Zevulun (Zavel) Kwartin
1874 - 1952
By Rabbi Geoffrey Shisler
Most famous Chazanim have tenor voices. One who was endowed with a
glorious high baritone, was the great Zavel Kwartin.
Kwartin was born on 25th March 1874 in Chonorod, Elisabetgrad, Russia, to
a wealthy Chassidic textile merchant. From a very early age he exhibited
a beautiful voice and his father took him to the famous Chazan, Yerucham
Hakatan (also known as Yerucham Blindman), to hear his son sing and get
a professional opinion of his abilities.
According to Zavel's own account, the ageing Chazan was deeply impressed
by him and wanted to take the boy as his pupil. His father however was
not too keen on the idea though, believing that a career in textiles
might be rather more secure than one in Chazanut.
On his marriage he went to Shul with his in-laws in Yelisvatgrad and was
invited to say the Haftara. The congregation was very impressed with his
rendering of the Berachot and he was prevailed upon to conduct Musaf. It
was on this occasion that the seeds of his golden career were sown.
Kwartin took music and singing lessons with the finest teachers of his
time and on June 1st 1896 he gave his first public concert. He states
that he was a great success. The following year he gave a concert in
Lodz for which he was paid more than 400 roubles and he continued to
travel in Europe, concertise and conduct services to great acclaim.
In 1903 he was appointed Obercantor of the Queen Elizabet Temple of
Vienna where his salary was 2,500 krone per annum, an extraordinary
salary by any standards.
In 1914 Kwatrin was invited to come to America for a fee of $30,000 for
a series of 30 concerts. Because of the war this was postponed and it
wasn't until April 1920 that he eventually got there.
His first concert, which was not a success, was at the Metropolitan
Opera House. Fortunately though he redeemed himself at the 'Hippodrome'
and went on from there to tour America, with great success.
He decided to remain in the States and was appointed Chazan at the Temple
Emanuel where his salary was $12,000. He also continued to give concerts
and was possibly the highest-paid Chazan of all time.
Kwartin published two volumes of his three-volume work, 'Z'mirot Zevulon'
in 1928, (the third was published in 1937). They contain the music to
most of his famous pieces, 'Tiheir Rabbi Yishmoel, Ve'al Yedei Avodecho,
etc', and is still widely used.
Zavel was deeply moved by his first visit to the Holy Land and eventually
built a home for himself on Mount Carmel. The last fifteen years of
his life were spent in the USA, and when he died on 3rd October 1952,
he was brought to Israel for burial.
Zavel Kwartin made numerous recordings, many of which have been
electronically enhanced and re-released. Through them, his phenomenal
voice still lives on.
© Copyright Rabbi G. Shisler
Misha Gavrilovich digitized several Zonophone records of "Oberkantor
Sawel Kwartin," as those recordings were labeled. You can now listen to:
page is in Russian.
Keywords: Zevulun Kwartin, Zavel Kwartin, Sawel Kwartin, biography.