1840 - 1911
By Rabbi Geoffrey Shisler
Marcus Hast was born in Praga, near Warsaw in 1840 and served as Chazan in Warsaw, Torun and Breslau. He became Chazan (or Reader, as he would have been called then) in Duke's Place, London, in 1871.
This is all that I've been able to discover about his life but I was keen to include him here for two special reasons.
First, there have been very few Chazan/composers in this country, most being happy to rely on the compositions of others. Hast wasn't and he composed and published music for the entire Jewish year.
The second reason is that in the introduction to his major work, he outlined a philosophy of Synagogue music that, in this day of 'sing-anything-that-comes-into- your-head-first,' I believe, is well-worth bringing to a wider public.
In 1910 Marcus Hast published 'Avodat HaKodesh - a complete edition of traditional and original compositions of Synagogue music, in four volumes.'
It was dedicated (by kind permission!) to the Right Honourable Lord Rothschild and the Lady Rothschild and was published by the Bibliophile Press, England.
In the introduction, Hast says that he had published another volume already in 1873, which he considered to be the first fruit of his own youthful activity. Perhaps he felt it was now time to improve on those compositions! Interestingly, he also says that it was the first of its kind to appear in England.
In his Avodat Hakodesh he states that there were three principles that aided him in his compositions.
1. that Synagogue music must be "sui generis."
2. it must faithfully interpret the meanings of the prayers.
3. it must not lack dignity.
1. Quoting Hast: '...it must be neither concert music, nor Operatic music, nor even Church music, but "Synagogue" music.'
2. Synagogue music is more tied to the words than any other kind of music. Hast points out that in other spheres music has frequently to make up for the poverty of words, '...as witness the "liberetti" of most operas.' However important the music in the Synagogue is, utmost care has to be taken to interpret the meaning of the prayer or poem, faithfully and reverentially.
3. While Shul music certainly doesn't have to be dull or depressing, it must never lack dignity and the understanding that it is being used as an aid to communicate with the Almighty.
Some of Marcus Hast's compositions are still sung today, though not many, and this is probably because they are virtually all written for Chazan and choir. Lecha Hashem Hagedulah, and one of the popular versions of Adon Olam (da, da, dee, da, do, dam) are probably the best known.
© Copyright Rabbi G. Shisler
Keywords: Marcus Hast, biography.