The contributions to the 19th-century Reform repertoire by C. Otto Weber are known to us in large measure as a result of the valuable primary research and published findings concerning his colleague in New Orleans, Frederick Emil Kitziger—which has been pursued meticulously by Dr. John Baron, the leading authority on the history of that city’s musical life. (We are also indebted to Dr. Baron for further details concerning Weber.) Weber was born in the German city of Karlsruhe and, like Kitziger, studied at the conservatory in Leipzig. Also like Kitziger, Weber was a non-Jew (assumed to have been Christian) who immigrated to the United States and, shortly after the War Between the States, settled in New Orleans (in 1869, in Weber’s case). The 1871 City Directory lists him as a professor of music, and in 1874–75 he taught at the Sylvester Larned Institute.
In 1874 Weber conducted a “grand concert” presented by “amateur ladies of New Orleans” to benefit elderly people under the charge of the Roman Catholic charitable organization Little Sisters of the Poor. During the following season his cantata based on Psalm 29 received its premiere performance at Temple Sinai, the new Reform congregation in New Orleans. The work, which uses the English translation by Sinai’s first rabbi, Rabbi J. K. Gutheim, comprises seven movements: (1) chorus, (2) tenor solo, (3) eight-part chorus, (4) double fugue, (5) alto solo, (6) male voice quartet, and (7) finale. The guest soloists were members of the New Orleans French Opera, but the forty-voice chorus was that of the regular choir (perhaps supplemented) of Temple Sinai. In addition to Weber’s position as Sinai’s music director, he also served a similar function at the Jesuits Church.
The second of Kitziger’s four volumes of music for Reform worship (1891) contains ten settings and responses by Weber; and Weber’s own Songs of Judah: Hymns, Psalms and Anthems—a collection of ten original settings for Reform services for soli, four-part mixed choir, and organ accompaniment, all with English texts—was published posthumously in New York in 1905.
By: Neil W. Levin