement to the effect that you will not seek any employment in Palestine, and will refuse any job offered to you. 3. You or your father will deposit with me the sum of 10,000 marks to be forfeited if you violate any of these conditions.’

 I collected the necessary things, I packed my bags, and on May 15 1933 I took the train from Munich to Trieste. On May 16 I embarked on the Italia, an old and small steamer…. This was the beginning of a five-day voyage from Trieste to Jaffa. I had a third-class ticket and was forced to sleep in a windowless cabin with 12 other men.

On the voyage he met a violinist, Simon Bakman, who was traveling to perform some concerts in Palestine. Simon invited Paul to be his accompanist. They did a few concerts on the boat and promised to meet again in Tel Aviv.

Paul landed in Jaffa and made his way to Tel Aviv. Paul wrote:

A truly modern European city is being built here on the sandy dunes with indescribable diligence and energy; a really impressive experience. The entire population here is Jewish: policemen, clerks, drivers, down to the last of the road-workers, all are Jews. By the way, the Palestinian Jews, especially the teenagers, are an exceptionally beautiful and sturdy race; the scruffy, often un-aesthetic exterior of many Jews from Eastern Europe no longer exists here!

Paul loved the Tel Aviv beach. After settling in Tel Aviv he went swimming in the beach every day, winter and summer!

He was welcomed by many refugees from Germany. Among them was Moshe Hopenko, who owned a music store and was the manager for Simon Bakman, the violinist Paul had met on the boat. From the composer’s autobiography:

The next day I met Simon Bakman at Mr. Hopenko’s, that is, in his music shop. … Mr. Hopenko welcomed me in a most friendly and pleasant manner. We fixed our concert dates: two in Tel Aviv, one in Jerusalem, and one in Haifa. Now that my name was about to appear on posters and in the press, the problem arose; I had been forbidden to accept employment of any kind! Mr. Hopenko knew a way out. ‘Very simple,’ he said. ‘change your name!’ ‘But how?’ I asked. ‘What is your father’s name?’ he asked. ‘Heinrich,’ I replied. ‘Haim in Hebrew.’ ‘Well then,’ said Hopenko, ‘You’ll be called Ben-Haim.’

Paul wrote a letter to his father at the end of June 1933. “I can already see clearly that I will move here. This will not be easy. Everyone has close links with the country in which he grew up and whose culture he has absorbed, but the order of the day is: look ahead, not back. Even if it is difficult.”

Upon his return to Munich, Paul assembled all his documents and his compositions. The process of obtaining all the papers needed for immigration took a long time, but on the last day of October he finally got permission from the British consulate, and left for Palestine. He was the first notable composer to reach Palestine from Germany after the Nazis came to power. But others soon followed. The very next day Karl Salomon arrived. And within the next 2 years Heinrich Jacoby, Joseph Tal (Gruenthal) and Haim (Heinz) Alexander.

From the composer’s autobiography:

I taught 6 to 8 pupils at Hopenko’s Shulamit conservatory. The students were not particularly gifted and it was not easy for me to work with beginners. Before long, I began to teach classes in music theory. This was even harder for me, since I had to explain a complex subject in my elementary Hebrew and at the same time maintain discipline in a class of boisterous 12 to 15 year old children. I managed to overcome the difficulties to some extent, but I would not like to do it again.

Between 1932 and 1939 more than 300,00 Jewish immigrants came to Palestine, fleeing Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. These were, for the most part, not Zionists, and many came from assimilated families. But once settled, many, like Paul Ben-Haim, were quite taken with the Zionist enterprise and their quest to create a new culture.

Many Israeli composers were searching for a new style – one that would blend elements of East and West: using the forms of European music, coloured with elements of Middle Eastern music: the scales, rhythms, melodies, timbre, instrumentation, texture.

They took as their inspiration an essay by, of all people, Friedrich Nietzsche. Once a fan of Richard Wagner’s work, Nietzsche was now turning against the German composer. Now he’s excited about Bizet’s opera, Carmen. Nietzsche wrote:

 What it [Carmen] has above all else is that which belongs to sub-tropical zones—that dryness of atmosphere, that limpidezza of the air. Here in every respect the climate is altered. Here another kind of sensuality, another kind of sensitiveness, and another kind of cheerfulness make their appeal. This music [Carmen] is gay, but not in a French or German way. Its gaiety is African. …  I envy Bizet for having had the courage of this sensitiveness, which hitherto in the cultured music of Europe has found no means of expression—of this southern, tawny, sunburnt sensitiveness. … What a joy the golden afternoon of its happiness is to us! …Il faut mediterraniser la musique: and I have reasons for this principle. The return to nature, health, good spirits, youth, virtue.

Compare that to Ben-Haim’s comments about Italy 1930. “How wonderful are the spring evenings in Merano! This is the real south, for which we long so eagerly; …, its charm bears not a trace of the north. Here is the magic of vineyards and of laurel, myrtle and almond trees, and skies as blue and as smooth as silk. …, the glorious Italian breezes caress the brows of those coming from the misty, muddy grayness of the North.”

The Israeli composers and critics dubbed this new style “Eastern Mediterranean” תכון מזרח.

Writer Max Brod described this sound as (1) southern, infused with the bright light of the Mediterranean air, lucid, striving for clarity; (2) the rhythm … the obstinate repetition, but also the manifold, ceaseless variation which enchants by its apparent freedom from rule, and impulsiveness. (3) The structure of the movement is sometimes linear unison, or at least not polyphonically overburdened. (4) The influence exerted by the melodies of the Yemenite Jews, … the return to ancient modes, … in all these respects, lines of connection can be drawn with Arabic music ….

These European musicians were fascinated by the music they heard around them: music of the Christian and Moslem Arabs, as well as the music of the Jewish Arabs.

Ben-Haim wrote:

These are the features typical of Israeli [classical] music:  A special orchestration, which includes a mixture of oriental sonorities; preference is accorded to the woodwinds (such as oboe and flute), whose origin is undoubtedly in the East. The musical tradition of the oriental communities has been relatively well-preserved in its purity, due to the isolation which they imposed upon themselves, and their non-involvement with the gentiles... if any influence existed, it came from the Arab side. We should not reject such influence. On the contrary: we must also take an interest in Arab folklore. If we wish to speak of an Israeli revival, we should welcome all Semitic influences, and oppose western ones.

The one person who exerted perhaps the greatest influence on Ben-Haim and his fellow immigrant composers was Bracha Zephira. Zephira was born into a Yemenite family in Jerusalem in 1911. Her parents died when she was a small child and she lived in a series of foster homes of Yemenite, Persian and Sephardi families. In 1924 she was sent to a boarding school near Hadera, where she was again surrounded by children from Middle-Eastern backgrounds.

In the 1930s she began to perform Oriental Jewish songs in concert, accompanied by the pianist Nahum Nardi, first in Europe and then back in Palestine. Soon Zefira was performing with other European composers, who were enchanted by her exotic music and her dark beauty. Most prominent among these collaborators was Paul Ben-Haim.

In the summer of 1966 the National Federation of Temple Youth, a branch of American Reform Judaism, commissioned Ben-Haim to compose a setting of the Friday night liturgy, according to the American Reform prayer book. The composer wrote:

I have tried to set the prayers to music in as simple and modest a style as possible, to express the spirit of the Jewish liturgy.…According to the request of the commissioning body I gave an especially simple character to the concluding hymn, for which I used motives of an ancient Sephardic tune. For the refrain of the Sabbath hymn (“Lecha Dodi”) I have used an old traditional melody sung by Sephardi Jews to a different text (“Yedid Nefesh”). In no other parts than the two mentioned above were traditional melodies quoted or used, but I have tried everywhere to keep my music faithful to the spirit of our religious tradition.

Kabbalat Shabbat had its first performance April 24, 1968, at Lincoln Center in New York, conductor Abraham Kaplan and Cantor Ray Smolover. Ten days later performed at Temple Israel Boston as part of a service.  Herbert Fromm (Ben-Haim’s old friend) conducted, and Bill Marel was the cantor.

May 1968 the president of the republic of West Germany awarded Paul Ben-Haim Germany’s highest honor: Das Verdienstkreuz, erste Klasse (The Cross of Distinction first class).

When Ben-Haim was about to turn 75, he received another honor: the city of Munich invited him to visit as an honoured guest. July, 1971 Dr. Hans Joachim Vogel, the head of the Munich City Council (Der Alt Oberbürgermeister), wrote in his invitation to Ben Haim, “During the time I have been the city’s senior counsellor …I have paid special attention to the renewal and cultivation of contacts with past residents of our city, forced to leave after 1933 for political, racial or religious reasons.” And on May 4, 1972, The City of Munich presented a special concert of Ben-Haim’s music in his honor.

Sadly, A few days later he was walking down the street in Munich, reminiscing about his childhood, when he was struck by a car. Hospitalized. Left him partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair..

But he continued to compose until his death January 14, 1984 at the age of 87. His legacy can be summed up in this wonderful quote:

I am of the West by birth and education, but I stem from the East and live in the East. I regard this as a great blessing indeed and it makes me feel grateful. The problem of synthesis of East and West occupies musicians all over the world. If we-thanks to our living in a country that forms a bridge between East and West-can provide a modest contribution to such a synthesis in music, we shall be very happy.

Gradenwitz, Peter. Paul Ben Haim. Tel Aviv: Israeli Music Publications, 1967.

Guttman, Hadassah. The Music of Paul Ben-Haim: a performance guide. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1992.

Hirshberg, Jehoash. Paul Ben-Haim: His Life and Works. Translated by Nathan Friedgut. Jerusalem: Israeli Music Publications, 1990.

Plotinsky, Anita Heppner. “The Choral Music of Paul Ben-Haim.” American Choral Review, 16 (1974): 3-10.


Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts on August 25, 1918 to Sam and Jennie Bernstein, Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine. Lenny grew up in the Boston area, his family moving frequently—first to Mattapan, then Allston, Roxbury, and Newton. Summers were spent at the family home on a lake in Sharon.

Bernstein was a musical prodigy. As a child he loved to play the piano and organize impromptu concerts and even musicals and operas, featuring himself, naturally, as the star, and with his family and friends taking the supporting roles.

Bernstein said that the first time he heard great music was as a child, listening to the organ, cantor and choir at Congregation Mishkan Tefila under the direction of Solomon Braslavsky. He also attended Hebrew School at Mishkan Tefila and celebrated his bar mitzvah there.

His father Sam came from a long line of rabbis, and Sam himself was deeply involved in the study of Jewish texts, especially the Talmud. But while his passion was Talmud, his work was the beauty supply business, The Sam Bernstein Hair Company. Naturally, Sam wanted Lenny to go into the family business, or if not that, then he should be a rabbi. He simply couldn’t understand his son’s interest in music. Years later in an interview, Sam and asked why he discouraged his son from pursuing a career in music. He replied, “How did I know he would grow up to become Leonard Bernstein?”

In 1957 Bernstein was named Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, becoming the first American-born music director of any major symphony orchestra. Bernstein was a great conductor, but he was also a great and devoted teacher, a brilliant concert pianist, and a successful composer of both Broadway and “classical” music.

Bernstein also strongly identified Jewishly and was a passionate supporter of Israel. He was a frequent visitor to Israel, guest conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. And many of his compositions have Jewish content, including his Jeremiah and Kaddish symphonies, settings of the prayers Hashkivenu and Yigdal, arrangements of Israeli songs Simhu Na and Reena, a piano suite entitled Four Sabras, the Dybbuk ballet, a chamber work entitled Hallil, and the Chichester Psalms. In 1948 Bernstein and Jerome Robbins were working on a musical that was to be called East Side Story. It was to be “a modern version of Romeo and Juliet set in the slums at the coincidence of Easter-Passover celebrations. Feelings run high between Jews and Catholics. Juliet is Jewish. Street brawls, double death—it all fits.”


Ernest Bloch          

The creator of the greatest Jewish concert music of the 20th century was undoubtedly the Swiss-American composer, Ernest Bloch. Born in Geneva, Switzerland on July 24, 1880, he was the youngest of three children. Although his father was actively involved in the Jewish community, Ernest's interests were focused on music. By the age of nine, he was already playing the violin and composing. To say that his father did not encourage his musical talent would be an understatement. But despite his father's objections (Maurice referred to his son's compositions as Scheissmusik), Ernest continued his musical training, moving from Geneva, where he had studied with Émile Dalcroze to Brussels to work with Eugene Ysaÿe, Frankfurt with Ivan Knorr, Munich with Ludwig Thuille, and Paris where he associated with Claude Debussy.

While in Paris, Bloch renewed his friendship with Edmond Fleg (1874-1963), a poet and historian and a fellow Genevan. Fleg was to plant seeds in his friend's soul that would bear fruit for many years and change the course of the composer's life. In 1894 Capt. Alfred Dreyfus had been put on trial in Paris on charges of treason. He was quickly convicted and sentenced to life in a prison colony. But within a few years evidence was brought forth proving that the documents that had incriminated Dreyfus were the forgeries of an anti-Semite. Paris was in turmoil over these revelations, and many Jews, Edmond Fleg among them, became ardent nationalists.

It was Fleg's influence that caused Bloch to rediscover his Jewish roots and proclaim his ethnic pride. In 1906 Bloch wrote a letter to Fleg in which he proclaimed, "I have read the Bible … and an immense sense of pride surged in me. My entire being vibrated; it is a revelation. … I would find myself again a Jew, raise my head proudly as a Jew." In a subsequent letter to Fleg (1911) Bloch formulated his new artistic manifesto.

I notice here and there themes that are without my willing it, for the greater part Jewish, and which begin to make themselves precise and indicate the instinctive and also conscious direction in which I am going. I do not search to produce a form, I am producing nothing so far, but I feel that the hour will come… There will be Jewish rhapsodies for orchestra, Jewish poems, dances mainly, poems for voices for which I have not the words, but I would wish them Hebraic. All my musical Bible shall come, and I would let sing in me these secular chants where will vibrate all the Jewish soul…  I think that I shall write one day songs to be sung at the synagogue in part by the minister, in part by the faithful. It is really strange that all this comes out slowly, this impulse that has chosen me, who all my life have been a stranger to all that is Jewish.

Bloch's terminology is telling. He writes that he did not choose to become a composer of Jewish music, but rather that the impulse had chosen him. Indeed, Bloch had no sympathy for nationalist composers who deliberately tried to insert folk-like themes into their works; Bloch was convinced that if a composition were to be honest and organic, the Jewish element must be integrated subconsciously into the creative process.

To our ears his use of the word "race" may sound alarming and politically incorrect. But Bloch was formulating his thoughts at a time when Europe was formulating a new form of Jew hatred. The term anti-Semitism didn’t make its first appearance until the year 1879, only one year before the composer's birth. Prior to the Enlightenment, anti-Jewish attacks had been based on religious intolerance or suspicions of divided national loyalty. But in the new liberal Europe, scorn of the Jew would be based on the inferiority of the Semites as a race. The "scientific" study of racial differences led to Joseph-Arthur Gobineau's, Essay on the Inequality of Human Races (1853) and Richard Wagner's notorious essay, "Jewishness in Music" (1850), in which he argued that Jews were incapable of creating any original music within the European cultivated tradition. As to the distinctive liturgical music of the Jews, Wagner considered it "a travesty … a repugnant gurgle, yodel and cackle."

Bloch accepted the idea of the racial distinctiveness of the Jews, but, unlike Wagner, he had an appreciation for traditional synagogue chant, and believed that a Jew who is steeped in that tradition not only could create symphonic music, but could not help but create a work of art that somehow incorporates this traditional foundation.

In 1916 he was quoted in an interview in the Boston Post.

Racial consciousness is something that every great artist must have. A tree must have its roots deep down in its soil. A composer who says something is not only himself. He is his forefathers! He is his people! Then his message takes on a vitality and significance which nothing else can give it, and which is absolutely essential in great art. I try to compose with this in mind. I am a Jew. I have the virtues and defects of the Jew. It is my own belief that when I am most Jewish I compose most effectively.

From 1912 to 1916 Bloch composed a series of works based on Jewish themes, including The Israel Symphony (1912-1916), Three Psalms (1912-1914), Schelomo (1916), the first string quartet (1916), and Three Jewish Poems for Orchestra (1913).

In 1916 Bloch came to New York to conduct a ballet orchestra. He was so taken by the atmosphere and opportunities that the following year he fetched his family and moved permanently to the United States. For three years he was an instructor at the Mannes School of Music in Manhattan. Then, from 1920 to 1925, he served as the founding director of the Cleveland Institute of Music. In 1925 he moved to San Francisco to become Director of the San Francisco Conservatory. In 1930, thanks to a generous trust fund administered though the University of California at Berkeley, Bloch was able to resign his position from the San Francisco Conservatory and devote himself full-time to composing and conducting. After nearly a decade in Europe, Bloch returned to California, to teach an annual workshop for composers at Berkeley. In 1952 he retired from teaching altogether and moved to a reclusive life in Oregon. Bloch died July 15, 1959 in Portland, Oregon.

Bloch's greatest legacy may be the impressive body of compositions. But in addition, he affected the lives of so many Americans through his inspiring conducting of choruses and orchestras, and through his teaching. The roster of his students reads like a veritable who's who of American composers, including George Antheil, Henry Cowell, Frederick Jacobi, Leon Kirchner, Douglas Moore, Quincy Porter, Bernard Rogers, Roger Sessions, and Randall Thompson.

In 1929 Bloch's friend, Cantor Reuben Rinder of Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco, commissioned him to write a setting of the Sabbath morning liturgy. The composer took the project very seriously.

I am still studying my Hebrew text. I have now memorized entirely the whole service in Hebrew… I know its significance word by word. … But what is more important, I have absorbed it to the point that it has become mine and as if it were the very expression of my soul. It far surpasses a Hebrew Service now. It has become a cosmic poem, a glorification of the laws of the Universe … the very text I was after since the age of ten … a dream of stars, of forces … the Primordial Element … before the worlds existed. … It has become a 'private affair' between God and me.

It took Bloch four years to complete his Sacred Service (Avodat Ha-kodesh), with most of the work done at his retreat in the Swiss Alps. In 1934 he conducted the first performances in concert halls in Turin, Naples, New York, Milan, and London. Ironically, it wasn't until 1938 that Temple Emanu-El was able to present the work it had commissioned. But perhaps this grand work, with its universal themes, its post-romantic organic conception, scored for large orchestra, chorus, and baritone soloist, was more appropriate for the concert stage than for the synagogue bimah. Bloch himself considered it more a sacred Hebrew oratorio than a Jewish liturgical service. He once said, "I am completely submerged in my great Jewish 'Oratorio,' on an enormous Hebrew text, and more cosmic and universal than Jewish."

Bloch's "enormous Hebrew text" was supposed to be the Sabbath morning liturgy of the American Reform synagogue, as it appeared in the Union Prayer Book. But by setting only the Hebrew texts, Bloch significantly departed from the Reform liturgy, which was designed to be conducted primarily in English. Furthermore, by creating a major work that was to be performed without interruption, the composer left no room for certain key parts of the service, including the Torah reading and the sermon. In this respect, at least, Bloch's Service shares a fate with Beethoven's Missa Solemnis: its scope is too grandiose and its message is too universal for the liturgical function upon which it was based. Indeed, Bloch said that the five parts of the Service "have to be played without interruption, as a unity … like the Mass of the Catholics."

Unifying the Service is a six-note motif: G-A-C-B-A-G, which Bloch weaves with masterful contrapuntal skill and is heard on nearly every page of the score. While the six-note motif may be thought of as representing the universal message of the Service, another, more sinuous melody represents the more personal, the specifically Jewish aspect. This melody is less rigid rhythmically, and more chromatic, evoking the modes of traditional synagogue chant.

The Service opens with what the composer called, "a kind of 'Pastorale'—in the desert perhaps—The Temple of God in 'Nature.'" The voices intone Mah Tovu ("How goodly are thy tents," a traditional prayer recited on entering a synagogue, but absent from the Union Prayer Book), and continue with Barekhu (call to prayer), and the Shema (Jewish Credo) and its blessings. "Here one feels God Himself knows how beautiful life can be made with joy inside, not through external possessions." The movement ends with Tsur Yisroel ("Rock of Israel"), the only part of the Service based on a traditional synagogue melody, a deliciously understated cantorial recitative. Bloch called it a response to "all the misery, the sufferings of Humanity—as represented by a crowd of poor, hungry, persecuted people."

The second movement comprises the central portion of any Jewish liturgy, the Tefillah. Bloch chose to set only the Kedushah (Sanctification), a trope traditionally chanted responsively by cantor and congregation. Here again we sense the composer's universalization of the prayer. He called it, "a dialogue between God and Man, the chorus discovering the law of the atom, the stars, the whole universe, the One, He our God."

The third movement starts with a "silent meditation." The orchestra alone is heard, allowing the audience a moment to formulate their own thoughts, perhaps as a substitute for the liturgical silent Tefillah. Then the choir, a cappella, quietly intones Yihyu Lerotson, the prayer for acceptance that follows the Tefillah. The composer called this section "a silent meditation which comes in before you take your soul out and look at what it contains."

A transition leads to the most majestic section of the liturgy—the service in which the Torah is taken from the ark and paraded through the congregation. Bloch's description is worth quoting in full.

When I read “Lift up your heads, O ye gates and be ye lifted up ye everlasting doors and the King of Glory shall come in,” I could not understand what this was about. It mystified, puzzled and worried me. I was in the Swiss mountains at the time; the day was foggy, the fir trees drooped, the landscape was covered with sadness, I could not see the light. Suddenly a wind came up, the clouds in the sky parted and the sun was over everything. I understood. I felt God was within me at that time in lifting up the clouds. We were in a fog, we could not see the Truth, nor understand God and life. But when the clouds lift from out of our mind and life, and our hearts become as a little child, then the Truth will come in as a King of Glory.

The fourth movement was inspired by the ceremony of returning the Torah to the ark. It ends with Ets Chayim Hi, which Bloch called a “peace song.” Indeed, Bloch ends the movement with ten repetitions of the word “sholom.”

The fifth and final movement is the most daring of the Service, and took Bloch the longest to compose. It begins with a recapitulation of the pastoral mood of the opening, after which the cantor and choir sing the Reform “Adoration,” based on the traditional Oleynu prayer. Now for the first time Bloch introduces the English text of the Union Prayer Book, to be recited by the “minister” over the orchestral interlude. Yet this “spoken voice” part is notated with specified pitches and rhythms. The chorus returns (in Hebrew) with the explosive conclusion to the Oleynu prayer. “Then there is a terrible crash, as if suddenly poor, fleshy man thinks of himself, his fears—death.” The minister returns to recite, in English, a prologue to the Mourners’ Kaddish. But in place of the expected Kaddish, the chorus recapitulates the Tsur Yisroel from the end of the first movement. Bloch called this “the supplication of mankind, its cry towards God for help, for an explanation of this sad world—the reason for our suffering.”

After an ominous silence—from very far away—out of time—out of Space—above Time and Space, a kind of collective voice rises, mysteriously—Is it the key—the answer—the explanation? This is the beautiful poem, Adon Olom—a philosophy or metaphysics, which outgrows all creeds, all religions, all Science…

Bloch found himself at an impasse here. How was he to end this great work of his?

When I saw the last small violet in the field, dead, after giving everything it could, I too thought I was never going to finish [my] work. The last twenty-five measures took me two years to write. I wanted something lyrical, a joy for the people. Two years of groping in the darkness it took to deliver the message to the people: the conquering of death, life, suffering with the highest sense and in the highest proportion.

The concluding hymn of the Union Prayer Book (Eyn Keloheynu)did not provide Bloch with the answer he was seeking. In its place, he substituted the hymn that appears in the Reform liturgy as the conclusion for the Sabbath evening service. Adon Olom was his answer. But this was not to be the typical setting of Adon Olom, sung rather mindlessly by the congregation as a strophic hymn. Bloch is probably the only composer who has dared attempt a literal setting of this cosmic poem. This is not functional liturgical music. With dramatic gestures Bloch paints an eerie picture of a world “before any living being was created,” and then a world “after all things shall cease to exist.” He then applies a more comforting brush to “He is my God, my living Redeemer, my comfort in time of sorrow…the LORD is with me, I shall have no fear.”

