Abraham Saqui (I)
1824 - 1893
By Jonathan Greenstein
Abraham Saqui was first Choirmaster at Liverpool's Princes Road
Synagogue and to this day the Synagogue's repertoire is substantially
based on his compositions.
A typical Shabbat will see 4 or 5 of his pieces performed.
In 1878 the London publisher, Boosey, Patey and Co. published Saqui's
"Songs of Israel," a book of mainly own compositions set for a
non-mixed choir because as he put it: "...females do not take part in
the choral service of orthodox congregations..." !
And this at a time when quite a few Synagogues throughout Britain did
have mixed choirs. In fact all the settings in the United Synagogue's
"Blue Book" of Music
are set for mixed choir. Nowadays, Princes Road is the only Orthodox
Synagogue in Britain, to still maintain a mixed voice choir!
When I was in Liverpool last month, I spoke to Dr. Levy about the
possibility of the Synagogue reprinting Saqui's "Songs of Israel" and he
suggested that I write an article about him. "Sure," I replied and then
realised that I knew absolutely nothing about the composer!
So who was Abraham Saqui? Where was he born? Where did he come from?
Where did he go when he left Princes Road?
In the last few weeks I've been trying to find out something about him.
We know from the preface to his 1878 book that he was choirmaster at the
Old Hebrew Congregation from around 1858-1878, which means that he was
choirmaster for 15 or so years at the previous Synagogue in Seele
He mentions the Chief Cantor of Paris, Samuel Naumburg, in the preface
to his book and reprints some of his pieces. From communications with
various "Saqui's" on the internet, it would appear that the name Saqui
is French rather than Spanish or Portugese as I had first thought...
He was well enough known in Anglo Jewry to have his beautiful setting of
Ma Tovu included in the "Blue Book" - the United Synagogue Handbook of
Synagogue Music, published in 1899.
His "Songs of Israel" is listed in the 1951 edition of the
"Bibliography of Jewish Music," compiled by Alfred Sendrey, along with
all the other major jewish composers.
Raymond Goldstein, a well known shul musician/composer and Musical
Arranger at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, told me that in one of the
volumes of the "Repertoire Musical Liturgique Del la Synagogue De
Bruxelles" published by Eduard Samuel (Belgium, 1905), he saw Saqui's
name mentioned along with Halevy, as one of the Naumbourg Clique.
Last week, I called my brother David, and asked him to root around in
the Town Hall archives and the City Libraries. This he did and he struck
It transpires that Saqui was born in London in or around the year 1824.
He appears in Gore's Directory of 1859 and 1864 as Professor of Piano
and Singing, as well as Mc Naught & Smith's Illustrated Catalogue of
1863. His obituary from the Liverpool Mercury of 2nd August 1893 is
printed below. In Gore's directory of 1867 a Jonathan Saqui appears. His
address is given as 5 West Derby St, East and Jewellers shop at 40
Manchester St, West. He may have been a relative of Abraham, but not a
son since Saqui had no children.
Musical Chronologically/Saqui contempories:
1840 Salomon Sulzer publishes his Shir Zion in Austria
1871 Lewandoski publishes Kol Rina
1878 Abraham Saqui in Liverpool, publishes his Songs of Israel
1879 Marcus Hast, in London, publishes his 1st volume of Hymns saying
that his is the first of it's kind.
1887 Hand book of Synagogue Music, Precursor of the "Blue Book"
1899 First Edition of the Blue Book is published in London containing
one composition of Saqui (Ma Tovu)
1910 Marcus Hast produces a set of three volumes of Synagogue Music.
Saqui's music is now performed in a number of Synagogues throughout the
world and I'm very happy that I had a small part to play in facilitating
Four of his compositions are in the Jerusalem Great Synagogue repertoire
- three of them, the "Great" Yigdal, En Kelo-henu and Lecha Hashem are
regulars. The fourth, Havu Lashem did not transfer well to male-voice
choir and needs to be re-arranged. The Yigdal is the congregation's and
the choir's favourite hymn. It is included in every choir performance on
The St John's Wood Synagogue Choir in London perform this Yigdal - and
according to their Chazan, Moshe Haschel, the congregation go "ga ga"
for it! They are about to release a CD which includes this piece on it.
