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[Page 547]

The Jewish Opera Studio

by Leib Nadel

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Something that did not exist in any of the Baltic nations, that looked to many as a beautiful dream, was a fact and became a breath of life through the great devotion and daring of the Jewish cultural workers in Lithuania and they were frightened at how much money and work for such a truly colossal cultural undertaking was required. On one day on a wintry morning, the Kovno Jewish newspaper announced that a Jewish opera studio had been founded by the Jewish Education Society. The then active worker at the Education Society, Dr. Mendel Sudarksi and his wife, Alte, particularly worked energetically to accomplish this dream.

The Jewish Opera Studio was created by them and other devoted cultural workers and they established it at the desired level. The musician Zeidman, professor at the Kovno State Conservatory, was invited as the director; as lecturer of theater art – the director of the Kovno State Opera, Oleka; as vocal teacher – the well-known Italian professor Marini. The best young singers in the city responded on the first day, among them several who had graduated from conservatories in Europe. They went to work with such enthusiasm and devotion. A symphonic orchestra of Jewish students at the Kovno Conservatory also was created at the Opera Studio. The street where the studio operated quickly began to ring with beautiful music and song. After three months, the studio appeared at its first performance for the public in the Kovno Volkshaus [Concert Hall]. The tickets were already sold out a few days before the performance. They had to place seats in the aisles of the theater because the crowd simply would not leave. They wanted to attend the great event of the opening of a Jewish opera company. They just stood one on top of the other. The first part of the program was the prologue of the opera, Faust, performed by a graduate of the Kovno

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State Conservatory, Glezer, who had a rare, beautiful basso profundo. Yakov Zaks, also a graduate of the Kovno State Conservatory, possessed a rare, beautiful lyrical tenor and had been promised a great future by the professors. The choir of the Studio performed Handel's Rhapsody and songs from the operas Carmen and Tosca during the second part. The second act of the opera, Yevgény Onégin [Eugene Onegin], was performed during the third part by the well-known female singers: Sheinzon and Zeidman. It was an extraordinary success; the audience kept applauding and the choir had to perform several numbers again. Encouraged by their great success, the teachers and students took to their work even more energetically. They studied solfeggio [educational method to teach pitch and sight reading of music], vocal education, music history, mimicry and rhythm and movement. Rehearsals began for the full opera, Faust. Several concerts took place during this time with great success, but the Studio had colossal expenditures and the financial situation was difficult. More than once, during difficult moments, the managing committee ran to the father of the Studio, to the esteemed Dr. Sudarski, for money to pay Prof. Manini because the latter did not get involved with such matters. If he were not paid first, he would not sit at the piano and did not start his work. Yet they saw what it was to overcome [a difficulty]. They prepared for a great undertaking. Alas, the Studio was forced to close because of the personal family inconveniences of Prof. Dr. Zeidman and because no other such devoted person and great musician could be obtained. A great deal had been expected of the Studio.

Later, another attempt was made at creating a Jewish opera [company] and several arias from several operas were performed.

The initiator was the singer, well-known today, Mikhail Aleksandrovich.


The Engel Choir in Kovno

One of the most active organizations that helped spread the culture of song in Lithuania was

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the choir in Kovno named for Yoel Engel. Few organizations were as loved by Lithuanian Jewry as the choir. As I remember now: it was the beginning of winter when the well-known and beloved singer of Yiddish folksongs, Mrs. Ana Warszawski, telephoned me and invited me to her house at eight o'clock in the evening. When I arrived at the designated time, I found a pale young man sitting with a dreamy look, whom she presented as Blechorowicz the conductor, one of the capable young directors of Poland who had been transformed into a refugee in Lithuania. Later several others arrived: such as Alperovich (then the assistant to the well-known doctor, Benyamin Berger), Yitzhak Ratner (after the Second World War he worked as director of Keren-Kaymet [Jewish National Fund] in Germany in the camps of the Jewish refugees), Professor Beliackin (famous connoisseur, perished in the Kovno ghetto), Doctor Levitan (a well-known gynecologist) and Leon, the husband of Ana Warszawski (he was the director of Lombard and Jewish representative in the city council).

The always-happy Ana Warszawski invited us to the table and while eating she said: – “My esteemed gentlemen, why do you think I invited you, you should help to eat the cakes? No. My dear ones, I can do this alone, but if it would have been difficult for me, I have a husband and children, may they be healthy, and they would help me. I have very important news for you; we have here a very well-known director. I have created a plan. We should organize a choir and let it be joyful in the city.” Not waiting for anyone's answer, she immediately explained how this could be carried out. Doctor Levitan would provide the premises; he would obtain the permission for rehearsals to be carried out in the premises of the Zionist organization at Lukszia [Street], which was unused in the evening. Professor Beliackin would create passive members among the intelligentsia and among those interested in Jewish folksongs and would shake their rich clients a little [for contributions]. Alperovich and Ratner would as leaders bring their comrades who have [good] voices from their student groups. And I had the task of gathering the singers who sang in the Jewish Opera Studio, which had been closed for certain reasons. “None of you, my gentlemen” – said Mrs. Warszawski – “can refuse these tasks because we are going to create a thing of great cultural significance and my husband, may he live, will be so good

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as to permit me to support the director until the choir has its own [financial] means. And now, LeChaim [to life], and we should live to have pleasure from our newly born child!”

The choir began its rehearsals in the building of the Zionist organization, thanks to Doctor Levitan's intervention. The premises were located on Lukszia Street, on the second floor. The 2nd Police District was located on the first floor. When at first each voice studied separately, things went normally, but after a few months, when the choir began to have rehearsals together, singing entire songs, trouble began with the police. Those who had been arrested for drinking too much, who were confined in the police jail, would just listen to the choir beginning to sing and their appetite for singing would flare up (the inebriated had a particular habit of singing). They would begin shouting with the highest tones, break doors, tables and chairs and they could not be silenced by any means. It occurred often that the police came up to us in the middle of a rehearsal and told us to stop singing because they could not quiet the inebriated. After working in the building for more than a year, we were forced to move out of there and go to the more intellectual Gar kitchen on Mapu Street. Here the work was very intensive. At the first appearance of the choir in the Kovno city hall, it received the recognition of the Kovno audience. Many songs had to be performed again several times. For the most part, the choir was able to cultivate and spread the Jewish folksong even more.

It happened many times that the hearty Jewish and Hebrew folksongs that the choir would sing at their concerts and appearances at various cultural undertakings would be heard when passing a Jewish workshop. In general the choir was non-political. The managers of the choir were Gefen, a fervid Revisionist, and Kunigas[1], a leader of the youth group, Di Wander Faygl [the migratory bird]. Among others things, I will mention: the choir appeared at concerts when the famous poets, Bistricki, Leib Yaffe, of blessed memory, and Chaim Nachman Bialik, of blessed memory, came to Lithuania. It is worthwhile here to relate an episode. In honor of Ch. N. Bialik's coming, the choir learned his well-known song Sham B'eretz Hatzvi [There, in the Land of Beauty]. When the choir

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began to sing this, Bialik called out: “Beloved and dear children, I thank you for making an improvement to my song. Now I sense the essence that lies in a touchingly sung song. If only I can have the merit to hear it sung in our own land. Part of his wish came true. But alas, the great Bialik as well as almost all of the members of the choir are no longer among the living. The Lithuanian bandits along with the Germans annihilated them.

The Engel Choir also was invited as the official representative of Jewish song to the singing festival that was arranged at that time by the Lithuanian government in which hundreds of choirs all over Lithuanian took part. All of the choir members received medals with diplomas from the Lithuanian Singing Committee. The choir also would appear at concerts in the State Radio broadcasts. Hundreds of letters of thanks for the great spiritual pleasure that the choir had given would arrive from the most isolated Jewish shtetlekh in Lithuania. It is worthwhile mentioning such a case: the choir once went to a concert in Shavl [Šiauliai] where, because of this, the large “Kapital” theater was rented and they had to pay 1,000 Lit for the hall in addition to expenses for travel and for the pianist. This was a great sum then. Thanks to the fact that the choir was beloved and known to everyone, the Shavl Jewish Educational Society organized it and, when we arrived [in Shavl], artists from the Lithuanian State Opera had arrived to give a concert on the same night. Naturally, we had not known this before because we certainly would have postponed the evening. But we already had come. The organizers were very dejected. A trifle, try to compete against the State Opera. However, everyone was amazed: when we had just opened the doors to the theater and began to sell tickets, lines of people who were pushing toward the box office immediately began to form in order to buy a ticket more quickly. The theater was packed with people at the designated time. When I asked someone why the audience would come here rather than go to the opera, they answered how could one not use the opportunity to hear such a good choir?

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We will be able to hear the Gentiles another time.

