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”: https://youtu.be/_E15-1bJbVA.
Listen to Schubert’s Tov Lehodos (Psalm 92): https://youtu.be/05_k_jDO2kI.
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:
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)
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.