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Chazzanut Online - Articles

Ein Keloheinu


"I still wonder about the Ein Keloheynu, Sam. Surely Freudenthal is credited with writing it, but I have always heard that it is a reworking of a Germanic Drinking song." (Jonathan Gordon on the Shamash Jewish music e-mail list)

By Cantor Sam Weiss

The innocent ur-text on which the rumor is based (and the only useful information I've seen on the tune or the composer) is this passage from p. 238 of Idelsohn's "Jewish Music in its Historical Development," in which I've emphasized the most relevant sentence:

<< The Chazzan Hirsch Goldberg (1807-1893) served [in Seesen from 1833] until 1842 and was then appointed Chazzan in Brunswick. Together with Julius Freudenthal (Brunswick 1805-1874), Dukal musician, he modernized the Synagogue song and published in 1843 a collection of songs for solo and small choir in two parts [footnote: 'The title of the collection is Gesaenge fuer Synagogen. It became very popular and experienced several enlarged editions.']. To this songster Freudenthal contributed several tunes, and especially his famous tune for En Kelohenu, which he had composed in 1841. This tune has the typical German melodic line, and in its first part resembles a German melody of 1774 (No.1) (see table XXIX), which was reworked in 1819 and in 1844 (No.3) and published in 1844. >>

Note that Idelsohn says "its first part" (i.e. the first 4 measures, out of a total 16), and he says "resembles." He does not say "derives from," "comes from," or "is based on." The German melody which he reproduces in his table XXIX is not a drinking song, but the Lutheran hymn "Grosser Gott wir loben Dich." The table contains the three similar versions of the hymn referred to in the above passage, plus Eyn Keyloheynu. A careless reading of the highlighted sentence, combined with a quick glance at the table, creates the illusion that the table illustrates some sort of progression from an early hymn to the Freudenthal Eyn Keyloheynu, but this is plainly not what Idelsohn wrote. (It also makes it seem as if other measures beside the first four merit comparison. You can decide for yourself by listening to the hymn at < >) It is indeed puzzling why Idelsohn would bother reproducing the hymn variants, other than to document its publishing history; i.e. that it appeared in print one year AFTER the Goldberg-Freudenthal collection, and thus was probably NOT the basis for Freudenthal's composition.

Nevertheless, in his "Studies in Jewish Music" A.W. Binder writes (p.258) that Freudenthal's tune << is derived from German Christian hymnody of the eighteenth century, >> and he gives the above page in Idelsohn as his source (!). Macy Nulman, in his "Encyclopedia of Jewish Music" (p.76) has an even more preposterous reading of Idelsohn: << This [Eyn Keyloheynu] tune, derived from a German melody, "Grosser Gott wir loben Dich," has been revised several times until its present form. >> Again, page 238 of "Jewish Music in its Historical Development" is the citation, as if Idelsohn's table illustrates variants of Eyn Keyloheynu, rather than variants of Grosser Gott!

If a serious author like Binder is attracted to "demonizing" Eyn Keyloheynu, it should be no wonder that lesser lights take the ball and run with it. What is the impulse that drives such "rumors"? I don't think that it's so much a case of "disparagers who want to weaken the importance of traditional music." I think an important factor is the urge to sensationalize and titillate, but there's an additional point to consider. It is a commonly known fact that nineteenth century German Jewish reform recast synagogue choral and congregational music in the Lutheran mold, as well as appropriated Lutheran melodies and texts for synagogue use. Fortunately, the results of that activity have for the most part withered away. It is thus very tempting to grasp at whatever German sounding synagogue music that has endured and stereotype it as an illustration of that sordid activity, regardless of its actual history.

Where did the drinking song enter the picture? This is an obvious confusion with the stereotyping of Ma'oz Tzur, which contains a snatch that resembles a Lutheran hymn as well as one that resembles a German battle song. (Cf. Idelsohn pp. 171- 173.) As with all ethnic stereotyping, the juicier and the more colorful the better, so "German battle song" becomes "German drinking song," and the "Eyn Keyloheynu - German hymn" connection is transformed by folk savants into the "Eyn Keyloheynu - German drinking song" connection. As a matter of fact, since the most recent iteration of this discussion on this list started with the question of Sh'ma Yisrael being a drinking song, I think it won't take long before the same question is asked about the High Holiday Aleynu ("Yikes, a major triad!") and the High Holiday Barkhu (you know... the one derived from a Gregorian drinking song).

The use of secondary dominant harmony in Eyn Keyloheynu merely shows the origin of this congregational melody in a German choral composition, intended to be sung with organ support. The commonly sung "Hodo Al Eretz V'shamayim," based on a Sulzer choral piece, has an even trickier lick (though somewhat homogenized from the original composition) also showing its arty heritage. These examples illustrate how the "nusakh-less" areas of the liturgy, like hymns and the Torah service, attracted "traditional" congregational responses based on congregants' singing along with the professional choral pieces.

© Copyright 2002 Cantor S. Weiss.
Sam Weiss is Cantor of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, NJ.
This article appeared originally on the Shamash Jewish music e-mail list.

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