It really is difficult to describe the friendship and sincerity with which we were received when we visited the Lithuanian provincial cities. I remember once, after a concert in the small shtetl of Zhezmir [Žiežmariai], the rabbi of the shtetl came to us and sincerely thanked us for our beautiful singing and immediately after him a delegation from the working class invited us to a banquet. Arriving there we found the entire shtetl, from Zanwel the Bundist to the pious members of the clergy. Everyone sat at the tables together and had a sincerely good time. The usual hate that reigned among them was forgotten. There was no large city or shtetl in Lithuania to which the choir did not travel. It went to Shavl, to Vilkomir [Ukmerge], Tovrik [Taurage] several times, not to mention Kovno where the choir would appear on the radio almost every week or at other cultural undertakings. There was no star who came to Lithuania, who did not come to visit the choir and appear together. Thus, the famous American artists Hymie Jacobson and Miriam Kressyn appeared at a music festival in memory of [Abraham] Goldfaden. Moshe Koussevitzky, the famous cantor, also was a guest of the choir during his visit to Lithuania. The choir appeared at a concert at the Lithuanian State Opera with the famous singer Sholem Blechorowicz (a brother of the director) in arias and songs from the operas Carmen and Di Yidin [The Jews].

At the end of the concert, the director of the choir of the Lithuanian State Opera, Sztarko, and the famous singer, Kipras Metrauskas, sincerely shook the hand of Blechorowicz, the director, and congratulated him on the great success that the choir had had, telling him that the Jews can be truly proud that they could create such a beautiful, good musical choir. Until the end, before the beginning of the Second World War, as long as there remained a free cultural life in Lithuania, the choir existed and helped to add ring after ring in the great chain of cultural work with which Lithuania was so rich and blessed.

Original Footnote:

  1. The former died in Vilna, the latter in Crimea. Return

[Page 555]

Jascha Heifetz

by D. F.

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

A large number of the famous pianists of the past years and the largest number of violin virtuosos were Jews. In various encyclopedias and books about music, the Jewish artists are recorded according to the nation in which they were born. If a Jewish musician was born in a city like Vilna, that during the past belonged to various states, we find in the lexicons that the Jewish artist is considered as having one “nationality” in one encyclopedia and another in a second dictionary. There is no lack of curiosities here, too. So, for example, the pianist Leopold Godowsky, born in Vilna, is called a Polish piano virtuoso and Jascha Heifetz, who was born in the same Vilna, is recorded as a Russian violinist and in another dictionary – Lithuanian. But about the great ethnic-Jewish composer, Ernst Bloch, who was born in Switzerland, it is said that he is a Jewish composer.

A considerable number of famous violin artists in the 19th century came from Hungary and the majority of them are Jewish – from the great Joseph Joachim to other now almost completely forgotten wonderful virtuosos, Miska Pauser, Eduard [Ede] Reményi, Tivadar Nachéz to Bandor Barsash, Joseph Sziget and others. The violin virtuoso and famous pedagogue, Leopold Auer, also came from Hungary. [He] also was a Jew who carried on his career in the Petersburg Conservatory and spent his final years in America, where he died.

During the very latter years, Russia occupied the premier place with its number of violin virtuosos, all Jews and almost all students of the same Leopold Auer at the Petersburg Conservatory. Auer became professor of violin at the conservatory of the former Russian capital in 1868, when he took the place of the great Jewish violin artist, Uri [Henryk] Wieniawski. Auer remained at the Petersburg Conservatory for 50 years, until the Revolution of 1918, when he left Russia. In 1920, he settled in New York.

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Auer's students were Jascha Heifetz, Mischa Elman, Efrem Zimbelist, Toscha Seidel, the Piastro brothers [Mishel and Josef], Joseph Achron, Paul Staszewicz, Maks Rozen and other Jewish violin virtuosos, and analogous non-Jews such as Kathleen Parlow and Francis MacMillen. The most famous of them is Jascha Heifetz, the greatest violin virtuoso of our time.

Jascha Heifetz was born in Vilna on the 2ndThursday, January 07, 2021 of February 1901. His father was a violinist at a theater and he was his son's first teacher. At three years of age, he received a small violin from his father and began to learn music. When he was no older than six, he entered the Imperial Music School in Vilna where he studied with Ilya Malkin and he was not yet seven years old when he made his first appearance before an audience in Kovna where he played Mendelsohn's Concerto for Violin. He electrified the audiences everywhere as one of the greatest wunderkinder [child prodigies].

It was impossible for a young, brilliant violin artist in Russia at that time to avoid the then famous violin pedagogue, Leopold Auer. However, it was not easy to approach Auer. Despite the fact that such great violinists had gone through Auer's classes at the Petersburg Conservatory, Auer himself had a strong and completely sensible bias against wunderkinder. And as it happened, Auer arrived with the pianist [Anna] Yesipova for a concert in Vilna, and Malkin, Jascha Heifetz's teacher and Auer's former student, came to ask the master to listen to the small Jascha. At first, Auer did not want to listen to him. Malkin barely persuaded Auer, and Jascha Heifetz played for the famous professor and immediately drew his interest.

Jascha played the Capriccio by [Niccolò] Paganini and Mendelsohn's Concerto. Auer was astounded by the youth's playing and he immediately declared that he was taking Jascha into his class at the Petersburg Conservatory. This was the greatest good fortune that a young, talented

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violinist at that time could wish. Jascha's father immediately sold everything that he owned, relinquished his position in the theater and left for Petersburg with his son.

The entire Heifetz family settled in Petersburg with the help of Auer and A[lexander] K. Glazunov, the director of the conservatory. In his memoir, My Long Life in Music, Leopold Auer speaks about him as follows:

“Jascha Heifetz was then around 10 years old. He was accepted immediately into the conservatory because of his talent and the then tsarist laws permitted a Jewish student at the conservatory to live in Petersburg. However, what does one do with Jascha's family? Someone had the fortunate idea that I should take Jascha's father, a violinist of age 41, into my class. I did so. And Jascha's entire family could remain in the capital. However, each student had to visit the classes in solfeggio, piano and composition and as Jascha's father did not do this and also did not play for the examinations, I had problems and had always to fight with the administration. When Glazunov became director, the troubles ended and Jascha could peacefully remain with his parents until the summer of 1917, when the family immigrated to America.”
It never occurred to his parents to exploit their talented son, as parents of a wunderkind often do. They only thought about their son's future and attempted to give him a better, comprehensive education.

Before starting with Auer, Jascha Heifetz had many concerts and was welcomed everywhere as the future, great master of the violin.

Then Jascha Heifetz had many concert trips through Europe, mainly with his teacher, Leopold Auer. In 1914 Heifetz made his first appearance in Berlin with the Philharmonic Orchestra there under the direction of Arthur Nikisch. The great director declared that he had never heard such playing of a violin.

The [First] World War ended Jascha Heifetz's concert trips and he returned to study at the conservatory. But in 1916 he and Auer went to play in Christiania, Norway.

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In 1917, the Heifetz family came to America. His first appearance in New York [Carnegie] Hall on the 27th of October of that year was a great sensation. He gave six concerts in the winter season in New York and he prepared a different program for each. All of the New York music critics declared with one voice that he is a great musician, as great as the wonderful violin virtuosos of his generation.

Heifetz is the wonder of the concert stage of our time. When one imagines playing on an instrument that is perfect, the name Jascha Heifetz immediately comes to mind. He plays without errors and this appears often as almost inhuman. There are music lovers who will complain that Heifetz is too cold, shows almost no passion when playing. This, it should be understood, is not true.

Heifetz is one of those true, great wonders among former wunderkinder, who over the course of their entire career keep getting richer and grow. The great technical perfection that one can imagine in him always goes together with a deep musical understanding and great erudition.

A New York music critic writes about him: “Technically, Jascha Heifetz cannot get much better from the time of his debut in New York in 1917 because of the simple fact that there was then not a thing he could not do on a violin. However, he changed immensely musically. His playing, for example, of Beethoven's Concerto in 1919 was completely different from playing the same Concerto in Paris in 1926 and again very different in New York in 1940. All three times, he played wonderfully beautiful. In 1918 [should be 1919] he was the well-schooled master of the violin, who apparently already was deeply affected by tradition. In 1926 he was the artist who found in the old, frequently played composition the expression of deeper tradition. In 1940 his playing revealed a clearer and completely aristocratic temperament.” (Harry A. Simon in the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia)

Heifetz created a series of fine arrangements of works by Debussy, Albéniz, [Mario] Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Godowsky and George Gershwin, which other violinists play often.

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Joseph Achron

by Leib Nadel

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Joseph Achron's name will always be connected with the movement to develop and spread music in the Jewish spirit. His most popular composition for the violin is the fine Yidishe Melodie [Jewish Melody]. He also wrote Jewish liturgical music, which is completely in the spirit of the Jewish music tradition that we have now among Jews in the western world.

The question of Jewish music is complicated, but when one wants to give an example of music that is European and modern, but in the Jewish spirit, one can mention a series of names of fine, modern musicians who are consciously Jewish and among these names the name of Joseph Achron is never omitted. He is perhaps the most conscious of being a Jew among all those musicians who have a Jewish consciousness, and the Yidishkeit [Jewishness, connoting an emotional connection to Judaism and/or to the Jewish people and their history, beliefs and customs] of his compositions on Jewish themes will be disputed by no one.

Joseph Achron was born on the 1st of May 1886 in the shtetl Lazdai, Kovna gubernia [province]. His father was a merchant in the shtetl, but [also] a great musician who possessed significant musical abilities. The writer, Pesakh Markus, himself from Lazdai, writes in his memoirs that Joseph Achron's father was “the most blissful reciter of the Haftorah [supplementary readings from the Prophets at Shabbos – Sabbath – services] and Neilah-davener [reciter of the closing prayer of Yom Kippur] in Lazdai. On the Shabbos nights, when he would play his violin, all of Lazdai would deeply inhale and celebrated when the violin reveled, when the violin cried.”