Then after the orchestra and chorus give this message of faith, hope and courage, we must send people back to their routine of living, cooking, laundry and so on. Thus, the priest gives a benediction, the chorus answers, “Amen,” and they leave.

It is a whole drama in itself. … For fifty minutes I hope it will bring to the souls, minds and hearts of the people, a little more confidence, make them a little more kind and indulgent than they were and bring them peace.

Last year an informal search yielded a startling discovery: Bloch's Sacred Service had not been performed in concert in Boston since Zamir's last presentation of the work in 1994. Why isn't the Sacred Service performed more often? Perhaps its blood is too rich for most synagogues. Perhaps it appears too exotic for most symphonies and choral societies. As we were making plans for our anniversary concert, I knew that the Sacred Service had to be on the program.

For further reading:

Bloch, Suzanne and Irene Heskes. Ernest Bloch, Creative Spirit: A Program Source Book. New York: Jewish Music Council of the National Jewish Welfare Board, 1976.

Fromm, Herbert. On Jewish Music. Bloch Publishing Co., 1978.

Knapp, Alexander. "The Jewishness of Bloch: Subconscious or Conscious?", Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, 97 (1970-71), 99-112.

Móricz, Klára. “Jewish Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Art Music.” Ph.D. dissertation, The University of California, Berkeley, 1999.

Schiller, David Michael. Bloch, Schoenberg, Bernstein: Assimilating Jewish Music. New  York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Strassburg, Robert. Ernest Bloch. Los Angeles: California State University, 1977.

Ward, Seth. "The Liturgy of Bloch's Avodath Ha-Kodesh." Modern Judaism 23:3 (October 2003), 243-263


Solomon Braslavsky

Prof. Solomon Braslavsky (1887-1975) was born in Ukraine and given his first music education by his cantor-father. Braslavsky then studied music in Vienna at the Royal imperial Academy of Music and at the University of Vienna. In 1928 Rabbi Herman Rubenovitz brought Braslavsky to Boston to serve as music director at Congregation Mishkan Tefila, where he remained for his entire career. Braslavsky created an impressive musical service of superior quality, and he held the professional choir to the highest standard. Mishkan Tefila’s organ was truly magnificent, second only in size and quality to that of Symphony Hall in Boston. Much of the music heard in the services was the product of the great 19th century masters, including Sulzer and Lewandowski. But Braslavsky also contributed many of his own compositions. When Leonard Bernstein was a child, the family synagogue was Mishkan Tefila. And Bernstein recollected that the first time he heard great music was as a child, listening to the organ and cantor and choir, all under the direction of Prof. Braslavsky. “I used to weep just listening to the choir, cantor and organ thundering out—it was a big influence on me,” he said. “I may have heard greater masterpieces performed since then, and under more impressive circumstances, but I have never been more deeply moved.” Bernstein remained friendly with Braslavsky (whom he affectionately called, “Brassy”) throughout his life.


Yehezkel Braun

Yehezkel Braun (1922-2014) was born in Breslau and the age of two was brought to Israel, where he found himself in close contact with East-Mediterranean traditional musics. The influence of this background is clearly felt in his compositions. He is a graduate of the Israel Academy of Music and holds a Master's degree in Classical Studies from Tel Aviv University. In 1975 he studied Gregorian chant with Dom Jean Claire at the Benedictine monastery of Solesmes in France. His main academic interests were traditional Jewish melodies and Gregorian chant. He lectured on these and other subjects, at universities and congresses in England, France, the United States and Germany. Yehezkel Braun taught for many years at Tel Aviv University. In 2001 he was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize. (The Israel Prize is the most highly regarded award in Israel. It was first awarded in 1953 and has been awarded every year since then on the eve of the Israeli Day of Independence. The prize is presented to the recipient before the Knesset, Prime Minister, President, and Supreme Court of Israel.) Considered to be one of Israel's greatest composers, Braun's music is delightfully lyrical and reflects his passion for traditional Jewish chant.


David Burger

David Burger (b. 1950) is a composer whose works have been performed in Carnegie, Avery Fisher and Jordan Halls, in Europe and in Israel. He sang in the first concert on the newly liberated Mt. Scopus in 1967 and, two years later, began composing professionally for Richie Havens when he wrote the charts for Freedom from the movie Woodstock. Both of these events contributed to his musical sensibility.

Burger wrote and performed with a number of fusion bands in the 1970’s, during which time he studied under the major theorists Felix Salzer and Jacques Louis Monod and earned a Masters Degree in music theory from Queens College. He is known for his choral works, which have a particularly American vocabulary, most notably The Israel Trilogy (Hatikvah Hanoshanah, The Declaration of Independence of Israel and T’filah), and for many songs that express the emotional depth of American Jewry’s passion for Israel. He is the first person to have deduced and set the vocalizations of Psalms 151, 154 and 155 from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In recent years, Mr. Burger has orchestrated works by David Crosby, directed and written the scores for the film Dark Angel and for Birthright, a modern ballet by choreographer Sasha Spielvogel. Most recently, he has written and directed two musicals based on Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. He is the recipient of numerous awards, grants and commissions and his biography is found in Who’s Who in America and in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. Mr. Burger lives and teaches in New York City.


Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968)

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was born in Florence to an Italian Sephardi Jewish family that had been in Tuscany for more than 400 years, his father’s forebears having resettled there as refugees following the Spanish Expulsion in 1492. As a child, he began piano lessons with his mother and was composing by the age of nine. Although there is no record of professional artistic tradition in the family, his maternal grandfather apparently harbored an almost secret interest in synagogue music. This was learned many years after his death, when Mario discovered a small notebook in which his grandfather had notated musically several Hebrew prayers. Mario later recalled that this incident made a profound impression on him: “one of the deepest emotions of my life … a precious heritage.” It inspired his first Jewish composition, his Hebrew rhapsody Danze del re David, for solo piano, as well as Prayers My Grandfather Wrote (1962).

Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s formal musical education began at the Institute Musicale Cherubini in Florence in 1909, leading to a degree in piano in 1914 and a composition diploma in 1918 from Liceo Musicale di Bologna. His growing European reputation was aided by performances of his music under the aegis of the International Society of Contemporary Music, formed after the First World War in part to reunite composers from previously belligerent nations.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s first large-scale work—a comic opera based on the Machiavelli play La Mandragoa—was awarded the Concorso Lirico Nazionale prize. Also active as a performer and critic, he accompanied such internationally famous artists as Lotte Lehman, Elisabeth Schumann, and Gregor Piatigorsky; played in the Italian premiere of Stravinsky’s Les Noces;gave solo piano recitals; and wrote for several Italian journals. A prominent European music historian has called Castelnuovo-Tedesco “the most talented exponent of the Italian avant-garde of the time [1920s].” Yet his music has been described as progressive, Postimpressionist, neo-Romantic, and/or neo-Classical. He is often associated most prominently with his works for classical guitar and his contributions to that repertoire, and it is probably upon that medium that his chief fame rests. His association with Andres Segovia resulted in his unintentionally neo-Classical Concerto in D for guitar (op. 99, 1939), and eventually in a catalogue of nearly 100 guitar works.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote later in his career that he “never believed in modernism, nor in neo-Classicism, nor in any other ‘isms’”; that he found all means of expression valid and useful. He rejected the highly analytic and theoretical style that was in vogue among many 20th-century composers, and in general his musical approach was informed not by abstract concepts and procedures, but by extramusical ideas—literary or visual. He articulated three principal thematic inspirations at the core of his musical expression: 1) his Italian home region; 2) Shakespeare, with whose work he was fascinated from his youth; and 3) the Bible, not only the actual book and its narratives, but also the Jewish spiritual and liturgical heritage that had accumulated from and been inspired by it over the centuries. This natural gravitation toward biblical and Judaic subjects resulted in an oeuvre permeated by Jewish themes.

Though anti-Semitism sprouted more gradually in Italy than in other parts of Europe prior to the Rome-Berlin Axis Pact of 1937, by about 1933, ten years after the Italian Fascists had come to power, a specific Fascist attitude vis-à-vis the arts, later known as the Mystic of Fascism, had been formulated. This involved the controlled use of art as a propaganda tool. By 1938 Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music was eliminated from radio, and performances were canceled—all prior to the announcement of the official anti-Semitic laws. When the 1938 Manifesto of Race was issued by the Mussolini government, the composer determined to leave Italy. In 1939, just before the German invasion of Poland and the commencement of the war, he and his family left for America. In 1940 Jascha Heifetz organized a contract between Castelnuovo-Tedesco and the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) film studio, launching his fifteen-year career as a major film composer. Between then and 1956 he was also associated with Columbia, Universal, Warner Bros., Twentieth Century Fox, and CBS, working on scores as composer, assistant, or collaborator for some 200 films. In addition, his influence as a teacher of many other “Hollywood” composers was significant—among them such people as Henry Mancini, Jerry Goldsmith, Nelson Riddle, John Williams, and André Previn.

A host of refugee composers from Germany, Austria, and other Nazi-affected lands had settled in Los Angeles during the 1930s, and many took advantage of the opportunity to devote their talents at least in part to film. The list includes such “originally classical” composers as Korngold, Goldmark, Steiner, Toch, and Milhaud. Although Castelnuovo-Tedesco later sought to shrug off his Hollywood experience as artistically insignificant, critical assessments point to the film industry as having both defined his American career and affected his musical style in general. In fact, he saw film originally as an opportunity for genuine artistic creativity—an alternative medium to opera (which he viewed as inherently European) for the development of a manifestly American form of expression.

Historian James Westby, an authority on Castelnuovo-Tedesco, aptly sums up the composer’s American experience and its relation to his Jewish sensitivity, quoting from his memoirs:

For Castelnuovo-Tedesco, composition in America became “an act of faith,” an act born out of “the faith I inherited from my father, from my mother, from my grandfather, and which is so well expressed in the words of the Psalm which my grandfather used to sing [part of the grace after meals]: ‘I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the just abandoned.’"

By: Neil W. Levin


Aharon Charlap

(Aaron Harlap) (b. 1941)

Aharon Harlap was born in 1941 in Canada, where he began his musical career as a pianist. In 1963 he completed his studies at the University of Manitoba, Canada, majoring in Mathematics and Music. In 1964 he immigrated to Israel. His composition teachers have been P. Racine Fricker, at the Royal College of Music in London, England, and Oedoen Partos at the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv. He studied conducting with Sir Adrian Boult in London, Hans Swarowsky in Vienna, and Gary Bertini in Israel. Aharon Harlap is well known as a a choral, operatic and orchestral conductor, and has been guest conductor of orchestras and opera in Canada, the United States, Europe and South Africa. In Israel he has been guest conductor of all the important orchestras, including the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. As a composer, Harlap's works have been performed frequently in the aforementioned countries, as well as in Israel, and include compositions for choir, chamber ensembles, and symphonic orchestra. In 1979 be was awarded a prize in an international competition based on the subject of "Holocaust and Revival" for his Oratorio "The Fire and the Mountains" (text: Israel Eliraz), and in 1983 received the ACUM Prize for "Three Songs" for mezzo-soprano and symphony orchestra. In 1993, he received the Mark Lavry Prize for composition, offered by the Haifa Municipality, for his choral-orchestral work "For dust you are, and to dust you shall return". In 1997 he was awarded a prize for his Opera "Therese Raquin" (based on the novel by Emile Zola), sponsored by the New Israeli Opera and the Israel Music Institute, and in the same year was awarded the ACUM Prize for his Clarinet Concerto. In 1999, he received the coveted Prime Minister's Prize for Composition. At present, Aharon Harlap is a senior lecturer in conducting at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem, where he also holds the position of head of the Opera Department. He is also music director and conductor of the Kfar Saba Chamber Choir and "Bel Canto" - the Israeli Male Choir, Kfar Saba.


Charles Davidson

Charles Davidson (b. 1929)

Charles Davidson is one of the most frequently commissioned composers by synagogues, cantors, and Jewish organizations, as well as by general secular choruses across America. He was one of the first graduates of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Cantors Institute (now the H. L. Miller Cantorial School), where he later also received his doctorate in sacred music and where he has served on the faculty since 1977 (now Nathan Cummings Professor). Early in his career, Cantor Davidson became the music director and conductor of the International Zionist Federation Association Orchestra at the University of Pittsburgh and of the Hadassah Choral Society, and director of the Pittsburgh Contemporary Dance Association. Prior to his formal cantorial training at the seminary, he was a student at the unique Brandeis Arts Institute (a division of the Brandeis Camp Institute) in Santa Susana, California. The program there—under the direction of the conductor and composer Max Helfman—provided a rich and exciting forum for Jewish arts by bringing established Jewish musicians, dancers, and other artists of that period together with college-age students in an effort to broaden their creative horizons in the context of contemporary Jewish expression. Davidson and other future composers of distinction, including Yehudi Wyner and Jack Gottlieb, were able to benefit from the influence and tutelage of distinguished resident artists—among them Julius Chajes, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Erich Zeisl, and Heinrich Schalit.

Davidson’s monumental I Never Saw Another Butterfly, a setting of children’s poetry from the Terezin concentration camp in Czechoslovakia (where only 100 of the 15,000 imprisoned children survived), is unquestionably his best known and most celebrated work. It has been performed throughout the world (more than 2,500 performances) to consistent critical acclaim and is featured on no fewer than eight commercial recordings. It is also the subject of two award-winning PBS documentaries: The Journey of Butterfly and Butterfly Revisited. In 1991, following the collapse of the communist regime and the birth of the Czech Republic, it was performed at a special ceremony in the town of Terezin, presided over by the new president, Václav Havel, among other dignitaries, and attended by an audience of Holocaust survivors to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Germans’ creation of the camp and ghetto. Performances followed at Smetana Hall in Prague and the Jesuit Church in Brno.

Davidson is a highly prolific composer and arranger. His catalogue contains more than three hundred works—including dozens of synagogue pieces, songs, choral cantatas, entire services, Psalm settings, musical plays, theatrical children’s presentations, instrumental pieces, and a one-act opera based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s story Gimpel the Fool. Among the many memorable works in addition to those recorded for the Milken Archive series are The Trial of Anatole Sharansky; Night of Broken Glass, an oratorio in commemoration of Kristallnacht; Hush of Midnight: An American Selihot Service; L’David Mizmor, a service commissioned by the Park Avenue Synagogue; Libi B’Mizrach, a Sephardi synagogue service; and a service in Hassidic style. His oeuvre also includes a number of secular and even non-Jewish holiday choral settings that are performed often by high school and college choirs.

Cantor Davidson is the editor of Gates of Song, a collection of congregational melodies and hymns, author of the book From Szatmar to the New World: Max Wohlberg—American Cantor, and author of several cantorial textbooks. He served with distinction as hazzan of Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, from 1966 to 2004

By: Neil W. Levin


Eleanor Epstein

Eleanor Epstein is widely acknowledged as a master teacher and gifted choral conductor. A lifelong student of Jewish music and text, she grew up in a family steeped in Jewish learning and song – the heart of her work today.

Known for inspiring singers to connect deeply to both music and text, Eleanor works internationally as a guest conductor and artist-in-residence. She has collaborated and consulted with congregations, cantors and choirs, including The North American Jewish Choral Festival, Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the Music Educators National Conference and the Soldiers’ Chorus of the United States Army. 

A student of acclaimed American composer Alice Parker, Eleanor is committed to the preservation of Jewish folk melodies. Her choral settings of Jewish folk songs are performed throughout the world.

As artistic director and conductor of Zemer Chai, Eleanor creates an atmosphere where singers are encouraged to integrate their individual experiences with an emotional and intellectual understanding of the text and the melody, providing a special dimension to the choir’s music-making. Her passion for preserving and transmitting Jewish music inspires both her singers and her audiences and she is committed to the belief that music is a powerful force for building understanding. “Singing is an immediate way to build bridges between people.”


Sharon Farber

Sharon Farber

Four - time Emmy Award Nominated, Winner of the 2013 Society of Composers and Lyricists Award for “Outstanding work in the Art of Film Music”, the 2012 Visionary Award In Music by The Women’s International Film & Television Showcase, winner of the Telly Award, and a member of The Academy of Motion Pictures, Sharon Farber is a celebrated Film, TV and concert music composer.

Farber began her musical career at the age of seven, as a classical pianist. After graduating from Thelma-Yelin High School for the Arts, she served in the Israel Defense Forces, and later worked as a theater composer and musical director in Israel. She won the first prize in Colors in Dance in 1992 for her music for choreography. In 1994, she moved to Boston, USA, upon receiving a scholarship from Berklee College Of Music. During her studies, she won the first prize in the yearly Professional Writing Division Concert with her first string quartet. After graduating Summa Cum Laude in 1997 (majoring in both Classical Composition and Film Scoring) she moved to Los Angeles to begin her professional career. Miss Farber was the recipient of the prestigious Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Internship in Film Scoring, as well as the Mentorship program of the Society of Composers and Lyricists, on which she currently serves as a board member. Farber's first professional work in Los Angeles was orchestrating and writing additional music for composer Shirley Walker.

A graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Film scoring and Concert composition (dual major), Sharon has been working with networks and cable broadcasters like NBC, CBS, Showtime and the WB as well as writing music for feature films. Her score for the film “When Nietzsche Wept” (Millennium Films) was commercially released and performed live in a film music concert.

Sharon was one of the few composers featured in the concert event celebrating female composers sponsored by the "Alliance for Women Film Composers” (The AWFC). The International Film Music Critics Association wrote about her piece: "Composer Sharon Farber wowed the crowd with a suite of music from three of her scores: "Children of the Fall", When Nietzsche Wept" and "The Dove Flyer"...

In the concert music world, Sharon has many national and international credits to her name, including The Los Angeles Master Chorale, Pacific Serenade Ensemble, The Israeli Chamber Orchestra, The Northwest Sinfonietta, The Bellingham Symphony, Orange County Women’s Chorale, Culver City Symphony Orchestra, The Jewish Symphony Orchestra, iPalpiti Artists International and more.

Sharon’s acclaimed concerto for cello, orchestra and narrator, “Bestemming” ("Destination" in English), based on the remarkable life story of Holocaust survivor and hero of the Dutch resistance Curt Lowens, has received many performance since its creation, recently on a 4 - city tour of the Pacific Northwest, with renowned cellist Amit Peled, conducted by Maestro Yaniv Attar. In 2019 Sharon will embark on a European tour with the piece.

Sharon’s latest commission, from the National Children Chorus, “Children of Light” premiered at Lincoln Center December 2017 and at Royce Hall in Los Angels  January 2018.

Sharon is the Music Director of Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills at the SABAN theater, where spirituality is infused with music, dance and art.


Meir Finkelstein

Meir Finkelstein (b. 1951)

Meir Finkelstein was born in Israel in 1951 the son of a chazzan. His father, the late Zvi Finkelstein accepted a cantorial position in London, England and the family emigrated in 1955. Meir showed outstanding musical abilities at an early age and along with his older brother, Aryeh was soon accompanying his father at services.

A year after his Bar Mitzvah, Meir was appointed cantor at a small synagogue in Glasgow, Scotland thereby becoming the youngest cantor in Europe. He, along with his father and brother recorded two albums of original liturgical music which were subsequently released in the USA.

At age 18, Meir took up the position of chazzan at one of London’s most prestigious congregations, Golders Green Synagogue. While serving this congregation, he also completed his musical education. Meir graduated from the Royal College of Music and received an ARCM degree in Singing, Piano and Composition. His talent was discovered a few years later by Beth Hillel Congregation in Wilmette, Il and he subsequently emigrated to the United States. Meir served as cantor of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, USA for 18 years during which time he composed over 100 settings for the liturgy.

Meir is one of the best-documented composers of contemporary Jewish music, and his compositions are sung in synagogues throughout the world. He has collaborated with Steven Spielberg, composing music for the Visual History Foundation’s award-winning documentary, “Survivors of the Holocaust.” In 1995, Meir premiered his “Liberation” Oratorio, a large-scale and moving work written for the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and many well-known soloists, hosted by Billy Crystal. Cantor Finkelstein is also in great demand as a producer and arranger and has collaborated on many of his colleauges' albums. He was one on the "Three Cantors" along with Alberto Mizrahi and David Propis, concertizing in the USA to sold-out audiences. Meir recently moved to Toronto with his wife Monica and their children, Noah 4, and Emily, 3. He also has two grown-up children, Nadia and Adam. Beginning in August 2002, Meir took up the post as cantor at Beth Tzedec Congregation, Toronto, the largest Conservative Synagogue in the world.


Tsippi Fleischer

Tsippi Fleischer (b. 1946)

Israeli composer Tsippi Fleischer has become well known for her innovative, creative mind. Her talents were nurtured in the cultural pluralism of the land of Israel. In her works she combines the knowledge of the indigenous cultures of her homeland with a firm foundation in Western culture. Fleischer is also known as a fine educator, and many of her students have become composers and well-known conductors. She holds academic degrees in Semitic Linguistics and Hebrew and Arabic philology, in addition to her degrees in Music Theory and Composition. She received her MA in Music Education from New York University and has completed her PhD in Musicology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. Her many works for voices, instruments and electronic media have been performed to acclaim throughout the world. She currently teaches at Tel Aviv University.


Herbert Fromm

Herbert Fromm (1905-1995)

Herbert Fromm was one of the most prominent, most prolific, and most widely published composers of synagogue and other serious Jewish music among those German- and Austrian-Jewish musicians who found refuge from the Third Reich in the United States during the 1930s and who became associated principally with the American Reform movement—a circle that also included Isadore Freed (1900–1960), Frederick Piket (1903–1974), Julius Chajes(1910–1985), and Hugo Chaim Adler (1894–1955).

An accomplished organist and conductor as well as a composer, Fromm was born in Kitzingen, Germany, and studied at the State Academy of Music in Munich—with, among others, Paul Hindemith. After a year as conductor of the Civic Opera in Bielefeld, he held a similar post for two years at the opera in Würzburg. After 1933, when Jews were prohibited from participation in German cultural life, he was an active composer and conductor in the Frankfurt am Main section of the Jüdischer Kulturbund in Deutschland, which provided the only permitted artistic opportunities for Jewish musicians during the Nazi era until 1939. It was in that context that he began to employ Jewish themes and texts in his compositions.

Fromm immigrated to the United States in 1937. He assumed the post of organist and music director at Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo, New York, followed by a similar appointment at Temple Israel in Boston, where he remained until his retirement, in 1972. In 1940 and 1941 he worked once again with Hindemith, privately as well as during summers at Tanglewood, refining his technique and style and developing a highly individualistic approach to music for Jewish worship and music of Jewish expression—judiciously modern, yet imaginatively respectful of tradition and never on the fringe of the avant-garde. In 1945 he won the first Ernest Bloch Award for The Song of Miriam,and he was later awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by Lesley College.

Among his large opera of liturgical and liturgically related works are several full services and numerous individual prayer settings—many of which became part of the standard repertoire in Reform synagogues—as well as Judaically based pieces geared for concert performance. Among his outstanding non-synagogal and secular works are Memorial Cantata, The Stranger, three string quartets, a violin sonata, a woodwind quartet, and many songs. Fromm also authored three books: The Key of See, a travel journal; Seven Pockets, a volume of collected writings; and On Jewish Music, from a composer’s viewpoint.

Fromm was known for his insistence on high aesthetic standards and his harsh criticism of the populist trends and the raw, mass-oriented ethnic elements that could be found increasingly in American synagogue music. Composer Samuel Adler, his lifelong friend and colleague, has recalled that it was not so much those musical elements, per se and on their own appropriate turfs, that angered Fromm as it was his view that such adulterated synagogue music “hindered the worshipper from being able to face the highest in life.” And in that context, Adler remembers that Fromm challenged himself and his work with the Hebrew admonition contained in Pirkei avot (Sayings of the Fathers), a part of the Mishna: Da lifnei mi ata omed—“know at all times before Whom you stand.”

By: Neil W. Levin


Cristiano Giuseppe Lidarti

Cristiano Giuseppe Lidarti) was an Austrian composer of Italian descent who spent his professional life teaching and performing in Italy. Most of his compositional output consists of instrumental chamber music. Beginning in 1770, the Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam commissioned him to compose works in Hebrew for voices with instrumental accompaniment.


