Chazzanut Online - Rosenblatt

Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt,
Some Notes


Rosenblatt Yosef "Yossele" Rosenblatt (1882-1933) is generally considered to be the uncrowned king of cantorial music. People often refer to him just as "Yossele," a Yiddish diminutive of Josef.

There is a famous joke about a Cantor who calls himself the Third Yossele Rosenblatt... When he's asked who the Second Yossele Roseblatt might be, in great offense he retorts, "There could BE no Second Yossele Rosenblatt!"

Rosenblatt's greatest hit was his recording of "Shir Hama'alot," Psalm 126, to a tune composed by Minkowsky. This psalm is said on festive occasions, just before the "Grace after Meals." This cheerful melody became so popular, that soon it was considered to be the traditional tune for this psalm. When the State of Israel was looking for a suitable National Anthem, Rosenblatt's "Shir Hama'alot" was proposed as a serious candidate.

You can listen to a mp3 of Shir Hama'alot (2.8M).

Chazzanut Online features the 1928 Recitatives Book of cantor Rosenblatt and a short biography.

In his foreword to this book, Rosenblatt wrote about his own recitatives:

"In producing them I was moved by the double impulse of serving the needs of the Jewish Cantor and of demonstrating to the musical world at large that genuine Jewish Chazanuth can still satisfy completely even the refined taste of today. ...I shall feel amply rewarded for my efforts when I shall see this work widely disseminated."

There is a discography of Chazzan Rosenblatt by Dr. Joseph Greene in a British magazine called "The Record Collector," Vol. 20, Nos. 6/7 (May, 1972).

According to Henry Sapoznik, the earliest recordings of Rosenblatt were Mi Shebeirakh and Hasheim Malakh (Pathé, 1905).

Victor Tunkel wrote to me: "I should mention that quite a few things that he popularised were not written by him. "His" Shir Hama'alot for example is by Minkowsky. The Chassidic Kaddish is probably by Jacob Gottlieb, better known as Yankel der Hezeriker. The Retsei Atiratam is by Machtenberg; and so on."

Cantor Sam Weiss adds: "Rosenblatt also recorded Oshamnu Mikol Om, a cover of the cantorial hit recorded earlier by the composer, Cantor David Roitman." This would eventually lead to a court case between Roitman and Rosenblatt!

Tara published a music book with songs of Yossele Rosenblatt, compiled and arranged by his son Henry: "Music of Yossele Rosenblatt."

Rabbi Samuel Rosenblatt published a biography of his father's life. "Yossele Rosenblatt: the story of his life as told by his son, by Samuel Rosenblatt. New York, Farrar, Straus and Young, 1954."

There is also some Rosenblatt material in the book "Fifteen Cantorial Masterpieces," published by Tara.

Cantor Sam Weiss noticed that there is a transcription and recording of Rosenblatt's V'af Hu Hoyo Miskaven in Tara's book/CD compilation "Golden Age of Cantors:"

"BTW, this is an excellent resource for good transcriptions of East-European hazzanut. Some make an attempt at fitting the music to bar lines, while others provide more accurate transcriptions devoid of metricality."

David Chevan produced a very interesting CD called " Days of Awe : Meditations for Selichot, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur." It is a collection of instrumental interpretations of Rosenblatt's compositions for the High Holidays. As such it is one of the finest "Jewish-Jazz" recordings, and a great Jazz instrumental anyway.

"I came to Rosenblatt years ago when I became interested in Hazzanut, which is the art of Jewish cantorial singing. Rosenblatt had an incredible voice and really understood this art form. His krechts, or sobbing sounds, are profoundly emotional and his phrasing is equally moving. It occurred to me that I needed to learn more about him, so I began transcribing his recordings and learning more about the nuances of his singing style, especially his phrasing," explains bassist Chevan, who teaches at Southern Connecticut State University.

"The cantorial art of Hazzanut is a highly improvisatory process that reminds me of jazz improvisation. I hear and have found much more spontaneity in the singing of cantors than in most Klezmer music (which, incidentally is often called -- and I believe incorrectly so -- Jewish jazz)," he says, noting that he chose to transcribe Rosenblatt's renditions of High Holy Day prayers for several reasons.

"First, because of his incredible sense of melody. These pieces are infused with wonderful and emotionally powerful melodies. Second, because he was one of the greatest recorded masters of Hazzanut. His singing and improvisations are filled with nuances that are rivaled by only a few other cantors," notes Chevan. "Thirdly, his compositions are compelling. Each of the pieces I transcribed was like a miniature oratorio. In each of the pieces there were at least two or more complete music sections that might contain moments of operatic recitative, snippets of folk melodies, and large sections of improvised Hazzanut. When I transcribed and then arranged these for my band to perform the music came alive in fresh new ways that got me excited. I could hear and feel the spirit of the High Holy Days, the Days of Awe, in a new and meaningful way."

"As I was transcribing the various pieces I began to find certain places and patterns in Rosenblatt's choices as to when he would be in tempered pitch and when he used quarter-tones. I don't even know if he was aware that he was making quarter-tones as much as creating certain emphases that were attached as much to the text as anything else. I get the sense that he was very aware that the "out-of-pitch" notes created a certain drama that the congregation would have felt as supplication. In contrast there are sections, especially when he is singing more in the Yiddish song/freilakh style (strident and martial at times) that he is right on the money and everything is in more or less tempered pitch. Listen to his "Al Kheyt" recording and you'll hear what I mean. When we recorded that piece and several others for my "Days of Awe" album Frank London brought in a quarter tone trumpet. Listen to Frank play "Hineni" on the album and you'll get a good understanding of what microtones can do on a Hazzones recording."

The The National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University has some original Hollywood material (The Jazz Singer [1927], The Voice of Israel [1931], Dream of my People [1933]) as well as some documentary films featuring Rosenblatt [1882-1933].

Read the story of Rosenblatt's involvement in The Jazz Singer.

The Jazz Singer
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Keywords: Yossele Rosenblatt, Yosef Rosenblatt, Cantor, Recitative, mp3.