Israel Rabinovich, the music critic, mentions this in an article about Achron: “I believe this gives us a very close familiarity with the source from which Joseph Achron emerged. That his father was a blissful reciter of the Haftorah and Neilah-davener makes clear to us the deep-rooted character trait in Achron's Jewish compositions, which are full of reverberations and echoes of the all biblical musically cantillated melodies [with which the Torah is read] and synagogue styles.

“We need to understand,” Rabinovich further writes, “that here we are talking about only echoes and reverberations and not about adherence to traditional [melodies]. For example, his wonderful 'Children's Suite,' which is, according to Achron's own assertions, based on Hebrew cantillation; however, we should not get the idea that we have here a stereotypical reproduction of the reading of the weekly Torah portion

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or of reading the Haftorah, or from other Hebrew cantillations – not only the harmonic, but the melodic – is entirely Achron's individual creation. However, this, which is sung in his heart, when he wrote these very original compositions, was the ancient traditional song that he absorbed like a sponge from earlier generations.”

The Jewish source remained powerful in Joseph Achron throughout his life. He possessed what the great national Jewish composer, Ernest Bloch, did not have: the closeness and intimate knowledge of Jewish traditional life, and Joseph Achron was one of those fortunate Jewish composers, for whom the Jewish and the European blended harmoniously and, in addition, the Jewish could be recognized immediately.

At two years of age, Joseph Achron exhibited extraordinary abilities for music. His father made him a violin and taught him the alef-beis [A,B,C's – basics] of music. At five years of age, the family moved to Warsaw and Joseph already was seriously studying violin-playing, at first with his father and then with the famous Slavonic musician, Edmund Michalowicz, the student of [Moritz] Hauptmann and of [Hans von] Bülow. At seven years of age, Achron had already written a violin composition. A year later, he appeared at a concert that had been arranged for a charitable event by the Counts Radziwill and Tyszkiewicz.

Then Achron studied at the Petersburg Conservatory. He studied violin with the famous Hungarian violin virtuoso and pedagogue, Leopold Auer, and graduated with a gold medal. His teacher of harmony here was [Anatoly] Liadov and of orchestration – Maximilian Sternberg.

At age 11, he had a series of concerts in various cities in Russia. In 1913-1916, he was the main professor of violin and chamber music at the Imperial Conservatory in Kharkov. Then he served a year and a half in the Tsarist Army during the First World War. In 1918, he produced a Sonata for Violin and Piano that became well-known. He later traveled around with concerts across Europe, visited Eretz-Yisroel, where the famous Russian-Jewish musician Yoel (Julius) Engel and others had

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settled at that time. Achron came to America in 1925 and settled in New York and for his last years he lived in Hollywood, where he died in 1943 at the age of 57.

Joseph Achron's connection with the movement to spread Jewish music began in 1911. Three years earlier, a Society to Spread Jewish Folk Music[1] was created in Petersburg. The society had good, talented musicians who were educated in the Petersburg or Leipzig Conservatories among its ranks and it developed considerable, very fruitful and very promising activities, which ceased with the [outbreak of the] First World War.

Among the members of the Petersburg society were such Jewish musicians as Yoel [Joel] Engel, [Mikhail Fabianovich] Gnessin, [Aleksandr Abramovich] Krein, [Moses] Milner, Lazare Maminsky [should be Saminsky], the later researcher of Jewish music, Professor Shlomo Rozowsky, who settled in Eretz-Yisroel, [Alexander] Zhitomirsky, Lev Tseitlin, [Pesakh] Lvov, [Moses] Shalit, [Susman] Kiselgof, [Zinoviy] Shulman, [Israel] Kaplan, [Hirsch] Kopit, [S.] Gurowitsch, [Moses] Shklar and others.

In 1922 members of the society renewed the work and founded the Jubel Press in Berlin. The publishing company existed for several years and published a series of Jewish folk songs and collections. In 1918 the Zimro chamber music ensemble was founded in Petersburg. The members of the ensemble were: [Jacob] Mestechkin – first violin; [Grigoriy] Bezrodnïy – second violin; [Kapel] Moldavan – viola; Iosif Chernyavsky – cello; Simelin Bellison – clarinet and [Lev] Berdichevsky – piano. The ensemble made long concert trips through Siberia, China, Japan and America, to New York.

Joseph Achron was with the movement to animate and cultivate Jewish music with his entire heart. In the endless discussions about what needed to be recognized as Jewish music, if it needed to be based completely on the old traditional emphasis, or on the Jewish folk song and Hasidic melody, or on both elements together, Achron was with those who believed in all three elements. In art, it is a fact that what we see as a successful work overcomes all theoretical objections and philosophies and Joseph Achron's work on purely Jewish themes is the best evidence that Jewish music can be wonderfully Jewish, having in it those parts of music elements that live in the Jewish people.

Joseph Achron left a considerable number of general compositions for orchestra, choir, quartets,

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sonatas, suites and smaller compositions for violin and piano, viola and songs. In Gdal Saleski's book about Jewish musicians, enthusiastic reviews are given about the compositions of Joseph Achron by the famous Russian music critics Igor Glebov, [Viacheslav] Karatygin, [Leonid] Sabaneyev and [Evgeny] Braudo.

Karatygin wrote: “As a violinist and composer of model chamber music, Ludwig Shpar was a great exception (excluding, naturally, the old masters [Archangelo] Corelli and [Giovanni Battista] Martini). A second exception is now Joseph Achron. Achron, the violin artist, is a worthy competitor for Achron the composer.

The music historian, Evgeny Braudo, said about Achron: “Achron occupies a very special place in our musical life as a creator and an interpreter of music. His art is deep and concentrated.”

[Igor] Glebov says about Achron that he is a rarity among lyrical composers because he is emotionally dramatic. About Achron's Second Violin Sonata, Glebov says: he rarely encountered such great mastery as in this composition.

And L[eonid] Sabaneyev sums up Joseph Achron's composition work this way: “I see in Achron a ripe and significant musician in his artistic mastery. He travels on two paths at the same time: he works with Jewish folklore, enriching the Jewish musical repertoire with magnificent and individualistic compositions, and he also writes significant music that has nothing to do with Jewish tonality. The paths come together in the last period of his activity.”

(Image, heading: School Card of the Jewish Tekhnikum [special middle school] for the Jewish higher courses in Kovna


Signatures: Z. Kalmanovich – secretary:
(Prof.) Y. Grosman – chairman of the lecturers' council)

Original Footnote:

  1. All references to this society refer to it as the Society for Jewish Folk Music. Return


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Leopold Godowsky

by Leib Nadel

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Among the great pianists of the 19th and 20th centuries, Leopold Godowsky occupies a very special place with his original career. He also is distinguished from other great musicians of his time by the original view he had of the art of piano playing and musical composition, in which he so strongly excelled.

Godowsky was born in Vilna on the 3rd of February 1870. When he was three years old, he had already shown extraordinary ability in music. At nine years of age, he appeared before an audience in concert for the first time.

At 13, he entered the Berliner Hochschule [German institution of higher learning] to study music. As young as he was, he realized that he had nothing to do there, that he would not hear anything new from the pedagogically conservative professors and he would learn nothing from them. He spent several months at the Hochschule and left it.

When he was 14 years old, he took a trip across America, as a wunderkind [child prodigy] pianist, along with the famous American sopranos, Clara Louise Kellogg and Emma Cecilia Thursby and with the Belgian violin virtuoso, Ovid Mizen. He also appeared several times in the Sunday concerts of the orchestra at the New York Casino.

At that time, Godowsky strongly desired to be a student of the great piano virtuoso Franz Liszt, who lived in Weimar, Germany then. With this hope, he arrived in Europe. However, his disappointment was immense when he learned that the great Liszt had just died.

A second bitter disappointment came later when he had to study with the famous composer Camille Saint-Saëns. He was presented to Saint-Saëns, who had already heard how Godowsky played his compositions. Saint-Saëns became enraptured by the young pianist and became very interest in his musical education. However, Saint-Saëns was very restless and he would unceasingly travel around abroad. Godowsky spent three years in Paris and during the three years had very few opportunities to study with Saint-Saëns.

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Godowsky's education ended with this. He relied upon himself in the future. He studied alone and he never ceased [studying].

1n 1890, Leopold Godowsky came to the United States for the second time for a concert trip. A year later, he married Frederika Saxe of New York. He and his wife traveled to Europe and returned after several months. Several appearances at orchestra concerts in New York at the Lenox Lyceum that he made afterward were directed by Theodore Thomas, were a very extraordinary success and various invitations were made to Godowsky from everywhere.

At around that time, he became a piano teacher at the Broad Street Conservatory in Philadelphia. This was the beginning of a long and splendid career. The work of a teacher for Leopold Godowsky always went together with concert trips. In 1894 he became the director of the piano division of the Chicago Conservatory, taking the place of the well-known American pianist, William H. Sherwood. Godowsky was then 24 years old and his reputation in America already was very great. He held the position at the Chicago Conservatory until 1900.

In 1900, Leopold Godowsky decided to return to Europe and capture the music audience of the old world. He took it by storm.

On the 6th of December 1900, Godowsky gave his first concert in Berlin and overnight he became one of the most famous figures in European musical life. He was in Berlin until 1909 and during those years he traveled a great deal around the world with piano concerts. Everywhere Godowsky played, he won the highest recognition and admiration.