Jack Gottlieb

Jack Gottlieb (1930-2011)

Jack Gottlieb contributed his considerable creative gifts to a broad spectrum of musical endeavor that spans high art, Judaically related, functional liturgical, and theatrical musical expression—as well as music criticism and scholarship of American popular idioms. He described his own music as “basically eclectic,” in the American tradition of Copland. His pungent rhythms, inventive harmonic colors, clarity, and refreshing directness bespeak a manifestly urban American influence, often also informed by Jewish musical traditions and, where applicable, by the natural sonorities and cadences of the Hebrew language.

Gottlieb grew up in New Rochelle, a suburb of New York City, and initially played the clarinet in marching bands. Throughout his youth he was conditioned by much of the music heard generally in America—especially on radio, which he recalls as very formative for him at that time: jazz, Broadway, and other emblematic American styles. During his later teen years he taught himself to play the piano, but the defining moment in his musical development and in his Jewish musical awareness came during his summer residences at the Brandeis Arts Institute, a division of the Brandeis Camp Institute in Santa Susana, California, where the music director was the esteemed and charismatic choral conductor and composer Max Helfman, one of the seminal figures in Jewish music in America. Like so many other alumni of both the camp and its more specialized arts institute, Gottlieb was permanently inspired by Helfman, whom he regarded as his “spiritual father.” The arts institute program brought together college-age students as well as established Israeli and American Jewish composers and other artists of that period in an effort to broaden the Jewish artistic horizons of young musicians. “I was still raw and not yet very musically developed” (when he entered the program), Gottlieb later recalled. But at the Brandeis Arts Institute he was introduced to new artistic possibilities inherent in modern Jewish cultural consciousness. The experience gave him lasting artistic direction.

Gottlieb earned his bachelor’s degree from Queens College in New York (part of the City University system). There he studied with Karol Rathaus, whom he also credited as having had a major impact on him. At Brandeis University, where he earned his master’s degree, his principal teacher was Irving Fine. The atmosphere there was further enriched for Gottlieb by composers Harold Shapero and Arthur Berger, also on the faculty at the time. Fine’s own music, in addition to his formal teaching, made an invaluable impression on Gottlieb. “That’s when I was bitten by the so-called Stravinsky-Copland bug,” he later reminisced in a Milken Archive oral history project session. He received his doctorate from the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana), where he studied with Burrill Phillips and taught courses as a graduate assistant. He also worked with Aaron Copland and Boris Blacher at Tanglewood. During his years of undergraduate and graduate study, his compositions embraced a variety of media and subjects, but during that same period he also became increasingly attracted and devoted to music of Jewish experience.

From 1970 until 1973 Gottlieb was the music director of Temple Israel in St. Louis, one of the major Reform congregations in America, where he instigated and supervised much creative musical programming; and during the 1970s he was a professor of music at the School of Sacred Music of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in New York, where he was also composer-in-residence. From 1958 to 1966 he was Leonard Bernstein’s assistant at the New York Philharmonic, and later he became publications director of Amberson Enterprises (the Leonard Bernstein Office), which manages the Bernstein musical legacy. Recognized as a leading authority on Bernstein’s music, Gottlieb was the editor of Bernstein’s books, including Young People’s Concerts, and also edited Prelude, Fugue & Riffs, the Bernstein newsletter.

Gottlieb’s music has been performed by ensembles and artists from the Boston Symphony and the Vienna Philharmonic as well as by Seiji Ozawa and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Sixten Ehrling and the Detroit Symphony; Bernstein; Jennie Tourel; Adele Addison; John Reardon; and a host of cantors, synagogue choirs, and other choral groups throughout the United States and Canada. In addition to Fine and Helfman, he believed that the most important musical influences on his style were Copland, Stravinsky, Bernstein, and Bartók. But his musical approach was also profoundly affected by the most sophisticated elements of Broadway and other American popular song styles. An imaginative sense of theater on the highest level permeates many if not most of his works. With its rhythmic vibrance, eclectic spirit, openness, and general mood of optimism, Gottlieb’s music has the thorough ring of a quintessentially American composer.

In addition to the pieces featured here, Gottlieb’s many large-scale works include Articles of Faith for Orchestra and Memorable Voices; Tea Party, a one-act opera that won both an Ohio State University opera competition and a National Federation of Music Clubs Award; Monkey Biz’nis; After the Flood, a musical based on the story of Noah in Genesis; The Canterville Ghost, a one-act opera; a piano sonata; a string quartet; In Memory of …, a cantata that won first prize at a Brown University Competition (his first published work); and Sharing the Prophets—a Musical Happening. He has also written numerous songs in both art and popular styles, other chamber music for instrumental and vocal combinations, and a large body of synagogue music.

Gottlieb was an authority, author, and lecturer on the influence of Jewish popular, folk, theatrical, and even liturgical music traditions on the rise of American popular music, to which he has devoted many years of study and research. His acclaimed presentations include “From Shtetl to Stage Door” and “The Yiddisha Professor: The Early Songs of Irving Berlin.” His lecture-entertainment, “Funny, It Doesn’t Sound Jewish,” has been presented at venues ranging from the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution to the Village Gate in New York. His 2004 book bears the same title, and is subtitled How Yiddish Songs and Synagogue Melodies Influenced Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood. Songs of Godlove, a two-volume set of solos and duets, was also published in 2004.

One of the most outspoken critics of populist inroads into American synagogue music, Gottlieb was a vocal proponent of reforging a connection between learned cantorial-training and aesthetic-standards in American synagogues. His biting polemics against the post–1960s and 1970s fashion of replicating guitar-strumming summer-camp song and hootenanny experiences in adult synagogue services—thus replacing liturgical music more appropriate to the dignity of prayer and the sophistication of the Hebrew liturgy and impeding the continuum of serious liturgical composition—have earned him considerable respect among like-minded colleagues.

Gottlieb’s fiftieth birthday was celebrated in 1980 with a gala concert of his music at Merkin Concert Hall in New York, in which fifty musicians participated. Leonard Bernstein, who both performed and spoke, hailed Gottlieb as “one of the most important talents on the American musical scene.”

In 1993, Gottlieb became the first recipient of the Ahad Ha'am Award from the Center for Jewish Creativity & Culture, and he had recently been named by the New York Philharmonic as the Leonard Bernstein Scholar-in-Residence for the 2010-2011 season.

Jack Gottlieb passed away on February 23, 2011. A memorial concert commemorating his life and work was held on his third yahrzeit, February 23, 2014 at Hebrew Union College in New York.

By: Neil W. Levin


Andre Hajdu

Andre Hajdu (1932-2016)

Andre Hajdu was born in Budapest [Hungary] in 1932. He studied there at the Ferenc Liszt Academy under Szervanszky and Ferenc Szabo [composition], Szegedi [piano] and Zoltan Kodaly [ethnomusicology]. In 1956 he emigrated to Paris and continued his studies at the Conservatoire National de Musique under Darius Milhaud [composition] and Olivier Messiaen [philosophy of music]. Since 1966 he lived in Jerusalem. He taught at the Rubin Academy of Music both in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem and at the Music Department of the Bar-Ilan University.

His activity as a composer can be understood as an ever-changing quest. In earlier works [“Little Hell”, “Plasmas”, “Journey around My Piano”] written in France it’s a search for personal expression through means which could be described as surrealistic in their mixing of contrasting styles and aesthetics of “stream of consciousness”. Even in later pieces as “Continuum”[1995], “The unbearable intensity of Youth” [1976], “Bashful Serenades” [1978] and “Fantasia/Ressissei Laila” [2001] one can feel this trend.

In his first period in Israel Jewish subjects appear: “Ludus Paschalis”[1970], “Mishna Songs” [1972-73], “Rhapsody on Jewish Themes/Terouat Melech”[1974], “The false Prophet” [1977], “Tehilim/Psalms”[1982], “Jonas” [1985] continued later by “Dreams of Spain” [cantata about the expulsion of the Jews from Spain] [1992], “Job and his Comforters” [1993], “Ecclesiaste/Kohelet”[1994] and “Birth of a Niggun” [1998]. These pieces are however far enough from the usual liturgical or folklore-oriented music and find in Jewish studies and History the base of their approach. Parallel to this a corpus of pedagogical music was published consecrated to the idea of teaching music through a creative approach [involving the player in the process of composing and using the pieces as a tool for improvisation] as “Milky Way”, “Art of Piano Playing”, “Book of Challenges”, “the Third Hand”, “Musical Chairs/Rotative Sonatine” and the “Concerto for ten little pianists”. His compositions were played by Orchestras and Ensembles as Israeli Philharmonic, Jerusalem Symphony, Israel Chamber Orchestra as well as the Philadelphia, Leningrad, Berlin, Stockholm and Munich Philharmonics, Ensemble 2e2m [Paris], Voices of Change [Dallas], Musica Nova [Tel-Aviv], Kaprizma [Jerusalem], etc.

Works available in CD: “On Light and Depth” [IMI], “l’Ecclesiaste” [RCA Victor/BMG], “Terouath Melech” [Plane], “Dreams of Spain” and “Concerto for an Ending Century” [Hungaroton], Chamber Music [B.A.C.H DIES, Birth of a Niggun, Instants Suspendus, French Sonatine, Mishna Variations]. In 1997 he received the Israel Prize for his life-work. In 2005 he received the title of Doctor Honoris Causa of Jerusalem Hebrew University. He died in Jerusalem in July, 2016.


Jacques Halévy

Jacques Halévy (1799-1862)

French composer; born at Paris May 27, 1799; died at Nice March 17, 1862. Halévy was born in Paris, son of the cantor Élie Halfon Halévy, who was the secretary of the Jewish community of Paris and a writer and teacher of Hebrew, and a French Jewish mother. At the age of ten he entered the Paris Conservatoire and studied under Cazot (elements of music), Lambert (piano), and Berton (harmony). He won the solfeggio prize in 1811, and the second prize in harmony in 1812. He thereafter became a pupil of Cherubini in composition, with whom he remained for five years; and, after twice winning the second prize at the Conservatoire, he finally secured the Grand Prix de Rome (1819) for his cantata "Herminie." Shortly before his departure for Rome his "De Profundis" (text in Hebrew), composed on the death of the Duc de Berri, and dedicated to Cherubini, was performed at the synagogue in the Rue St. Avoye (March 24, 1820).

After actively prosecuting his studies in Italy Halévy returned to France, where for several years he experienced considerable difficulty in obtaining a hearing for his compositions. His comic opera "L'Artisan" (in one act), performed at the Théâtre Feydeau in 1827, met with but little success, but the three-act opera "Clari," produced at the Théâtre Italien in 1829, the principal rôle being sung by Malibran, made a somewhat better impression, and was probably largely instrumental in securing for the composer the appointment of "chef du chant" at the theater in question, a position which he occupied in association with Hérold.

For several years to come, however, the composer was not destined to score a decided triumph, although opera followed opera in quick succession. Still, the air "Vive, vive, l'Italie," in his comic opera "Le Dilettante d'Avignon" (1829), became exceedingly popular with the Parisian public, while his ballet "Manon Lescaut" (1830), by reason of its melody and verve, also found favor.

Halévy had already attained the age of thirty-six when his masterpiece, "La Juive," a grand opera in five acts, was produced at the Opéra (Feb. 23, 1835), where it was hailed with enthusiasm, and at once secured for its author a European reputation. The opera was presented with unprecedented scenic splendor, the stage-setting alone having cost, it was said, 150,000 francs. Ten months after the first performance of "La Juive" Halévy's musical comedy "L'Eclair" appeared; and, although in spirit the exact antithesis of "La Juive," it immediately became a favorite with Parisian audiences.

Although the composer had given splendid evidence of his extraordinary talent and versatility in these two widely divergent compositions, he now lost much of his originality and became imitative rather than creative—a deterioration ascribed partly to the influence of Meyerbeer, then at the zenith of his fame, and partly to Halévy's carelessness in the selection of librettos. At all events, it may be said that, out of about twenty dramatic works, chiefly comic operas, which followed upon "La Juive," only a few, such as "Les Mousquetaires de la Reine" (1846) and "Le Val d'Andorre" (1848), are still occasionally produced. Nevertheless, many of them, and notably "La Dame de Pique" (1850), although perhaps lacking in dramatic interest, are replete with melody.

In 1851 Halévy obtained a professorship at the Conservatoire, where Gounod, and afterward Bizet, were among his pupils, the latter subsequently marrying Halévy's daughter. In 1854 Halévy was appointed permanent secretary of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, and his "Souvenirs et Portraits, Etudes sur les Beaux Arts" (1869), written in this capacity, constitute a very attractive series of criticisms and eulogies. Halévy's "Leçons de Lecture Musicale," published in 1857 and since revised, is still the standard text-book on solfeggio in the elementary schools of Paris.évy


Max Helfman

Jacques Halévy (1799-1862)


French composer; born at Paris May 27, 1799; died at Nice March 17, 1862. Halévy was born in Paris, son of the cantor Élie Halfon Halévy, who was the secretary of the Jewish community of Paris and a writer and teacher of Hebrew, and a French Jewish mother. At the age of ten he entered the Paris Conservatoire and studied under Cazot (elements of music), Lambert (piano), and Berton (harmony). He won the solfeggio prize in 1811, and the second prize in harmony in 1812. He thereafter became a pupil of Cherubini in composition, with whom he remained for five years; and, after twice winning the second prize at the Conservatoire, he finally secured the Grand Prix de Rome (1819) for his cantata "Herminie." Shortly before his departure for Rome his "De Profundis" (text in Hebrew), composed on the death of the Duc de Berri, and dedicated to Cherubini, was performed at the synagogue in the Rue St. Avoye (March 24, 1820).


After actively prosecuting his studies in Italy Halévy returned to France, where for several years he experienced considerable difficulty in obtaining a hearing for his compositions. His comic opera "L'Artisan" (in one act), performed at the Théâtre Feydeau in 1827, met with but little success, but the three-act opera "Clari," produced at the Théâtre Italien in 1829, the principal rôle being sung by Malibran, made a somewhat better impression, and was probably largely instrumental in securing for the composer the appointment of "chef du chant" at the theater in question, a position which he occupied in association with Hérold.


For several years to come, however, the composer was not destined to score a decided triumph, although opera followed opera in quick succession. Still, the air "Vive, vive, l'Italie," in his comic opera "Le Dilettante d'Avignon" (1829), became exceedingly popular with the Parisian public, while his ballet "Manon Lescaut" (1830), by reason of its melody and verve, also found favor.


Halévy had already attained the age of thirty-six when his masterpiece, "La Juive," a grand opera in five acts, was produced at the Opéra (Feb. 23, 1835), where it was hailed with enthusiasm, and at once secured for its author a European reputation. The opera was presented with unprecedented scenic splendor, the stage-setting alone having cost, it was said, 150,000 francs. Ten months after the first performance of "La Juive" Halévy's musical comedy "L'Eclair" appeared; and, although in spirit the exact antithesis of "La Juive," it immediately became a favorite with Parisian audiences.


Although the composer had given splendid evidence of his extraordinary talent and versatility in these two widely divergent compositions, he now lost much of his originality and became imitative rather than creative—a deterioration ascribed partly to the influence of Meyerbeer, then at the zenith of his fame, and partly to Halévy's carelessness in the selection of librettos. At all events, it may be said that, out of about twenty dramatic works, chiefly comic operas, which followed upon "La Juive," only a few, such as "Les Mousquetaires de la Reine" (1846) and "Le Val d'Andorre" (1848), are still occasionally produced. Nevertheless, many of them, and notably "La Dame de Pique" (1850), although perhaps lacking in dramatic interest, are replete with melody.


In 1851 Halévy obtained a professorship at the Conservatoire, where Gounod, and afterward Bizet, were among his pupils, the latter subsequently marrying Halévy's daughter. In 1854 Halévy was appointed permanent secretary of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, and his "Souvenirs et Portraits, Etudes sur les Beaux Arts" (1869), written in this capacity, constitute a very attractive series of criticisms and eulogies. Halévy's "Leçons de Lecture Musicale," published in 1857 and since revised, is still the standard text-book on solfeggio in the elementary schools of Paris.évy


Penina Inbar

Born: Germany

Pnina Pinkert-Inbar was born in Germany, and immigrated to Israel from Poland. She grew up in Kibbutz Gan Shemuel, a member of which she was until 1994, when she moved to Kibbutz Ein Hashofet. Pnina Inbar is a graduate of the Tel Aviv Music Teacher’s College. Inbar studied singing with Lola Shanzer, and participated in music courses with Gil Feldman and Emma Kirkby.

She was a member of the Abu Gosh Festival Choir (1965-1970), sang and performed as soloist with the haKibbutz Ha’arzi, Cameran and Rinat Choirs. Inbar was a member of the Voice Quintet “Quinta Zacca” (Perfect Fifth) ensemble. She performed as a soprano soloist with various choirs and orchestras.

Inbar conducts the Na’ama Women’s Choir, which she founded in 1989. She also founded the Meggido Choir with whom she is conductor and musical director since 1995. Since 2003 Pnina Inbar is a conductor of the Shani Girls Choir (Arts House Emmek Israel).

She is a voice training teacher as well as composer and music arranger. Pnina Inbar received two “Conductor Awards” at international competitions sponsored by Interkultur International, in Germany and in Israel. Both her adult Choirs tour abroad frequently and have won prizes and honours at International Competitions in Israel, Germany, Austria, Italy, China and Russia. In 2002-2003 she launched in Felicia's Blumenthal Music Center in Tel-Aviv a concert series named ‘Choralia’, in which the choir sings together with the audience. She is arranging and conducting the series.


Michael Isaacson

Michael Isaacson (b. 1946)

Michael Isaacson earned his doctorate in composition at the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Warren Benson and Samuel Adler. He then taught and conducted at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Institute of Music, and in California at Loyola Marymount, California State University at Long Beach, and U.C.L.A. He also founded the Israel Pops Orchestra and has produced and conducted various recordings with them as well as other orchestras. Well known as a composer of both liturgical and secular Jewish music, Isaacson has published more than 400 works and produced more than forty recordings. 

By: Neil W. Levin


Joshua Jacobson

Joshua Jacobson (b. 1948)


Joshua R. Jacobson holds a Bachelors degree in Music from Harvard College, a Masters in Choral Conducting from the New England Conservatory, a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Cincinnati, and an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from Hebrew College. Dr. Jacobson is Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Northeastern University, where he served nine years as Music Department Chairman and six years as the Bernard Stotsky Professor of Jewish Cultural Studies. He is also Visiting Professor and Senior Consultant in the School of Jewish Music at Hebrew College. He is also the founder and director of the Zamir Chorale of Boston, a world-renowned ensemble, specializing in Hebrew music. He has conducted workshops on choral music for various groups, including the American Choral Directors Association, and has guest conducted a number of ensembles, including the Boston Pops Orchestra, the Bulgarian National Symphony and Chorus, the New England Conservatory Orchestra and the Boston Lyric Opera Company. He has also written articles on various aspects of choral music, and over one hundred published compositions and arrangements.  In 1989 he spent four weeks in Yugoslavia as a Distinguished Professor under the auspices of the Fulbright program. In 1994 he was awarded the Benjamin Shevach Award for Distinguished Achievement in Jewish Educational Leadership from Hebrew College. Prof. Jacobson is past President of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Choral Directors Association. He is the conductor and host of the PBS film, Zamir: Jewish Voices Return to Poland. His book, Chanting the Hebrew Bible: The Art of Cantillation, published by the Jewish Publication Society in 2002, was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, and the revised expanded edition was published in June, 2017. He is co-author of Translations and Annotations of Choral Repertoire—Volume IV: Hebrew Texts, published by earthsongs in 2009. In 2004 the Cantors Assembly presented Prof. Jacobson with its prestigious “Kavod Award,” in 2016 Choral Arts New England presented him the Alfred Nash Patterson Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2017 the Zamir Choral Foundation presented him with its annual “Hallel V’Zimrah” award for “a lifetime of dedication and contributions to Jewish choral music.”


Prof. Jacobson’s articles have appeared in The Choral Journal, the American Choral Review, The Journal of Synagogue Music, Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, Encyclopedia Judaica, Studies in Jewish Civilization, Yale University Institute of Sacred Music Colloquium, The Musical Quarterly, and others. His compositions, arrangements and editions have been performed by ACDA honors choirs, by the Boston Pops and Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and by the St. Olaf College Choirs, among others. His music is published by Transcontinental, ECS, Broude Brothers and Earthsongs. He has guest lectured at Harvard, Brandeis, Yale, and many other schools. In addition to his specialization in Jewish music, he has conducted many of the standard choral-orchestral masterworks, including Bach’s Johannespassion, Beethoven’s Mass in C, Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s Die Schöpfung, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Mozart’s Requiem, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Poulenc’s Gloria, Schubert’s Mass in E-flat, Thompson’s A Peaceable Kingdom. He has also prepared Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for Daniel Barenboim and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Mahler’s Second Symphony for Zubin Mehta and the I. P. O., Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms for Gary Bertini and the Jerusalem Symphony, Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw for Piero Bellugi and the New England Conservatory Orchestra.


Here are excerpts from some press reviews. Richard Dyer wrote in the Boston Globe (June11, 2002) “Jacobson has a gift for programming that is instructive and entertaining, and more often than not, the Zamir Chorale performs works that music lovers would be unlikely to hear anyplace else.” Philip Greenfield in the American Record Guide (March/April, 2002), “The Zamir Chorale of Boston has become America’s foremost Jewish choral ensemble.” Kevin Gabriel in The Worcester Telegram and Gazette (March 25, 1996), “Jacobson led polished performances that emphasized clarity and balance. And the chorale’s professionalism was everywhere evident, particularly in its unflagging attention to detail.”


Flory Jagoda

Flory Jagoda (b. 1926)

Flory Jagoda was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia, a member of the Sephardic Jewish community. When the Sephardic Jews were forced into exile from Spain and Portugal in the 15th century, many settled in other Mediterranean countries but preserved their native language, called Ladino. Through her grandmother, Jagoda learned songs that had been passed down in her family for generations. She also became familiar with the region's Balkan cultural traditions. Jagoda escaped the destruction of Sarajevo's Jewish community and came to the United States after World War II. She has been recognized as an important carrier of a unique musical heritage and also as a composer and arranger of new Sephardic songs. In addition to passing that tradition on to her children, she has taught many students who now perform Ladino music. Today, she tours widely and her music is circulated through recordings and in The Flory Jagoda Songbook.She is well known in the Washington, D.C. area for her willingness to perform at religious ceremonies, family celebrations and cultural events. Her performances are marked by musical beauty but also by her commitment to find meaning through affirmation of community in her personal experience.


Max Janowski

Max  Janowski (1912–1991) was born into a musical family. His mother, Miriam, was an opera singer and his father, Chayim, led choirs and trained cantors. He studied at the Schwarenka Conservatory in Berlin. In 1933 he won a piano contest that led to his appointment in Tokyo as head of the Piano Department of the Mosashino Academy of Music – and his escape from Nazi Germany. He remained in Japan for four years before immigrating to the United States in 1937. He became the musical director of KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation in Chicago in 1938. It was to remain his home for his entire career, except for a four-year sojourn in Navy intelligence from 1942 to 1946. He has written more than 500 compositions, which include choir and orchestra pieces, cantatas, and oratorios. The prayer for piece, “Sim Shalom,” is one of his best-known compositions.


Meyer Japhet

Israel Meyer Japhet (1818-1892)

Israel Meyer Japhet was born in Kassel, Germany on March 7, 1818. At the age of seventeen, he secured his first position as choral director and religious teacher in Wolfhagen. Subsequently, he held a similar position in Gudenberg, where he came into contact with Rabbi Mordechai Wetzlar, who was to have a strong influence on Japhet's development and outlook.

In 1853 he was appointed choir master and teacher at the Realschule (Adass Jeschurun), an Orthodox Synagogue in Frankfurt am Main, where Samson Raphael Hirsch was the rabbi. He remained at this post until his death. Japhet composed a large body of Jewish liturgical music for use in his Synagogue. His compositions were melodically and harmonically simple and were heavily influenced by German Leid and Protestant hymns. In keeping within halakha, his choirs consisted solely of men and boys. Aside from halakhic issues, Japhet felt that instruments and elaborate compositions could not compare with the feelings inspired by simple melodies and a cappella vocal music.

