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This Shabbat Shira is dedicated to pre WWII German Jewry and is directly connected to the Cantors Assembly Mission “A MUSICAL JOURNEY OF HERITAGE AND HEALING” which I will be leading this coming June 28th – July 4th 2012.

The haunting melodies of our synagogal chants have, throughout the centuries, exercised powerful enchantment on our people’s minds and hearts and contributed substantially to our people’s edification in communal prayer; their memory has accompanied us from our childhood having originated and sprung from the Jewish heart, they have found dissemination through all lands. These few sentences were written by Isaac Myer Japhet, Music Director of the Frankfurt Jewish Community in his introduction to the publication of the original musical tradition of the Frankfurt Jewish Community SHIREI YESHURUN 1881.

All our popular High Holy Day tunes so beloved and cherished by all find their origin in the period between the 11th and 14th century. These tunes are called MISINAI as if given and handed down from Sinai. This tradition was codified by Rabbi Jacob Möln of Mainz – usually called the Maharil Worms in the year 1427. Research and comparative study has shown that their origin stems back to much earlier periods. The Ashkenazi musical tradition we now practice and which is now public domain are the backbones of our synagogue musical tradition.

Throughout the entire Middle Ages, down to our day, these niggunim were performed by the cantors as solos; and the congregations participated in them through responsorial which likewise came down to us through tradition. Only in the larger congregations were the cantors supported in their service by “meshorarim,” who formed, under the name “singer and base,” a trio that at times was expanded through a greater number of participants into a small choir.

My musical mentor and teacher, Professor Joseph Levine, in his introduction to a lecture “Where East and West Meet” he writes: “A musical culture full of regional melodies and sophisticated sacred music once flourished in German-speaking Jewish communities. Franz Liszt wrote of coming to the synagogue and listening to cantorial music. People from the royal courts came. Yet few today will recognize or even hear the names of the once-prominent Oberkantoren (chief or principal cantors). It was not until the nineteenth century that Western musical techniques became the backbones of serious synagogal music. Our focus on this Shabbat Shira is to look into the practice and development of the German Jewish musical tradition. To that end I will try to highlight the music of prominent communities of Germany and Austria namely the Jewish communities of Berlin, Vienna, Frankfurt and Hannover.

The face of Jewish music changed forever during the nineteenth century when Salomon Sulzer, Vienna’s first Oberkantor, fused traditional synagogue melodies with the techniques of Western music. This new approach, artistic and well-schooled, quickly became central to prayer in virtually all German synagogues and a symbol of modern Jewry through the work of Louis Lewandowski. The first cantor ever to receive formal conservatory training and the first Jew ever admitted to the Berlin Academy of Arts, Lewandowski was music director of Berlin’s Neue Synagogue. He brought Sulzer’s model to Berlin and began composing his own music for the entire liturgy. He became extremely popular not only in Berlin, where the repertoire was almost exclusively Lewandowski, but even in the deepest recesses of Poland and Ukraine, revealing the significant influence of the German synagogue far beyond Germany’s borders. In fact, this period witnessed the rise of an elaborate cantorial and choral literature throughout Germany and Austria that became a source of
civic pride even for non-Jewish Germans.

During the Sermon in Song I will have the opportunity to elaborate on this topic and demonstrate the musical differences of the above-mentioned communities. The samples of familiar prayer text such as L’cha Dodi (Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat) Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh
(Sanctification) and comparing different tunes for hymns such as Ein K’eloheinu, will give us a sense of the style and flavour of the German tradition
and its familiarity to our own musical practice.



During this lecture demonstration I will have the opportunity to highlight with our own choir the music sung in these glorious synagogues in Germany
before WWII. We will hear the same music sung by the early recording of the 20th century. There are in existence record publications of these early cantors such as Manfred Lewandowski, the nephew of the composer, Louis Lewandowski, Joseph Schmidt, a famous opera lieder and cantor who was one of Germany’s major recording artists and Israel Alter who served the Hannover community from 1925 – 1935. They reveal the uniqueness of the German liturgical style of the period.

Come join us and learn more about our Musical Heritage.

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