Chazzanut Online - Katz

Cantor Abraham Katz,
An Introduction


Browse his "Hebrew Melodies"

Chazzan Abraham Katz (1881-1930), apart from being one of the greatest vocal artists to have officiated in Holland and England, was an able composer of synagogue recitatives.

As far as I know, he left behind two works, both of which remained in manuscript.

  • One work consists of transcriptions of the most important "traditional" tunes that were in use in the Dutch synagogue at the time of Katz. The tunes are accompanied by detailed annotations in Hebrew and German concerning their proper usage. This manuscript is considered to be one of the "treasures" of the Amsterdam University Library, which owns the work. The current cantor-in-chief of Amsterdam, Prof. Dr. Hans Bloemendal made a clarifying review of the work.
  • The second work consists of 33 melodies that were composed or arranged by Katz himself. It is titled "Hebrew Songs for Sabbath and Festivals" and dated 20 October, 1915. This beautiful manuscript was prepared by the skilled copyist B. Druif and is a treat to look at.
It was a long felt wish to make this second document browsable on the Internet. I consider it a privilege that I finally achieved this goal. I sincerely hope that this will enable many people to share the joy with me of using this material.

The music

Of the 33 melodies contained in the work, there are six tunes that are still in regular use in Amsterdam today. These are: opus 9 (Retseih Vimnuchateinu)- midi, 11 (Kidush Leshabat II), 19 ('Av Harachamim)- midi, 23 (Kedushat Musaf III), 28 (Birkat Kohanim) and 31 (Yir'u 'Eineinu).

It is interesting to note that the above-mentioned Kidush tune was quoted in the German Encyclopedia Judaica (Verlag Eschkol, Berlin 1932). Even more interesting is that the editors of this article (among which the famous Arno Nadel) attribute the tune to "Nusach Amsterdam," as if it concerned a traditional melody. An epitome of a tune, which "looses" its composer.

In his thoughtful introduction to his anthology of Dutch Chazzanut, chazzan Bloemendal shared the following observation (p.XII):

"We get to the question: what is authentic? Did the chazzan-composer deviate strongly from the score in his recitation, or did the people in shul in those days sing according to their own taste? I observed this phenomenon frequently during my study of Amsterdam Chazzanut.

A remarkable example is the Kiddush by Katz, which is very well-known in the Netherlands. When I first heard chazzan Maroko singing this piece, it was something completely different from what chazzan Moskovits was to deliver. And that again differed from the interpretation of the chazzanim De Jong and Mossel, not to mention various individuals.

When I finally got the "real" score, the bare notes were again slightly different."

In 1998, the Dutch composer Leo Samama created a quintet for string instruments and clarinet, inspired by a phrase from Katz's "Ki Hu Levaddo." It was commissioned by the International Jewish Music Festival of Amsterdam, on the occassion of the 50th anniversary of the State of Israel. Samama commented: "Both the notes of this fine hymn and the rhythmic structure, and certainly also the musical intention of the piece, found their way in numerous variants and swings throughout the quintet."

The composer

I found an article from 1930, telling the story of cantor Katz's life, in a Dutch weekly called "The Friday Evening."

Like so many of the Dutch chazanim, Abraham Katz came from the East. His father Yeruchom was the cantor-in-chief of the Russian town of Bendir. Abraham took lessons from a female opera singer in Odessa. For a while he settled in Tyrnau and later on in Vienna, where he was quite successful.

In Vienna he was called attention to an advertisement of the Amsterdam synagogue board. They were seeking a successor to the then world famous chazzan Isaac Heymann. Abraham immediately set forth to Amsterdam, were he was elected in the first round. Unfortunately, he would only be in Dutch office for six years.

Great talents need a large territory. In 1913 Abraham was elected first reader of the United Synagogue in London. There he officiated for about 17 years. The last eight years of his life, Abraham Katz struggled with a terrible disease. June 18th of 1930 he died. It is a pity that the United Synagogue forbade its cantors to give concerts or to make records. Therefore we don't have the privilege to be inspired by his golden voice. Fortunately we do have his manuscript, now more accessible than ever before.


A lot of information about and sheet music of Abraham Katz can be found in the standard work on Dutch Chazzanut:

Hans Bloemendal/Joppe Poolman van Beusekom (ed.), Amsterdam Chazzanut, Buren: Frits Knuf, 1990. (2 Vol.)


I received the following heart-warming reaction from cantor Josée Wolff, currently director of the UAHC Commission on Synagogue Music:

"I was so pleased to see the mention of Katz's manuscript. For my graduate thesis at Hebrew Union College in New York I did some research on Dutch/Amsterdam chazanut and His manuscript was one of the many I looked at, at the Rosenthaliana in Amsterdam. It is good to know that this music is not lost and much of it certainly deserves to be known and to be performed.

The other booklet you mention on the website is indeed an invaluable source of information on Amsterdam synagogue melodies and usage, a true treasure trove of information!"

More reactions are welcome.

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