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Louis Lewandowski

Louis LewandowskiLOUIS LEWANDOWSKI (1821 – 1894) was destined for a life in Jewish music from a very young age. As a child, he and his four brothers used to accompany their father when he conducted services in Wreschen, in the province of Poznan, Poland.

Owing to the extreme poverty of his family, and the early demise of his mother, Mr. Lewandowski went to Berlin at the age of 12, where he became a “singerel” in the choir of Cantor Ascher Lion. By making some very fortunate contacts, Mr. Lewandowski was able to obtain the patronage of Alexander Mendelssohn, a cousin of the famed Felix Mendelssohn, and became the first Jewish student to be accepted into the Berlin Academy of Arts, where he distinguished himself in his musical studies, learning with the foremost teachers of his time. He began to write and perform to considerable acclaim some serious music when he was incapacitated by a serious nervous condition. This prevented him from working for four years. During his illness, he was fortunate to hear the celebrated Chazan Hirsch Weintraub and was so impressed with Weintraub’s rendition of the service that he determined to devote his attentions more to synagogue music.

In 1844, the Jewish community of Berlin invited Mr. Lewandowski to organize and lead a choir, thus making Mr. Lewandowski one of if not the first synagogue choirmasters. Mr. Lewandowski was very fortunate when Cantor Abraham J. Lichtenstein succeeded Cantor Lion. Between them, an unusual understanding and agreement evolved about the development of synagogue music, and with Cantor Lichtenstein’s encouragement, Mr. Lewandowski started to compose prayers with four-part harmony. He also wrote down cantorial recitatives in a manner simple enough, for people who did not have the advantage of professional training, to be able to sing.

In 1864, Mr. Lewandowski was invited to become choir leader of the New Synagogue in Berlin, and it was during his time there that he published his most famous and enduring books, Kol Rinah, for solo and two-part voices, and Todah Vezimrah for full choir and cantor. These are still in the library of every professional chazan and choirmaster, and, indeed, are still in regular use. Among the popular synagogue compositions by Mr. Lewandowski still sung widely are Uvenucho Yomar, Ma Tovu, Halleluyah (Psalm 150) for Rosh Hashanah and Ve’al Chata’im for Yom Kippur. As well as synagogue music, Mr. Lewandowski also composed psalms, symphonies, cantatas and songs.

Mr. Lewandowski taught at the Jewish Free School and the Jewish Teachers Seminary; he also founded the Institute for Aged and Indigent Musicians. In 1866 the German government bestowed upon Mr. Lewandowski the title of Royal Musical Director.

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