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December 5th, 2011
Introduction to Volume 7
Masterworks in Prayer: Art in Worship

By: Neil W. Levin

“Anyone who has heard this [music] knows that the faith is true.” Thus was the present Bishop of Rome—also known to the world as Pope Benedict XVI—once moved to remark to a Lutheran bishop upon hearing a performance of a Bach cantata.

Bach, of course, was not a Roman Catholic, but a Protestant; he wrote his cantatas for the Lutheran church services at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, over whose music he presided as its Kantor (organist and music director). The Evangelisch church of his day (Lutheran in American parlance) symbolized the foothold, in northern German regions and elsewhere, that had been established by the Reformation and its departures from Roman Catholic doctrines, liturgies, and rituals. Moreover, Bach’s church world occupied one side of a sharp and, especially in that era, adversarial divide between Protestant Europe and Rome—a divide that often had political as well as theological ramifications. Yet, clearly, these factors appear neither to have diluted the enthusiasm of the Pope’s observation nor, from his own religious perspectives, to have diminished his identification with the sacred music that flowed from Bach’s Protestant pen. Indeed, those circumstances are irrelevant to the sentiment he expressed, for he was referring in universal rather than exclusively parochial terms to the spiritual power of great music and high art. If, on one level, he was speaking more restrictively of faith in the context of Christianity—albeit in its broadest, most liberal nondenominational embrace—he was at the same time giving more generic voice to the conviction that high art has the ability to transcend the particulars of sectarian differences and to buttress religious belief.

Employed in those and similar roles, the cultivation of high-minded art music has the potential to invigorate the experience of communion with the Divine Essence, which we call prayer. The sheer experience of such music outside a specific religious realm may also be understood in contemporary terms as spiritual. Both endeavors aspire in principle to the sublime—sometimes independently, sometimes on intersecting planes, sometimes in tandem.

Throughout the course of Christianity in European cultures, serious art music—which, during certain periods, was virtually inextricable from sacred function—has endowed worship with profound layers of meaning and inspiration that are not furnished by the words of the liturgy or the performance of rituals alone. Far from diverting attention from spiritual concerns or erecting barriers between worshippers and music (fears that came to be harbored increasingly in the post-1960s era, in Jewish as well as Christian circles), sophisticated musical expression has shown itself capable of elevating worship to higher spheres of religious contemplation.

It is no new insight that the musical dimensions of high art are intimately related to the power of human imagination. In many ways, both Jewish history and Judaism itself have always been reliant on a potent sense of imagination—theologically, culturally, and intellectually. This is an idea upon which Rabbi Jacob Neusner elaborated in his essay “We Are Jews by Reason of Imagination.” Such an entrenched scenario of imagination stands, in the right hands and under appropriate conditions, to benefit further from the heights of musical creativity. Seizing upon Neusner’s construction, we may also suppose that the continuum of Jewish imagination lends itself well to serious musical invocation of the Hebrew liturgy. It is artistic expression, after all, that can animate the words and vivify the images, concepts, and God-man relationships embedded in the otherwise formulaic liturgical pronouncements and recitations of Judaic worship.

Until well into the 20th century, however, with a few isolated exceptions, this potential synergy between art music on the Western model and liturgical expression in worship services remained within the domain of Christianity—which, it must be acknowledged, initially provided the womb for the gestation of all Western classical music. This volume explores a nexus between high art—in the American extension of the classical European tradition—and modern American synagogue worship. The sacred music herein exemplifies potential convergences between the particularity of Jewish liturgical function and the universal resonance of sacred music—music whose purpose is to accompany and facilitate Jewish prayer and music, that, at the same time, may also have the power to speak to all audiences regardless of individual religious persuasion or orientation.