In 1909 he again became a pedagogue, settling this time in Vienna. There, he was designated as director of the Meisterschule [master school] of the Imperial Conservatory. The high position had been occupied before him by the great pianists, Emil [von] Sauer, a Jew, and Ferruccio Busoni, a half Jew. Both were born in Germany.[1] The Vilna Jew

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Leopold Godowsky did not dishonor his predecessors here.

Godowsky held the position until the year 1912. He led the upper classes in piano playing, where very talented piano artists perfected their art. Godowsky had his own original view of the work and art of teaching others and he had the full opportunity to forward his theories.

Later, Leopold Godowsky was never completely satisfied with the pedagogical work. Not because he did not think highly of it. On the contrary, he placed the work of a music teacher very high, but he set very rigorous requirements for the teacher. Godowsky was an artist, a thinker. As successful as he was, as a teacher of young talented musicians, he found great disappointments in his work.

In his book about Jewish musicians, the cellist, Gdal Saleski, conveys such later talk by the great piano artist: “I believe that the years that I dedicated to teaching others at the beginning of my career were a waste of time. Teaching others is, understand, a noble profession, but in my own experience I know that the results were nothing in comparison to the time and energy that was utilized. It was completely wasted work to teach someone who did not possess the pure gold – this is like preaching in the wilderness. Great geniuses, naturally, are very rare. I have not yet found any very great talent. The discouragement is truly very strong when one sees that today we do not have our own Chopin or Liszt, who could create a new art of piano playing.”

Because the majority of students in music schools of conservatories are mediocrities, Godowsky believed the best thing is to teach them together in one class. This is a great deal better for them. It saves a great deal of the teacher's time. In a group, the students will have competition from the other students and from their good example one will make greater efforts to grasp the matter that one is studying. Therefore, when Godowsky was director of the music school at the Imperial Conservatory in Vienna, he always taught students in classes. Godowsky wanted to make of his students

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not only good pianists, but also good musicians and artists.

It is, therefore, not a surprise that the great musician and artist and teacher of others had a deep influence on an entire generation of young piano virtuosos to whom he gave both his talent for penetrating deeply into a musical work being played and the great virtuosity of his hands and fingers.

From 1912 on, Leopold Godowsky mostly lived in America, but he traveled around unceasingly with concerts in the United States and abroad.

From then and until his death (1938), Godowsky was prominent in the music world as a teacher, as a concert pianist and as a composer.

Godowsky had few true competitors on the concert stage as a piano virtuoso. It is told that when one asked the famous Jewish pianist, Vladimir de Pachman, whom he believed was the greatest piano virtuoso of our time, he answered: After me, the greatest pianist of our time is Leopold Godowsky.

However, in his last years, Godowsky could not appear on the concert stage because of a light paralysis in his left hand.

Godowsky also was a magnificent composer, particularly for the piano. It was said about Godowsky that since Franz Liszt, no one had enlarged the possibilities of piano composition as he had done. He left many very original compositions that are in the repertoire of virtuosos. He created many magnificent arrangements and paraphrases of the works of the piano classics: Bach, Chopin, Weber, Shubert, Schuman, Johann Strauss, Richard Strauss, Karl Böhm, Albeniz and others. Particularly well-known are his Chopin Etudes, a piano sonata, a toccata, a capriccio, Triakontameron – 30 voices of scenes for piano, a Java Suite, Renaissance – a free transcription of old music for piano. A complete series of “adaptations,” “phonograms,” “tone-poems,” “miniatures,” dance and many others. In all of his piano compositions he shows himself as one of the greatest masters of the piano and very great virtuosos endeavor to play them.

Original Footnote:

  1. Busoni was born in Italy. Return

[Page 567]

About Cantors and Cantorial Art in Lithuania

by Natan Stolnitz

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

When I began writing about my memories of cantors and cantorial art, the extinguished image of the recent past emerged in my imagination; in my memory rose the incomparable cantorial center of eastern and western Europe, which, alas, with the kehilus [organized Jewish communities] there, was reduced to ruins, but its spiritual influence and rich cultural inheritance will remain for the ages.

Wanting to mainly concentrate on the cantorial area in Lithuania, we will have to pass by the significant cantorial centers of southern Russia and Ukraine, like Odessa with its well-known cantors, from Nisan Blumental, Pinkhas Minkowski, Yakov Spiwak (Yankl Soroker), Efroim Zalmen Rozumni, Bezalel [Shulsinger] Odesser, Yakov Bachmann, [Joshua] Pitsele [little one] Abrass and other great pulpit artists; as well as the masterful synagogue conductor-composers: [David] Nowakowsky, [Avraham] Dunajewski, Jakowkin; Kishinev with its greats of prayer [Abraham] Kalechnik and [Yehuda Leib] Kilmenik; Berdichev with its rare Khut haMeshulash [three-ply chord of the study of Torah, prayer and the Sabbath]: Nisan Belzer, Yeruham ha-Katon and [Yakov Shmuel Morogowski] Zaydl Rovner; Odessa, Lemberg, the richly influential cantorial positions in Galicia, from which the personality of Cantor Barukh Schorr was most strongly influential; Warsaw, the kingdom of cantorial art in Poland; Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest, the center of cantorial art in Austria-Hungary and Romania that wrote colorful chapters in the history of our liturgy.

We will strongly hold to the established task and try to provide, although in a condensed form, a portion of the many impressions that have most closely and most strongly remained in our memory about cantorial art in Lithuania where I spent my youth.



In general, let it here be mentioned: although the modest Lithuanian Jewry did not yearn for complete spiritual hegemony, its influence reached the farthest corners of the earth: if the spiritual Jewish Lithuania served widely as a model in a large sense for the majority of Jewish settlements, it was also [a model] in regard to Jewish musical education. Although Jewish Lithuania was small in numbers, it was, as is well-known, very

[Page 568]

large in quality, spiritually strong in almost every area of culture and art, including also the cantorial arts. Later, liturgy from Lithuania contributed the greatest part to our general Jewish musical treasure.

It was thought that Lithuanian cantorial music essentially took a traditional form, without superfluous “twists and sparkles.” However, in the course of time, thanks to the effect of cantorial artists from other areas – mainly from Ukraine, Volyn, Bessarabia, Romania and other places – Lithuanian cantorial music later became an ebullient source of exemplary cantorial forms. It no longer remained confined and limited to its old strict Lithuanian cantorial doctrine. Lithuanian cantorial music was actually an important reservoir for many other Jewish communities in various parts of the world. Incidentally, this is its own very rich chapter of cantorial music history.

To illuminate this chapter, we will concentrate mainly on the Lithuanian metropolis of Vilna – Jerusalem of Lithuania – which is actually in all respects a model city of cantorial art for the majority of Jewish religious communities.

Cantor Gershon Sirota, of blessed memory, in his published memoirs, discussed the significant role in cantorial art of the Vilna pulpit, which he thought was the best conservatory. It is an enduring fact that being qualified to carry the name, “Vilna cantor,” really meant the most recognized diploma in the most respected cantorial positions in the largest centers. Thanks to its great pulpit artistry, Vilna cantorial art received a reputation all over the world. Remembering Vilna cantorial art, which for generations occupied such an important position in local spiritual Jewish life, its two dominant centers of music must be recorded: the Vilna Choral Synagogue – Taharat ha-Kodesh (built in the second half of the previous [19th] century) and the Vilna City Synagogue [Great Synagogue] (built in 1572-73). Both synagogues, incidentally, in an indirect manner, at various times, produced famous cantors for world

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Jewry. The influence of the music centers was unmistakable across the borders of Lithuania. From their cadres of numerous talented choirboys, there later grew cantorial giants, first-rank concert singers, opera artists, royal chamber singers and director-composers with great names known around the world.

The Choral Synagogue, Taharat ha-Kodesh, where the elite of Vilna prayed, the local, rich aristocrats, the enlightened of the city, including the many-branched literary family that had a reputation far and wide in the Jewish world, symbolized a true temple of music. It was mostly filled with prayers of beautiful, modern classical cantorial art, adopted mainly from western Europe, where the cantorial arts, as well as the rising cultural renaissance, adopted a new personality.

The most popular and longstanding of the cantors, who appeared at the respected cantor pulpit of Taharat ha-Kodesh was the world-renowned cantor and composer and follower of the Enlightenment, [Avraham] Moshe Bernsztajn, of blessed memory. I was a frequent visitor of Cantor Bernsztajn for certain years and benefitted spiritually a great deal from his close friendship. I also had the opportunity to take part with him in an evening dedicated to Jewish music, arranged by the historical-ethnographic society named for Sh. Ansky. Its instructive musical lectures evoked great interest in Jewish Vilna and also drew many of the young students. Cantor Bernsztajn also gave much time and effort for musical education at the local Jewish educational institutions, where he thoroughly explained his own compositions based on the texts of a series of classical Hebrew-Yiddish poets. At the teachers' seminar he created a large men's choir that was renowned in the entire area and its successful concert appearances would evoke the warmest critical praise. At the same time, Bernsztajn created a rich number of synagogue compositions that became popular and are sung everywhere to this day. A number of his creations were immortalized on recordings by the greatest cantors and concert singers.

