Articles from Jewish Music Journal

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Towards the revaluation of the Cantorial Art

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Divinity and Music

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A new exponent of the
Hebrew chant

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The Shema and its
musical setting

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In 1934 Jacob Beimel, in New York, started a journal of Jewish music, which he called ‘Jewish Music.’Unfortunately it only survived for five issues.Below are four articles form the first issue of July 1934.
(I am not aware who owns the copywrite to this material)
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Toward a Revaluation Of the Cantorial Art 
By A. W. BINDER 
With the passing of Joseph Rosenblatt, Jewish life lost one of the few remaining possessors and examples of the real cantoreal art. With  his remarkable natural vocal organ he achieved marvelous results, which very few attain, even after a life-time of technical training. For in  Joseph Rosenblatt one had all the elements which Jewish history has taught us to associate with the cantor. He was the real Shaliach  Tsibbur (messenger of the people). He was always conscious of it, and constantly felt it. Pious, self-respecting, respecting others,  learned, and above all, loving his calling, he was at all times a “chazan”.* *The chazan in the diaspora became a very important figure in Jewish life. He was to begin with, the inheritor of the Levitical chants which  were sounded in the Holy Temple during the daily services and sacrifices which took place in Jerusalem. He intoned the Liturgy which now  replaced these ancient rites and chants. There were periods in Jewish history when the cantor was of such importance, that he  improvised and composed portions of the liturgy. A shining example of this epoch was Elieser Kalir, the great poet-chazan of the seventh  century. As time progressed into the 10th and 11th centuries and people crossed the paths of the people whose music was rapidly  developing scientifically, the cantors in these countries lent an attentive ear to this musical progress, and gave up some of their Jewish  scholastic attainments, for musical advancement.The cantor throughout the days of the exile was the bright light of the Jewish community. It was he who led the community in prayer in  times of joy and sorrow. He asauged the Jewish soul with consoling intonation of the prayers, after catastrophe and misfortune. He  intoned the Yom Kippur Katon liturgy in times of distress.On the other hand it was he who brought solace and comfort to the soul of the Jew on Sabbaths Holy days, after weekdays of pain and  persecution. No wedding ceremony or funeral service was complete without him. He was the voice of the Jewish soul. The musical  impulse of the Jew which developed during Palestinian days could not be stemmed when he was driven into exile. He wanted to sing and  had to sing. His ear was constantly open to musical movements of the people with whom he sojourned. He could not, and would not go to  the concert hall and opera house for many reasons, most important of which was a religions one. In many cases, he was prohibited from  attending such performances, and so the cantor became the musical source for the Jewish community. When the Jew went to the  synagogue he prayed, to be sure, but he wanted to “hear something” from the cantor. It is this condition which gave rise to the lengthy  elaborations of the prayers by the cantor, which led him to repeat a phrase or word a number of times and sometimes to extend a Friday  evening service from two to three hours.Many were the illustrious cantors throughout Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. Many became beloved not only in their own cities  and towns, but even outside the communities in which they lived. Some of the distinguished cantors of the 19th century were Solomon  Kashtan, his son, Hersh Weintraub, Israel Loewy, Solomon Sulzer, Solomon Naumbourg, Pincus Minkowsky, Tsalel Oddeser, Yeruchum  Hakoton, Baruch Schorr and in our own day, the late Joseph Rosenblatt. There is still a sprinkling of this type of Chazan here in America,  and abroad.* * *When the period of enlightenment broke upon the Jews of Europe at the beginning of the 19th century, many changes took place in the  communal and personal life of the Jew. It was, for example, the intention of the German Jew to Germanise himself so as to become more  German than the German. Our people in all countries where equal rights were granted, began to mingle freely with their neighbors. This  new condition led to changes in culture, dress, tastes, and habits.The synagogue witnessed a change at this time too, with the appearance of the German Jewish Reform Movement. In many cases the  cantor was immediately eliminated. There were two reasons for this action: one, because the manner of the musical rendition of the liturgy  seemed too oriental; two, because these Jews began to hear the singers in concert halls and opera houses, and so could not tolerate the  mediocre singing of cantors whose voices were not trained, and musical taste bad.