Some of the works included here were written as self-contained settings of specific prayer texts: Leonard Bernstein’s Hashkivenu; Morton Gould’s Hama’ariv aravim; Alexandre Tansman’s English version of Ma tovuDouglas Moore’s Vay’khulu; Roy Harris’s Mi khamokha and Arnold Schoenberg’s Kol Nidre, which, although originally intended for the synagogue (the context of its world premiere), would now be considered exclusively a concert piece. Others are full, artistically unified services—some recorded in their entirety and some offered in excerpts. These larger compositions were conceived by their composers in efforts to address the liturgy as it unfolds within a particular synagogue service. These include Sabbath evening services (usually incorporating the preliminary kabbalat shabbat service), Sabbath morning services, a Torah service, and a shofar service. They exhibit overall structural design, architectural sweep and arch, schematic proportions, balance and deliberate contrasts among sections, and sometimes even recurring motives among constituent prayer settings—which can be akin to movements. In that sense, without regard to substance, we might draw formal and conceptual analogies to complete Mass settings (Ordinary, Requiem, and others) in the Western classical canon—some of which have come to have a dual function as highly artistic church music (in principle, if not in practice) and as concert vehicles completely outside religious venues or contexts; some of which are now viewed primarily if not entirely as secular concert works whose texts happen to be drawn from Christian liturgy; others, however elaborate and however much they might echo concert and operatic stages, have remained appropriately within the embrace of church music. The analogous, full, cohesive services of the Hebrew liturgy that appear in this volume include Ernest Bloch’s Avodat Hakodesh (Forthcoming), Darius Milhaud’s Service Sacré; Herman Berlinski’s Avodat Shabbat; David Amram’s Shir l’erev shabbat; David Diamond’s Sabbath Eve Service; Miriam Gideon’s Sacred Service and Shirat miriam l’shabbat; Max Helfman’s The Holy Ark; Frederick Jacobi’s Sabbath Evening Service; Marvin David Levy’s Shir shel moshe; Jacob Druckman’s Sabbath services; Jacob Weinberg’s Shabbat ba’aretz; Lazar Weiner’s Shir l’shabbat and Zekher l’ma’ase; Hugo Weisgall’s Evening Liturgies; Yehudi Wyner’s Friday Evening Service; and Judith Zaimont’s Sacred Service for the Sabbath Evening. Additional, similarly conceived cohesive services appear in other volumes because of their special significance in terms of thematic correlation: for example, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Sabbath eve service in Volume 2; services by Paul Ben-Haim, Marc Lavry, and Yehezkel Braun in Volume 8, since they are all from the pen of Israeli composers; and Isadore Freed’s Hassidic Service in Volume 6, which is devoted to Hassidic inspiration.

The music in this volume may be divided, albeit not always neatly, into two sometimes overlapping categories:

A. Artistic synagogue music that represents an advance level of Gebrauschsmusik geared specifically to worship, but written for the most part by—and often deliberately commissioned from—composers (non-Jews as well as Jews) whose focus lay primarily if not entirely outside the Jewish liturgical realm and, in some instances, outside any Jewish connection. In both cases (apart from a few exceptions), those invitations could be welcome challenges to composers to expand aesthetic and spiritual horizons, to find artistic possibilities in liturgical texts perhaps not all that familiar to them from personal experience, and, in the cases of many Jewish composers whose previous work had been limited to classical, theatrical, or popular music worlds, to explore and grapple with Jewish identity through an untried application of their gifts. The roster ranges from mature composers who were already successful and highly prominent by the time they commenced these projects to those who, at the time, were still little known but had shown signs of promise and evidence of serious future achievements as well as eventual public recognition.

B. Works conceived from the outset on complementary levels with the hope of being able to transcend both synagogal function and Jewish particularity, at the same time serving as music for worship in congregational contexts. A few have successful performance histories of fulfilling that dual role in equal measure. The Bloch, Milhaud, and Berlinski services have all enjoyed positive reception by general concert audiences, with whom their artistic and universal spiritual messages have resonated. The Castelnuovo-Tedesco service (Volume II) could succeed in the same vein; so too could Bernstein’s Hashkivenu, which has escaped programming only because it is so little known. This is one of the many situations the Milken Archive hopes to correct through the exposure of such works.

Many of the other works in this volume would probably be less engaging in secular concert presentation, even though they have succeeded admirably in their composers’ principal goals as liturgical expressions for worship.