Japhet’s seminal work was Schire Jeschurun (published posthumously in 1922), a three-volume collection of over 100 synagogue melodies for cantor and choir, covering the liturgy for Shabbat and the festivals, which included commendations from noted composers such as Ignaz Lachner, Giacomo Meyerbeer, and Louis Spohr. He also published a wide range of instructive texts on Hebrew grammar, and on the correct cantillation of the Bible according to the German tradition. The most known and widely used of these texts were: Metek SefatayiHebraeische Sprachlehre (1926); Moreh ha-Kore; and Die Accente der Heiligen Schrift (1896).

Japhet died November 10, 1892 in Frankfurt am Main.



Tsipporah Joschsberger

Tsipporah Joschsberger (1920-2017)


In March 1939, Tziporah Jochsberger’s musical talents won her acceptance to the Palestine Academy of Music in Jerusalem, good fortune that ultimately saved her life. Since then, Jochsberger has used her music to stir the Jewish soul.


Tziporah H. Jochsberger was born in Leutershausen, in southern Germany, on December 27, 1920, the only child of Sophie (Enslein) and cattle dealer Nathan Jochsberger. Their middle-class status enabled her mother to buy the first piano in their small village and start her seven-year-old daughter on the music lessons she herself had been denied. Tziporah attended Wurzburg High School and the Jewish Teachers Seminary, the only school of higher learning still open for Jewish students in Germany in 1934. Her love for Judaism and for music stem from this period, during which she taught herself to play the recorder and cello. In 1939, she entered the Palestine Academy of Music in Jerusalem, graduating in 1942 as a piano and school music teacher. Jochsberger was later elected one of five directors of the school, which would become the renowned Rubin Academy for Music and Dance.


Reeling from the death of her parents in Auschwitz and the loss of millions like them, Jochsberger resolved to use music and Jewish melodies to waken the dormant Jewish soul of American Jewry. A 1947 summer of study at the Juilliard School in New York introduced Jochsberger to an American Jewish community scarcely acquainted with its heritage. With a grant from the Jewish Agency, Jochsberger returned to New York in 1950 and started what would become her life’s work by using Israeli folk melodies as the basis for teaching recorder to college students at Hillel Foundations throughout the New York metropolitan region.


In 1952, Jochsberger was invited to help establish the Hebrew Arts School. The school developed a strong Jewish profile, using Jewish values, holiday celebrations, and the music of the Jewish people to attract students and faculty eager to explore Jewish culture. An invitation to teach at the Seminary College of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America forced her to deepen her limited knowledge of Jewish music. In 1956, she began her own studies at the seminary, counting Hugo Weisgal, Max Wohlberg, and Johanna Spector among her teachers as she earned master’s (1959) and doctoral (1972) degrees in Jewish music. 


During her years in New York, Jochsberger also used radio and television to reach a wider audience of students. She served as host and producer of three thirteen-part half-hour television series produced by the Tarbuth Foundation: Music of the Jewish People (1976), Experiences in Jewish Music (1977), and A Kaleidoscope of Jewish Music(1978). 

In addition to her teaching and administrative responsibilities, Jochsberger has found time for an active career as a composer. She has combined her love for the songs of the Jewish people with her desire to reach children through music. In much of her work, she gathers, edits, and arranges traditional folk melodies for recorder or piano in settings appropriate for young players. A member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) since 1965, she has also published a variety of choral compositions. Her numerous unpublished compositions include works for voice and various instrumental combinations. Jochsberger’s compositions have been performed in major concert halls throughout the United States and Israel. Four Hebrew Madrigals, commissioned and recorded by the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble, was broadcast by Voice of America as part of Bicentennial celebrations in 1987. Jochsberger herself conducted the Hebrew Arts Chamber Singers in a recording of her A Call to Remember: Sacred Songs of the High Holidays. Jewish Choral Music, the first of a set of three compact discs of her choral and instrumental music, has recently been released. 


Jochsberger “retired” to Israel in 1986 but has remained active, now providing opportunities for Israel’s people to understand their own culture. She founded the Israel Music Heritage Project (IMHP) to preserve, foster, and disseminate knowledge of the varied musical traditions of the Jewish people. Jochsberger was executive producer of the IMHP’s eleven-part documentary video series A People and Its Music, which captures the authentic musical expressions of Jewish communities in Israel whose roots are in Eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Jochsberger remains an active composer and is a member of the Israel Composer’s League and of ACUM, Limited, Israel’s affiliate of ASCAP. She is also busy as a member of the governing boards of some of Israel’s most prominent music institutions, including Zimriyah: The International Assembly of Choirs in Israel, the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, and the Jerusalem School for Music and Arts. When she rejoined the board of governors of the Jerusalem Rubin Academy for Music and Dance in 1990, Tziporah H. Jochsberger completed her own life’s circle of devotion to the Jewish people and its music. She remains a seminal figure in the teaching and expression of Jewish music throughout the United States and Israel.



Bekol Zimra: A Collection of Jewish Choral Music (1966); A Call to Remember: Sacred Songs of the High Holidays(1978); “Ein Keloheinu” (1992); Experiences in Jewish Music (1977); Four Hebrew Madrigals (1971); A Harvest of Jewish Song (1980); Hallel: Psalms of Praise (1958); Hava N’halela: A Method for the Recorder Based on Israeli Folk Melodies (1987); A Kaleidoscope of Jewish Music (1978); Music of the Jewish People (1976). Television series, host and producer; A People and Its Music (1991–). Video series, executive producer; “Tzur Mishelo” (1992); “Yom Zeh Mekhubad” (1992).


Elana Katz-Chernin

Elana Kats-Chernin (b. 1957)


Soviet-born Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin is perhaps best known for her ballet Wild Swans, which contains the popular vocal number for wordless soprano and orchestra, "Eliza Aria." Besides ballet, Kats-Chernin's huge output includes operas, film scores, piano concertos, and various choral, vocal, orchestral, chamber, and instrumental works. Among the more popular of these is Clocks, for large chamber ensemble, and Charleston Noir, for solo piano. Stylistically, Kats-Chernin is eclectic and fairly approachable in her ability to write attractive lyrical melodies. But she has a somewhat acerbic side, too, as evidenced by Clocks. Even here, however, the often choppy flow and tick-tock rhythms have a strong appeal, and the composition's fabric is far from avant-garde. Kats-Chernin's works are regularly performed in Australia and gaining currency internationally. Her music is available on a variety of recording labels including ABC Classics, Signum UK, and Tall Poppies.


Elena Kats-Chernin was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on November 4, 1957. She studied at the Yaroslavl School of Music from 1962-1971. During these years she also studied figure skating. From 1972-1975 she studied in Moscow at the Russian Academy of Music.

In 1975 Kats-Chernin emigrated to Australia where she studied until 1980 at the Sydney-based New South Wales Conservatory under composition teacher Richard Toop. From 1980-1994 Kats-Chernin lived mostly in Germany where she continued her studies, first at the Musikhochschule Hannover with Helmut Lachenmann and then at the Musikhochschule Stuttgart.


While Kats-Chernin's early works date to her student years and include such successful pieces as the 1979 Chechyotka -- Tap Dancing, for trombone and piano, and the 1982 chamber work In Tension, her most important breakthroughs came in the 1990s and turn-of-the-century era with Clocks (1993), Charleston Noir (1996), Cadences, deviations and Scarlatti (1996), and Wild Swans (2002). For Cadences the Australian Music Centre and APRA presented her with the award for the Best Composition by an Australian Composer for 1996.


In the new century Kats-Chernin has received many further honors including, in 2004, both the Green Room and Helpman awards for Wild Swans. She has been making headway abroad as well: in 2006 Kats-Chernin's Purple Silence, for four horns, was premiered in Berlin by the horn section of Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; and in 2008 her Concerto for basset clarinet and small orchestra was premiered by soloist Michael Collins and the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra. That same year the Suite from the Wild Swans was performed at Royal Festival Hall in London by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Stephen Barlow, with soprano soloist Jane Sheldon.


In 2009 Kats-Chernin wrote a somewhat exotically scored work, Garden of Dreams, for didgeridoo, piano, and orchestra. It was a success at its May 2009 premiere in Canberra with the Canberra International Chamber Festival Ensemble and didgeridoo soloist William Barton. Among the more important recordings of Kats-Chernin's works is the 2008 Tall Poppies CD entitled Slow Food (reissued in 2011), whereon the composer performs 18 short piano pieces she arranged mostly from her larger works.


Emanuel Kirschner

Emanuel Kirschner (1857-1938)

Emanuel Kirschner was born on February 15, 1857 in Rockitnitz, a small village in Upper Silesia. When the family moved to Beuthen, Cantor Josef Singer took young Kirschner into his choir, where he got to sing the new compositions by Salomon Sulzer. Kirschner calls his entrance into the choir the beginning of his preparation for his later profession as a cantor.

In 1874 Kirschner, then 17 years old, went to Berlin, where he was accepted as a student at the Jewish Teachers College. The director of music at the Berlin Teachers Seminary was the renowned Louis Lewandowski, who was also in charge of cantorial education. Kirschner became a paid singer in Lewandowski’s choir in the New Synagogue, Berlin and a few years later was appointed assistant cantor. 

In 1881, at the age of 24, Kirschner became Oberkantor of the Great Synagogue in Munich and also a teacher of religion in the school system of the Congregation and City. (Kirschner became the successor of Cantor Max Löwenstamm.) After only two years of service, the Great Synagogue in Munich gave Kirschner a lifetime contract. He also enrolled in the Academy of Music in Munich to study composition with the famous Professor Josef Rheinberger, and in 1893 Kirschner himself became professor of vocal art at the Munich Academy of Music.

Kirschner exerted great influence on a young cantor who came to him in 1903 to ask for advice, Abraham Z. Idelssohn, Cantor in Regensburg, who was to become the greatest figure in Jewish musicology.

Kirschner’s compositions, were published in four volumes, T’hillos L‘el Elyon, between 1897 and 1926.

In 1928 Kirschner retired from active service. Emanuel Kirschner died on September 28, 1938.


Jeremiah Klarman

Jeremiah Klarman (b. 1993) is gaining national recognition as a rising young composer of his generation.  He is a 2016 graduate of The New England Conservatory of Music where he was a composition major under instruction of Michael Gandolfi and Hankus Netsky.  In addition to composing, Jeremiah plays piano, is a member of NEC’s Jewish Music Ensemble, and is a regular here at Temple Emanuel’s Shabbat Alive Service, where he is also the Artist in Residence. Klarman has won numerous awards, including the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) Foundation/Morton Gould Young Composer Award for his orchestral piece Dance Suite. In June 2010, The Boston Pops performed his Symphony in C on his second appearance on NPR’s radio show, “From The Top.”  In addition to his accomplishments as a classical composer, Klarman has written Jewish-themed choral, pop and liturgical music.




Kenneth Lampl

Kenneth Lampl (b. 1964) is an American-born composer and lecturer known for his film, television and choral music. He is currently head of the Australian National University School of Music in Canberra. After an early career as a jazz musician, he studied composition at Rutgers and Juilliard. Among his prizes are the "Prix Ravel" in composition from the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Young Composers Award, the ASCAP Award for Young Composers, the Joseph H. Bearns Prize in Composition from Columbia University, and the Gretchanov Memorial Prize in Composition. In 1998 he was awarded a composer fellowship to the Tanglewood Music Festival where he studied film scoring with John Williams. He has scored over 70 films and television programs. Lampl is also a prolific composer of choral music. His first choral work in Hebrew, "Adon Olam," was premiered and recorded by the Zamir Chorale of Boston.



Matthew Lazar

Matthew Lazar (b. 1948)


Matthew Lazar is the leading force of the Jewish choral movement in North America.  His superior talents as a conductor and interpreter of Jewish music have elevated the standards of Jewish musical performance and educated audiences across North America.  His visionary leadership led to the creation of the Zamir Choral Foundation, which continues to nurture the growth of Jewish choral singing in North America and Israel.  In addition to directing the Zamir Chorale, he has also created the Mantua Singers, the Selah Vocal Ensemble, and Shirah: The Community Chorus of the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades.  He has inspired the creation of adult choral ensembles throughout the United States and through the Zamir Choral Foundation’s Jeanne R. Mandell Fund for New Music, has contributed to the expansion of the choral repertoire through commissions of new music by the finest composers in North America and Israel.

Matthew Lazar’s establishment of the North American Jewish Choral Festival has provided a forum for hundreds of Jewish choral singers to come together for an annual, week long, immersion in Jewish choral music.  The Choral Festival has created a harmonious community that bridges all denominational, generational and political divides and promotes the highest standards of Jewish choral performance and education.

In 1993, Mr. Lazar turned his attention to the next generation with his creation of HaZamir.  What began in Manhattan as a single choir to provide quality choral singing opportunities for Jewish high school students has grown into an ever-expanding international movement.  The success of HaZamir: The International Jewish High School Choir has assured the continuity of Lazar’s commitment to superior Jewish choral singing and Jewish identity.

In addition to his activities in the realm of Jewish choral music, Maestro Lazar has also appeared as guest conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra, the El Paso Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Chamber Symphony, the Ra’anana Symphony, and at the Ravinia Music Festival.  Mr. Lazar regularly appears with the great cantors of this generation, and presents programs at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and other major concert halls in the United States and Israel.

Mr. Lazar has served on the faculties of Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary and is a frequent lecturer and scholar-in-residence in communities and universities across the United States.  He was recently honored for his accomplishments by the Cantors Assembly and by Queens College of the City of New York.  In addition to his albums with the Zamir Chorale, his recordings include Chants Mystique I and II with Alberto Mizrahi, Birthday of the World I and II and A Taste of Eternity I and II with the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble, and Songs for Jerusalem, featuring a special narration by Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel, with whom Mr. Lazar recently performed in a special concert entitled “Memories and Melodies of my Childhood.”


Jonathan Leshnoff

Distinguished by The New York Times as “a leader of contemporary American lyricism,” composer Jonathan Leshnoff (b. 1973) is renowned for his music's striking harmonies, structural complexity, and powerful themes. The Baltimore-based composer’s works have been performed by more than 60 orchestras worldwide in hundreds of orchestral concerts. He has received commissions from Carnegie Hall, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the symphony orchestras of Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Kansas City, Nashville, and Pittsburgh. Leshnoff has been ranked among the most performed living composers by American orchestras. An all-Leshnoff recording of the Atlanta Symphony performing Leshnoff’s Symphony No. 2 and Zohar oratorio was released on the Naxos American Classics label in November 2016. Leshnoff is a Professor of Music at Towson University.


Louis Lewandowski

Louis Lewandowski (1821–1894) was Music Director at the Oranienburgerstrasse synagogue in Berlin from 1840 until the early 1890s. Not a bad gig for a Polish orphan who had arrived in Berlin, penniless, at the age of twelve. Louis’s talent enabled him to rise quickly through the ranks. He started off as just another boy soprano in an informal illiterate synagogue ensemble, and within a few years the synagogue had a modern four-part choir and he was appointed its conductor. Louis’s talent also secured him a scholarship to study at the Berlin Academy of the Arts, becoming the first Jew ever admitted to that prestigious conservatory. On September 5, 1866 the New Synagogue of Berlin, the Oranienburgerstrasse Synagogue, was dedicated with an elaborate ceremony in the presence of Count Otto von Bismarck, then Minister President of Prussia. With seating for 3,200, it was the largest synagogue in Germany, and it boasted one of the finest pipe organs in the city. In his lifetime, Lewandowski saw the publication of hundreds of his own compositions, including two volumes of liturgical compositions for choir, cantor and (optional) organ—Todah W’Simrah: volume 1 in 1876 and volume 2 in 1882. In an attempt to reach a larger public, Lewandowski published in 1879 Achtzehn liturgische Psalmen für Soli und Chor mit Begleitung der Orgel, a collection of eighteen Psalm settings in German.

Lewandowski’s music resembles that of his contemporary, Felix Mendelssohn; the style is firmly rooted in the classical/romantic choral tradition. The organ accompaniments are, by and large, optional; the composer wanted to ensure that his compositions could also be performed in venues where no organ was available. Many of his works conform to a classic ABA structure. Perhaps his best known work is his setting of Psalm 150.

Louis Lewandowski—original publications

Lewandowski, Louis. Todah W’simrah: vierstimmige Chöre und Soli für den israelitischen Gottesdienst mit und ohne Begleitung der Orgel (ad libitum) 1 Sabbath. Berlin: Bote & Bock, 1876. Reprint edition: New York: Sacred Music Press, 1954.

———. Todah W’simrah: vierstimmige Chöre und Soli für den israelitischen Gottesdienst mit und ohne Begleitung der Orgel (ad libitum) 2 Festgesänge. Berlin: Bote & Bock, 1882. Reprint edition: New York: Sacred Music Press, 1954.

———. Achtzehn liturgische Psalmen für Soli und Chor mit Begleitung der Orgel. Breitkopf & Härtel, 1879.

Frühauf, Tina. The Organ and Its Music in German-Jewish Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Goldberg, Geoffrey. “Jewish Liturgical Music in the Wake of Nineteenth-Century Reform.” in Lawrence Hoffman and Janet Walton (eds.). Sacred Sound and Social Change. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 1992.

Goldberg, Geoffrey. “Neglected Sources for the Historical Study of Synagogue Music: The Prefaces to Louis Lewandowski’s Kol Rinnah u’Tfillah.” Musica Judaica XI (1989-90): 28–57.

Nemtsov, Jascha. Louis Lewandowski. Berlin: Hentrich & Hentrich Verlag, 2011.

Werner, Eric. A Voice Still Heard: The Sacred Songs of the Ashkenazic Jews. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976.

The “Majesty of Holiness” programs, featuring the Zamir Chorale of Boston, can be accessed through YouTube using the following links: (Divine Majesty) (The Majesty of Hallel) (Masterworks of Majesty)

Other videos of music by Lewandowski: (Mah Tovu, Enosh, Hallelujoh). (Psalm 150 – virtual choir performance, with historical narration). (Enosh and Ewiger).


Leo Low

Born in Volkovysk, Poland, Leo Low (1878-1962) received his early musical training singing as a boy soprano in synagogue choirs in Lida and Bialystok. After completing his studies at the Warsaw Conservatory he conducted several orchestral and theatre ensembles. Then in 1902 he began his career as synagogue choir conductor, ending up at the Tlomacki synagogue of Warsaw with the renowned Cantor Gershon Sirota, and conducting the Warsaw Hazomir Choral Society. Subsequently he held conducting positions in both the Land of Israel and the United States. For the Hazomir Choral Society he composed the stirring anthem, “Hazomir” (or “Motto”).


Max Löwenstamm

Max Löwenstamm (1814-1881)

Max Georg Löwenstamm was born in Moravia in 1814. He studied Jewish liturgical music in Vienna with the famous Cantor, Salomon Sulzer. His first cantorial position was in Prague (1840), and then in 1842 he was appointed as the Oberkantor at the New Temple in Pest. In 1847 he was appointed Oberkantor in Munich, where he served until his death in 1881. (His successor in 1881 was Emanuel Kirschner.) In addition to his cantorial duties in Munich, Löwenstamm worked as teacher and chairman of the Jewish community and conducted the synagogue choir. A collection of his synagogue compositions for solo, choir and organ, “Semiroth le-el chaj: Synagogen-Gesänge,” was published in Vienna in 1882.



Darius Milhaud

Darius Milhaud (1892 – 1974)

Darius Milhaud, one of the 20th century’s most prolific composers, with an opera comprising nearly 450 works, belongs historically to the coterie of French intellectuals and composers who, loosely bonded by their initial embrace of Jean Cocteau’s antisentimental aesthetic ideas, as well as by their allegiance to composer Erik Satie’s spiritual-musical tutelage, were known as Les Six. That group also included Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger, Georges Auric, Germaine Tailleferre, and Louis Durey. But Milhaud belongs as well to the significant number of European Jewish émigré composers who took refuge in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s from the Fascist-inspired anti-Jewish persecution that emanated from Germany and culminated in the Holocaust.

Milhaud was born in Marseilles but grew up in Aix-en-Provence, which he regarded as his true ancestral city. His was a long-established Jewish family of the Comtat Venaissin—a secluded region of Provence—with roots traceable there at least to the 15th century. On his father’s side, Milhaud’s Jewish lineage was thus neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardi (i.e., stemming neither from medieval German-Rhineland nor from pre-16th-century Spanish/Iberian Jewry), but rather, specifically Provençal—dating to Jewish settlement in that part of southern France as early as the first centuries of the Common Era. His paternal great-grandfather, Joseph Milhaud, was one of the founders of the synagogue at Aix, and he wrote exegetical works on the Torah and conducted the census of Jews who had returned to France after the Revolution.

Like its Ashkenazi and Sephardi counterparts, Provençal Jewry had a distinct musical tradition that developed over many centuries. Milhaud’s mother, however, was partly Sephardi on her father’s side. This may have lent an additional perspective to his internalized Jewish musical sensibilities. Both parents came from middle-class families who had been engaged successfully in respected business enterprises for generations, and both were musicians as well. Darius began violin studies at the age of seven and began composing even as a child. In 1909 he commenced studies at the Paris Conservatoire, where one of his teachers, Xavier Leroux, immediately recognized that his student had discovered a harmonic language of his own. His other teachers included Vincent d’Indy, Paul Dukas, and André Gedalge, whom Milhaud later credited as his greatest influence.

In his memoirs Milhaud wrote that when he first began to compose, he was already aware of the path of Impressionism, which he viewed as the end of an artistic current whose mawkishness he found unappealing. He became profoundly affected as a composer by literature, as well as by Satie’s commitment to a concept of artistic totality, exploring and including the various art forms in complementary expression. From 1917 to 1919 Milhaud held a secretarial post at the French Consular Mission in Brazil, where he developed an interest in native folk rhythms and ethnic music traditions. He later applied these influences to some of his pieces, and his first two ballet scores drew directly upon the Brazilian experience.

In the 1920s Milhaud began his association with Cocteau, whose seminal aesthetic attack on the contemporary direction of “serious” music and its high-flown “romantic bombast” made a significant impression on him. Encouraged by Satie and his own musical models, Milhaud—together with the other composers who formed Les Six—embraced aspects of this aesthetic principle, especially with regard to simplicity, directness, avoidance of excess sentimentality, sounds related to nature and everyday life, and, perhaps above all, that attribute so prized by certain French poets of a previous era: la clarité—clarity. For Milhaud, perhaps more so than for the others of his circle, Satie’s love of the music hall, the circus, and other unelevated forms of entertainment was in tune with his own adoption of popular material—French folksong, Latin American dance rhythms, Jewish secular and sacred melodies, and one of his most important discoveries: jazz.

Milhaud first encountered jazz in London in the early 1920s, and he visited Harlem dance halls when he made a concert tour of the United States in 1922–23. He was instantly engaged by the syncopated rhythms, the improvisatory freedom, the authentic character, and even the purity of the music, and he created a bit of a stir when he was quoted as saying that jazz was “theAmerican music”—according it the same validity as classical repertoire. Thereafter he turned to jazz elements for his works on quite a few occasions. Later he was quoted as observing that jazz could only have sprung from the experience of an oppressed people. After the installation of the Nazi puppet Vichy regime in France and his escape to America as a Jewish refugee—as well as the German murder of more than twenty of his cousins—that can only have had additional significance for him. It is no accident that, notwithstanding several prewar Jewish-related works, it was in his American period and afterward that he turned even more frequently to his Jewish roots for musical sources.

In 1940, Milhaud’s one-act opera Médée (to a text by his wife, Madeleine) had just reached the stage of the Paris Opera when the German invasion resulted quickly in France’s surrender and the creation of the Vichy government. The occupation of Paris was a clear sign to Milhaud and his wife that it was time to leave with their son while they still could. The Chicago Symphony had invited him to conduct a new work it had commissioned, and that invitation enabled him to receive exit visas from the consulate in Marseilles for himself and his family. Their friend, the French-Jewish conductor Pierre Monteux, then conducting the San Francisco Symphony, organized a teaching position for Milhaud at Mills College in nearby Oakland, California, and beginning in 1951, for twenty years, he also taught every summer at the Aspen Music School and Festival. He is known to have cautioned his students—who included such subsequently celebrated musicians as Dave Brubeck, William Bolcom, Simon Sargon, and Peter Schickele—against what he called “overdevelopment” as a pretension to the profound. “It is false,” he told students, “that the profundity of a work proceeds directly from the boredom it inspires.” 

