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Chazzanut Online - Articles

Louis Lewandowski

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

See Also

  • 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.
up _________________________________________________________________ Keywords: Louis Lewandowski, Lewandowsky, biography.