The first known incident concerning confluence of Western art models and Jewish sacred music dates to the early 17th century in Italy and to Salamone Rossi’s composition of Hebrew liturgical settings in his Ha-shirim Asher Lishlomo (1623). Contemporaneous rabbinical objections, however (and there was also rabbinical support), are usually misunderstood to have concerned the appropriateness of “Church-born art music” in the synagogues—viz., artistic music both within the Western continuum and in the fashion of the period. This mistaken notion appears to have arisen out of a later mistranslation of the term then at issue: ars musica. Yet ars musica signifies “the art of music,” not “art music.” Far from subtle, the distinction is central to understanding the debate. Ars musica in that context refers not to the nature and substance of the music itself, but to the craft involved in the creation of music: the learned techniques and technical procedures applicable not only to composition (harmony, counterpoint, and even musical notation) but also to instruction in vocal production—all of which, admittedly, had been developed and established originally in connection with Church music. The very presence in the synagogue of trained voices with vocal refinement and polish (including that of the cantor) was questioned as something learned from Christian sources—something inherently Western and not Jewish. One rabbinical supporter of Rossi and of the concept of cultivated music in the synagogue went so far as to propose that if one were to follow that line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, then synagogues should deliberately shun the beautiful in every respect and seek cantors whose voices “brayed like asses.” In any event, the issue became moot after Rossi’s death, when the episode was all but forgotten until its rediscovery in the 19th century.

The synagogue has not been alone in the West in triggering clerical opposition to high art of universal perspectives in music for worship, or to perceived concert-appropriate albeit liturgically based works. As early as ca. 1560, the Council of Trent (1545–63) condemned the excesses of troping in Mass settings and the accretions of the liturgy it induced. Among the Council’s many objections to contemporaneous directions of Church music were complex polyphony, which it feared could obscure the words of the liturgy; an intuited secular spirit of many compositions; and the use of secular source material for Mass settings and other liturgical pieces—parody Masses based on chansons, for example. These elements were not specifically forbidden, however, although the Council emphasized the avoidance of all features that were “impure or lascivious” and therefore might dilute the desiderata that “the House of God should rightly be known as a House of Prayer.” Legend has it that Palestrina, among the ultimate masters of sacred Renaissance polyphony, composed his six-voice Missa Papae Marcelli (Mass of Pope Marcellus) during the Council’s deliberations specifically to prove that polyphony was not incompatible with religious reverence and that it need not—if carefully crafted—usurp the primary role of the liturgical texts, their understanding, and the clarity of their enunciation. (The direct connection between this work and the Council of Trent, however, and especially its influence on the Council, is generally questioned by scholarly findings, including its accepted date of composition. Nonetheless, it is Palestrina, not the host of his contemporaries who complied with the Council’s position, who is remembered today as one of the giants of Church music.)

The very presence in the synagogue of trained voices with vocal refinement and polish (including that of the cantor) was questioned as something learned from Christian sources—something inherently Western and not Jewish.

At least in their early phases, virtually all strands of the Reformation called for simplifying the Roman Church’s tradition of highly developed, elaborate, and even sumptuous music. It was a demanded reform that, apart from the deeper theological issues, was part of a larger program of elimination of what reformers deemed to have been centuries of inappropriate ecclesiastical, liturgical, and aesthetic accumulations; and it also included abandonment of Latin as the exclusive language of prayer and Bible discourse. It is in some ways ironic that the culminating musical achievements of both the high Baroque and the Evangelisch (Protestant, or, in American terminology, Lutheran) Church in Germany are encapsulated in Bach’s two Passions—which, unquestionably, are among the greatest musical masterpieces in all history—as well as his numerous cantatas, all composed expressly for church worship as a function of his employment as Kantor at the Evangelisch St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, for one of the original reforms of Luther’s platforms involved the institution of simple homophonic and homorhythmic congregational hymn singing in German as a major musical dimension of church services. Bach retained that tradition by incorporating such hymns in his Passions and cantatas; still, although the texts are eminently transparent and singable by the congregation together with the choir, they are set according to the highest artistic standards with regard to voicing, harmonic structure, and instrumental accompaniment.

Meanwhile, some of the more austere, abstemious Protestant groups, including quasi-ascetic sects, forbade music altogether as a perceived diversion from prayer—and even as an antireligious form of sensuous pleasure inconsistent with supposed godliness. In the most extreme cases, which have also included liberal, nonjudgmental, and nonauthoritarian groups such as the Quakers, only the spoken word was considered proper for worship.

Long after the Renaissance-era debates within the Roman Catholic Church about musical complexity and the appropriateness of unrestrained artistic freedom—from the Counter-Reformation through the succeeding generations—there continued to be periodic, though by no means consistent, papal and other clerical reservations and objections. These concerned music for church worship that might in those views be better relegated to concert or opera stages. In the long run, however, art prevailed as an elevating agent both for prayer and for wider spiritual experience with foundations in Christian doctrines.