Milhaud is often perceived as the champion of polytonality. Although he neither invented that harmonic technique and language nor was the first to employ it, he found ingenious ways to make use of its potential. Perhaps because he so clearly understood its possibilities, it became the harmonic vocabulary most commonly associated with his music. In the 1920s, however, Milhaud was considered a revolutionary and an enfant terrible of the music world. Yet his actual approach owed more to the French composer Charles Koechlin than to Satie, and it built upon a particular concept of polytonality derived from Stravinsky’s early ballets. Ultimately Milhaud believed not in revolution, but in the development and extension of tradition. “Every work is not more than a link in a chain,” he postulated, “and new ideas or techniques only add to a complete past, a musical culture, without which no invention has any validity.”

Milhaud’s personal Judaism as well as his family heritage informed a substantial number of his compositions, beginning with his Poèmes Juifs(1916) and followed by several prewar pieces with overt Jewish titles and content. But it was in his later Jewish works that he relied frequently and specifically on the Provençal liturgical tradition that he knew from his youth in Aix-en-Provence. His Judaically related works from the period following his immigration to America include Cain and Abel, for narrator, organ, and orchestra; Candélabre à sept branches; David, an opera written for the Israel Festival; Saul (incidental music); Trois psaumes de David; Cantate de Job; Cantate de psaumes; and—arguably his most significant Judaic work—Service Sacré, an oratorio-like full-length Sabbath morning service (with supplemental settings for Friday evening) for cantor, rabbinical speaker, large chorus, and symphony orchestra, which was commissioned in 1947 and premiered by Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco. This service was first recorded in its entirety by the Milken Archive in 2000. His final work, Ani maamin (subtitled un chant perdu et retrouvé), on a text by Elie Wiesel, received its premiere in 1975 at Carnegie Hall, conducted by Lukas Foss, with soprano Roberta Peters, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and several narrators, including Wiesel.

By: Neil W. Levin


Julius Mombach

Julius (“Israel”) Mombach (1813–1880) was born in Pfungstadt, Germany, the son of the cantor Lazarus Mombach. He must have been talented musically, and he must have been ambitious. At the age of 14 he was brought to London to serve as a meshorer (a boy soprano) in the Great Synagogue at Duke’s Place to sing simple harmonies with the newly appointed cantor Enoch Eliasson, who had also just arrived from Germany. Soon the Jews of London were clamoring for a real choir—like the one Salomon Sulzer had established in Vienna. However, London’s Chief Rabbi, Solomon Hirschell, expressly forbade the use of sheet music, which he dismissed as a mere "book of strokes." It wasn’t until Rabbi Hirschell’s death in 1840 that modern choral singing was allowed at London’s Great Synagogue. Julius Mombach was now elevated from meshorer to Choir Master, a post he would hold until his death forty years later. Mombach not only conducted, he also arranged and composed music for his new choir. Mombach’s music was unpublished in his lifetime, but appeared in 1881 in a collection edited by Rev. M. Keizer; this is our only source for the compositions.

Mombach’s style is not different from that of the anthems of his age. A good example is his setting of Psalm 150, composed for the celebration of the marriage of Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild & Miss Evalina de Rothschild in 1865. The music stays within the initial key of B-flat with brief excursions to the relative minor. The texture is largely homophonic, with some contrasting eighth-note movement in the organ. A brief fugal section begins at measure 17.

Listen to Mombach’s Hallelujah:


Julius Mombach—original publication

Mombach, Julius. Naʻim Zemirot Yisraʼel: The sacred musical compositions of the late Israel Lazarus Mombach  containing the services for Sabbaths and festivals, New Year and Day of Atonement, consecration hymns, psalms and choral wedding service / ed. by M. Keizer. London: B. Williams, 1881.


The “Majesty of Holiness” programs, featuring the Zamir Chorale of Boston, can be accessed through YouTube using the following links: (Divine Majesty) (The Majesty of Hallel) (Masterworks of Majesty)


Samuel Naumbourg

Samuel Naumbourg (1817–1880), descendent of a long line of cantors, arrived in Paris from Munich in 1843 and within two years was appointed head cantor of the prestigious synagogue of the Rue Notre Dame de Nazareth. Among those who recommended Naumbourg for this position was the famous opera composer, Jacques Halévy. In 1856 the Conference of Chief Rabbis of France met to tackle a number of issues facing French Jews. To ensure consistent quality and uniformity, they charged Naumbourg with the task of reorganizing the music of the services in all synagogues within the French republic. As part of this effort, Naumbourg included many of his own compositions, as well as compositions by several of his contemporaries. His liturgical compendium of music for the entire year, set for cantor and choir (boys and men), with and without organ accompaniment, was published in several volumes, Chants Liturgicals des Grandes Fêtes (1847), Zemirot Yisrael (1864), and Shire Qodesh (1864). Included in Naumbourg’s anthologies are liturgical compositions by Jacques Halévy and Charles-Valentin Alkan. 

Given Naumbourg’s close connection with Jacques Halévy, Giacomo Meyerbeer and Jacques Offenbach, it comes as no surprise that many of the compositions in Naumbourg’s collection are reminiscent of the style of the Parisian opera houses.[i] Naumbourg’s setting of Psalm 24:7–10 is scored for SATB chorus, optional organ (doubling the chorus) and (boy) soprano soloist. It opens with a proclamation sung by the tenors and basses in unison, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates, that the King of Glory may come in,” that could easily feel at home in the grand opera. (example 9).


One of the most striking pieces in Naumborg’s collection was written by the great opera composer, Jacques Halévy. According to some sources Halévy wrote this piece for his father, a Jewish cantor, when he was just eighteen years old. Min Ha-metsar (verses from Psalm 118) is scored for SATB chorus and 3 male soloists. Like Naumbourg’s Se’u She’orim, it also begins with the tenors and basses in unison. But here the voices are singing softly in a mysterious pianissimo. For the text “From a constricted place I called out to God,” the unison tenors and basses sing a rising line in C minor first to the minor third and then from the tonic to the dominant pitch via the plaintive tritone, F#. In the next phrase, “God answered me with expansiveness,” the voices return from their height to the tonic. When the melody is repeated by the full choir, the consequent phrase features a crescendo that lands on the relative major. (example 10)


Listen [AB1] to Naumbourg’s Se’u She’orim (Psalm 24):

Listen [AB2] to Halévy’s Min Ha-metsar:


Samuel Naumbourg—original publications

Naumbourg, Samuel. Zemirot Yiśraʼel/ contenant les hymnes, les psaumes et la liturgie complète de la Synagogue des temps le plus reculés jusqu'à nos jours avec accomp. d'orgue ou piano ad libitum / par S. Naumbourg. Paris: Selbstverl,[ii] ca. 1847.

———. Chants liturgiques des grandes Fêtes, 2. [n.p.], 1847.

———. Shire ̣ḳodesh/ Nouveau recueil de chants religieux à l'usage du culte Israe͏̈lite/ contenant: 96 cantiques, psaumes, hymnes, anciennes récitations à 2, 3 et 4 parties / par S. Naumbourg. Paris: Selbstverl, 1864.


The “Majesty of Holiness” programs, featuring the Zamir Chorale of Boston, can be accessed through YouTube using the following links: (Divine Majesty) (The Majesty of Hallel) (Masterworks of Majesty)


Schleifer, Eliyahu. Samuel Naumbourg: Cantor of French Jewish Emancipation. Berlin: Hentrich & Hentrich Verlag, 2011.

Werner, Eric. A Voice Still Heard: The Sacred Songs of the Ashkenazic Jews. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976.

[i] These three prominent opera and operetta composers grew up in Jewish homes. Halévy’s father was a Parisian cantor and prominent Hebraist. Meyerbeer’s father was a leader of the Berlin Jewish community, who organized synagogue services in his home. Offenbach’s father was a cantor and music teacher in Cologne.

[ii] Selbstverlag, German for "self-published."


David Novakovski

David Nowakowsky (1848–1921) was born in the small town of Malin, near Kiev, Russia. At the age of eight he ran away from home to escape a proverbial wicked stepmother. He settled in Berditchev, where he studied music and served as a meshorer, choir-boy, in the synagogue. Then at the age of 21 he was invited to Odessa to serve at the Brody Synagogue as choirmaster and assistant, first to Cantor Nissan Blumenthal, and after 1891 to the great Cantor Pinchas Minkowski. More than other Russian cities, Odessa was cosmopolitan, open to the cultural influence of Western Europe. The Brody synagogue in Odessa became known as a modern house of worship, with a renowned choir, cantor and organist. Even many non-Jews would visit the synagogue just to enjoy the beauty of its music, including Peter Tchaikovsky, who praised Nowakowsky as a first-rate talent.  His most important publication was Gebete und Gesange zum Eingang des Sabbath für Solo und Chor mit und ohne Orgelbegleitung, published in Leipzig in 1901.


Nowakowsky’s compositions went underground after his death in 1920. Literally. In 1924 boxes of his manuscripts were smuggled out of Soviet Russia and brought to Berlin. Within a few years the Nazis had come to power and the manuscripts had to be moved again, this time to France, where they were buried in a field by a sympathetic farmer. After the war, the composer’s grandson Alexandre was able to dig up the music and eventually brought the manuscripts to the United States.


Nowakowsky’s greatest work is his setting for choir and cantor and organ of verses from Psalm 115, Adonoy Zekhoronu, a work featuring many textural contrasts. Observe how in the first 10 measures, the organ uses the repeated rhythmic leitmotif building tension with the dominant of F-minor, the chorus thunders in majestically in the tonic with a three-octave unison, and then immediately morphs to supporting the tenor soloist with his calm melody in the relative major. (example 13) The concluding fugue, beautifully worked out, begins at measure 80. (example 14)


Listen to Nowakowsky’s Adonoy Zekhoronu: .


David Nowakowsky—original publications

Nowakowsky, David. Gebete und Gesänge zum Eingang des Sabbath : für Cantor Solo und Chor, mit und ohne Orgelbegleitung[Kabalat Shabat] Gebete und Gesänge zum Eingang des Sabbath; für Cantor Solo und Chor, mit und ohne Orgelbegleitung. Leipzig: C.G. Röder, 1901. Reprint edition, New York: Sacred Music Press, 1955. (Masterworks of Majesty)


Rubin, Emanuel. “The Music of David Nowakowsky (1848 -1921): A New Voice from Old Odessa.” Musica Judaica 16 (2001). 20–52.


Charles Osborne

Cantor Charles Osborne (b. 1949) had his first singing engagement at the age of twelve as a boy alto in his home town of Suffern, NY. He later attended the Hartt College of Music in West Hartford, Connecticut, studying there with Cantor Arthur Koret. He earned his second degree and received cantorial ordination from the Cantors Institute (now the H. L. Miller Cantorial School) of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, in New York. At the Seminary, Osborne studied composition with Miriam Gideon and Hugo Weisgall. His original compositions include four oratorios, a symphony, concerti for flute, guitar, viola and harp, and more than 200 choral pieces. The Zamir Chorale of Boston has premiered many of Cantor Osborne’s works, including “A Sephardic Havdalah, “Psalm 20” and the oratorios, Souls on Fire, Kings and Fishermen, and Like Wildflowers Suddenly. Cantor Osborne has made numerous recital, concert, and opera appearances throughout the world and has taught at Hartt College, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Northeastern University, and the Hebrew College of Boston. He is a regular participant in the North American Jewish Choral Festival and the “Hazamir” National Jewish High School Choral Festival, with which he toured Israel as music director during the summers of 1996 and 1997.


Nick Page

Nick Page (b. 1952) is a Boston based composer, conductor and author who is best known for his song leading.  In the 1980s he was a conductor with the Emmy Award winning Chicago Children’s Choir.   Since 1990, he has led Boston’s Mystic Chorale and guest conducted around the word including at three of the four Carnegie Halls (Pittsburgh, New York, and Scotland).  His choral works have been premiered everywhere from Lincoln Center to humble school cafitoriums.   He is the author of four books and has over one hundred published choral pieces.  In high school, Nick's friends were all listening to rock and roll while Nick was drawn to Theodore Bikel recordings of Yiddish and Israeli folksongs.  His lifelong love of Jewish music (he's not Jewish) continues.  For over twenty years he's been leading songs at the North American Jewish Choral Festival.



Shulamit Ran

Shulamit Ran (b. 1949)

Shulamit Ran, a native of Israel, began setting Hebrew poetry to music at the age of seven. By nine she was studying composition and piano with some of Israel’s most noted musicians, including composers Alexander Boskovich and Paul Ben-Haim, and within a few years she was having her works performed by professional musicians and orchestras. As the recipient of scholarships from both the Mannes College of Music in New York and the America Israel Cultural Foundation, Ran continued her composition studies in the United States with Norman Dello-Joio. In 1973 she joined the faculty of University of Chicago, where she is now the Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Music. She lists her late colleague and friend Ralph Shapey, with whom she also studied in 1977, as an important mentor. In addition to receiving the Pulitzer Prize in 1991, Ran has been awarded most major honors given to composers in the U.S., including two fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, grants and commissions from the Koussevitzky Foundation at the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fromm Music Foundation, Chamber Music America, the American Academy and Institute for Arts and Letters, first prize in the Kennedy Center-Friedheim Awards competition for orchestral music, and many more. Her music has been played by leading performing organizations including the Chicago Symphony under both Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez, the Cleveland Orchestra under Christoph Von Dohnanyi in two U.S. tours, the Philadelphia Orchestra under Gary Bertini, the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta and Gustavo Dudamel, the New York Philharmonic, the American Composers Orchestra, The Orchestra of St. Luke’s under Yehudi Menuhin, the Baltimore Symphony, the National Symphony (in Washington D.C.), Contempo (the Contemporary Chamber Players) at the University of Chicago under both Ralph Shapey and Cliff Colnot, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Jerusalem Orchestra, the vocal ensemble Chanticleer, and various others. Chamber and solo works are regularly performed by leading ensembles in the U.S. and elsewhere, and recent vocal and choral ensemble works have been receiving performances internationally. Between 1990 and 1997 she was Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, having been appointed for that position by Maestro Daniel Barenboim as part of the Meet-The-Composer Orchestra Residencies Program. Between 1994 and 1997 she was also the fifth Brena and Lee Freeman Sr. Composer-in-Residence with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where her residency culminated in the performance of her first opera, “Between Two Worlds (The Dybbuk)." She was the Paul Fromm Composer in Residence at the American Academy in Rome, September-December 2011. Ran served as Music Director of “Tempus Fugit," the International Biennial for Contemporary Music in Israel in 1996, 1998 and 2000. Since 2002 she has been Artistic Director of Contempo (Contemporary Chamber Players of the University of Chicago). In 2010 she was the Howard Hanson Visiting Professor of Composition at Eastman School of Music. Shulamit Ran is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, where she was Vice President for Music for a 3-year term, and of the American Academy of Arts and Science. The recipient of five honorary doctorates, her works are published by Theodore Presser Company and by the Israeli Music Institute and recorded on more than a dozen different labels. The recently completed Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory, String Quartet No. 3, was commissioned by Music Accord, a consortium of concert presenters in the U.S. and abroad, for Pacifica Quartet, and received its first performance in June 2014 in Tokyo.



Sid Robinovitch

Sid Robinovitch (b. 1942)


Sid Robinovitch is one of Canada's most versatile and widely performed composers. Frequently broadcast on CBC radio, his works have been featured by a large number of musical ensembles including the Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal Symphony Orchestras, the Elmer Iseler Singers, and the Vancouver Chamber Choir. In addition to his concert music Robinovitch has written for film, radio and TV, where he is probably best known for his theme for the satirical comedy series, The Newsroom.

A native of Manitoba, Robinovitch received a Ph.D in Communications from the University of Illinois and taught social sciences at York University in Toronto. Since 1977 he has devoted himself to musical composition, studying at Indiana University and the Royal Conservatory of Toronto. He presently lives in Winnipeg, Canada, where he works as a composer and teacher.

While many of Robinovitch’s works are rooted in traditional or folk material, they often have a distinctly contemporary flavour as well. Dreaming Lolita, for example, is a dramatic retelling in poetic form of the famous Nabokov novel, while in Psalms of Experience the choral textures are infused with elements of Balinese music and rhythmic chanting.

Robinovitch has received 3 Juno nominations for his recorded work. In 2002, Klezmer Suite, a recording devoted entirely to his music and performed by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Bramwell Tovey, received a Prairie Music Award for outstanding classical recording. Sefarad, a CD featuring his music for guitar, was released in 2008 on the Marquis label and received a Western Canadian Music Award nomination for classical recording of the year. His latest CD, Choral Odyssey, was released in 2012 and features the Winnipeg Singers under the direction of Yuri Klaz.


Salamone Rossi


Salamone Rossi (c. 1570 – c. 1630) was employed at the Gonzaga court in Mantua as violinist and composer. What little information we have about his life is gleaned from his published works—six books of madrigals, one book of duets, one book of canzonets, four books of instrumental dances and sonatas, a balletto, and a path-breaking collection of Hebrew motets for the synagogue. Unlike his Christian colleagues, Rossi composed no liturgical music for the church, but his collection of choral music for the synagogue is the only work of its kind and quality to appear before the nineteenth century.


Benjie-Ellen Schiller

 Cantor Benjie Ellen Schiller (b. 1958), spent her childhood in Stamford, Connecticut, learned to play the piano initially on her own, mostly by improvising. Formal lessons followed, but as she has observed, her playing remained improvisatory. In her teen years she began writing songs—lyrics and music—of what she has since called a “folk nature,” with accompaniment for piano or guitar. When she was fifteen, she composed a setting of “May the Words of My Mouth,” the English prayer in the Reform prayerbook, to sing at her brother’s bar mitzvah celebration, and this inspired her to continue writing liturgical settings. “The prayerbook has spoken to me ever since I was a teenager,” she remarked in a recent interview. She received her bachelor's degree in composition from Boston University, and during that time sang with the John Oliver Chorale and the Zamir Chorale of Boston. Now a nationally known composer, her works include "Life-Song Cycle," a series of pieces for Jewish life passage ceremonies; "Halleluhu," a multi-rhythmic setting of Psalm 150; and various commissioned works for synagogues, choirs, and interfaith groups. In addition to her duties as cantor at Bet Am Shalom in White Plains, NY, Cantor Schiller is a Professor of Cantorial Arts at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.



Arnold Schoenberg

Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)

Arnold Schoenberg was born into a lower-middle-class Jewish family in Vienna while the city was still recovering from anti-Semitic agitation after the financial panic of 1873. When he was eight, he began studying violin and composing, but his only formal teacher was the composer Alexander Zemlinsky, whose sister Schoenberg later married. Through Zemlinsky’s influence, his 1897 String Quartet in D major was accepted for performance, but the string sextet Verklärte Nacht of 1899 was turned down, and his early songs (opp.1–3) unleashed protests at their first performance in 1900.

After that, in Schoenberg’s own words, scandal never left him as he strove to expand music’s expressive potential by increasingly pressing the bounds of late-Romantic harmony—in such works as the symphonic poem Pelleas und Melisande (1903) and the monumental cantata Gurrelieder (1900–11)—and then finally bursting those bounds in, for example, the freely “atonal” (music not in any key) song cycle Das Buch der hängenden Gärten (1908–09), Five Orchestral Pieces (1909), and the song cycle Pierrot lunaire (1912). The logical extension of this development for him—and for Alban Berg and Anton Webern, his disciples in the so-called Second Viennese School—was to adopt, beginning with the set of five piano pieces, op. 23 (1920–23), what he termed “a method of composing with twelve tones that are related only to one another” (serial or twelve-tone technique).

Little is known about Schoenberg’s religious upbringing or childhood Jewish experiences. What might seem to be major milestones in his life—his conversion to Protestant Christianity in 1898 and, especially, his return to Judaism—are in fact only events in a continual internal struggle and spiritual quest. His conversion to Christianity, however, was not (as the distinguished music scholar Alexander Ringer observes in his well-known study, Arnold Schoenberg: The Composer As Jew) “under secularizing or assimilationist influences, but rather because, virtually untutored in Jewish values, he looked for other vessels to quench his spiritual thirst.” By 1923, he was already committed to Jewish national concerns, and his drama Der Biblische Weg (The Way to the Bible; 1923–27) advocated a temporary national home for the Jewish people prior to eventual permanent settlement in Palestine.

Schoenberg formally converted back to Judaism in 1933, but he considered it the culmination of maturation, spiritual development, and fulfillment of personal destiny, and he claimed that he had always considered himself a Jew. The dominant theme throughout his life derives from a dualistic outlook on all phenomena as interactions or relationships between the concrete and the abstract, usually expressed as an irresolvable conflict. He seems to have sought resolution of that conflict—between an amorphous “God awareness” and a hunger for structure—in formal religion.

After the National Socialists came to power, in 1933, Schoenberg was summarily dismissed from his post at the Prussian Academy of Arts, where he had been teaching since 1926. He was denounced as a Jew and a leading exponent of “degenerate” art. A fervent Zionist, he drafted a bold “Four-Point Program for Jewry,” propounding that “a united Jewish party must be created….Ways must be prepared to obtain a place to erect an independent Jewish state.” In 1934, he emigrated to the United States and settled eventually in Los Angeles, where he taught for a year at the University of Southern California and from 1936 at U.C.L.A. He became an American citizen in 1941.


During the last two decades of Schoenberg’s life, Jewish subjects became increasingly important to him. Between 1930 and 1932 he worked at his opera Moses und Aron, which occupies a central position in his oeuvre. In 1938, the year in which the Kristallnacht pogroms signaled the end of Central European Jewry, he composed an English setting of the kol nidrei recitation; and, in 1947, he wrote A Survivor from Warsaw, which Ringer calls the “ultimate artistic expression of both Schoenberg’s lifelong Jewish trauma and his abiding faith.” The 1950 choral setting of Psalm 130 in the original Hebrew, his contribution to an Anthology of Jewish Music, was dedicated to the State of Israel. But Schoenberg was never able to complete any of his large-scale religious works, including Moses und Aron and an oratorio Die Jakobsleiter (1917–22). Each breaks off with the protagonist left unable to find fulfillment through prayer.


In April 1951, a matter of weeks before his death, Schoenberg was made honorary president of the Israel Academy of Music in Jerusalem. In his letter of acceptance he gave voice for the last time to the ideals that marked his life as composer and Jew: “Those who issue from such an institution must be truly priests of art…. For just as God chose Israel to be the people whose task it is to maintain the pure, true, Mosaic monotheism despite all persecution … so too it is the task of Israeli musicians to set the world an example….” 

By: Richard Evidon & Boas Tarsi


Paul Schoenfield

Paul Schoenfield (b. 1947)

Paul Schoenfield, a native of Detroit, began playing the piano at age six and wrote his first composition the following year. In addition to studying piano with Julius Chajes, Ozan Marsh, and Rudolf Serkin, he holds an undergraduate degree from Carnegie-Mellon University and a Doctor of Music Arts degree from the University of Arizona. He held a teaching position in Toledo, Ohio, lived on a kibbutz in Israel and was a free-lance composer and pianist in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area before moving to Cleveland. He is now on the faculty of the University of Michigan. 

Mr. Schoenfield has received commissions and grants from the NEA, the Ohio Arts Commission, Chamber Music America, the Rockefeller Fund, the Minnesota Commissioning Club, American Composers Forum, Soli Deo Gloria of Chicago, the Juilliard School -- for its centennial -- and many other organizations and individuals.

Although he now rarely performs, he was formerly an active pianist, touring the United States, Europe, and South America as a soloist and with groups including Music from Marlboro. His recordings as a pianist include the complete violin and piano works of Bartok with Sergiu Luca. His compositions can be heard on the Angel, Decca, Innova, Vanguard, EMI, Koch, BMG, and the New World labels. A man of many interests, Paul Schoenfield is also an avid scholar of mathematics and Hebrew.


Sholom Secunda

Sholom Secunda (1894-1974)

Although he excelled in a number of musical genres, sacred as well as secular and classical as well as commercial, Sholom Secunda will always be remembered primarily for his illustrious association with the American Yiddish musical theater. He established himself as one of the preeminent composers and songwriters in that arena of mass popular entertainment known as Second Avenue, which flourished among Yiddish-speaking immigrant generations from the late 19th century through the 1940s.

