Louis Lewandowski was destined for a life in Jewish music from a very young age. As a child, he and his four brothers used to accompany their father when he conducted services in Wreschen, in the province of Poznan.
Owing to the extreme poverty of his family, and the early demise of his mother, Louis went to Berlin at the age of twelve, where he became a singerel for Cantor Ascher Lion.
Thanks to the patronage of Alexander Mendelssohn, a cousin of the famed Felix Mendelssohn, he was fortunate to be accepted into the Berlin Academy of Arts where he distinguished himself in his musical studies, studying under the foremost teachers of his time. In 1844 the Jewish community of Berlin invited him to organise and lead a choir, and so Louis Lewandowski became the first synagogue choirmaster, (as far as we know).
Lewandowski was very fortunate when Cantor Abraham J Lichtenstein succeeded Cantor Lion. Between them an unusual understanding and agreement evolved about the development of Synagogue music, and with Cantor Lichtenstein’s encouragement, Lewandowski started to compose prayers with four-part harmony. He also wrote down cantorial recititatives in a manner, simple enough, for people who did not have the advantage of a professional training, to be able to sing.
In 1864 he was invited to become choir leader of the New Synagogue in Berlin, and it was during his time there that he published his most famous and enduring books, Kol Rinah, for solo and two-part voice, and Todah Vezimrah for full choir and Cantor. These are still in the library of every professional Chazan and choir-master, and, indeed, are still in regular use.
As well as Synagogue music, Lewadowski also composed Psalms, symphonies, cantatas, and songs.
He taught at the Jewish Free School, the Jewish Teachers Seminary and he also founded the Institute for Aged and Indigent Musicians. He was honoured by the wider community also, and in 1866 the German government bestowed upon him the title of Royal Musical Director.
Amongst the popular Synagogue compositions that Lewandowski wrote and that are still widely sung are, Uvenucha Yomar, Zacharti Lach for Rosh Hashana, and Ve’al Chataim for Yom Kippur.