Cantor Bernsztajn also was an ideal compiler of Hasidic Sabbath songs that had been sung by thousands of Jews and later had begun to be forgotten. He collected and revised them for a long time. Finally, in 1927, they were published by the above-mentioned historical, ethnographic

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society, Muzikalisher Pinkes [Musical Record] of A.M. Bernsztajn, which contains a rich melodic source of Jewish folk-treasures. (The same book was republished recently by the Cantor's Assembly of America.)

However, in addition to composer and musicologist, Cantor Bernsztajn was also a tireless researcher of Hebrew literature. One could find him almost every day at the Strashun Library at the Vilna Synagogue courtyard engrossed in old books, making the necessary notes. One could encounter his edifying articles and treatises about Jewish music as well as memoirs about famous cantors and Jewish musicians in various Hebrew and Yiddish publications. He was recognized not only as a living encyclopedia but as a very productive researcher of liturgy. He improved on what had been incorrectly written in the past.

In 1921, when Bernsztajn after 30 years of religious service, relinquished his cantorial office at Taharat ha-Kodesh, [Noakh] Zaludkowski was welcomed as his successor. Zaludkowski was very quickly recognized and greatly respected by the entire community thanks to his multifaceted mastery and talent, not just in the area of music. He was armed with deep Jewish knowledge and a worldly education. Like his predecessor Bernsztajn, Zaludkowski did not limit himself to his religious service at the pulpit. His role as a general musical-literary power and also as an active cultural worker placed a stamp on Jewish communal life in the large kehilus [organized Jewish communities] where he held his cantorial offices on both sides of the ocean. He always orally and in writing awoke and called on his cantorial colleagues to study and immerse themselves not only in musical education, but also to validate themselves spiritually even more with the most necessary Jewish subjects that a cantor needs and must know. At the national cantorial conferences, first in Europe and then in America, he actually was among the tone-setters bringing a breath-of-life into the cantorial camp.

After Zaludkowski left Vilna, the Cantors Tajctel and Kamenecki, appeared at the pulpit of Taharat ha-Kodesh for a short time.

Yakov Goldsztajn, who over the course of eight years held the office of cantor, was the sheliekh tsiber [cantor who leads the communal prayers] in the same Choral Synagogue, was taken by the large Stamford Hill Synagogue in London and 17 years later was incorporated

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into the New York cantorial family in which he continued his sacred art.

And now [I turn to] a portrait of the great role in cantorial art of the Vilna City Synagogue that stood on top of the world. Here the cantorial art and the choral singing presented an entirely different style: not the classical cantorial art, only “emotional cantorial art,” free from restrained forms, thoroughly penetrated with sensitivity and spiritual awakening. The congregation of worshippers, mostly common people, and just ordinary members of the middleclass, who would fill the gigantic synagogue from end to end every Shabbos Mevorkhim [Sabbath before the new moon] (the City Cantor did not pray every Shabbos as in the Choral Synagogue), would wait with great eagerness and thirst for the cantor's innovations and were delighted with his improvisations. They stood literally enchanted and absorbed the cantor's every word and every note.

To understand the great significance of the cantor's pulpit in the Vilna City Synagogue, it is enough to provide the list of the greats of prayer who appeared there and were crowned with world fame. From various cities at various times, they strove to get from Vilna its city cantors, not stopping at any price. Even the non-Jewish musical world often kept a watchful eye on the distinguished Vilna city cantors, looking for the means to be able to win them over for the opera stage. There is the well-known case of the legendary “Vilna petit bourgeois” Cantor Yoal Dovid Straszunski (1816-1880), who through the influence of the famous Polish composer [Stanislaw] Moniuszko, who lived in Vilna at the time, was drawn into the Polish opera in Warsaw. Alas, this extreme transitional process brought a fatal fall – Y. A. Straszunski was broken spiritually and at the age of 34 prematurely left this world.[1]

They also tried to influence his later successor, Cantor Chaim Wasertsug (better known under the name Reb Chaiml Lomzer), to move to the opera stage. The Italian opera company in Petersburg proposed a very high honorarium to him. However, he had been conquered by deep-rooted religiosity and repressed his desire for the rich opera stage and refused the offered foreign artistic venue.

Success and world fame also reached the following Pleiades of Vilna City cantors: Yehoshua Fajnzinger, Yisroel Kuper, Yosef Zvi Chahana, Gershon Sirota, Dovid Moshe Sztanberg, Dovid Rautman, Mordekhai Herszman,

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and long life to them, the former Vilna City cantors – Moshe Kusevitsky and Yosef Eidelson, who through a miracle survived Hitler's Holocaust and, said with joy, illuminate the cantorial art in America.

It is worthwhile to report here on a few notable Vilna episodes regarding the cantors Rautman and Herszman.

I remember Dovid Rautman's arrival from Bakhmut [Ukraine] at the Vilna City Synagogue to this day. The congregation showed terrific enthusiasm during his first Shabbos prayers. The entire Jewish, as well as the neighboring German street were filled with Jews who came from every direction to accompany Cantor Rautman from the synagogue. Policemen arriving [on horses] had to contain the heavy congestion in which people almost were crushed because of how moved and carried away they was by his blissful praying. His later strength at the pulpit and musical talent was truly enormous. The worshippers literally idolized him. However, the Vilna Jews were not destined to benefit from Rautman's wonderful music for long. The richer Jewish community in Petersburg later snatched him for its large Choral Synagogue where he remained until the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Mordekhai Herszman, who had arrived as the City Cantor in Vilna in 1913, at the outbreak of the First World War a year later, was mobilized into the army as a zapasner [reserve] soldier and was supposed to be sent to the front. This strongly incensed the synagogue gabbaim [sextons] and the many admirers he had earned. With luck, a special worship service for the victory of Russia took place in the Vilna City Synagogue at which the highest local military members were present. With his phenomenal voice and godly singing, Cantor Herszman so greatly charmed the war commander [Paul von] Rennenkampf, who was present, that he immediately freed [Cantor Herszman] from the military. The military man publicly expressed his extraordinary enthusiasm in moving words, that such a God-blessed singer should not be placed in the danger of the battlefront and should continue with his sacred missions…

Understand, that the Vilna Jews felt fortunate with this noble gesture and had the merit to have Herszman for their City Cantor until the end of the war.

A year later, Cantor Herszman left for America.

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Both [of the above] mentioned Vilna City khazonim [cantors] died prematurely in New York: Mordekhai Herszman – in 1940 and Dovid Rautman in 1944.

Their numerous recordings have inspired and been admired for many years by lovers of music in all areas.



Kovno, the famous spiritually rich Jewish center and several Jewish communities in the Kovno area also made many contributions to the cantorial arts in Lithuania. They possessed wonderful cantorial artists whose names are engraved to this day in the memories of old cantors and musicians.

We will record here several of them who, in everyone's opinion, earned a place on the roster of our liturgical columns.

The peak of cantorial music in Kovno was occupied by the Choral Synagogue, where the most famous cantors appeared at the cantor's pulpit: Rafael Yehuda Rabinovich, Yehuda Perlmuter, Lachman, Ostrowski, Dorfman and finally, Mikhal Aleksandrovich.

However, first of all, we will stop at a few of the earlier, distinguished cantors in the houses of prayer, who were well known across the borders of Lithuania: Borukh Karliner and Yakov Leib “Kudre” (a nickname).

Cantor Karliner, who was one of the most renowned cantors of the 19th century, produced a significant number of students who occupied important cantorial positions in large Jewish communities in various nations. From time to time, he would travel in his own carriage from city to city with a group of choirboys, inspiring [everyone] everywhere with his wonderful praying.

Borukh Karliner died in Brisk in 1871.

The only recorded information that has been found about Kovno Cantor “Kudre,” who in his time greatly assisted in the growth of Lithuanian cantorial music, is a short autobiography by Cantor Eliyahu Wajsman, published in Di Geshikhte fun Khazones [The History of Cantorial Arts].[a] Eliyahu Wajsman, who, as a young man, had sung in Kovno with Cantor “Kudre” and, later immigrated to America, remembered his first cantorial teacher with great reverence.

In general, Cantor “Kudre” was in his time a renowned person among the Kovno Jews, by whom he made himself beloved as a rare improviser and

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also helped educate a series of exceptional choirboys on their future cantorial path.

Rafael Yehuda Rabinovich, of the three brothers who were widely known celebrities in the cantorial world as blessed pulpit artists, strong modernists and serious idealistic followers of their great mentor, Wajntraub, was the cantor in the Kovno Choral Synagogue for 15 years and the City Cantor in Dvinsk for over 20 years. Yosef Rumszinski was the choir director with him for four years and together they also presented Hebrew oratorios with great success.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Cantor Rabinovich escaped to Baku to his son, an engineer, and he died there.

Cantor Rabinovich also drew a number of students who later won fame in the Jewish musical world.

One of them, Dovid Mordekhai Choinowski, who received his first musical inspiration from Rabinovich at the Kovno Choral Synagogue, later became cantor in Moscow and had the reputation of one of the most prominent cantors during the second half of the previous century [19th century]. His phenomenal tenor voice and excellent lecture papers evoked admiration from the great opera singers. They tried to influence him to ascend to the opera stage, but because of his deep love of the cantorial arts, he did not want to hear of this. In 1891, Cantor Choinowski had to leave Moscow because of the expulsion edict and escaped to Odessa. Four years later, he was welcomed as the City Cantor of Melitopol, where he became beloved by the entire population. When the Melitopol kehile [organized Jewish community] celebrated the 25th anniversary of his cantorial office in 1920, the occasion was transformed into a great musical holiday for the entire city. A short time later, he suddenly became ill and died at the age of 61.