Born in Aleksandriya, in the Kherson region of the Ukraine, the young Secunda became a coveted boy alto soloist in major synagogue choirs, and he soon gained a reputation as a brilliant wunderkind boy hazzan (cantor). Following a pogrom in Nikolayev, where his family had relocated, he emigrated to America with them in 1907 and, until his voice changed, was known in the New York area too as “the prince of the young hazzanim.” By 1913 he was engaged as a chorister in Yiddish theater productions, for which he also began writing songs. A year later he began studies at the Institute for Musical Art (now The Juilliard School), and shortly afterward, together with Solomon Shmulevitz (1868–1943), a well-established songwriter and lyricist for Yiddish theater and vaudeville, he wrote his first full-length score—Yoysher (Justice). In that same time frame, the legendary prima donna Regina Prager introduced one of his songs, Heym, zise heym (Home Sweet Home), which became his first real success. But after his studies at the Institute, his interest in classical expression remained. When he became acquainted with the music of Ernest Bloch, he was struck by the high artistic level to which Jewish music could be elevated, and he took lessons with Bloch for about a year.

After working in Yiddish theaters in Philadelphia for three years, Secunda saw his first operetta with his own orchestration, Moshka, produced in New York (Brooklyn) in 1926. As his composing for the Yiddish theater increased, he began simultaneously turning his attention to serious Yiddish poetry with a view to writing art songs. But the lure of the theater remained paramount for him in those years, along with opportunities in Yiddish radio programming and broadcasting. Between 1935 and 1937 alone, Secunda wrote scores for at least seven shows, and he also began to experiment with more serious incidental music for Maurice Schwartz’s Yiddish Art Theater.

In the late 1930s Secunda began a rewarding artistic association with Cantor Reuben Ticker, who subsequently became the international superstar opera tenor Richard Tucker and reigned for many years at the Metropolitan Opera House. Secunda composed and arranged a considerable amount of Hebrew liturgical music for Tucker’s cantorial services, recordings, and concerts; and Tucker became the principal advocate for Secunda’s synagogue music.

All in all, Secunda wrote more than eighty operettas, melodramas, and musical shows for the Yiddish stage, in addition to numerous independent songs. Although he claimed to have concluded his Second Avenue career after The Kosher Widow, in 1959, he was still writing for Yiddish shows in the 1960s. His final musical— produced as late as 1973, long after the thriving days of Yiddish theater had become memory—was Shver tsu zayn a yid (It’s Hard to Be a Jew), a musical version of a well-known Sholom Aleichem play that was first presented in New York in 1921. But without question, his most famous song from his entire career was—and will most certainly always remain—Bay mir bistu sheyn (In My Eyes You’re Beautiful), which he wrote for his 1932 musical comedy, M’ken lebn nor m’lost nit (One Could Really Live, but They Won’t Let You)—officially subtitled in English as I Would If I Could. The song, an instant hit in the Second Avenue milieu, was shortly thereafter catapulted onto the international scene as an overnight commercial sensation, and over the years it has generated gargantuan sums in royalties and revenues. Its recording by the Andrews Sisters, with English lyrics by Sammy Cahn that bear little relation to the original Yiddish words by Secunda’s collaborator, Jacob Jacobs (except for the four words of the title, retained in the original Yiddish), led to the ASCAP award for the most popular song of 1938. It was subsequently given further new treatments and arrangements in renditions by dozens of singers and orchestras—including Ella Fitzgerald, Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo, the Ramsey Lewis Trio, the Barry Sisters, Judy Garland, Rudy Vallee, Kate Smith, and many others. The best-known “swing” version was introduced by Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall, and the English version has been translated into dozens of languages. Even though it remains in many quarters only in its English or English-based version, it can still be asserted safely that Bay mir bistu sheyn is simply the world’s best-known and longest-reigning Yiddish theater song of all time—familiar among non-Jews as well as Jews, even if they are unaware of its Second Avenue origin.

From the 1960s on, Secunda accelerated his energies toward serious concert music. In addition to String Quartet in C Minor, that part of his aggregate oeuvre includes a violin concerto and an orchestral tone poem (both recorded for the first time by the Milken Archive), as well as two major cantatas: If Not Higher, on a classic story by Isaac Leyb [Yitskhoh Leyb/Leybush] Peretz, and Yizkor—both of which were sung at live performances and on television broadcasts by Richard Tucker. Secunda made no secret of his desire to be remembered principally for those classically oriented accomplishments rather than as a Yiddish theater songwriter, and following the critical success of If Not Higher, he is said to have remarked that he hoped that this serious work might make people forget that he was the composer of Bay mir bistu sheyn. That hope, however, will probably go unfulfilled.

By: Neil W. Levin



Mordecai Seter

Mordecai Seter (1916-1924)

Mordecai Seter was born in 1916 in Novorossiysk, Russia. In 1926 he immigrated to Eretz Israel where he continued his piano studies. In 1932 he went to Paris to further his musical education, where amongst his teachers were Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger and where he received occasional lessons from Stravinsky. He returned to Israel in 1937and then, in the years that followed, his personal style was formed: Elements of modern western music with strong influence of Jewish liturgical music and especially music of oriental Jewry, as well as Jewish Sephardic folklore. The body of Seter's work can be divided into three main periods. The first in which he wrote choral music drawn from the A.Z.Idelsohn’s Thesaurus of Hebrew-Oriental Melodies as well as from his own collected material of liturgical chants of oriental Jewish communities, using contrapuntal techniques generally found in western vocal music of the Renaissance as in the SABBATH CANTATA. His second period contains mainly instrumental music based on folkloric motifs as in the PARTITA for solo violin and the RICERCAR for strings, leading to his third period which consists largely of instrumental music based on diatonic modi of his own of twelve or more tones. Amongst his other important works are the oratorio MIDNIGHT VIGIL, music for the ballet JUDITH commissioned by Martha Graham, JEPHTHAH'S DAUGHTER for the Bat Sheva Dance Company and the symphony JERUSALEM for choir and strings. Prof. Seter won many prizes, among others: Prix d'Italie (1962), the Israel Prize (1965) and ACUM Prize (1983) for his life's work. Mordecai Seter died in Tel Aviv in 1994.


Judith Shatin

Judith Shatin (b. 1949)

Composer Judith Shatin is renowned for her acoustic, electroacoustic and digital music. Called “highly inventive on every level” by the Washington Post, her music combines an adventurous approach to timbre with dynamic narrative design. She draws on expanded instrumental palettes and a cornucopia of the sounding world, from machines in a coal mine to the calls of animals, the shuttle of a wooden loom, the pull of a zipper. Performers and audiences alike respond enthusiastically to her music, called ‘vividly orchestrated and bursting with imaginative detail’ by the San Francisco Chronicle. Further described as “powerful and distinctive” by Fanfare and “both engaging and splendidly controlled” by the San Francisco Chronicle, her music reaches from chamber to choral and orchestral; from purely electronic to electroacoustic and multimedia formats. An innovator in the world of electronic music, she also continues to create richly imagined acoustic music. Both are informed by her multiple fascinations with literature and the visual arts, with the sounding world, both natural and built; and with the social and communicative power of music. Shatin is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor Emerita at the University of Virginia, where she founded the Virginia Center for Computer Music and led the program to national prominence.


Tzvi Sherf

Tzvi Sherf (b. 1948) 

Tzvi Sherf was born in Kibbutz Dalia, where he gained his first musical education playing the violin and singing in the choir.

After his military service as an artillery officer, he studied computer engineering at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. His Yom Kippur War experience led him to the decision to choose music as a profession and a way of life.

At the beginning of his professional career he took part as an arranger and a bass guitar player in many stage, TV and radio productions. Later he began working with various singing groups and vocal ensembles.

Today he mainly focuses on directing, conducting and training of choral ensembles, writing choral arrangements, and writing and composing songs.

His choral arrangements represent an original blend of influences from diverse music styles: jazz, blues, pop, folklore and classical music.

Many of his arrangements were recorded and performed by the best choirs in Israel and abroad, including: Kamaran Choir, The New Israeli Vocal Ensemble, “Hakibbutz Haartzi” Choir, “Naama” Women Choir, Israeli children choirs: “Moran”, “Haefroni”, “Bat-Kol”, “Meitar”, “Li-Lach” and many more, as well as “Hazamir” Choir Boston, “Chorale Polyphonique De Casablanca” and other choirs in Europe,  the USA and Asia.

Amongst his songs: “HaDudaim” (love plant) performed by “Sexta”; “Al Tevatri” (don’t give up) performed by the vocal duos “HaParvarim” and “HaDudaim”

His solo album “Black Moon“ was released in 1998.

In 1987 he founded the professional jazz vocal quartet “Kav Arba” (“Line #4”), and Coral vocal ensemble – which he conducts since then.

With Coral vocal ensemble he won first prizes in competitions in Israel and in Europe, and has released 3 albums:  Coral – Vocal Ensemble (1994),  Coral – Troubadour (2010),  At This Time (2017).


Vered Shiloni


Sarah Shoham

Sara Shoham (b. 1977)

 Israeli-born Sara Shoham graduated in composition, conducting and piano from the Rubin Academy of Music, Tel Aviv University. She has composed for numerous vocal and instrumental ensembles for both radio and television. Sara Shoham won the Levin Kipnis Prize for Art Composition and the Public Council’s Prize in collaboration with the music department of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, and was awarded grants for creative writing by the Public Council for Arts and Culture, the Tel Aviv Arts and Culture Foundation, and the ‘Pais’ (Israel Lottery) Council for Arts and Culture. Her "…And they shall not learn war any more " (Isaiah 13:4), was awarded a prize by the Czech Ministry of Culture. In the prestigious Florilטge International Competition for Choral Music held in Tours, France, she was awarded a prize for her "Enfants! faites attention aux baobabs ! " (St.- Exupיry). Her work "Loquimini Veritatem ! " (Biblical verses), was awarded a prize in the Spoor International Choir Composition Contest (Belgium). She devotes most of her writing to works for leading choirs in Israel and abroad. During the year 2000 she spent a great deal of her time training Israeli and Palestinian teachers of music and drama as part of a special collaborative project through M.E.C.A (the Middle East Children’s Association). Sara Shoham is the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Composition for 2002. On May 2004 her Prayer (P. Sadeh) was awarded the prize of the Israely Philharmonic Choir. On July 2005 her work " Little Miss Fork and Little Miss Spoon " (Nurit Zarchi) was awarded the IBLA Foundation prize.



Robert Starer

Robert Starer (1924- 2001) began to study piano at the age of four, as was admitted to the Vienna State Academy in 1937. In 1938, after Germany invaded Austria, he was able to escape to Jerusalem, where he continued his musical studies. During the second world war, he served in the British RAF, often touring as a pianist. In 1947 he came to the United States where he studied composition at the Juilliard School, and at the Berkshire Music Center. He has taught on the faculties of Juilliard and Brooklyn College. Numerous commissions include four ballets for Martha Graham and a Violin Concerto by Itzhak Perlman, which was recorded with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Starer is the author of Rhythmic Training (New York, 1969), Basic Rhythmic Training (New York, 1986) and an autobiography, Continuo: a Life in Music (New York, 1987). Starer’s six-movement dramatic cantata, Ariel: Visions of Isaiah, was commissioned by the Interracial Fellowship Chorus of New York in 1959.


Max Stern

Max Stern (b. 1947)


Sang in the synagogue as a boy. In high school he studied contrabass with Frederick Zimmermann, (NYC, 1963-65), and participated in chamber music workshops led by the Budapest String Quartet at SUNY at Buffalo (1963-64). Composition - Samuel Adler, theory - Robert Gauldin, orchestration - Bernard Rogers, contrabass - Oscar Zimmerman, voice classes of Julius Huehn at the Eastman School of Music (BM, Rochester, NY 1969); privately-Hall Overton (NYC, 1966 & 67). Further composition-theoretical studies w. Alexander Goehr, double bass w. Gary Karr at Yale School of Music (MM, 1970). Later, he studied Ethnomusicology with Johanna Spector at the Jewish Theological Seminary, NYC (1973-75), taking courses in Anthropology, and the Middle East at Columbia University, sociology and psychology of education at Hunter College, contemporary literature and ideas in literature at Queens College (l965, 71, 74). He received a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of Colorado, Bouilder, 1989, writing dissertations on “Indeterminacy and Improvisation” and “Henrich Schutz: Psalm Settings”. Max Stern worked as a freelance musician from 1969-1975, performing contrabass with the Rochester PO, New Haven SO, Bridgeport SO, Springfield SO (principal), Brooklyn PO, Music for Westchester, National Orchestral Association, Radio City Music Hall, Caramoor Festival, Spoleto Festival, and American Ballet Theatre (principal) performing under Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Fiedler, Walter Hendl, Lazlo Somogyi, Jose Iturbi, Lukas Foss, Frank Brief, David Gilbert, Leon Barzin and others. Simultaneously he was engaged as arranger for the American Ballet Theatre where he was commissioned to write special arrangements for luminaries: Natalia Makarova, Mihail Barishnikov and Gelsey Kirkland. He moved to Israel in 1976 and performed with the Kol Israel Radio - Jerusalem SO under Lukas Foss, George Singer, Gary Bertini and Mendi Rodan (1976-78). At the invitation of Mendi Rodan he played with the Israel Sinfonietta Beer Sheva (1979-80). On a grant from the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture he researched Jewish oriental music and wrote a series of original pieces based on ethnic sources mostly taken from the ethnomusicology collection of Prof. Uri Sharvit, Bar Ilan University (1978-79). From l980-87 he devoted himself to education, creating the concept of instrumental music and publishing a 10 volume Youth Band series of arrangements at Yeshivat B’nai Akiva, Beer Sheva, where he initiated and directed a band program for seven years. Simultaneously he served as director of the Conservatory in the development town of Yeroham. Since 1988 he serves as music critic for The Jerusalem Post. In 1993 he began an affiliation with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Recently he joined the faculty of the College of Judea and Samaria.


Salomon Sulzer

In 1826 Salomon Sulzer (1804–1890) was appointed cantor at the beautiful new Seitenstettengasse synagogue in Vienna. He soon became a celebrity. Those who witnessed the singing of Sulzer and his choir were enthusiastic in their praise. The music critic Eduard Hanslick referred to Sulzer as “one of the most popular figures of Vienna … no foreign musician leaves Vienna without having listened to the celebrated cantor.”[i] The English author Frances Trollope wrote about Sulzer’s synagogue choir, “about a dozen voices or more, some of them being boys, fill up the glorious chorus. The volume of vocal sound exceeds anything of the kind I have ever heard; and being unaccompanied by any instrument, it produces an effect equally singular and delightful.”[ii] And the Catholic composer Joseph Mainzer wrote, “The synagogue was the only place where a stranger could find, artistically speaking, a source of enjoyment that was as solid as it was dignified.….”[iii] Sulzer composed hundreds of works for himself and his choir to sing, and he commissioned several of his Christian colleagues, including Joseph Drechsler (Kapellmeister at Vienna’s St. Stephens Cathedral) and Franz Schubert, to contribute new works for his synagogue’s liturgy. These were published in his anthology Shir Zion — the first volume in 1840 and the second in 1865. His son, Joseph Sulzer, published posthumous editions and arrangements of his father’s music in 1890 and 1905.[iv]

Sulzer was employed as a cantor, and his compositions are for the most part, shorter and focused on the solo voice. But while most of his recitatives are in the traditional modes, his choral writing for the most part reflects his Viennese milieu. Traditional synagogues, like Catholic churches, did not admit women into the liturgical choir. Sulzer’s choir, performing like angels from a hidden balcony, was made up of boys and adult men. Until his later years, Sulzer was opposed to the use of the organ in the liturgy. However, he was open to instrumental accompaniment in works written for special non-liturgical occasions. His setting of Psalm 111 (another Hallelujah[v]) for chorus, cantor, organ and harp, was composed for an unspecified prince’s birthday celebrations. Example 7 shows measures 16–33 from the revised version edited by Sulzer’s son, Joseph and published in 1905.

Sulzer’s anthology also contained thirty-seven compositions that he had commissioned from some of the best known Viennese composers of the day, including Franz Schubert. Schubert wrote a setting of Psalm 92 in Hebrew, scored for unaccompanied SATB choir with SATB quartet and, having Cantor Sulzer in mind, baritone cantorial solo.[vi] Its style is evocative of the homophonic part songs that were popular then in Vienna. Example 8 shows the first eight measures of Schubert’s composition.

[i] Eduard Hanslick, “Salomon Sulzer,” Die neue freie Presse No. 551 (Vienna, 1866), quoted in Eric Werner, A Voice Still Heard, University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 216.

[ii] Frances Trollope, Vienna and the Austrians (London, 1838, volume 1), p. 373, quoted in Ringer, “Salomon Sulzer, Joseph Mainzer and the Romantic a cappella Movement.” Studia Musicologica 2 (1969): 355–71, 356.

[iii] Ringer, op cit. 359-360.

[iv] We do not know whether Joseph Sulzer’s editions reflect his own arrangements or revisions that his father had made late in his life.

[v] “Hallelujah” is a Hebrew word meaning, “Praise the Lord.” In the Ashkenazic synagogues of that time the word would be pronounced, “Ha-le-lu-yoh.”

[vi] Joshua Jacobson, “Franz Schubert and the Vienna Synagogue.” The Choral Journal, 38:1 (August, 1997) 9–15.


Listen  to Sulzer’s “Psalm 111”:

Listen  to Schubert’s Tov Lehodos (Psalm 92):


Salomon Sulzer —original publications

Sulzer, Salomon. Schir Zion, 1: gottesdienstliche Gesänge der Israeliten / von S. Sulzer. Vienna: Engel & Sohn, 1865.

———. Schir Zion, 2: gottesdienstliche Gesänge der Israeliten / von S. Sulzer. Vienna: Engel & Sohn, 1865.

———. Schir Zion: Gesänge für den israelitischen Gottesdienst / von Salomon Sulzer. Rev. und neu hrsg. von Joseph Sulzer. Leipzig: Kaufmann, 1905. Reprint edition: New York: Sacred Music Press, 1954.

———. Zikkaron: Gedenkblätter : XX Gesänge für den israelitischen Gottesdienst ; für Solo (Cantor), Chor und Orgel / componirt von Salomon Sulzer. Aus dem Nachlasse hrsg. von Joseph Sulzer. Vienna: Gustav Lewy, 1905.


The “Majesty of Holiness” programs, featuring the Zamir Chorale of Boston, can be accessed through YouTube using the following links: (Divine Majesty) (The Majesty of Hallel) (Masterworks of Majesty)

Botstein, Leon and Werner Hanak, eds. Vienna: Jews and the City of Music 1870–1938. Annandale-on-Hudson: Bard College; [Hofheim]: Wolke Verlag, 2004.

Frühauf, Tina. Salomon Sulzer: Reformer, Cantor, Icon. Berlin: Hentrich & Hentrich Verlag, 2012.

Goldberg, Geoffrey. “Jewish Liturgical Music in the Wake of Nineteenth-Century Reform.” in Lawrence Hoffman and Janet Walton (eds.). Sacred Sound and Social Change. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 1992.

Gradenwitz, Peter. “Jews in Austrian Music.” In The Jews of Austria, ed. Joseph Fraenkel. London: Valentine, Mitchell & Co., 1967.

Jacobson, Joshua. “Franz Schubert and the Vienna Synagogue.” The Choral Journal, 38:1 (August, 1997) 9–15.

Jurgenmeister, Charles. “Salomon Sulzer and Franz Schubert: A Musical Collaboration.”   In Studies in Jewish Civilizatiion Volume 19 (Editor: Leonard Greenspoon) Omaha: Creighton University Press 2008, 27–42.

Mandell, Eric. “Salomon Sulzer.” In The Jews of Austria, ed. Joseph Fraenkel. London: Valentine, Mitchell and Co., 1967.

Ringer, Alexander. “Salomon Sulzer, Joseph Mainzer and the Romantic a cappella Movement.” Studia Musicologica 2 (1969): 355–71.

Werner, Eric. “Solomon Sulzer, Statesman and Pioneer.” In From Generation to Generation: Studies on Jewish Musical Tradition, NY: American Conference of Cantors, n.d.b.

Werner, Eric. A Voice Still Heard: The Sacred Songs of the Ashkenazic Jews. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976.

Wohlberg, Max. “Salomon Sulzer and the Seitenstettengasse Temple.” The Journal of Synagogue Music 2 (4 1970): 19–24.


Ari Sussman

Ari Sussman (b. 1993) is a Philadelphia born and Ann Arbor based pianist and composer of vocal, chamber, orchestral, choral, and electronic music. Kabbalah, nature, cosmology, meditation, metaphysics, ancient and contemporary poetry, and human interaction are among Sussman's non-musical influences and interests. As a result, Sussman's music illustrates equivocal worlds of sounds that are ambient, euphonious, and ethereal in nature. Sussman received his Bachelor of Music and Master of Music with Honors in Composition from the New England Conservatory of Music, where he received the Donald Martino Award for Excellence in Composition. He is currently pursuing the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Composition at the University of Michigan. Among his many awards is the BMI Student Composer Award for his orchestral work Kol Galgal.


Meira Warschauer

Meira Warshauer

Meira Warshauer's music has been performed to critical acclaim throughout North America and Europe, as well as in South America, the Middle East, and Asia. Her works are regularly heard on radio and have recently been featured by Public Radio International's Living on Earth, and American Public Media's Performance Today, the most listened-to classical music radio program in the US. Meira’s musical palette is wide, ranging from traditional Jewish prayer modes to minimalist textures with rich melodic contours, and from joyful jazz-influenced rhythms to imaginative orchestrations of the natural world. At its core, it expresses her personal spiritual journey. As Ina Esther Joost, principal cellist with Jerusalem Symphony, observes, "Meira's music comes from a place which is beyond music. It is like a prayer…from deep within the soul ... (and) it always evokes deep responses from the listeners."

Warshauer has devoted much of her creative output to Jewish themes and their universal message. Streams in the Desert, an all Warshauer CD of music for orchestra and chorus inspired by the Torah, was released by Albany Records (Troy 973) in fall, 2007. Tekeeyah (a call), the first concerto ever written for shofar, trombone, and orchestra, began its premiere season in 2009 with soloist Haim Avitsur and commissioning orchestras Wilmington Symphony (NC), Brevard Philharmonic (NC), and University of South Carolina Symphony. Consortium premieres continued with Western Piedmont Symphony in 2011, and the Dayton Philharmonic in 2013.

Her work also reflects a love and concern for the earth. Symphony No.1: Living, Breathing Earth, commissioned by Dayton Philharmonic, South Carolina Philharmonic, and Western Piedmont Symphony, was profiled by Aileen LeBlanc for PRI's Living on Earth, which aired it nationwide during the symphony's premiere season in 2007, and again in 2011. Symphony No. 1 and Tekeeyah were recorded by the Moravian Philharmonic for Navona Records' acclaimed 2011 release, Living Breathing Earth (NV5842). In addition to her compositions, Meira’s concern for the earth is also demonstrated by her involvement in environmental issues. Her 2014-15 trilogy for piano duo, Ocean Calling, helped lead to her active role in opposing off-shore oil and gas leasing in the Atlantic.

Other recordings include YES! recorded by Richard Stoltzman and the Warsaw Philharmonic on Perspectives (MMC2162), Bati l’Gani (I entered My Garden) recorded by Paula Robison and Cyro Baptista on Places of the Spirit, (Pucker Gallery), Shevet Achim (Brothers Dwell) for two bass clarinets recorded by Richard Nunemaker on The Louisville Project (AUR3127), Bracha (Blessing) for violin and piano recorded by the Kobayashi-Grey duo on Feminissisimo (Troy1081), In Memoriam recorded by Robert Jesselson on Carolina Cellobration, University of South Carolina, 2012; Revelation recorded by the Silesian State Philharmonic on Robert Black Conducts(MMC2008), and Jerusalem, Open Your Gates (third movement) performed live by Neil Casey and the University of South Carolina Symphony on Musicscapes, Vol 1 (MMC2170D). Other all Warshauer CDs are the soundtrack to the documentary Land of Promise: The Jews of South Carolina (Kol Meira 2002) and Spirals of Light: Chamber Music and Poetry on Themes of Enlightenment (Kol Meira 2001). Videos of performances may be found on YouTube at

Warshauer has received awards from ASCAP, Meet the Composer, and the American Music Center; and Residency Fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Hambidge Center. She was twice awarded the Artist Fellowship in Music by the S.C. Arts Commission, and received the first Art and Cultural Achievement Award from the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina. Her composition Yishakeyni (Sweeter than Wine) received the Miriam Gideon Award from the International Association of Women in Music. She has served on the faculties of University of South Carolina Honors College and Columbia College, where she developed a semester-long course on The Healing Art of Music. Dr. Warshauer was honored as the Nancy A. Smith Distinguished Visitor at Coastal Carolina University.

