Cantor Abraham Katz,
Browse his "Hebrew Melodies"
Chazzan Abraham Katz (1881-1930), apart from being one of the
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
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.
- 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
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.
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)-
11 (Kidush Leshabat II),
19 ('Av Harachamim)-
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
When I finally got the "real" score, the bare notes were again slightly
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
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
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
reader of the United Synagogue in London. There he officiated
17 years. The last eight years of his life, Abraham Katz
a terrible disease. June 18th of 1930 he died. It is
a pity that the
United Synagogue forbade its cantors to give concerts or
records. Therefore we don't have the privilege to be inspired
golden voice. Fortunately we do have his manuscript, now
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
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.
Last update: 04 January 2006