Abraham Saqui (II)
1824 - 1893
By Jonathan Greenstein
Saqui was choirmaster during the tenure of the first two chazanim at
Princes road. The first being Professor Jacob Prag and the other the
Reverend Harris Berman (great grandfather of Alaster Berman, recently
senior warden). The title Professor of Music may have been self-endowed
- possibly using the term Professor as in the French usage, for a
teacher. But looking at Saqui's obituary in the Liverpool Mercury (see
Shul article last year), it is obvious that he was highly regarded in
the wider Liverpool community.
Last year I was not sure exactly where Saqui came from but now we have
traced him, at least in England, to London's Sephardi Bevis Marks
Following last years article, I received some information from a lady
who was looking for an Abraham Saqui, Secretary of the Jews' Orphanage.
She investigated the marriage records at the Society of Genealogists,
where she found four Abraham Saqui's married under the auspices of the
Bevis Marks Sephardi synagogue in the years 1854 to 1890. The name is
referred to as SAQUI otherwise DE SOUZA. I searched through a number of
books from the period, but couldn't find any reference to any De Souza
in the Sephardi community of London.
In the History of the Ancient Synagogues 3), there was an Horatio Saqui
listed in 1901 as a 'yehid' (ordinary member) of Bevis Marks.
One of the four Saqui's mentioned above was Abraham Saqui, 31, bachelor,
Professor of Music of 8 St. Mark Street, Whitechapel who married on 27
May 1855 Julia Samuel, of full age (sic), widow, of 103 Duke Street,
Liverpool. His father is given as Abraham Saqui, gentleman and her
father as Ellis Elias, deceased. The witnesses and registrar were Mayer
Albert, David Piza, Solomon Almosnino (Registrar, brother of the Chazan
Isaac Almosnino.). Notes 200 pounds husband's addition, witness on
Ketuba D.A. De Sola. The place of the marriage is given as 45 Ludgate
This certainly seemed to be a close match for Princes Road's Saqui, so
following the morning service and Eicha at Princes Road this Tisha B'Av,
Edward Marks and I went to the Dean Road cemetery in search of Saqui's
We found the cemetery in a terrible state. Half the gravestones have
been knocked over and broken, many others have been sprayed with
graffiti and the whole area is overgrown with brambles to head-height.
I took a number of photographs and will be sending them to the
We saw a lot of very ornate and grandiose edifices including the graves
of David Lewis, various members of the Benas and Braham families but
not unfortunately that of Abraham Saqui. We did find the grave of Julia
Saqui. The year of birth, name and other details match those of the
Bevis Marks records and the obituary in the Liverpool Mercury of August
1893. So one can say with near certainty that this is Abraham's wife's
grave. The grave to the left had no stone evident and could possibly be
that of Abraham Saqui. Apparently all the Dean Road gravestones were
photographed a few years back and it would be interesting to see if
Abraham Saqui's inscription in amongst them.
One of the witnesses on the ketuba and presumably the officiant at
Abraham and Julia Saqui's marriage was non other than the Reverend
David Aharon De Sola 6)
He was the composer of one of the most beautiful Adon Olam
tunes in our liturgy. (p.276 of the "Blue Book") The original,
chromatic - and more elaborate - can be found at the back of the
Sephardi siddur. In Princes Road this Adon Olam is sung on festivals.
There was another Professor of Music at Bevis Marks from the Saqui
family, Isaac, who had both a father and son named Abraham. All the male
Saquis seem to be called either Isaac or Abraham which makes tracing
family histories quite difficult!
In 1890 when the West London choirmaster Verrinder (composer of the well
known Esa Enay) died after serving the community for fifty years,
Saqui was offered the post. He declined it and the composer Percy
Rideout was appointed.
If we bear in mind that the West London Synagogue (Reform) was a
breakaway from the Bevis Marks synagogue 1) then it would be quite
natural for Saqui, who was obviously well known in the jewish musical
world, to be invited 'back' to serve the community that he knew and
grew up with. He would have been acquainted with one of the Bevis
Marks' former choirmasters M.Moss, reprinting Moss's Hallaluy-ah in the
"Songs of Israel." Another connection may have been through the Rabbi
of the West London, Woolf Marks. He had been a minister of the Old
Hebrew Congregation in the Seel Street days leaving in 1841, well before
Saqui's Princes Road days, but he returned to Princes Road in 1879 to
deliver the sermon for the Liverpool Hebrew Philanthropic Society
service. 4) It may be assumed that Saqui officiated at this service.
Interestingly, the Rev Morris Joseph, Princes Road's first minister,
was also appointed to be minister to the West London. He took up his
position in 1893, the year of Saqui's death, after the Chief Rabbi
blocked his appointment to Hampstead Synagogue.
The Post Saqui Years
When Saqui passed away, the choir training was taken over by the chazan,
Rev Berman and then in 1911 by the Rev Coleman. How did the chazan
standing on the bima, control the choir in the gallery? There was a set
of buttons under the reader's desk which controlled moving signs in
the choir gallery. Louder, Softer, Silence etc. Yes, I had a look last
month and the buttons are no longer there!
In 1933 when Rev Coleman became ill, Raphael Dorfman was appointed choir
master. Raphael together with his brother Charlie, who is the assistant
choirmaster and librarian, have been running the choir for 66 years.
This must be a world record!