Few music historians would consider the Romantic era one of the so-called great ages of Church music in comparison with, for example, the late Middle Ages or the Renaissance—or, in Protestant contexts, the era of Bach. The 19th century was, after all, despite its undulations of conservative reaction from political as well as papal quarters, host to the great movements toward progress, science, and liberalism—as well as to artistic freedom, emotional abandon, and personal expression. Certainly it cannot be characterized as a self-effacing era of religious submersion or an “age of faith”—a descriptive tag that, notwithstanding more nuanced revisions of that oversimplification, has been attached traditionally to periods within the Middle Ages. Yet the 19th century did not break with the continuum of artistic expression in religiously oriented music. To the contrary, its grand scale expanded, and the century was the scene of some of the great full-length as well as individual settings of Roman Catholic liturgy in all music history: Ordinary Masses, Te Deums, Requiems, and the like, by such composers as Berlioz, Liszt, Bruckner, Fauré, Dvořák, Poulenc, and, of course, Verdi, whose Requiem is often dubbed his “greatest opera.” In works such as these and so many others of the era the brilliant energy and emotional force of Romantic expression combined rather than collided with sacred subject matter, texts, and sensibilities. Many of these dramatic settings are typical of Romantic-era liturgical creations that are in reality concert works, yet there is no negation of their equal potential as sacred music. If they are capable of resonating simultaneously with devout Roman Catholics or other committed Christians and with those to whom any religion is foreign, it is in part because many of them are—regardless of their religious base—akin to grand symphonies for soloists, chorus, and orchestra whose inspirational literary texts only happento be drawn from liturgy. Despite (or in addition to) the original parochial particularity of these texts, their musical settings also emphasize their universal perspectives and their inextricable place in Western culture. Some of these works might also be understood as quasi-oratorios—viz., without the oratory spoken, declaimed, or sung. In a sense, these are at once sacred and secular works, with the caveat that the secular designation dos not necessarily exclude profound spiritual encounter, even communion. Beethoven’s late string quartets, for example, which by any assessment (if we must differentiate) are secular works, can and should provide spiritual experience second to none.

Many though not all such large-scale liturgically based works were conceived from the outset by their composers primarily for the concert stage or, perhaps, for performances in churches that would serve merely as conducive venues. In creating such works, some composers worked entirely outside the Church, some within it to varying degrees, and some on a personal as well as professional path that trod both routes.

Franz Liszt developed his own notion of Romantic sacred music, which, along with his articulated ideal of Romanticism in general, he brought to bear on his sacred compositions. In 1834, he expressed his views concerning the sacred-secular duality of purpose:

For want of a better term, we may call the new music humanitarian. It must be devotional, strong, and drastic, uniting on a colossal scale the theatre and the Church, at once dramatic and sacred, splendid and simple, ceremonial and serious, fiery and free, stormy and calm, and emotional. (Reprinted in the composer’s Gesammelte Schriften; Leipzig, 1881.)

Less widely known outside musicological circles is the fact that a number of classically trained and professionally involved composers (only some of them Jews) composed pieces for Baroque-era synagogues and Jewish communities in Western Europe...

During the Victorian age, attempts—such as the Oxford Movement—to expand the musical format of the Church of England by introducing larger choruses, a greater variety of artistic choral repertoires, and more elaborate works (to say nothing of reintroducing Latin in some settings) was often met with political suspicion, if not paranoia. Those directly within and outside of the Church of England who looked askance at those efforts saw them as part of a subversive agenda to emulate Roman Catholic aesthetic dimensions in an initial step toward “re-Romanizing” the Anglican Church. For them, such musical innovations could be manifestations of a deliberately subliminal stepping-stone devised by reactionary elements within the Church of England and secret agents of popery to reconnect it to Rome—thereby not only undoing the independence of the Church of England but also upsetting the prized anti-Catholic and anti-Roman order of British society and politics at that time. (Roman Catholic British subjects, we should recall, were barred from membership in Parliament well into the 19th century—even after any prohibition to openly avowed Jews serving in Parliament was lifted; and to this day a reigning monarch, as head of the Church of England, cannot by law be married to a Roman Catholic.) Fortunately, the proponents of elevated liturgical rendition won out, giving us the rich tradition of magnificent English church music.

