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  L. Lewandowski (1821-1894)
Berlin, Germany
  The same conditions that brought the "Sulzer revolution" invited Lewandowski as a Choirmaster and composer to the Synagogue. He was asked to arrange many of the old chants for service of Cantor with choir.

Lewandowski listened to the chant, stripped it from all but the notes of the musical idea, applied to it western phrasing, style and musical form to recreate a simpler musical line which was treated now with classical composition technique.

He published an anthology for Cantor and two-voice choir covering the yearly cycle of services. Now if you knew to read music you could sing the Cantor's part. You didn’t have to be neither an expert in the different modes and able to neither have a deep understanding of text nor be immersed with the nuance of chant and embellishment to recreate or improvise. Moreover the chant you had (half a song by now really), was set by a master and sounded as good as anything you could hear at the opera and a bit Jewish too, so of course it became an instant success. Indeed his settings are very pleasing to the ear and in many cases a good balance was struck between the traditional chant and the new setting. One would say that what was lost in character was amply supplanted with tasteful music.

Later when called to serve in a Congregation where the choir and organ were to carry the service Lewandowski produced an anthology for mixed choir, solo and organ. His approach now was completely western based and so is the music. One could criticize his music from that point of view but Lewandowski delivered what was asked of him. In any case it was hard to deny the tremendous appeal of his compositions.

The Cantors and Music Directors named him President of the Cantors' Association (he was not a Cantor) and Music Director for all of Berlin's Synagogues. His many outstanding choral compositions entrenched the institution of choir and choir director in Synagogues and Temples. In some of his settings of the old chants he achieved a happy marriage of Semitic oriental chant at home with phrasing style and articulation common to classical western music.

He was truly a gifted composer. His legacy left the Synagogue music with many masterpieces and his fertile pen left both Cantors and Choirs a large body of works that set a high musical standard to follow. After Lewandowski "music without a past" could enter the synagogue on its terms to inspire and to beautify the service.

Tzvi Taub. From the book: Kol Nidrei, Synagogue Music for the Beginning Pianist.
© Koltor 1995