Cantor Choinowski, during his cantorial service, also faithfully took over the tradition of his first cantorial teacher in Kovno and taught a large number of cantors and directors who beautified and enriched Jewish life with their musical worship in various communities.

Yehuda Perlmuter, who occupied the pulpit of the Kovno Choral Synagogue for a time, also was well-known as a very musical cantor. He later arrived in London, then in Paris.

Cantor Perlmuter certainly deserves to be remembered

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as one of the influential liturgical and cultural channels who in a tangible manner, spread the Lithuanian cantorial arts in western Europe.

Contributing in the area of cantorial art in Russia was the Kovno cantor, Ostrowski, who during the expulsion from Kovno (in 1915) turned up in the area around the Volga River along with the majority of Jewish refugees from Lithuania, where he immediately became widely known among the Jewish residents there. After the First World War, he came to the Saratover Choral Synagogue and in later years settled in Eretz Yisroel.

The last of the cantors at the Kovno Choral Synagogue was Mikhal Aleksandrovich, who for a number of years strongly inspired the local Jews with his beautiful, schooled voice and wonderful musical art of prayer. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he saved himself in Russia where he prayed at the Moscow Choral Synagogue for a time. He finally gave concerts across the entire country with success and was a “meritorious artist.” He was particularly popular from the recordings of his singing and radio transmissions.

I still remember well how he became well known as a greatly publicized nine-year-old wonderchild, making a triumphant concert tour through the Baltic nations and Poland. At that time, his concert at the large auditorium in Vilna in 1925 evoked very great critical praise from the local musicians. That concert appearance of the nine-year-old Aleksandrovich, by the way, inspired my then nine-year-old son, Shmuel (at that time he sang in the choir of the Vilna Taharat haKodesh under the direction of Cantor Glezer, may God avenge his blood[b]), who with great zeal and enthusiasm began to study a concert program and later, accompanied by Glezer, appeared in many cities in Lithuania and Poland.

I will never forget the impression of my son's first western concert in one of the Vilna synagogues and in the middle a very young piano artist, Zev Durmaszkin, who accompanied him on a reed organ. Then both young friends took part together in a series of concerts until my son's departure for Canada (1927). Now, my son is the cantor at a Toronto temple.

Among the Jewish vocalists in Kovno who were known in the area of general singing, worthy of mention are the talented singers:

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Kh. Shulgin, Yakov Zaks and Yakov Glezer. Shulgin[c] sang in the Lithuania State Opera until the Second World War.

Fine Jewish musicians in Kovno were the choirmasters Jelowcin (later became school director in Bialystok) and Berger, may God avenge his blood.

The well-known cantors in several kehelus [organized Jewish communities] in the Kovno district certainly have earned a place so that they deserve to be mentioned.

A very prominent figure in the cantorial camp during the first half of the past century [19th century] was Yisroel Shkuder [from Shkud – Skuodas, Lithuania], born in 1804. During his early youth, he already was admired as a new up-coming musical star who, alas, was not to shine for long. Cantor Shkuder was invited to pray at the Vilna City Synagogue on a Shabbos [Sabbath] when Moses Montefiore was on a visit. While praying, the cantor left for [personal needs] and when he wanted to return to the synagogue, the shoving at the door was so great that the police who had been called were not able to maintain order. In the crush, he [the cantor] received a great blow to his heart and three days later he died at the age of 36.

Yisroel Shkuder was also very widely known because of his influential participation in a famous cantorial quarrel between Sender Minsker and several well-known Volyner cantors concerning the basis and original source of the style of prayer. The liturgical authorities of that time wanted to find an appropriate path to a united form in the cantorial manner that would serve as a model for the younger cantors. Because of the great differences of opinion and quarrels, the matter was not solved.

[Alexander Siskind] Ersler, also from Shkud, was born in 1884 [and] was one of the most beloved cantors of the old generation. Cantor Ersler composed liturgical works under the titles, Melodies for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Prayers and Praise and Singing, in two parts, modern compositions and recitatives. In addition to this, there remain many synagogue creations in manuscripts.

Cantor Ersler died in 1923 in Warsaw at the age of 69.

The Ponevezher [Panevėžys] Cantor, Shmuel Fridman, who received his first cantorial influences from the great cantor, Reb Yisroel Minsker, also had a great reputation. Later, he immigrated to America where he was first employed in St. Louis and then in Cleveland. Cantor Fridman died on the same day as

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his wife in an epidemic. Among his remaining creations is found a written theory of harmony in Yiddish, which appeared in print on the day of his funeral.

Moshe Rogov also was a cantor in Ponevezh, who later, arriving in America, was hired in Detroit by the well-known synagogue, Shaarey Zedek and then in Cleveland. He was known as a great maskil [follower of the Enlightenment] and energetic tradesman.

One of the exceptional cantors in Lithuania was the Keidan Cantor, Avraham Eliyahu Eisishkin, a great musician, scholar and man of virtue.

His former student, Cantor Sh. A. Manszester [Manchester], with whom I am in correspondence from time to time, is full of praise about his mentor in cantorial music. Cantor Manszester, who had been in America for many years, published a cantorial work, Kol Rinnah uTefillah [The Voice of Prayer and Praise] and is well-known as an active Zionist.

Thanks to the numerous songs he composed, the Lithuanian Cantor Yona Brauda, born in Gordz, Kovno gubernia [province], was very well known. A number of them are published in Mogelnicki's anthology, Shiri Zion [Songs of Zion]. In his youth, he sang with the choir of the Vilna Taharat haKodesh, studying at the same time at the Poplawer kloyz [small synagogue]. Later, he traveled to study at the Königsberg Conservatory and simultaneously sang with the well-known Cantor Edward Birnbaum. Then he emigrated to America, where he was the cantor in Baltimore and then traveled as cantor and preacher to Syracuse in a life-long position.

Yakov Simanof, born in Rasein [Raseiniai] (Kovno gybernia], also had great fame through his Shiri Hallel [Songs of Praise] for cantor and choir and a series of other liturgical compositions.

Simanof was a cantor in Lithuania for nine years, then [he] immigrated to America where his continued his sacred craft.

The Telzer Cantor, Meir Ber Skobeliov, traveled around for years on concert trips. [He] died in America in 1904. His family name was Abeliov, but because he was strongly similar, with his large beard, to the Russian General [Mikhail Dmitriyevich] Skobelev, he was called Skobeliov in cantorial circles. He was a brother of the very famous Troker Cantor Meir Ber, who created a great number of compositions and also wrote a Hebrew harmony theory.[2]

The Kalvaria Cantor, Yakov Goldsmit,

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came to New York in 1908. A year later, [he] was one of the soloists at the magnificent cantorial concert in Carnegie Hall. He inspired everyone with his singing of the religious service and the cantors gave him the title of “high priest” for his unusual [artistry].

Another Kalvaria cantor who became very well known in America was Sholem Tzvi Zamechzon, born in Ziamar [Žiežmariai] where his father was cantor. After his musical studies in Vilna and in Warsaw, Zamechzon was the cantor in Homel for several years and then City Cantor in Kalvaria for 12 years. He immigrated from there to America where he was welcomed by the Kalvaria Synagogue in Chicago and, later, in Toledo. He died in New York in 1928. He published a series of creations for which many cantors have to thank for the success of their careers.

One of the cantors born in Lithuania who attained a prominent position and appeared at the pulpit of one of the largest synagogues, the Synagogue de la Victoire in Paris, was Avraham (Adolf) Behr. He was born in 1840 in a village in the Kovno area. During his youth, he sang with Cantor [Chaim] Wasertsug in Vilna where he also zealously studied the Talmud and commentaries. Then he traveled to Warsaw to the famous cantor and musician, Dr. Wajs, thoroughly studying simultaneously general musical scholarship [and liturgical music]. Learning of the free cantorial vacancy in the Paris Synagogue de la Victoire, he traveled there to audition and was unanimously welcomed as the principal cantor, holding the office with great respect until the last day of his life. He died in 1913, leaving a good name in the cantorial world.

The Lithuanian cantor, Yisroel Michailowski, better known under the name “Yisroelke Pariser,” who was for a time the cantor of the Polish-Lithuanian synagogue in Paris, also won fame in France. Cantor Michailowski died in 1914 in New York, where he spent his last years and stood at the pulpit in one of the large synagogues.

Of the well-known Lithuanian cantors in other western European lands, the great pulpit artists, Ahron Fridman, Nusan Yakov Ziskind, Izidor Blumental, Yitzhak Hajman, Nakhum Wilkomirski, Dovid Sztabinsky and Faywl Aguz should be particularly mentioned.

Ahron Fridman, born in Shaki [Šakiai] (in 1855), was hired as the main cantor in 1882 by the Jewish community in Berlin, where,

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in 1907, he received the title, “Royal Music Director.” A significant number of his musical works were published, including his cantorial Siddur [prayer book], which received great recognition in the cantorial world. He also was a literary creator as a lexicographer and published a large work in the German language about the lives and creations of famous cantors.