Meanwhile, taking aim at fashions on the Continent, the 1903 papal encyclical Motu Proprio, issued by Pope Pius X, forbade excessively (or so perceived) theatrical properties in Church music—citing in particular Rossini’s Stabat Mater, which, although it dates to 1832/1841, enjoyed popularity then. Its operatic vocal displays and other related elements typical of the opera stage were considered inappropriate for church worship. By extension, the line of reasoning in Motu Proprio, if rigorously applied, would have excluded from service contexts the Masses of such composers as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Bruckner—and more so those of Berlioz, Liszt, or Verdi. But in practice the encyclical had no such effect. It did not deter composers from continuing to address Church liturgy in a seemingly endless variety of styles in the 20th century—and, in its second half and beyond, in highly imaginative ways and liberal constructions. Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, for example, with its pungent jazz inflections, dance rhythms, and daring contemporary effects, was celebrated as one of his most dramatic original creations. More recent has been the extraordinary public success of La Pasión según San Marcos by Osvaldo Golijov, who infused this liturgically based work with popular Latin American rhythms and gestures. It is both a Mass and a piece of high theatre.

It is at least in part against this historical backdrop of healthy, creative tensions between sacred and secular, and between art and practical liturgical function, that we should attempt to understand the course of endeavors with regard to sophisticated musical expression of the Hebrew liturgy.

The Salamone Rossi episode and its music are at least familiar by now to a fairly broad base of performers, students, historians, and aficionados of Jewish music, even if the subtler points of Judaic significance have been overlooked. Less widely known outside musicological circles is the fact that a number of classically trained and professionally involved composers (only some of them Jews) composed pieces for Baroque-era synagogues and Jewish communities in Western Europe—chiefly in Italy and in Amsterdam. Their compositions (Lidarti’s Adon olam, for example) were usually intended for special ceremonial or communal occasions, such as the dedication of a new synagogue, or for quasi-concert contexts on Hoshana Rabba—a nonholy day of the Festival of Sukkot, preceding its holy concluding day. Hoshana Rabba was especially inviting for art music in the form of accompanied cantatas, since instrumental music is permitted. The composers of some of these works remain anonymous. The identity of others would be known today only to a handful of historical musicologists who specialize in obscure aspects of the period. Thanks to the efforts of Israel Adler, many of these pieces have been reconstructed, edited, and published. Their importance, however, is largely if not exclusively historical. None are part of any enduring synagogue repertoire; nor are any likely to become so.

Franz Schubert was probably the first composer of major rank and enduring, posthumously increased fame to set Hebrew liturgy for actual worship services. He did so as an invited guest from his perch in the Viennese classical music world. Lingering suspicion justifiably surrounds an unsubstantiated anecdote that maintains that Beethoven declined an overture by the Viennese Jewish community to compose a piece for the dedication of its first officially sanctioned synagogue, which was opened in the Seitenstettengasse in 1826. Even if there is any truth to this persistent but vague story, in which case Beethoven’s invitation would have preceded Schubert’s synagogue setting, it would probably have concerned a special inauguration ceremony rather than a regular worship service or its liturgy. Despite repeated references to that effect in secondary and tertiary sources, the supposed incident has never been firmly or adequately documented.

There is some evidence that the Jewish-born Hungarian pianist and composer Ignaz Moscheles—who (though he later converted) served as a lay precentor for the small number of Jewish worshippers in a Bethaus (prayer house) in Vienna prior to the official Emancipation-era recognition of a Jewish community and the authorization to construct a synagogue—wrote a piece specifically for Viennese Jewry in celebration of the victory over Napoleon. What the text might have been is not known, as the piece is not extant.

Shortly after his assumption of the position of chief cantor at the Seitenstattengasse Tempel, Salomon Sulzer asked Schubert to compose a setting of tov l’hodot (Ps. 9) for kabbalat shabbat services there on Friday evenings. Schubert did so, and the piece—which became part of the synagogue’s repertoire—was published in Sulzer’s first volume of Schir Zion (1838/39).

The seeds for serious art as a vehicle for both Judaic worship and more universal expression of Hebrew liturgy were thus sown in Europe from the Baroque era through the 19th century. Those seeds have come to their fullest bloom yet, however, within the American experience during the 20th century.

