1821 - 1894
By Rabbi Geoffrey Shisler
Louis Lewandowski was destined for a life in Jewish music from a very
young age. As a child, he and his four brothers used to accompany their
father when he conducted services in Wreschen, in the province of Poznan.
Owing to the extreme poverty of his family, and the early demise of his
mother, Louis went to Berlin at the age of twelve, where he became a
"singerel" in the choir of Cantor Ascher Lion.
By making some very fortunate contacts, he was able to obtain the
patronage of Alexander Mendelssohn, a cousin of the famed Felix
Mendelssohn, and he was fortunate to be the first Jewish student to be
accepted into the Berlin Academy of Arts, where he distinguished himself
in his musical studies, learning with the foremost teachers of his time.
He began to write, and have performed. to not inconsiderable acclaim, some
serious music, when he was incapacitated by a serious nervous condition.
This prevented him from working for four years.
During his illness, he was fortunate to hear the celebrated Chazan Hirsch
Weintraub, and was so impressed with Weintraub's rendition of the service,
that he determined to devote his attentions more to Synagogue music.
In 1844 the Jewish community of Berlin invited him to organise and lead
a choir, and so Louis Lewandowski became the first synagogue choirmaster,
(as far as we know).
Lewandowski was very fortunate when Cantor Abraham J. Lichtenstein succeeded Cantor
Lion. Between them an unusual understanding and agreement evolved about
the development of Synagogue music, and with Cantor Lichtenstein's
encouragement, Lewandowski started to compose prayers with four-part
harmony. He also wrote down cantorial recitatives in a manner, simple
enough, for people who did not have the advantage of a professional
training, to be able to sing.
In 1864 he was invited to become choir leader of the New Synagogue in
Berlin, and it was during his time there that he published his most
famous and enduring books, "Kol Rinah," for solo and two-part voice,
and "Todah Vezimrah" for full choir and Cantor. These are still in the
library of every professional Chazan and choir-master, and, indeed,
are still in regular use.
As well as Synagogue music, Lewadowski also composed Psalms, symphonies,
cantatas, and songs.
He taught at the Jewish Free School, the Jewish Teachers Seminary and
he also founded the Institute for Aged and Indigent Musicians. He was
honoured by the wider community also, and in 1866 the German government
bestowed upon him the title of Royal Musical Director.
Amongst the popular synagogue compositions that Lewandowski wrote and
that are still widely sung are, "Uvenucho Yomar," "Zacharti Lach" for Rosh
Hashana, and "Ve'al Chata'im" for Yom Kippur.
© Copyright Rabbi G. Shisler
Keywords: Louis Lewandowski, Lewandowsky, biography.
Listen to Lewandowski's Hayom
Harat Olam, sung by the JTS Cantors Institute Choir.
Listen to a midi of Lewandowski's Hasheim Malakh.
An article on the 1997 conference on German-Jewish
Liturgical Music, that took place at JTS. The article sketches the
special charm and history of this disappearing tradition. Marc Howard
wrote some more informal notes on the
same topic, discussing the music of Louis Lewandowski and Salomon
Sulzer. Leonard Lehrman reviewed
a concert that was part of the JTS conference.