Usher Korn

Usher Korn1907 - 1991

Usher Korn
1907 – 1991

Chazan Usher (Otto) Korn was born in Galicia, in Dembitz (near Krakow) in December 1907, 8th  Tammuz 5667, the second of six children.When he was three months old his parents moved to Vienna to the 2nd quarter, Grosse-sperlasse 31. His parents, Moshe David Korn and Breindel (nee Shinefeld) were fully observant Jews, and were members of one of the Chassidic courts in the town. He made his livelihood in a small business.

From a young age, at the same time as doing his general studies and his Jewish studies, the boy revealed a talent for singing, and he joined the choir of Cantor Emanuel Frenkel at the “Polish Synagogue” which was near his home.

As a boy he was already a soloist in this choir where he was highly praised, and he received payment as a soloist. In his youth he served as a singer and soloist in the choir of the city’s famous “Great Synagogue” at no. 3 Templegasse. There the chief cantor was Gershon Margolis, and the choir conductor was Rudolf Hyman, (who perished in the Holocaust).

At the same time he completed his cantorial studies with the greatest Cantors in Vienna. He studied and was certified by his teacher Cantor Emanuel Frenkel, and he also studied with the famous Leibush Miller.

Cantor Korn had a clear tenor voice. He was a master of  traditional and modern Chazanut, and an expert in Nusach, and Cantillation. He was one of the outstanding Chazanim of the generation of Chazanim of Central Europe.

Starting in 1935 he was employed as a permanent Cantor in the Jewish community in Vienna, first as an alternating cantor in the synagogues in the city, such as that in the 15th District in Tornegasse street, and the temporary synagogues in halls, which served during the High Holydays for worshipers across the city.

Among the group of cantors and singers who flourished among the community of great Chazanim in Vienna were Emanuel Frenkel, Benjamin Unger, opera singers David Halpern and Max Lichtig, and others. All were members of the choir mentioned above.

In 1936 he married Ella Taube, great-granddaughter of the great Rabbi Rabbi Shmuel Aaron Rubin, the Av Bet Din in Korotschin, one of the leading rabbis of his time in Galicia.

With the Nazis came to power in Austria in 1938, and following Kristallnacht in November 1938, in which 48 synagogues in Vienna were burned and destroyed, marking the beginning of the destruction of community in Vienna, Cantor Korn looked for a way to leave the country. He turned to different communities for employment as a Cantor, such as England and Urugay, but in the end and after a great deal of effort, he miraculously managed to escape with his wife from Vienna with no belongings, and immigrate to Israel in March 1939, as an illegal immigrant on a boat of illegal immigrants.

From 1939 until 1955 he served in Tel Aviv as cantor of the synagogue, “Sh’eirit Ya’akov” for those who had escaped from Vienna. It was headed by Rabbi Dr. Albert Weiner, (who had formerly been rabbi in Vienna, in the tenth district). The Synagogue operated in a building belonging to the city and was in Bezalel Street (now Tchernichovsky Street). Among the worshipers were former Vienna community leaders who had known and cherished the Rabbi and the Cantor in Vienna. Approximately  300 worshipers  prayed in this synagogue each year on the High Holydays where they heard the prayers of the cantor.

In 1954, Cantor Korn moved to live on the outskirts of Tel Aviv (Ramat Hatayasim), and therefore was forced to leave his job at the “Sh’eirit Ya’akov Synagogue”, in fact, as a result this the community ceased to exist, and it merged with the German Jewish community in Tel Aviv (“Ichud Shivat Zion”.)

In Ramat Hatayasim he became one of the founders of a synagogue where he served as cantor throughout the year. On the High Holydays he conducted services in synagogues in Israel and abroad.

From 1954 until 1969, on the High Holydays Cantor Korn officiated in synagogues around Israel, as well as in Ramat Hatayasim, in Herzliya, Tel Aviv, Ramat-Chen, Nahariya, Givatayim and other places.

Between 1969 and 1980 he officiated regularly on the High Holydays and throughout the month of Tishrei in Stuttgart, Germany, in the central Synagogue in the community building in Hospital Street. There he was much appreciated by the congregants and the rabbi.

Cantor Korn guided young cantors in his home including opera singers who wanted to supplement their income through Chazanut. He also arranged public Seders on Pesach.  He prepared students for their Bar Mitzvah and fulfilled the duties of Chazan that had been assigned to him.

Unfortunately, none of his recordings of Chazanut from those he recorded in the early 50’s radio programme “Kabbalat Shabbat,” or Kinnot for Tisha B’Av remain. Amongst them were those transmitted live on the radio in the fifties at the invitation of the editor of religious programmes at the time, Benjamin Zvieli.

When he was eighty years of age, Cantor Korn, recorded for his family circle, but without musical accompaniment, a number of Cantorial items.

The famous Cantor, and  professor of Cantorial Music at “Yeshiva University” Joseph Malovany, who listened to these recordings, said about them:

“I would say he was one of the great masters of “Nusach”. He was a born Chazan and there is no doubt that he was a great cantor. I believe that most of the compositions he sang were his own, and in them one can, of course hear the influence of the Chazanim of Vienna. In fact we hear in them the ancient Nusach.  His voice was clear, and his expression full of emotion. I would give much to have been a member of the congregation in the Synagogue where he was conducting the service. In his voice there is much warmth. Here and there was considerable desire to improvise. He kept in time, and did not drag things out. Cantor Korn was an ‘artist’ in prayer in every sense of the word.”

Cantor Usher Korn, Gd-fearing and modest, died in Tel Aviv at the age of eighty-four near to Purim on 8th Adar 5751. The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, eulogised him and said that Cantor Korn had accompanied him as Chazan at wedding ceremonies over the years.

Like many famous cantors, such as Emanuel Frankel and Leib Miller, Cantor Korn did not make any formal recordings and was therefore deprived of public recognition by fans of Chazanut and being acknowledged as a Chazan in the top rank of Chazanim.

I would like to express my sincerest thanks to Mr Ya’akov Koren,
the son of Cantor Korn, for providing this biography.