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Salomon Sulzer

Salomon SulzerSALOMON SULZER (1804 – 1890) was born in Hohenems, Austria. Although his family name was Loewy, they changed it and called themselves after the small town called Sulz, where they had settled after having been exiled from their hometown. It is said that, as a small boy, Sulzer fell into a torrential Alpine river. Having been saved miraculously from drowning, his mother vowed to devote him to the service of the Almighty and thereafter dressed him only in pure white.

As a young man, Sulzer studied first in Switzerland and then in Germany. Afterward, he traveled as an itinerant cantor in Germany, Switzerland and France. He had some eminent teachers of music including Ignaz von Seyfried, who himself hadbeen a pupil of Haydn and was a friend of Mozart and Beethoven. In 1826 Sulzer received a call to be cantor at the Viennese Seitenstettengasse Temple, where he remained for 45 years. In 1848 he became involved in the revolutionary movement of the day and found himself in prison. Fortunately he was kept there for only a short time and was pardoned and set free.

Sulzer was the first cantor to apply the rules of classical harmony to traditional synagogue melodies, and through the publication of his major work, Shir Zion, his fame spread. The first volume was published in 1840, and the second came out about 1866. Included in this work were also compositions by his teacher von Seyfried and Franz Schubert. His efforts did not go unrewarded, and in 1874 he became a knight of the Order of Franz Josef and also was made an “honorable citizen” of Vienna.

Sulzer’s highly innovative approach to the music of the synagogue was significantly instrumental in creating the stylized and formal structure that still exists in most congregations. While most of his compositions were written for cantor and choir, there are numerous responses and incidentals in our services that owe their origins to Sulzer. The way we begin “Ashrei” after Kriat Hatorah, “Yimloch” of the Kedusha and many similar asides on the “Yamim Noraim” can be traced back to his writings. Not without good reason is Sulzer often spoken of as the father of modern chazanut.

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