Nusan Yakov Ziskind, born in Woloczin (in 1831), received his first income from singing with the Vilna City Cantor, Yehosha Fajnzinger. His thirst for higher musical study brought him to Germany. He entered the Hamburg Conservatory, where he caused amazement with his developing voice and general musical knowledge. Several years later, he was hired as the chief cantor of the main synagogue in Hamburg and his success rose at a great tempo. The greatest musicians in the city came to hear him pray and showered him with praise for his magnificent voice and rare vocal artistry.

Cantor Ziskind was in Hamburg for 48 years with great respect, where he died in 1914 at the age of 83.

Another cantor, who became very well known in Germany, was Nakhum Wilkomirski, with whom, incidentally, I sang as a young boy at the Bialystok Choral Synagogue, under the leadership of the great musician, Yakov Berman (1860-1932). N. Wilkomirski, born in Dvarec, Grodno gybernia [province] (in 1884), was a renowned person in the world of cantorial music in his youth. When Sirota was called to Vilna to take the post as City Cantor, Wilkomirski was immediately welcomed in Sirota's place. A short time later, Bialystok greatly wanted him. In 1903, he was received

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as the principal cantor at the Bialystok Choral Synagogue, where Dr. Yosef Mahilewer (grandson of Reb Shmuel Mahilewer) was the rabbi.

Wilkomirski's name quickly became widely known across all of Lithuania and Poland and 14 years later he was invited to Prussia to take the position as chief cantor of the large synagogue in Posen and then he arrived at the main synagogue in Leipzig, creating a good reputation as one of the most popular cantors in Germany. From time to time he was invited by the cantorial seminar in Warsaw to come and give lectures. His informative lectures evoked great praise in the columns of the cantorial journal that was published in Warsaw until the Second World War. In 1939, at the outbreak of the terrible blood flood, Cantor Wilkomirski, through a miracle, was saved [by going to] London, where he immediately received a cantorial position. Six years later, he was invited to America to take the pulpit of Bnei Jeshrun Temple in Philadelphia.

Cantor Wilkomirski died at the age of 70 in California in 1954.

His liturgical creations, which were a very big hit with cantors and synagogue directors, were partly recorded on records. His Tikanto Shabbos [You Have Instituted the Sabbath], sung on a record by Cantor Hershman, became particularly well known.

His youngest son, Avraham, the well-known cantor and singer in the Land of Israel, inherited much of his musical talent.

Yitzhak Heymann (1834-1906), a son of the Bialystoker City Cantor, Pinkhas Heymann, from whom he received his first musical and general cultural education, had a strong influence on cantorial music in Holland. At his Bar Mitzvah, he took his first cantorial steps, evoking great admiration with his praying at the pulpit in the City Synagogue there. He traveled throughout many cities in western Europe with great success. His great fame grew first in 1906. When the famous Dutch cantor, Sholem Fride of Amsterdam, died, Cantor Heymann received an invitation from the Amsterdam kehile [organized Jewish community] to come for an audition on a Shabbos [Sabbath] and remained the chief cantor there his entire life.

His name became well known all across western Europe and the compositions he created were sung with great success in all of the synagogues in Holland. His work, Shire Todah la-El [Song of Thanksgiving to God] dedicated to the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina, won recognition as a

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rare musical creation. His Psalms and many other liturgical creations are also well known.

On the 24th of May 1906, the Amsterdam Jewish community celebrated his jubilee of 50 years as cantor with a great fanfare and, in the same year, on the 16th of August, he died at the age of 72.

Years later, after his death, Heymann's beloved melodies, which were considered traditional national property, were sung in Holland at various religious ceremonies.

Dovid Sztabinski, born in Grodner gybernia (in 1858), was a choir boy in his youth for famous cantors, then studied abroad and became a successful opera artist. However, his passion for cantorial music, rooted in him since childhood, would not let him rest and he later became the cantor at the Ahavas Shalom synagogue in Berlin. In 1898, he was welcomed as the chief cantor at the Great Synagogue on Rykestrasse, where he was treated with great respect during his 21 years in his position. He died in Berlin in 1919 at the age of 61.

Also beautifying and enriching the cantorial music of Germany was the Lithuanian-born cantor, Feyvl Oguz, who arrived in Frankfurt in 1883, where he simultaneously with his cantorial work continued his studies of higher musical mastery. His two cantorial works won fame and the author became known under the name “the Frankfurt Intercessor.”

He died in 1922 at the age of 77.

The well-known Lithuanian cantor, Reb Noakh Lider (Zaludkowski), a great scholar and musician of supreme grace, who was the Kalisz City Cantor over the course of over 40 years, had great influence in cantorial music in Poland. His name, Noakh Lider, remained for his entire life, from the time in his youth when he was the City Cantor in Lida, where he was greatly beloved by the entire kehile. For a time, he was the City Cantor in Brisk d'Lita. While in Kalisz, young people with voices and an inclination to singing poured in from near and far to Reb Noakh to learn the fundamentals of cantorial music. He actually was the teacher of all young cantors in the surrounding cities and shtetlekh. Many of his exceptional students later reached great heights, such as the world- renowned cantor, Arya Leib Rutman (died in New York), Avraham Yosef Lewinski, chief cantor of the large synagogue in the Hague (died in Canada in 1934); the cantorial composer Yakov Wasilkowski and Ahron Kaczko (both died in New York – Wasilkowski in 1944, at age 58 and Kaczko in 1958); Menakhem Mendelewicz,

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one of the most popular cantors in Poland; director-composers Dovid Eizensztat and Avraham Tzvi Davidowicz (both perished in the Warsaw ghetto, may God avenge their deaths); Leib Sokolowski, for many years the choir director in Lodz and still others who became famous as cantors and directors.

Reb Noakh Lider died in Kalisz in 1936 at the age of 77. He left many compositions and recitatives that were sung in many synagogues across almost the entire world. His numerous Hebrew song compositions were extremely popular. For example, the song Seu Ziona Nes vaDegl [Bear Your Banner to Zion], which the entire Jewish world has sung for many years and very few know that this is Reb Noakh's [song]. Also the songs, The Moving and Eternal Jew and What is Wrong with My Soul that You Sleep? and still others are always sung at national conferences.

His brother, Shaul Borukh Zaludkowski, who sang in his choir in his youth, later brought Lithuanian cantorial music to Belgium, where he was the cantor in Brussels for many years.

Two of Reb Noakh's sons, Yakov and Yosef, are cantors in England. A third son, Dr. Shaul Zaludkowski, who is the owner of a children's clinic in Ramat-Gan, is also saturated with the cantorial spirit and filled with general musical knowledge.

Recording the entire Pleiades of Lithuanian cantors who gave our Lithuanian culture such a classical continuity, would lead us too far astray. However, there would remain a great void to not remember at least a select few name of the influential pulpit artists, who will live long in the memory of music lovers: Yoshe Slonimer (Altszuler), a child of Vilna; he was not only a musical giant, but also proficient in the Talmud and rabbinical commentary. He was the cantor in Slonim for 18 years and in Grodno for 20 years, where he died in 1908 at the age of 69. Borukh Leib Rozawski (1841-1919) was from the Vilna area. He was the chief cantor in Riga for close to half a century, where, with his highly academic musical knowledge, he (a graduate of the Petersburg Conservatory) drew wonderful students who later became world renowned, some as cantors or conductors and several as excellent opera artists, such as Jozef Szwarc, Herman Jadlowker, and so on. Arnold Markson (1839-1900), in his youth sang with the famous cantors Yisroelke Yafa in Suwalk and with Chaim Wasertsug in Vilna. He was the cantor in Berlin for 28 years and famous as one of the most musical cantors in Germany. Moshe Lewinson (1872-1955) in his youth sang

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in the Bialystok Choral Synagogue; later, graduating from the Petersburg Conservatory, he became the cantor in Odessa in Razumin's place. He was called to Warsaw and he was the cantor at the Nożyk Synagogue there for four years until he was invited by the Choral Synagogue in Minsk, where he also was a professor of singing at the government conservatory for several years. After the revolution in Russia, he succeeded in coming to America. He was hired by a prominent synagogue in New York. Here he devoted himself to musical pedagogy, creating his own studio for music and singing; he wrote instructive articles about Jewish and general music and created liturgical compositions.

Cantor Lewinson lived his last years in honor into deep old age in the Land of Israel, where he was the chairman of the Association of Cantors and professor at a music conservatory.

Avraham Barkin (1882-1939), a brother-in-law of Cantor Lewinson, was a child of Brisk d'Lita. He graduated from the conservatory in Warsaw where he was the second cantor at first in the Nożyk Synagogue and then the chief cantor in place of Lewinson. Later, he was engaged in Uman (Russia) where he stood at his cantorial post for 17 years. He came to Canada in 1924, became the cantor at the Toronto Goel Tzedek [Righteous Redeemer] Synagogue. He died of a hemorrhage at the age of 57.

One of his four sons, Yakov Barkin, now the cantor in Pittsburgh, inherited his cantorial position.

Yoal Zelig Strad sang at the Vilna City Synagogue during his youth. For many years he was the City Cantor in Pinsk, where he died at the age of 75. He was known around the world as Yoal Zelig Pinsker. He was very creative in the area of liturgical music. Many cantors made use of his compositions and recitatives.