A new day had come for the cantor. He was obliged, when the slightest manner of reform set in, to quickly re-adapt himself to this  changing condition, or fall entirely out of the religious picture. Solomon Sulzer (1804-1890) in Vienna at this time, realized this condition  and was the first to re-shape the art of the cantor. He injected new life into this art, which enabled it to make great progress throughout  the 19th century and by whose impetus it struggles in our day for existence.

Wherein did Sulzer differ from his predecessors? He was, first of all, one who possessed Jewish learning as well as a secular education.  His voice was beautiful, and well-trained, so that it even moved Franz Liszt who once heard him in Vienna at a Friday evening service. He  dispensed with the superfluous melodic elaborations of the East-European Cantor. He dispensed with the superfluous repetition of words  and phrases. He injected a classical interpretation into his musical renditions, and ordered and perfected to a high degree the choral  singing of the synagogue choir. It would be wrong to imagine he eliminated the traditional nusach of the synagogue though he changed  many of these modes. He, on the other hand, did take most of these traditional modes and set them down for the first time in musical  notation with and without choral accompaniment, in such a style, as to please the Jews of that day who now wanted refinement and good  musical taste in the synagogue.

Sulzer’s influence spread over all of Western Europe and even filtered through the iron gates of the orthodox synagogue. So that today  Sulzer is the great idol of all cantors.

* * *
A new condition faced the cantor in this country in the middle of the 19th century, at the begining of the reform movement. The cantor was  confronted with a new prayer book and a new liturgy. Where was he to get his music for all of this? For the early cantors in America were  mostly incapable of composing (with the exception of Welch, Goldstein and Kaiser,) and so they sought the help of the Gentile organists  who complied with their requests and who composed almost all the music heard in the reform synagogues up to a few years ago.

With the musical creativity out of his hands the only thing left for the cantor, was to study own part and come to the synagogue and sing it.  He was no longer to be the one who was to feel the musical pulse of the synagogue, and inject into it its musical spirit. He became just a  performer, and  in many cases, an inferior one of mediocre music.

Congregants began to feel that the synagogue lacked an important element; that element which they wanted to find in the synagogue  only. In its stead they found a poor singer who was singing music that had little individuality or style. For is it not the traditional mode of  the synagogue which gives our synagogue its character and spirit? Our traditional music has that power to either inject or reject it.

What we hear today in most of our synagogues is music which is either quasi-operatic or Protestant in nature and style. And why should  our people come to the synagogue to hear this music when they can today stay at home, and hear the finest operatic and religious music  beautifully sung by fine and well-trained choruses.

For these deficiencies the need of the cantor is unfortunately gradually vanishing. For he is not alive to the real prevailing situations. He  fails to realize that if he is to maintain his position and prestige as of old, he must gather his old threads and re-weave them into new  patterns. He must constantly be at work, especially on the proper production of his voice. He must be a serious student of music and  become aware of what is constantly taking place in the development of the musical art; (some cantors never move their musical  appreciation beyond 1850). He must study the history of synagogue music, become acquainted with its vast literature, and try in his own  way and perhaps with the help of others, to re-shape the old material and perhaps create new material, so as to meet the requirements of  this time and age, and his own immediate condition. Above all, and of most importance, he must feel that his Judaism is not a matter of  business, but an integral part of his spiritual make-up. He must possess a certain degree of learning which is indispensable so that his  musical renditions may become saturated with the histort and traditions of our people. With such a ground he will be enabled to interpret  the prayers of his people in a way as to move his congregation and make them feel that only in the synagogue can they get that spiritual  inspiration and nowhere else.

If the cantor is to re-claim his importance in synagogue life, he must again become conscious of the true meaning of his ancient title Shaliach  tsibbur, constantly revere his position, so that our people will again revere and value it.


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