Hirsch Weintraub

Hirsch Weintraub

1817 – 1881

The influence of Salomon Sulzer, at that time the leading cantor and reformer of synagogue music in Western Europe, was felt not only in Western Europe, but also in the East. Many forward-looking congregations in the large cities of Russia and Poland wanted to institute the order and dignity which Sulzer had inaugurated in his synagogue on Seitenstettengasse, in Vienna.Weintraub, while still a young man, went to Vienna not only to pursue his musical studies, but also to study and observe the new Sulzer style. In the first two volumes of Shire Beth Adonay, one can observe two definite influences. On the one hand, we find his father’s style, which represents the East, and on the other hand, the new Sulzer style, which represents the West. This is exemplified in the Rosh Hashonoh Kaddish (Vol. II, p.149), where he allows the musical tradition to speak for itself, and in his Zochrenu, (Vol. p.153), which is completely Western in style. That same struggle between East and West pervades his entire work.

He was evidently won over to the Western style, for in the preface to the third volume, which contains his father’s works, he points out that they are interesting only as “antiquities”. “We possess an abundance of traditional melodies, whose age cannot be exactly determined. Here only those melodies are desigted as “ancient”, which by their very characteristic structure bear the typical marks of antiquity. To these belong, in my opinion, only those which are strictly modal and go parallel to the Church-tones…. Hence, I designated as ‘ancient” only melodies in the Phrygian, Mixolydian, and Aeolian modes, while others, of more recent age, also form part of our tradition”.

While he possessed a beautiful lyric tenor voice it did not have the lucious quality his father’s voice had.

In 1838 he became chief cantor of the great synagogue in Koenigsburg, Germany, where he developed his talents and his works, and where he made his great reputation. In 1873, Wilhelm the First bestowed upon him the title of “Royal Director”. When he celebrated his 40th anniversary of service in 1878, received congratulations from all parts of the musical world. All the manuscripts of his compositions, synagogal and secular, are by now in the possession of the Library of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute Religion, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

He died on the 23rd of December, 1881, having chosen as his successor Cantor Edward Birnbaum, father of the systematic study of Jewish music.

(See Solomon Kashtan)

(Taken from the Preface to “Shirei Beth Adonai” by H. Weintraub,
by A. W. Binder, Professor of Liturgical Music
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion)