Programme Notes for Shabbat Mevarachim at New West End Synagogue, LONDON Parashat Shemot – 21 January 2017
Tzadik Katamar – Louis Lewandowski
Often referred to as the father of Jewish music, Lewandowski was fortunate to be accepted into the Berlin Academy of Arts having received patronage of Alexander Mendelssohn, a cousin of the famed Felix Mendelssohn. In 1844, the Jewish community of Berlin invited him to organise and lead a choir, and so Louis Lewandowski became the first synagogue choirmaster and in 1866 he received the title of “Royal Musical Director” by the German government. His most famous publications are “Kol Rinah”, an anthology of solos and duets (like Nusach); and “Todah Vezimrah” for Cantor, mixed chorus and organ. Lewandowski made numerous arrangements of Psalm 92, of which Tzadik Katamar comprises the final four verses.
Ein Kamocha – Salomon Sulzer
A cantor and composer, Sulzer is also regarded as a founder of modern chazanut. His publication “Schir Zion” covered all sections of the service – the cantor’s recitative, choral passages and responses – containing music for the entire Jewish calendar. Sulzer’s setting of Ein Kamocha is the most popular tune in the United Synagogue and across most of Ashkenazi Jewry, despite not being included in the “Blue Book”, partly because the choral fanfare is a much better depiction of the Hebrew text. Other music by Sulzer also features prominently in our service, such as the introduction to Ashrei.
Lecha Adonai – Marcus Hast
Rev Hast was the Chazan of the Great Synagogue, Duke’s Place from 1871 to 1899. Like Sulzer, he composed many of his own pieces and published a set of works the “Avodat HaKodesh”, which were dedicated to the Right Honourable Lord Rothschild and the Lady Rothschild. The tempo marking in the “Blue Book” for Lecha Adonai is ‘Maestoso’ meaning majestic.
Birkat HaChodesh – John Williams
I first heard the theme music for Shindler’s List sung to Birkat HaChodesh three years ago at Central Synagogue to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, which is this Friday (erev Rosh Chodesh). When Williams was approached by Spielberg to write the music for Shindler’s List, he is rumored to have said “You need a better composer than I am for this film.” To which Spielberg responded, “I know. But they’re all dead!” Despite this, the score was awarded an Academy Award for Best Original Score and a BAFTA for Best Film Music. I would like to thank ArrTom for transcribing and re-harmonizing for the Mosaic Voices.
Yechadsheihu – Ludwig van Beethoven
Cultural appropriation is a very common characteristic in the Jewish religion and music is no exception. This setting of Yechadsheihu is from the start of the second movement for his fifth Piano Concerto. Francis L Cohen, chief minister at the Great Synagogue in Sydney, transcribed the first eighteen bars of the movement, prior to the Piano entry, perhaps indicating the true beauty of the new month still awaits. Beethoven was already deaf when he composed this, and as a result was unable to play the piano at its first performance.
Va’anachnu & Hodo Al Eretz – Felix Mendelssohn
Va’anachnu is set to music from the oratorio Elijah (no. 19 – “Open the Heavens…”) and Hodo Al Eretz is taken from Hear my Prayer/O for the wings of a Dove (Psalm 55). David M Davis, the first choirmaster at New West End Synagogue, chose to arrange Va’anachnu in the same key, but doubled the note lengths when he transcribed it for the “Blue Book”.
Havu Ladonai – Samuel Alman
Alman studied music at the Odessa and Kishnev conservatories, and following a brief period in the Russian army as a musician, he moved to London, where he obtained an ARCM at the Royal College of Music. His first position as a Synagogue Conductor began in 1906, at the Great Synagogue, Duke’s Place. In 1912, he composed the first Yiddish Grand Opera, which he based on a mythical story, set in the reign of King Ahaz. Alman produced the most recent version of the “Blue Book” in 1933 and added a few of his own compositions, including Havu.
Eitz Chayim Hi – Rabbi Geoffrey Shisler
Rabbi Shisler began his career as a trainee Chazan at the Jews College. His first post was as Cantor at the New Synagogue, Egerton Road. Having spent his career at a variety of communities, his last role was Rabbi of the New West End Synagogue until his retirement in 2014. In 2009, Rabbi Shisler compiled an anthology of his music “Shiru Lo Shir Chadash”, some of which arranged by Stephen Glass for choir. The choir begin in unison (all singing together), depicting a single “tree of life”. The Chazan then starts an ascending phrase, repeated at the conclusion of the piece “renewing our days as of old”.
Kedusha – Abraham Himelsztejn
After studying at the State Academy in Poland, Himelsztejn moved to South Africa in 1936 where he became choirmaster of the Rowland Street Synagogue, in Cape Town. In 1942 he transferred to the Great Synagogue in Wolmarans Street, Johannesburg where he also took on the role of Chazan Sheni. He published two collections of compositions: LaChazan and Lamnatzeach.