Meira (Maxine) Warshauer graduated from Harvard University (B.A. magna com laude), New England Conservatory of Music (M.M. with honors), and the University of South Carolina (D.M.A.), and studied composition with Mario Davidovsky, Jacob Druckman, William Thomas McKinley, and Gordon Goodwin. Her music is published by Lauren Keiser Music Publishing, Hildegard Music Publishing, World Music Press, and Kol Meira Publications. A native of Wilmington, North Carolina, she resides in Columbia, South Carolina with her husband, Sam Baker.


Kurt Weill

Kurt Julian Weill (1900–1950)

Weill was born in Dessau, Germany, the son of a cantor and scion of a family of rabbis and rabbinic scholars whose Judeo-German roots have been traced to the 13th century. He began composing at age twelve; his first surviving piece is a setting of mi addir in Hebrew, a text sung at Jewish weddings, but his first substantial piece was a song cycle on poems (in German translation) by the great medieval Spanish-Hebrew poet Yehuda Halevi. While at the Berliner Musikhochschule, he studied with Engelbert Humperdinck and was briefly an assistant to the conductor Hans Knapperstbusch at the Dessau Opera. He then entered the master class of the legendary Ferruccio Busoni and became acquainted with the music of some of the composers who would become important leaders of the German avant-garde. During those years, Weill wrote his first stage work, as well as his first symphony, a string quartet, and other concert pieces.

In 1926 while in Dresden, Weill enjoyed his first major theatrical success: a one-act opera with a libretto by George Kaiser, with whom he would collaborate on other important works. It was in Kaiser’s home that Weill met his future wife, the singer Lotte Lenya, who is generally acknowledged as the pervasive, propelling energy behind his work and certainly the champion of his legacy.

Weill began a collaboration with the left-wing, socially critical, and sympathetically communist poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht that would yield a half dozen musical theater works, including the full-length operaAufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny) and the social satire Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera), which is based on John Gay’s 18th-century The Beggar’s Opera and is, to this day, regarded as Weill’s greatest international success; it has been translated into eleven languages.

The social messages and leftist perspectives in Weill’s works were sure to invite contempt from the Nazis and their followers, who viewed social reformers as the agents of Germany’s defeat in the First World War and considered Weill’s art an example of the quintessential “cultural Bolshevism” that was lethal to German society. This, together with his affiliation with the egregious communist Brecht, as well as the wider circles of Weimar’s leftist avant-garde, made Weill a focus of efforts to discredit him and sabotage his performances. His so-called leftist sympathies, however, must be appreciated in the context of the universalist and pacifist orientations of his time and circle, rather than as a form of political commitment. When Weill’s sense of artistic isolation drove him from Germany in 1933, it was probably less as a Jew at that stage and more for his unwillingness to reorient his work to an art devoid of social or political dimension. After a sojourn as a refugee in Paris, Weill went to New York in 1935, initially to supervise the production of The Eternal Road, a unique amalgam of biblical pageant, music drama, Jewish passion play, and theatrical extravaganza in the service of a Jewish ideological message. His collaborators were director Max Reinhardt and playwright Franz Werfel. Inspired by the anti-Jewish measures of the new Nazi regime in Germany as well as by the ideals of the Zionist movement, the work was conceived to reflect the broad spectrum of Jewish history and persecution through biblical accounts in the context of—and related to—events of the modern era. It attempted to convey the perpetual homelessness of the Jewish people and to suggest an ultimate solution to their suffering and wandering: a return as a national entity to their reclaimed and rebuilt ancient home in Palestine—the Land of Israel.

The “American” Weill turned away from the opera house per se, even though some of his American musical theater works have been considered operatic—or even prototypes of a new form of American opera. He focused instead on commercial theater, becoming a leading figure in the revitalization of the Broadway musical and the exploration of a distinctly American musical-dramatic genre. Weill’s first full-fledged Broadway show was Knickerbocker Holiday, in which Walter Huston sang “September Song,” followed by other scores including Lady in the Dark, One Touch of Venus, Street Scene, and Lost in the Stars. He was working on a musical based on Huckleberry Finn at the time of his fatal heart attack in 1950.

Although as an adult Weill shed his Judaism in terms of ritual observance or religious commitment, he never disavowed his Jewish roots. To the contrary, he was always proud of his father’s cantorial calling and his distinguished rabbinical lineage, and he bemoaned the difficulty of active Jewish identity outside a communal context.

Of the major American musical theater composers and songwriters who happened to be Jews—among them Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, Jule Styne, and Stephen Sondheim—Weill was one of the very few, along with Leonard Bernstein, to write even a single synagogue piece. His imaginative setting of the kiddush, commissioned in 1946 by New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue for its annual Sabbath eve service devoted to new music, is today considered a liturgical masterpiece. And he expressed his willingness to compose additional Hebrew liturgical settings.

After The Eternal Road, Weill collaborated on two further large-scale Jewish pageants—We Will Never Die (1943) and A Flag Is Born (1946)—whose purposes, though ultimately unsuccessful, were to galvanize public support in order to effect changes in government policies. Weill’s literary partner for both was playwright Ben Hecht, who had published the first indisputable graphic evidence that the Holocaust and the “final solution” were already under way.We Will Never Die was conceived to bring the Holocaust to public attention and to provoke Allied action to save Europe’s remaining Jews. With an all-star cast and a chorus of 400 rabbis and cantors, it played to 40,000 people in a single day in two performances at New York’s Madison Square Garden, and then toured several cities.

A Flag Is Born had an even more overtly propagandist and militant aim in its support of the Revisionist Zionist cause, which thus separated it from a large part of American Jewry, including advocates in Washington, as well as from mainstream Zionist circles. Nonetheless, with a high-profile cast that included Marlon Brando, Paul Muni, and Luther Adler, the production had 120 New York performances followed by a tour, and it raised respectable sums for its Revisionist sponsors and their faction in Palestine.

There may always be some debate about the extent and evolution of Weill’s “Jewish identity,” especially over whether his Judaically oriented works represent either a form of spiritual “return to his roots” or an awakening of a related ethnic-national consciousness—or, on some level, both. Certainly, by the mid-1940s it would seem that the earlier universalist and pacifist Weill had become Weill the fervent Jewish nationalist. Many have been convinced that The Eternal Road represented his own personal “road back” to Jewish identification, while others have claimed that his Jewish works arose more simply from the feeling of solidarity among Jewish artists that was precipitated by Germany’s war against the Jews and the enthusiasm for the Zionist enterprise as a response. On balance, though, it is difficult in retrospect to imagine Weill the composer as divorced from the genuine Jewish and humanitarian concerns expressed so artistically in his Jewish works.

By: Neil W. Levin


Lazar Weiner

Lazar Weiner (1897-1982)

Lazar Weiner is most widely remembered today as the supreme exemplar and advocate of the Yiddish art song genre. Through his opera of more than two hundred songs, he elevated that medium to unprecedented artistic sophistication.

Even for many ardent devotees of Yiddish language and culture, the very designation “Yiddish song” now most likely connotes confinement to one or another of the popular realms—whether genuine folksong or songs in a folk style, theatrical numbers, songs from operettas, vaudeville or similar stage routines, or other entertainment-oriented and even commercial vehicles. Yet few in the general music world may be aware that the Western canon of art song—as exemplified by the German lieder of Schubert, Schumann, or Brahms; French songs of Debussy or Duparc; Russian songs of Rachmaninoff or Mussorgsky; English songs of Britten or Vaughn Williams; American songs of Barber or Rorem; or songs in other languages by classical composers such as Dvořák, Grieg, or Sibelius—has a legitimate, secular Jewish generic counterpart in both Yiddish and modern Hebrew art songs of the 20th century.

Cultivated Yiddish (as well as modern Hebrew) art song, however, based on serious literary sources and modeled partly on the artistic principles of the 19th- and 20th-century solo song for voice and piano, is a relatively recent development in the course of both Western and Jewish-oriented music. While the solo art song in Western music was initially a creature of the early Romantic era, beginning for the most part in the first quarter of the 19th century and continued thereafter in some fashion in nearly every musical period, the Jewish art song was born only in the first decade of the 20th century. Its genesis was a function of the new Jewish national art music school in Russia that grew out of—and was embodied by—the Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volksmusik (Society for Jewish Folk Music) in St. Petersburg, founded in 1908. Consistent with the goals, aspirations, and influence of the Gesellschaft and its branches in other cities in the Czarist Empire, affiliated composers such as Moses Milner (1886–1953), Joseph Achron (1886–1943), Alexander Krein (1883–1951), Joel Engel (1868–1927), Mikhail Gniessin (1883–1957), and Solomon Rosowsky (1878–1962) not only fashioned quasi-art song expressions out of authentic folk material, but also turned for the first time to modern Yiddish and Hebrew poets as sources for entirely original art songs.

In America, too, a number of Yiddish-speaking immigrant and immigrant-era composers—such as Solomon Golub, Henech Kon, and Paul Lamkoff—wrote original Yiddish songs, sometimes with classical or at least quasi-classical intentions. For the most part, however, these were simple, albeit tasteful and often charming, settings—with harmonically and technically conventional piano accompaniments (or, in the case of some composers such as Michl Gelbart, none) rather than the ideally homologous and artistically complementary piano parts that, in principle, participate equally in the interpretation of the text and qualify art song as a form of chamber music. And these songs were generally aimed at broader segments of the Yiddish-speaking public than those who could digest more highly developed musical vocabulary or more intellectually geared poetry. Ultimately, it was Lazar Weiner under whose pen the American Yiddish art song attained its most profound expression and reached its fullest and richest bloom.

Yet his devotion to Yiddish choral art preceded his focus on the solo song as his primary endeavor, and it is only because of the waning of Yiddish choruses throughout the United States and Canada that Weiner’s significant body of Yiddish cantatas and other choral works may be less known today. During his lifetime, such choral music was also a major side of his musical persona and reputation. In addition, he wrote a significant amount of serious liturgical music, mostly for the American Reform synagogue format, as well as incidental theater music, an opera, orchestral works, and miscellaneous vocal and instrumental pieces—including some for piano that reflect his own brilliant virtuoso pianistic gifts. At the same time, he was recognized throughout his career as an important choral conductor.

Weiner was born in Cherkassy, in the Ukraine, where his musical talent was discovered at a very young age. After his parents rejected the extraordinary invitation (for a Jewish child) to join a local church choir, he was admitted to the choir of the prestigious Brodsky Synagogue in Kiev when he was only nine years old. That was the city’s relatively culturally progressive—yet not nonorthodox—khor shul. Khor shul translates literally as “choral synagogue,” although that formal nomenclature—indicating, among other things, a musically trained cantor and choir, sophisticated repertoire, and an effort to reconcile liturgical tradition and basic orthodoxy with an eastern European brand of modernity and with aspects of Westernization—can be misleading today, since the other principal synagogues in a particular city also always had regular choirs as a centuries-old sine qua non of cantorial art and performance.

The Brodsky choirmaster was the well-known Abram Dzimitrovsky, many of whose choirboys went on to become important cantors and synagogue musicians. Like many eastern European khor shuls, the Brodsky Synagogue had a secular school attached to it, where the young Weiner received a modern Russian elementary education—in addition to exposure to classical liturgical and cantorial repertoire in the choir. By the age of eleven he began singing in the Kiev Opera chorus as well, and then he studied piano with Dzimitrovsky for two years. In 1910 he received a partial scholarship at the State Conservatory in Kiev, where he studied piano and theory. Meanwhile, he supported himself (also covering the balance of his conservatory expenses) as a pianist for silent films. Much of his general music education was furthered by the rich concert and operatic offerings in Kiev, where he had opportunities to hear many of the great artists of the era, and he became familiar on his own with the canon of Western as well as Russian music.

In 1914, in the aftermath of the anti-Semitism that followed the infamous Mendel Beilis blood-libel incident and the 1911 trial (even though Beilis was eventually acquitted of the fabricated charges of ritual child murder), the family emigrated to the United States. By that time Weiner’s musical goals had come to center around his classical pianistic gifts, unrelated yet to any Jewish interests. His intellectual pursuits were also general rather than Judaic, and he evinced less and less interest in Jewish religious practices. The future avid Yiddishist was, during this impressionable period in his life, still oblivious to high Yiddish culture, even its secular content.

As a seventeen-year-old immigrant, Weiner found his first employment as a piano player in a New York silent cinema house, but he was soon engaged as a pianist for the studio of a well-known voice teacher, Lazar Samoiloff. He acquired a reputation as an expert artistic accompanist and, having gained substantial knowledge through his work with Samoiloff about the full range of vocal literature as well as about vocal teaching techniques, he eventually had his own lucrative coaching studio. He also found work as a pianist and librarian for an amateur community orchestra in Brooklyn, the Mendelssohn Symphony Orchestra, where he learned conducting skills and later became its conductor. During that period he also began experimenting with composition, although his primary ambitions still centered around the piano. His first piece was his Elegy for violin and piano.

The symphony position turned out to be fortuitous for Weiner’s ultimate artistic and Jewish paths. One of the violinists in the orchestra, Nahum Baruch Minkoff (1893–1958), was one of the coterie of Yiddish poets who espoused a modernist introspective literary approach based on personal experience and who were known as the In zikh poets—a school, or movement, whose core founders also included Jacob Glatstein (1896–1971) and Aaron Glanz-Leyeles (1889–1966). (Later, some of Weiner’s most admired songs would be settings of poetry by all three, as well as by other In zikh followers.) Weiner became friendly with Minkoff, who introduced him to his own literary circle and to the world of modern Yiddish literature and poetry in general—to which the young Weiner was instantly and powerfully attracted. The seeds were thus irrevocably sown for Weiner’s subsequent devotion to Yiddish language and culture and, eventually, to both the Yiddish choral medium and the Yiddish art song. At the same time, that newfound fascination with an aspect of Jewish culture of which he had not been aware reversed his gravitation toward alienation from even secular Jewish identity—an identity that thereafter intensified throughout his life.

Weiner’s immersion in the American Yiddish literary milieu was not confined to the In zikh poets. Minkoff brought him to literary-intellectual salon evenings of poetry readings and discussions, where he met some of the significant poets of the older European generation, as well as younger adherents of other, divergent orientations and movements—especially Di yunge, an earlier school (founded in America in 1907) of young immigrant writers who had sought to remove Yiddish literature from association with social, political, or moral agendas and ideologies and to free it from restriction to specifically Jewish subject matter. Their focus was more on form than content, with the desiderata of Yiddish literature as pure art for its own value—without the necessity of “greater” purpose or function—and as a potentially universal expression, enhanced and refined by an infusion of elements found in the work of major European and American figures in the world of belles lettres. Di yunge included such poets as Moshe Leib Halpern (1886–1932), Mani Leib (1883–1953), and Moshe Nadir (1885–1943)—and, in its later phases, Aaron Nissenson (1898–1964), Naftoli Gross (1896–1956), and Zishe Weinper (1892–1957). Among the older generation who were sympathetic to Di yunge were such poets as Yehoash (1872–1927), H. Rosenblatt (1878–1956), and Joseph Rolnick (1879–1955). Works of these poets, too, as well as poems by many others not specifically associated with either movement, would, at various periods in Weiner’s creative life, find expression in his songs.

Those salon evenings also provided Weiner’s initiation into the realm of Yiddish folksong—an entire tradition that had eluded him in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Kiev. Frequently the host’s wife would perform and lead folksongs and similar folk-type songs. Weiner later acknowledged candidly that he heard nearly all of those folksongs for the first time in his life at those salons. The flavor and sensibilities of those songs would frequently find their way into his original compositions.

An event that ignited Weiner’s Jewish musical interests at the end of the second decade of the century was the North American tour of the Zionist-oriented and inspired Zimro Ensemble, which played at Carnegie Hall and elsewhere in New York, en route from Russia to Palestine. There it had planned to settle and establish a “temple of Jewish arts” (a mission effectively aborted when its director and other members chose to remain permanently in New York).

Zimro’s repertoire was largely devoted to sophisticated and classically constructed music based on Jewish folk or liturgical themes and modes. It had been founded in Petrograd (St. Petersburg, prior to the change of the city’s name when Russia went to war with Germany) by the Russian-Jewish clarinetist Simeon Bellison, who was engaged by the New York Philharmonic following the ensemble’s New York performances and was the Philharmonic’s principal clarinetist for twenty-eight years. After a series of concerts sponsored by Zionist organizations in Jewish communities in Siberia and throughout the Far East, Zimro introduced American and Canadian audiences to recent instrumental works by some of the composers associated with the aforementioned Gesellschaft, as well as to Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes, op. 34, which it commissioned and premiered during its American tour in 1919. All of this was a sudden revelation to Weiner. Unlike many Jewish musicians in the cities where the Gesellschaft had branches, he had been unaware of its mission during his youthful Kiev years. Prior to the Zimro tour, American audiences, even in New York, were ignorant of the Gesellschaft and its contributions. Until then, Weiner’s own context and associations of “Jewish music” had been confined to either the synagogue or the theater.

Weiner was instantly fascinated with the new genre and school advocated by the Zimro Ensemble. The very notion that serious, cultivated secular Jewish musical expression could be built melodically and harmonically on elements of genuine Jewish folk melos and tradition—secular or liturgical—and could have universal aesthetic appeal, turned out to coincide with his own artistic instincts. A few of the Gesellschaft composers later immigrated to the United States—notably Lazare Saminsky, Jacob Weinberg, Joseph Achron, and Solomon Rosowsky—and Weiner developed collegial relationships with them.

So impressed was he upon his discovery of the Gesellschaft path that he sent three of his most recently composed Yiddish songs to Joel Engel (who had left Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution and was living in Berlin prior to his immigration to Palestine) for his comments. Engel’s reply criticized what he perceived as the lack of any “Jewish content” or character in the songs. He suggested that Weiner—even without knowledge of the vast body of secular eastern European Jewish musical folklore from the Czarist Empire—could easily and quite naturally have turned for aesthetic inspiration and imprint to his own early synagogue music memories and still have produced secular Yiddish art songs. Engel had done the same thing in a number of his own songs. Those comments, in fact, articulated an important part of the Gesellschaft composers’ modus operandi in their attempts to fashion a Jewish national artistic expression. Weiner thereafter heeded that advice in indirect and subtle ways as he fleshed out his own approach over the years. Still, those three specimens—In feld; Shtile tener; and Volt mayn tate raykh geven, all on texts by In zikh poets—remain to this day among Weiner’s best-known songs.

At various times Weiner studied with Robert Russell Bennett, Frederick Jacobi(the first professor of composition at The Juilliard School and himself the composer of a number of Judaically related works), and the theoretician Joseph Schillinger, who had proposed a new compositional procedure based on a quasi-mathematical system of harmonic and scalar permutations. Weiner’s work with Schillinger, which amounted to a search for technical discipline, helped him go beyond more conventional conceptions by offering experimentation with rational manipulation of the various musical parameters (rhythm, texture, intervals, etc.).

In the 1920s Weiner began his affiliations with Yiddish secular choruses and choral music. In 1923 he was appointed conductor of New York’s nascent Freiheits Gezang Verein (later known also as the Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus). This was an unabashedly left-wing workers’ chorus that was subsequently often associated and identified with communist sympathies, even if those sentiments might have been more social, cultural, and emotional (i.e., echoing the “spirit” of the party) rather than practically political for many of its members. The chorus was modeled on a similar one founded earlier in Chicago by Jacob Schaefer, who later directed the New York chorus when Weiner severed his ties with it. Eventually the New York Freiheits Gezang Verein became one of nearly thirty such choruses in as many cities in the northeastern and midwestern states, all loosely federated under the national umbrella of the Jewish Workers Musical Alliance. The occasion for Weiner’s debut with that chorus (and as a choral conductor altogether) was a festival at the Hippodrome in New York, organized by Leo Low (1878–1960), which represented a short-lived attempt to combine many of the New York area’s secular Jewish choruses—of various and sometimes even sharply divergent political leanings—into a United Hebrew Choral Society with more than a thousand choristers.

Like many young Jewish intellectuals in the 1920s, especially among Yiddish cultural circles, Weiner was drawn to some of the avowed social ideals of the Communist Party and its professed utopian spirit. But, also like many of the other Yiddishists in his circle (sometimes dubbed “armchair” or “parlor” communists by detractors who noted their absence of concrete political activity), he was never an actual party member. Naïve as it may seem in retrospect, that type of sympathy often grew out of genuine humanitarian concern for the working class and its frustrations, and it was sometimes confused as well with generic support for the principle of organized labor. Such American Jewish sympathies with communist rhetoric also emanated in part from a heady euphoria over what were believed to be the positive and even humanistic accomplishments occurring in the still new Soviet Union, especially as proclaimed by party-generated propaganda. Of course, at the time, the Communist Party had not yet been branded or outlawed in the United States as a subversive or disloyal organ of an enemy foreign state, or as an advocate of the violent overthrow of the American government; nor was membership illegal. Apparently Weiner did have some sort of flirtation with Yiddishist pro-communist circles that might have extended briefly to the political (or quasi-political dabbling) arena, but its nature and extent are difficult to determine. He later became staunchly opposed to those views and severed whatever connections he had, and thereafter he always avoided discussion of the episode. Nonetheless, as with many of his colleagues, his enthusiastic contributions to the cultural and artistic manifestations of the left are indisputable.

Weiner’s experience with the Freiheits chorus cannot have been artistically rewarding. The repertoire of that small group (about thirty-five singers then, compared with a membership of more than 100 in its peak years) consisted mainly of workers’ and labor movement songs in simple if not trite choral arrangements, other Yiddish folksongs, and occasional Yiddish translations of some standard Western classical choral literature—although the chorus’s ability with regard to the last category was limited. The days of its large-scale Yiddish cantatas and pageants, frequently written expressly for it, were yet to come.

After 1925, Weiner’s serious composing was on hiatus for about four years, with the exception of one cello piece, while he focused his efforts more narrowly on Jewish choral activity. That included not only conducting but also arranging for his choirs and notating tunes for songsters. Over the next several years he directed several choral ensembles, sometimes simultaneously. For two summers he was the music director at one of the Yiddish cultural summer camps of the Sholom Aleichem Yiddish school and camp network, Camp Boiberik (founded by another of the poets whose words Weiner later set to music in his art songs, L. Magister [Leibush Lehrer]). In preparation for his work at Camp Boiberik, he began collecting Yiddish folksongs and other traditional tunes—material he was later to employ on a more artistic level in his choral and voice-and-piano arrangements.

Among the choruses Weiner directed between 1925 and about 1935 were the chorus of the Yidishe Kultur Gezelshaft (Jewish Culture Society), the chorus of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), the Central Synagogue choir (where he was also appointed music director), and the Arbeter Ring Khor (Workmen’s Circle Chorus), which developed into his most important, artistically fulfilling, and enduring choral position, lasting until 1966.

In 1927 Weiner made a trip to the Soviet Union, ostensibly to seek repertoire for the Freiheits chorus, and probably out of natural curiosity as well. The reality he witnessed there differed markedly from the idealized perceptions circulating among the American left. Shortly after he returned to New York, he resigned from the Freiheits Gezang Verein and severed all ties to the Jewish Workers Musical Alliance. The reason for that disassociation is not entirely clear. His widow, Naomi, attributed it more to his refusal to submit to “the party’s” attempted interference with his artistic freedom, and his resistance to politically based restrictions. Apparently, for example, there had been an effort to forbid him from serving even as an accompanist for Leo Low’s Jewish National Workers’ Alliance Chorus (to be distinguished from the Jewish Workers Musical Alliance), obviously in some sense a “rival,” but also avowedly noncommunist. What was meant by “the party” in that context is also not certain—whether, formally, the local cell or “branch” of the actual international party, or merely the more naïve sympathizer circles. However, Weiner’s son, composer Yehudi Wyner, remembers clearly his father’s later descriptions of dismay at the secrecy, duplicity, hypocrisy, and fear Weiner had encountered in the Soviet Union, how he felt afraid to converse with anyone except in the park, and how he turned vocally against the Soviet regime. “After that trip,” Wyner has remarked, “my father became an outright anticommunist—ferociously. That’s why he said good-bye to the Freiheits Gezang Verein, and that’s how he broke with them.” Weiner’s humanistically related leftist and socialist leanings remained with him, but those could easily be accommodated by other, fully American and patriotic choruses and their parent organizations—most especially the Arbeter Ring, or Workmen’s Circle. Its New York chorus became Weiner’s principal performance vehicle for thirty-five years.

Organized in 1892 (originally as the Workingmen’s Circle) at a meeting in New York of like-minded eastern European immigrant Jews who were inspired by the potential reforms connected to socialist ideals and by the growth of American labor movements—but also by socialistic and humanistic themes in Jewish history and literature—the Arbeter Ring reached a national membership of 80,000 during its peak years in the 1930s. With branches in many North American cities as well as Los Angeles, it provided a forum for Jews who were either disaffected from or simply disinterested in the religious parameters of Jewish life, but were nonetheless keen to preserve and transmit Jewish heritage through Yiddish—the language of Jewish labor during the immigrant era. Its network of schools and summer camps, together with its rich variety of adult programs, offered secular Jewish education and activities within the framework of Yiddish culture.

In effect, the Workmen’s Circle also served as a secular alternative to the synagogue and to the European-style k’hilla (organized community) by providing for the personal, family, and even spiritual needs of its members (mutual aid, welfare, funeral and burial, visitation and organized companionship) and by fashioning new versions of traditionally grounded holiday celebrations and ceremonies shorn of their religious reference. Its socialist and labor orientation, its commitment to progressive causes, and its advocacy for social justice and a more equitable society were pursued well within the context of American liberal democracy. In fact, the Workmen’s Circle was critical of the Soviet Union as early as the 1920s. Not without its fair share of dissension among its ranks in its formative years, internal struggles for control between procommunist and non- or anticommunist elements ended when, by 1930, the former withdrew altogether to form the International Workers Order.

The Arbeter Ring Khor—Workmen’s Circle Chorus—was founded sometime between 1910 and 1914 (accounts vary according to the perception of “founding”) and was first directed by M. Pirozhnikov. Under Meyer Posner’s direction, from 1916 until 1929, it graduated from simple workers’ songs in Yiddish as well as Russian to attempts at classical repertoire—such as Posner’s Yiddish translation of Mendelssohn’s Elijah [Elias]. To some extent, the formation of the New York Freiheits Gezang Verein in the 1920s, on the original Chicago model, constituted a breakaway from the Arbeter Ring Khor that was generated by an ideological split among the choristers. Meanwhile, the priorities of the Workmen’s Circle Chorus, and its sister choruses across the country, increasingly became more cultural than political.

Weiner’s official appointment as conductor of the Workmen’s Circle Chorus commenced in 1931 and was based on two conditions: that he have a full year of rehearsals without concerts in order to rebuild the group according to his musical standards; and that he be able to unify its Yiddish pronunciation and diction according to “high” or literary Yiddish—eliminating other, regional or colloquial, dialects. Under his direction the chorus was elevated into a first-class performing ensemble, growing from about forty to nearly one hundred members by the time of its first Town Hall appearance under his baton. He retained a good deal of its folk and workers’ repertoire, recasting many of those songs in artistic but appropriately simple arrangements. But with increasing frequency he also programmed works from the classical canon of choral literature by composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, Rossini, Haydn, and Handel—always in Yiddish translations, for which he pressed into service some of the finest Yiddish poets and dramatists. And of course, his concerts also included many important original works of Jewish content. The chorus came to be considered a part of New York’s general cultural life, and critics from the general press referred to it as one of the city’s best amateur choral ensembles. During the 1930s Weiner also was the consultant to all of the many Workmen’s Circle branch choruses—from New Jersey to Chicago to Los Angeles.

Most of Weiner’s choral music was written expressly for the Workmen’s Circle Chorus. Among his important choral cantatas (two of which have been recorded for the Milken Archive) are Amol in a tzayt—Legend of Toil; The Last Judgement—Bontshe shvayg; Hirsh lekert; In kamf far frayhayt (subtitled a “choral ballet”); Tzu dir, amerike; Mentsh in der velt; and Amos. At the same time, however, he began devoting increasing energies specifically to art songs for voice and piano, continually refining his techniques and expanding his pool of literary sources.

From 1952 until his death, Weiner served on the faculty of the School of Sacred Music, the cantorial school at the New York branch of the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion. Ironically, the undisputed master of Yiddish art song taught that subject only relatively late in his tenure there. In the early years of that school (which was conceived originally as a nondenominational program but soon became more specifically an organ of the Reform movement after the Conservative-oriented Jewish Theological Seminary opened its own Cantors Institute), Yiddish song would have been considered anachronistic and irrelevant to the education and repertoire of modern American cantors. But by the 1970s, with the emergence of ethnic revival trends that crossed denominational boundaries, Weiner’s classes and seminars on Yiddish song were among the most popular in the curriculum. He also taught Jewish art song at the Cantors Institute and, beginning in 1974, at the 92nd Street YMHA.

After Weiner left the Workmen’s Circle Chorus, in 1966, having determined that its artistic level was no longer sustainable, he curtailed his work with Yiddish choruses and—although art song was by then his priority—became involved with musical activities of the Reform movement beyond his own post as music director of Central Synagogue in New York. Increasingly, he received liturgical music commissions from synagogues and cantorial organizations (he had written his first full service in 1946 for one of the annual services of new music at the Conservative movement’s Park Avenue Synagogue in New York), and he lectured and taught at summer camp programs and institutes.

In secular music, Weiner often rebuked others for simplistic quotations of undeveloped Jewish folk or traditional tunes, and in his own art songs he never included an existing folk melody—even when the poem might have suggested one. “If I need a traditional melody,” he was fond of telling students, “I create my own.” In his liturgical music, however, he sometimes leaned on traditional material when he felt it appropriate, but only as a cue. And he respected the tradition of certain obligatory melodies of the Ashkenazi rite. But he developed that melodic material with the polyphonic and advanced harmonic techniques that he avoided in his Yiddish choral pieces, because his liturgical music was always intended for fully professional choirs.

Despite his artistic concern with synagogue music, Weiner remained disinterested in most of the formal religious and ceremonial practices of Judaism, at least outwardly. “Anticlerical and nonobservant,” is how his son Yehudi describes his father’s general attitude toward doxologies and obligatory rituals, “but at the same time profoundly religious” vis-à-vis spiritual concerns and relationships between God and man. The depth of that spirituality is reflected in many of his Yiddish art songs—especially those that touch upon Judaic sensibilities and even specific ceremonies—and also in his synagogue music, which is among the most sophisticated in the 20th-century American repertoire. But his liturgical music can also be viewed as having derived from what his son has described as a more abstract, purely musical motivation: “The opportunity simply to write good music.”

After his retirement from Central Synagogue, in 1974, Weiner abandoned liturgical music. He had become repulsed by the introduction of pop and other entertainment music in American synagogues since the late 1960s—initially echoing, if unintentionally, some of the lowbrow informal musical parameters that had become fashionable in certain populist churches outside the mainstream denominations and in related broadcast formats, but also imitating Jewish summer camp ambiences. “I want a m’ḥitza (a division—usually referring to the separation between men and women in orthodox synagogues) between the secular and the profane, between the mundane and the spiritual,” proclaimed this Jew who insisted to the world that he was nonreligious, “and I do not want to bring the musical comedy into the synagogue. Each has its place, but …” For the next eight years he dedicated himself almost exclusively to art songs.

In his devotion to Yiddish, Weiner did not necessarily choose sides with the Yiddishists against the Hebraists of the Haskala (the Jewish Enlightenment movement in eastern Europe). Nor did he believe that the modern revival of Hebrew language and literature was any less an authentic Jewish expression than Yiddish culture. It was, more simply, that he had not pursued the secular Hebrew studies—and had not been part of that Hebraic environment—that might have facilitated an equal identification with modern Hebrew poetry. Instead, he had happened by chance upon a Yiddish cultural circle in New York, which instigated his lifelong love affair with that language and its serious modern literature.

Apart from their literary content (which in only some cases involves overt Judaic references), Weiner’s songs are manifestly Jewish first and foremost because of the Yiddish language itself, and because of the way he instinctively understood and interpreted its subtle nuances, inflections, accentuations, internal rhythms, cadences, and turns of phrase. For Weiner, who recognized the profound impact of language in general on musical identity, Yiddish was in and of itself an authentic Jewish expression. Like many of the poets he most admired, he did not treat Yiddish as an ideological or sociopolitical vehicle, as did so many Yiddishists of his generation, but rather as a literary and musical art that took on the passionate character of a mission. Yet he was always conscious of the irony that his devotion to Yiddish—in fact to things Jewish—was an American phenomenon, not a personal carryover from Europe. In an interview only a year before his death, he recalled Engel’s response to his first songs: “That letter marked the beginning of my Jewishness,” he mused. “All my life [prior to 1919] it was Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Schubert…Here in America I discovered the Yiddish song!"

By: Neil W. Levin


Hugo Weisgall

Hugo Weisgall (1912-1997)


Although he wrote a substantial body of music for a number of media, Hugo Weisgall is probably best remembered as one of America’s most important composers of opera and large-scale song cycles, reflecting his intense lifelong interest in both western and Judaic literature. “I am attracted by the verbal, I am sucked aside by words,” he once said, “and I want to deal ideologically andmusically with difficult problems.” The literary merit of his compositions, their original vocal style, and their serious attention to musical and dramatic detail all mark a significant contribution to American music.

The scion of a highly cultured family that boasts several generations of cantors in the Bohemian-Austrian orbit (and the nephew of the illustrious Zionist leader and producer Meyer Weisgal), Weisgall lent his artistic gifts on many occasions to the expression of historical, literary, biblical, and liturgical Jewish themes and subjects. In a class by himself, he belongs among the highest ranks of the American musical establishment, but he also championed the perpetuation of authentic Jewish musical tradition and of the Central European cantorial legacy. Among serious American Jewish composers, his singularity extended even further to the practical realm. Not only was Weisgall fully conversant with the full range of American and European synagogue choral repertoire, which Weisgall taught to cantorial students for more than forty years, but Weisgall knew the intricacies of the modal formulaic system of Ashkenazi liturgical rendition known as nusaḥ hat’filla, and Weisgall functioned as an authoritative ba’al t’filla well into his retirement.

Weisgall was born in Eibenschitz (Ivancice), a town in Moravia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now the Czech Republic), where he claimed to have begun singing in a synagogue choir at the age of three or four. His father, Abba Yosef [Adolph Joseph] Weisgall (who added the second l to his name in America, though his brother Meyer did not), was both a cantor at the local synagogue and a classical lieder and light operatic singer. From childhood, Hugo Weisgall absorbed the Central European liturgical traditions and the western lieder and operatic canons from his father, whom he also accompanied on the piano. The family immigrated to America in 1920 and soon afterward settled in Baltimore, where Abba Yosef served for more than four decades at one of the city’s oldest and most prestigious synagogues—Chizuk Amuno Congregation. From his earliest years in Baltimore, Hugo Weisgall became intimately involved in the musical life of that congregation. For many years he conducted its choir; and he also organized and directed a mixed chorus, based there and known as the Chizuk Amuno Choral Society, which performed concert works as well and—with the esteemed cantor Jacob Barkin—issued one of the most artistic LP recordings of classic and contemporary cantorial-choral repertoire.

Apart from some consultations abroad (he went to Europe shortly before the Second World War hoping to study with Bartók, who was unwilling to take on further students), Weisgall received all of his formal education in America. He studied at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, and then intermittently with Roger Sessions. At the Curtis Institute he studied with Fritz Reiner and Rosario Scalero and earned diplomas in conducting and composition, but his variegated interests led him to pursue a doctorate in other academic areas, and in 1940, Johns Hopkins University awarded him a Ph.D. for his dissertation on primitivism in 17th-century German poetry.

Weisgall’s operatic sensibilities and his gravitation to that medium was fueled not only by his natural love for the human singing voice but also by his inherent love of theater. That lifelong love affair dates to his youth. As a child of eleven, he once organized a “production” of a play he had stitched together himself about the “Knights of the Round Table,” pressing into service the children in the neighborhood for the various roles. (To no one’s surprise, the young Hugo played King Arthur.) Later, while pursuing his musical studies, he acted in small repertory theaters. From the time he began composing operas, he was always intensely involved in a working collaboration with his librettist.

During the Second World War, Weisgall served in the armed forces and for a time was an aide-de-camp to General George F. Patton. His fluency in languages eventually led to assignments of sensitive diplomatic responsibilities. While he was an assistant military attaché in London, and then a cultural attaché in postwar Prague, he conducted concerts by some of Europe’s leading orchestras, in which he promoted American music and featured American works. He also managed to compose in those difficult surroundings. In London his discovery of an anthology of war poetry inspired his song cycle Soldier Songs (1944–46), considered his first important work. In an air-raid shelter in Brussels after the Battle of the Bulge, he began writing The Dying Airmen, to words that had been published anonymously but which Weisgall maintained was actually a Spanish Civil War work by W. H. Auden. And upon viewing the hospital conditions at Terezin, the former German-built ghetto and concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, he commenced music for the Wilfred Owen poem “Futility,” about the earth’s ability to regenerate itself but the impossibility of regenerating a lost human life.

Behind the scenes during the immediate postwar years, Weisgall quietly used his military-diplomatic position to help many refugees and German concentration camp survivors. Without the required approval of his superior officer (who later congratulated him secretly), and at the risk of serious reprimand or worse, he took it upon himself to order a delay in the sealing of certain Czech border areas so that as many people as possible would not be permanently trapped behind the communist lines once the iron curtain descended.

After the war, Weisgall declined several offers for permanent conducting posts in Europe. Following his return to the United States, he founded and directed the Chamber Society of Baltimore and the Hilltop Opera Company; directed the Baltimore Institute of Musical Arts; and taught at Johns Hopkins University from 1951 until 1957—all the while continuing his work with synagogue choirs. But dearest to his heart was his forty-four-year involvement with the Jewish Theological Seminary. He established and stewarded the foremost curriculum in America for education and training in cantorial art. From its opening in 1952 until his own retirement in 1996, Weisgall was chairman of the faculty at the Seminary’s Cantors Institute and Seminary College of Jewish Music (now the H. L. Miller Cantorial School). In that capacity he functioned as a de facto codirector of the school—especially vis-à-vis its musical (as opposed to Judaica) parameters. He devoted a major portion of his energies to that role, bringing both his broad worldview of Jewish music and his exacting western musical standards to bear upon the Seminary’s approach to cantorial studies. He also taught graduate level composition and was the doctoral dissertation advisor for such important American composers as Herman Berlinski and Miriam Gideon. His legacy at the Seminary is permanently etched.

In 1961, he simultaneously became a professor of music at Queens College in New York, retiring in 1983 as Distinguished Professor. And he taught for thirteen years at The Juilliard School.

Apart from the music featured in the Milken Archive, many of Weisgall’s other works were inspired by his strong sense of Jewish identity. His fifth mature opera, Athaliah (1964), on a libretto adapted from Racine’s biblical tragedy, includes texts drawn from the Book of Psalms, and a synagogue chant is used as a cantus firmus toward the end. His next opera, Nine Rivers from Jordan(1968), deals with issues pertaining to the Holocaust, collective guilt, the collapse of the European order, Zionism and the State of Israel, and theological conceptions. That score, which drew upon the whole range of Weisgall’s personal, musical, and religious experience, incorporates such divergent elements as a well-known Passover melody and his own mock-German song.

In The Golden Peacock (1980), a setting of seven mostly familiar Yiddish folksongs, Weisgall used the original melodies as starting points to flesh out a sophisticated art song cycle that presents a genuine Yiddish folk melos within a 20th-century frame of reference. The chromatic piano parts with inventive sonorities are derived from motivic details of the tunes; and the vocal lines are treated ingeniously in order to retain their basic substance, with subtle alterations and extended material in the context of contemporary musical vocabulary and expressionist dissonance. The work, which was recorded by soprano Judith Raskin, has been called a Jewish counterpart to Bartók’s Hungarian songs and Benjamin Britten’s English songs.

In an open-ended series of perhaps a dozen short chamber pieces that he called Graven Images, Weisgall used fragments of music he had written for the 1966 CBS documentary Of Heaven and Earth, which dealt with ancient artwork by Jewish artisans. Among the individual pieces are jaunty “Holiday Dances” that refer to Jewish festivals and are scored for a number of instrumental combinations. And one is a charming, Stravinskian setting of Psalm 29, in Hebrew, for solo voice (or chorus) and piano.

Although he occasionally wrote liturgical settings when he first directed synagogue choirs in Baltimore, it was not until the 1980s that Weisgall was commissioned to write a complete formal synagogue service. That work, Evening Liturgies, is a Reform Friday evening (Sabbath eve) service according to the Union Prayer Book, scored for baritone cantor, mixed chorus, and organ. Prior to the premiere of the entire work, two orchestrated movements, under the title Sacred Fragments, were performed at an international conference in New York. Bernard Holland, in his review in The New York Times,observed: “Here, the love of soaring stentorian singing and sweeping string sound served to soften Weisgall’s acid, penetrating harmonies.” Another of his important Judaically related works is Love’s Wounded, a setting of poetry by Yehuda Halevi (ca. 1075–1141) for baritone and orchestra, premiered by the Baltimore Symphony conducted by David Zinman.

No proper consideration of Weisgall can ignore some of his operas outside the Judaic realm—especially Six Characters in Search of an Author (1956), based on the Pirandello play. Probably more than any other, that work first catapulted him to international attention in the opera world. Among his other important operas are The Tenor (1950), based on Frank Wedekind’s expressionist one-act play, Der Kammersänger; The Stronger (1952), written expressly for his Hilltop Opera Company and based on Strindberg’s psychological monodrama; and Purgatory (1958) to William Butler Yeats’s allegorical verse play, in which Weisgall adapted twelve-tone techniques for the first time. His instrumental works include orchestral pieces, a piano sonata, incidental music, chamber music, and several ballets.

Weisgall was an intellectual of broad, high-minded interests. He published articles on American Impressionist painting and on contemporary music and composers, and he lectured widely on Jewish and general musical topics. He was president of the American Music Center (1963–73) and of the League of Composers/ISCM, and he was a composer-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome in 1966. Among his numerous prizes, awards, and honors were three Guggenheim fellowships, the Lifetime Achievement Award from Opera America (1994), the Gold Medal for music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1994), the William Schuman prize from Columbia University, the first award in the arts from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture (now the Foundation for Jewish Culture), and several honorary doctorates. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1975, and he served as its president from 1990 until 1993. He also directed the inaugural term of the composer-in-residence program of Lyric Opera of Chicago (1988–97).

Projects on Weisgall’s desk at the time of his 1997 death included the beginnings of a second set of settings of Yiddish folk melodies; operatic versions of two plays by Jean Anouilh, several scenes of which were sketched out to libretti by Charles Kondek, the librettist for Esther; and a new opera based on John Hersey’s novel The Wall, about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising (according to Kondek, they had almost finished a draft of the complete libretto), which was to have been produced by New York City Opera. He was also sketching out a group of liturgical settings for the typical format in Conservative synagogues.

Weisgall’s earlier style has been appraised as a fusion of nontonal neoclassicism with certain influences of the Second Viennese School of composers, such as Alban Berg, colored by the general opulence of that period. But his later music more closely approaches that Second Viennese School, especially its most lyrical aspects. Even at its most rigorous-sounding moments, however, it is generally more a matter of strident, even severe, chromaticism than actual atonality—although Weisgall himself was never comfortable with such classifications.

In 1958, the eminent American composer George Rochberg described Weisgall’s music as leaning “towards free tonality; he is never quite atonal.” But nearly twenty years later Weisgall assessed his own approach from another perspective: “Generally my music is considered complex,” he said. “It is texturally thick and multifarious; rhythmically disparate; and [it] has harmonic lines that move along on their own. It is what is commonly called atonal, but it is not nonmelodic.”

Rochberg also astutely summarized Weisgall’s basic artistic credo at that time: “Among American composers he is one of the few who remain heedless of the musical clichés which superficialize and debilitate American music. There is strength and hope in such an independent attitude.” Weisgall remained steadfast to those principles for nearly forty years more. He never succumbed to popular tastes or the lure of wider acceptance; and he never strayed from his own artistic integrity.


By: Neil W. Levin and Bruce Saylor


Judith Zaimont

Judith Zaimont (b. 1945)

Judith Lang Zaimont was born in Memphis, Tennessee, into a musical family. She grew up in New York City, began piano studies at the age of five, and at age eleven was accepted into the preparatory division of The Juilliard School. There, as she has since recalled, she first realized that she was “born to be a composer.” During her teen years she won several composition competitions, including that of the National Federation of Music Clubs; and at age eighteen she was awarded the BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) Young Composer Award.

Zaimont studied piano at Juilliard with Leland Thompson (1958–64), and composition at Queens College with Hugo Weisgall and at Columbia University with Otto Luening and Jack Beeson. After receiving her master’s degree, she went to Paris to study orchestration with André Jolivet on a Debussy Fellowship from the Alliance Française.

While still in her teen years, before deciding to devote herself principally to composition, Zaimont formed a duo-piano team with her sister, Doris (now an accomplished opera director, Doris Kosloff). They toured the United States, recording and appearing on radio and television—including performances on Mitch Miller’s popular television show, Sing Along with Mitch.

Zaimont’s earlier works—written for the most part prior to 1980—are mainly vocal or for solo piano. In addition to the works recorded here, her Judaically related pieces from that period also include Man’s Image and His Cry (1968), for contralto and baritone soloists, chorus, and orchestra. General vocal works from that time frame include choral and solo settings of poems by Shakespeare, Shelley, Herrick, Gay, Auden, Cummings, Byron, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Blake, and others. Her piano works from those years include a concerto (1972) and numerous solo pieces, such as A Calendar Set(1972–78); Two Rags (1974); the nocturne La Fin de siecle (1978); and the four-hand Snazzy Sonata (1972).

More recent works in Zaimont’s oeuvre of nearly 100 compositions—many of which have been awarded important prizes and have received performances abroad as well as in the United States—include three symphonies; a chamber opera for children, Goldilocks and the Three Bears; and oratorios and cantatas. She has also written a number of works on American Indian themes, such as The Magic World (Ritual Music for Three), as well as music for wind ensembles, vocal chamber pieces for various combinations, instrumental chamber works, and solo music for string and wind instruments, piano, organ, and voice.

Zaimont’s many composition awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship (1983–84); a Maryland State Arts Council creative fellowship (1986–87); and commission grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (1982), the American Composers Forum (1993), and the international 1995 McCollin Competition for Composers—for her first symphony, which was performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1996. She was “composer of the year” at Alabama University in 1994, the featured composer at the Society of Composers International American meeting in 1995, artist-in-residence for the 1996–97 academic year at Skidmore College, composer-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin (River Falls) in 1999, the honored composer in 2001 at the Eleventh Van Cliburn International Piano Competition—where the gold medalists performed her music—and the featured composer in 2002 at the annual conference of the National Federation of Music Clubs.

A distinguished teacher who has served on the faculty of Queens College, the Peabody Conservatory, and Adelphi University, Zaimont was a professor of composition from 1992 until 2005 at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She is also the founder and codirector of the performing ensemble American Accent, based in New York, and the creator and editor in chief of the acclaimed series of books The Musical Woman: An International Perspective. Her music has been the subject of twelve doctoral dissertations.

Zaimont’s works have been performed by the Baltimore, Jacksonville, Greenville (South Carolina), and Harrisburg symphony orchestras; the Czech Radio Orchestra; the Berlin Radio Orchestra; the Kharkov Philharmonic (Ukraine); and the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestras in New York and Boston.

By: Neil W. Levin