The famous Lithuanian cantors, Moshe Bas (Rabinovich), Yehuda Leib Babczik, Moshe Leib Tubianski, Leib Hasid, Menakhem Leib Zifowicz, Shimkha Ponevezher [Panevėžys], Ziml Smargoner, Zisl Rozinoier (father of the famous musician, Rusoto) must also be recorded here.



From Lithuania we turn to the cantorial group in America, which showed the effect of Lithuania cantorial music. It must be emphasized that in the shaping and animating of the cantorial field in America, the famous cantors and creative liturgical choir directors arriving from Lithuania had a very large part. They enriched the synagogue repertoire and in general created a warmer relationship and reverence for

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our musical system taking shape on the local soil. Several of them contributed greatly to the development of general Jewish popular music.

Thanks to their musical pioneering work, Jewish choral singing was cultivated and popularized among the masses, which added nuance and spiritual content to the lives of the growing Jewish community in the New World. It will be enough to show only the musically creative triplets, the Vilna directors and most praiseworthy accompanists, Leo Lau, Meir Machtenberg and Yosef Rumshinski, who for many years were in the first tier in the cultivation of our music on American soil and were at the very top of Jewish musical ranks.

For the more than thirty years that I have found myself on the American continent and being active in the cantorial field and taking part in almost all national conferences, I had the opportunity to become acquainted with the various zig-zags, rises and declines of local cantorial music.

When I arrived in 1926, cantorial music was in its most blossoming period. The growing wave of immigration in the first quarter of the [20th] century from the Jewish communities rooted in Europe brought over the greatest pulpit artists who had the effect of elevating cantorial music in the New World to a higher level. America actually became a great cantorial center that enticed and drew cantors from various corners of the world. At the same time, the greatest cantors of their generation, such as Yosele Rozenblat, Zevulun Kwartin, Alter Karniol, Mordekhai Herszman, Dovid Roitman, Eliyahu Kretchmar, Arya Leib Rutman, Efroim Szlepak, Dovid Moshe Sztajnberg, Yeshayhu Meisels, Yofef Morgensztern, Berele Chagy, Moshe Yehosha Zajec, Finczuk, Glanc, Vigoda and other cantorial giants enriched the American cantorial group.

Alas, with the later economic crisis in the country, the glory of cantorial art began to disappear. Therefore, this led to a decline that brought disturbances and disharmony to the cantorial ranks, even leading to a later chaotic condition.

I remember well the stormy cantorial conferences in Atlantic City in 1938 when the condition of cantorial arts reached such a desperate situation that we tried to turn for support to the American Federation of Labor (American Workers Federation), which the Association of Cantors

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then joined. In 1944, I again was present at a cantorial conference in Atlantic City. This time, the composition of the delegates was a mixture of all three branches: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. This time there clearly came to expression partial changes to the improvement the condition of cantorial arts. While the conference in 1938 was almost exclusively concerned with significant material problems; an entirely different spirit reigned at the conference of 1944. A series of important problems was seriously and matter-of-factly discussed, aimed at the creation a Cantorial Foundation that could have far-reaching effects. However, because of unforeseen reasons the three-year agreement could not long peacefully endure. There was again a lack of harmonious unity and collegial solidarity in the cantorial ranks, which, alas, led to many aggravations and baseless hatreds at cantorial rehearsals with those present supporting various positions.

A radical change led to the founding years ago of the Conservative cantorial organization – Cantors Assembly of America. The Assembly, under its capable leadership, gradually began to bring order and discipline to the cantorial profession. Stubborn opponents at first disregarded the newly created atmosphere. The Assembly actually became the leading power and the central cantorial address to which the gaze of the majority of cantors on the entire continent turned. Today, the creative strength of Jewish liturgy is concentrated among the greatest artists at the pulpit of our time, including a significant number of musically gifted cantors, saved from the Nazi vale of tears and including several blessed young talents from the ruins of Lithuania.

It only remains to hope and heartily wish that all of the serious efforts to lead Jewish liturgical music to the necessary height will be crowned with success.

It would take too much space to write at length about even more remembrances that I had intended to provide here. However, finally, I will share one more memory of my first visit to New York in 1934, when I stayed with Eliyahu Zaludkowski. He was then the cantor in the prominent Shaare Zedek synagogue. In his home, which was always a cantorial gathering place, I had the opportunity to meet a series of New York cantors. At that time, I became a very close

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friend of his cantorial colleagues Yehosha Wajser, Yakov Wasilkowski and Pinkhas Yosinowski, all three very prominent liturgical carriers of culture; their significant contributions to the religious-musical creative systems in America will surely always be appreciated with great recognition.

The particularly important role of Yehosha Wajser must be emphasized; in addition to his productive creativity as a composer and his active collection of Hasidic music, he was prominent in the education of cadres of young cantors in America who would perhaps have been lost [despite] their talent. We have to remember the dream of a cantorial seminar in America was only realized in the last years. Among Wajser's exceptional cantorial students, it is worth mentioning the present great opera artist and cantor, Richard (Ruwin) Tucker, a brother-in-law of the most prominent Jewish opera singer, Jan Peerce (Pinkhas Perlmuter). [Wajser] from Lithuania, remembers with deep reverence his cantorial teacher at various opportunities.

I want to remember another event that is already history: the cantorial participation in the Zionist demonstration in Washington in 1945 against the English mandate that forbade Jews, saved from the Nazi death camps, to be allowed in Eretz Yisroel. The protest march of the most respected rabbis and Hasidic rebbes who marshalled public opinion of all America, was accompanied with heart-moving religious choral singing from the greatest cantors, directed by Yehosha Wajser, which loudly drowned out everything around the White House and the British Embassy…



Something should also be recorded here about the cantorial field in the largest and most ebullient Jewish community in the Latin American countries, Argentina, where the first cantorial sprouts arose thanks to the pioneer spirit of the Lithuanian educator and musician and most praiseworthy liturgical researcher, Yehuda Leib Hidekel – author of the work Negines un Tfilus bei Yidn [Music and Prayer of the Jews], in four volumes.

A 20-year-old man full of energy and great ambition, he came to Argentina in 1908 with fine musical and scholarly baggage; he fervently threw himself into Jewish communal life. Over the course of over half a century, [Y.L.] Hidekel and his multifaceted activity demonstrated substantial achievement both musically and in the area of culture.

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His founding of the first music conservatory in Buenos Aires in 1913 must be particularly singled out. A greater dividend of his accomplishment was the release of a musical album, Shiri Tsiyon [Songs of Zion] with a pressing of 55,000 copies. Hidekel also was the founder of the Yavna synagogue at the Zionist Folks-Farbund [Peoples Association], where he was president and simultaneously the cantor (not for personal gain). In general, Hidekel's fruitful activity in the communal life of the Jews of Argentina was very considerable. The community there knew how to appropriately appreciate it.

In 1955, while on a visit to the Land of Israel, the ceremony of planting of the Hidekel Forest took place in a solemn manner in the presence of his family and prominent personalities of the community.

A child of Lithuania, Avraham Blecharovich, born in Oran (Vilna area), former president of the Union of Cantors in Buenos Aires, now occupies an esteemed place in the Argentine cantorial family. Blecharovich[d] also excelled in his concert trips in South Africa, in all of North America and = also in Mexico and Cuba.

Many contributed to the spread of our

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music in South America. M. Zalkind, a former choir boy at the Vilna City Synagogue, brought Jewish song into the homes of the faraway corners of those nations thanks to his numerous Jewish records, which had great sales.



Finally, let a word also be said here about the cantorial perspectives and the bright hopes in connection with the present era of redemption that could lead to an appropriate improvement and elevation of our religious song to the highest levels. Our Land of Israel, which brought an effervescence and aroused all of Jewish life, will certainly have a substantial effect in the liturgical-musical field that from ancient times was among the dominant spiritual factors among the people. An earnest beginning in this regard has already been made on the part of the newly founded music university in Jerusalem by the religious and education ministries. The music university intends to hold special conferences of cantors, composers and music researchers from Israel and the diaspora with the purpose of creating national Israeli music and to unify the style in cantorial music that would raise and improve our holy worship.

May the ingathering in Israel of Jews from all over the world of various cultures gradually succeed in uniting and fashioning a style of song that will truly be: to praise, to honor, to glory.


Dramatic Ensemble at the Lithuanian Division after a Performance

(Participants (sitting from right to left): K. Kaplan (died in Vilna), Y. Kremer (actor from New Jewish Kovno State Theater, lives in Vilna).
Standing: The first three – Lithuanians, D. Milner (Chamchi; actor from the former Kovno Jewish State Theater, perished in an unknown manner)
H. Leikovich (organizer and director of the former Kovno Jewish State Theater)


Original footnotes:

  1. Published in New York, 1924, for the 30th anniversary of the Association of Cantors in America and Canada. Return
  2. Chaim Glezer perished in the Vilna ghetto. – Ed. Return
  3. Shulgin lives in Vilna, is a pensioner and is occupied with watchmaking. Zaks and Glezer were murdered. – Ed. Return
  4. His brother, Yakov Blecharovich was a well-known conductor in Lithuania. He, together with his daughter, a graduate conductor, direct the choir in Vilna. His son is pianist. Return

Translator's Footnote

  1. Straszunski's initials are given incorrectly as Y.A. Return
  2. It is highly unlikely that the two brothers, the Telzer cantor, Meir Ber, and the Troker cantor, Meir Ber, had the same given names. Return


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