During the Saqui period, the service was based on Saqui's own
compositions together with those of the Parisian composer Samuel
Naumbourg - a number of whose compositions Saqui reprinted - and pieces
from the Blue Book 5) also provided a number of settings by the 'old'
English Jewish composers such as Rev Wasserzug, David Waley, Charles
Salaman, Verrinder, David Davis, Hast, Mombach etc. Coleman introduced
the Kahan Kedusha which is sung on most Shabbatot as well as Kirschner's
Tal. After Coleman left, the Dorfman's "reconstructed" the Tal from
memory. About six years ago it was performed by Cantor Naphtali Herstik
at the annual Bnai Brith music festival in London.
When the Budapest born Chazan, Bornstein, arrived at Princes Road, he
brought with him a whole new set of music from the continent. Music by
composers such as Finesinger - who was a choirmaster in a rebbe's
court - Dunajewsky and others now joined the Princes Road repertoire.
"Etz Chayim Hi" by Sheshtapol was introduced by a choir bass Berkoff.
This piece also found it's way to Childwall Shul in a somewhat modified
Interestingly, Saqui's music, apart from his (now) famous Yigdal, did
not spread to the other shuls in Liverpool. This may be due to the fact
that, Princes Road's choir, being mixed since the 1940's, hardly ever
sang together with choirs from other shuls. Also I think that Princes
Road was quite keen on having a distinct musical tradition. The Hebrew
schools (Hope Place) used to sing Saqui's Ma Tovu which apparently was
the reason why the shul choir decided to introduce the Sulzer version
into it's repertoire.
Childwall Shul only started singing his En Kelo-henu about 20 years ago
and the undersigned set the opening theme of his ten-page (over) long
Baruch HaBa to Naartischa for shabbat musaph.
Looking through the Songs of Israel, one can find quite a number of
lovely sephardi tunes which were somewhat angliced presumably by Saqui
These same pieces are also to be found in the Levy Collection 2) which
is one of the sources of the repertoire of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue
Choir. Saqui adds the comment 'Ancient Melody' to these pieces.
It's likely that some of the pieces in the Levy collection and those of
Saqui via Bevis Marks, have a common source in Amsterdam.
Those interested in jewish liturgical music might like to look up the
following internet site and join the discussion group where all
contributions are emailed to subscribers.
A CD which is a must for those who like English Shul music is the
'English Tradition of Jewish Choral Music'. This was released on the
Olympia label last year (COD 647). Tara Publications or the Jewish
Musical Heritage should be able to obtain it. Saqui's Ma Tovu in it's
original version appears on this disk. Another collection worth having
is the complete Princes Road repertoire issued on a set of cassettes a
few years ago.
1) The Sephardim of London, Albert M Hyamson 1951. (Victor Tunkel notes:
It was to be a congregation of 'British Jews,' de-tribalised.)
2) Liturgio Jedeo-Espanola (Chazzanut Sephardi), 10 volumes 1964 onwards.
Collection published in Jerusalem by Isaac Levy (1919-1977)
3) History of the ancient synagogues of the Spanish and Portuguese
Jews. Haham the Rev Dr Moses Gaster. Published in 1901 on the occasion
of the two-hundredth anniversary of the inauguration of the Bevis Marks
synagogue 1701-1901. This book was to be a forerunner of more
elaborate work, treating of the history of the sephardim in England.
[This was never published and the notes Rabbi Gaster made were used by
Albert Hyamson in the compilation of his 'The Sephardim of London']
This book is mainly about the history of the development of the Bevis
Marks synagogue containing a lot of discussions on the Escamot or rules
and cherems of the community. The Spanish and Portuguese members both
having come directly and indirectly via Hamburg and Amsterdam. Escamot
12-14: No one was to pray so loud as to drown out the voice of the
Hazan. No one was to leave the synagogue whilst the Law was being read
or being lifted. It is forbidden to publish a Hebrew or any other book
in Amsterdam without the permission of the Mahamad and the punishment
was confiscation in favour of the sedaca
4) Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation 1780-1974 by David Hudaly
5) The Blue Book aka "The Voice of Prayer and Praise, A Handbook of
Synagogue Music." This is still in print and can be ordered from the
Jewish book shop.
6) Hazan David Aharon de Sola. Born in Amsterdam in 1796. came to
England as a candidate for the post of assistant Hazan at Bevis Marks
and was accepted in 1818. He studied English and became one of the most
accomplished of English writers in the community. He delivered the 1st
English sermon heard within the walls of the synagogue on 26/3/1831. His
1st liturgical publication was a small volume of the blessings in
English and Hebrew in 1829. His chief work was the new translation of
the hebrew prayer book which appeared in 1836. he also translated the
machzor of the Ashkenazi congregations according to the German and
Polish minhag in 4 volumes in 1860, 18 masechot of the mishna and
according to Rabbi Gaster was a joint founder of the Jewish Chronicle.
He also published for the 1s time the ancient melodies of the liturgy
of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews preceded by a learned introduction on
the history and origins of the poetry and melody of this ritual. He
died in 1860. Upon his father's death, Samuel de Sola, his youngest
son, was appointed deputy Chazan and then Chazan, but he survived his
father by only six years.
I am indebted to Ms Liz Keys and to Mr Victor Tunkel, a well-known
jewish musicologist in London, for their assistance in obtaining the
information on Saqui's genealogy and to Raphael and Charlie Dorfman for
our late-night telephone chats about the Coleman and Bornstein years!
© Copyright Jonathan Greenstein, Jerusalem.
Keywords: Abraham Saqui, biography.