You either thrill to Leibele Glantz’s unique style of Chazanut, or you dislike it intensely! One thing though you can say about it for certain, and that is that it’s absolutely inimitable.
Glantz was born in Kiev. His father Kalman was a well-known Chazan of his time who served for more than 30 years in the Talner Shul.
Leibele was already singing in public from a young age, he was considered to be a’ Chazandel’ from age 8, touring Europe, and with his family background, it was readily accepted that he would study music and voice. His first post was in Kishnev.
He arrived in America in 1926 and soon became well-known, travelling and giving concerts of Chazanut, Chassidic songs and folk melodies. His first position in the States was at the Congregation Ohav Shalom in New York from where he eventually went to Los Angeles. He served as Chazan first at the Sinai Temple and then at the Sha’arei T’fillah Synagogue.
There were mixed reactions to his unique style but he was quoted as saying: “I do not perform for the congregation – I perform before God”
Although many Chazanim try to sing Glantz’s compositions, his music is amongst the most difficult of all to emulate. He had the ability to enter into the soul of every word he sang and, whereas Glantz could ‘get away’ with some of the extraordinary vocal gymnastics that he performed – indeed it was expected of him – it doesn’t really ring true when people try to copy him.
Sometimes he would suddenly shout out a word, and on other occasions words would be recited, almost without any melody at all.
In 1954 Glantz moved with his family to Tel Aviv, Israel and established a Cantorial Forum. After his death the Leib Glantz Memorial Foundation was established to preserve and publish his music.
Glantz was a great expert in prayer modes (Nusach Hatephilla) and wrote and lectured on the subject. He was absolutely insistent that the right one be employed for each prayer and he bemoaned the fact that so much Synagogue music is in the minor key.
In one of his lectures on Hallel and Tal he said: ‘When we enter an Orthodox Synagogue…the ear is immediately struck by sad, almost tearful tones, and one gets the impression that Jewish liturgy is based on sad, plaintive keys and modes, even when the verbal content expresses joy and thanksgiving.’
In analysing this he suggested that one of the reasons was because of the catastrophic situation that the Jews had endured in the Diaspora over the years.
Glantz did not try to teach his students to copy him. Perhaps he knew it was impossible anyway. Rather he tried to give them the foundations and building materials with which to develop their art, ie the musical structure of the Nusach. In this way he hoped that they would cultivate their own individual styles, which would be built on solid traditions.
There are many recordings of Leibele Glantz available one of which is a complete live Selichot service. There is little I can think of that is a better preparation for the High Holydays services, than to listen to it, and absorb the art of this extraordinary Chazan.