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:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVVSiHtBK-g (Divine Majesty)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZUIi6k5f-4 (The Majesty of Hallel)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-6gPDJ6qlk (Masterworks of Majesty)
Other videos of music by Lewandowski:
https://youtu.be/_oMfo5fOKZQ (Mah Tovu, Enosh, Hallelujoh).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXf7To0fhT8 (Psalm 150 – virtual choir performance, with historical narration).
https://youtu.be/-6EJnEHcaOA (Enosh and Ewiger).