Sulzer is believed to have had a collegial relationship on some level with Schubert, one of whose songs he premiered in a secular venue. That he must have tutored Schubert concerning the Hebrew of tov l’hodot is apparent from its appropriate accentuation, syllabic delineation, and phrase structure—consistent with the way Sulzer set Hebrew for his own compositions, which make up the bulk of his published music. Sulzer was called on the carpet after the fact by his ba’al habatim (superiors, or congregational leaders) for that fait accompli, not so much because Schubert was a non-Jew (although that may have been a factor), but for his having acted on his own without obtaining authorization to commission music from others; and he was required to promise to seek such permission in future. (It is not clear whether or not Schubert was paid anything for the piece, or whether, by commissioning it, Sulzer had obligated his congregation.) His introduction of Western high art into Judaic worship, however, seems never to have been an issue. By that time, congregations such as his were ready for it.

Over the next decade Sulzer also invited contributions to the expanding synagogue repertoire—and to his emerging anthology—from five other locally well-known composers (only one of whom was a Jew): Joseph Drechsler (1782–1852), who was Domkapellmeister at St. Stephan’s Cathedral; Ignaz Ritter von Seyfreid (1776–1841), a pupil of Albrechtsberger and Mozart, a long-standing friend of Beethoven’s, and one of Sulzer’s teachers in music theory; Joseph Fischof (1804–1857), a professor at the Vienna Conservatory and a writer about music; Wenzel Wilhelm Würfel (1791–1832?); and Franz Volkert (1776–1845). In 1905, Sulzer’s youngest son, Joseph (1850–1926), a cellist (Solocellist) in the Royal and Imperial Opera (court opera) orchestra and choirmaster of the Israelitische Cultusgemeinde (i.e., at the Seitenstettengasse Tempel), republished the contents of his father’s two volumes of Schir Zion (the second had been published in 1865) in a single volume of his own revised and reedited versions. He added several of his own settings as well as one by Sulzer’s eldest son, Julius (1830–1891), who had been both an opera director and the Kappelmeister at the Hof-Burgtheaters in Vienna.

Sulzer did not credit any of these guest composers in his original publication of Schir Zion (they were contained only in what, with the publication of a second volume, became Schir Zion I). It was not that he sought to take credit himself. The guest contributions were no secret among the Viennese community, which took pride in them as a mark of respect for Jewish worship outside Jewish circles and as a perceived point of cultural social arrival. Rather, the anonymity in print of the guest settings was a practical matter. He preferred not to raise eyebrows in other communities that might not yet have been ready for synagogue music by classical or Church composers—a reservation that might in turn have hindered sales of the volume abroad. Joseph Sulzer, however, corrected these omissions in his 1905 edition.

Perhaps taking a cue from Sulzer, Samuel Naumbourg, the Chief Cantor of the Paris community beginning in 1845, invited some of the leading classical composers of the day to contribute to the repertoire of the French Synagogue. They are preserved in Naumbourg’s published anthologies, which otherwise are devoted to his own compositions. In that case, however, unlike its Viennese antecedent, the guest contributions were anything but anonymous. To the contrary, they were much celebrated. For Paris Jewry, which at that time felt more secure than its Viennese counterpart, new synagogue pieces by some of the major figures in the city’s musical life were badges of honor. They were also an aesthetic advantage, since Parisian Jewish worshippers were eager to hear in their synagogue music the same artistic standards they encountered at the opera or in concerts. That the composers were Jews who were recognized by the general music world was also a point of pride.

These guest contributions included Hebrew liturgical works by Charles-Valentin Alkan, a prominent if eccentric virtuoso pianist and composer who is little known today; Jacques Fromenthal Halévy and Giacomo Meyerbeer, two of the reigning composers at the Paris Opera who are now firmly planted in the pantheon of operatic composers; and a number of others. Halévy’s Min hametzar, for the Hallel service, exhibits tasteful operatic lines that mirror the sentiments and imagery of the text with dramatic flair tempered by judicious restraint. Its operatic elements are completely consistent with the spirit of Hallel, which is one of enthusiastic praise for God. Since, unlike other sections of the liturgy, Hallel is not bound in the Ashkenazi rite by any particular modalities or tunes in its rendition, Halévy’s setting cannot be said to depart from tradition in any way. To the contrary, it actually follows a tradition, established centuries earlier, of free musical expression according to contemporaneous idioms and styles. This work became one of the most famous settings of the min hametzar text, and it has enjoyed performances on concert stages and in synagogue services—in the latter case, usually for the Hallel service on the Three Festivals.

The seeds for serious art as a vehicle for both Judaic worship and more universal expression of Hebrew liturgy were thus sown in Europe from the Baroque era through the 19th century. Those seeds have come to their fullest bloom yet, however, within the American experience during the 20th century.

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