The Zemel Choir have just recorded a CD "The English Tradition of
Jewish Choral Music" on the Olympia label (OCD647), which contains the
Saqui Ma Tovu.
Saqui's musical style is very lyrical and majestic and he was obviously
very fond of Mozart - compare the last section of the Yigdal with
Mozart's Clarinet Concerto and you'll see that Saqui found that the
words fit perfectly!
His Lashem Ha'aretz is the only one I know of, that is written in the
minor key and is suitable for use on the festival days when Yizkor is
In the preface to "Songs of Israel," Saqui says that the book contains
"...new melodies, a selection from which is published in this volume."
Maybe there are some manuscripts lying around in a vault beneath the
shul, containing more of his compositions ?
The Saqui book is a great legacy and there are very few copies left - I
am aware of just four - some were burnt in the fire of 1979. The two
copies in the Shuls' possession are starting to break up. I'm hoping
that funds can be found to reprint it for the Synagogue's 125th
Anniversary. Alternatively, it could be issued on a CD-ROM.
"Abraham Saqui 1824 - 1893"
From "Liverpool Mercury," August 2nd 1893:
"The announcement of the death of Mr Abraham Saqui, choirmaster of the
Hebrew Synagogue, Princes Road will be heard with regret, not only by
the Jewish community of the city, but by a wide circle of friends with
whom he had been brought into contact, mainly by means of his musical
His death, which was unexpected, took place yesterday morning at his
residence, 127 Bedford Street, the cause being paralysis of the brain.
Although he was suffering from what he supposed to be neuralgic pains in
the head, he only absented himself from the Synagogue for the past two
Born in London, 69 years ago, Mr Saqui came to Liverpool at an early
period of his life. He settled down as a Professor of Music and it now
more than forty years since he received his first appointment as trainer
and leader of the Old Hebrew Congregation, which then worshipped in the
synagogue in Seele St and afterwards removed to the present building in
His abilities as a musician and teacher have been widely recognised
outside the jewish community, and he had probably more pupils among
christians than among members of his own faith.
In his own particular department, the training of the choir, he took the
highest rank in hebrew circles in this country and under his guidance,
the choir in Princes Road, was reputed to be one of finest of any
synagogues in England.
His services, with those of his choir, were often in request at the
consecration of new synagogues all over the kingdom.
In October last, the Princes Road choir under his conductorship was
selected for the musical portion of the consecration of a new synagogue
at Dublin. In May of this year, when the Chief Rabbi made a pastoral
visit to the Princes Road Synagogue, he sent for Mr Saqui at the
conclusion of the service and complimented him upon the exquisite and
devotional manner in which the choir had rendered the musical portion of
the service, adding that for impressiveness, no synagogue choir, in or
out of London, could equal it. Some years ago, Mr Saqui was offered the
position of Choirmaster to the West London Congregation of British Jews,
the richest and one of the most influential synagogues in the country,
but so much attracted was he to his associations in Liverpool, he
refused the offer, advantageous as it would have been.
He composed and published a number of hebrew melodies under the title of
"Songs of Israel" and during his long professiorial career, many
singers who have risen to eminence owe much of their success to the
training received from him.
In dramatic representation, Mr Saqui was at one time favourably known
and some years ago he regularly travelled from Liverpool to Manchester
to play in "Macbeth" to Miss Glynn's Lady Macbeth.
Mr Saqui was a widower and leaves no family. His wife died about 30
years ago and since then his sister who survived him, has kept house
The funeral will take place on Thursday at Deane Rd cemetery at 4
© Copyright Jonathan Greenstein, Jerusalem.
This article was written for the Synagogue's Rosh Hashana magazine,
Keywords: Abraham Saqui, biography.