Leon M. Kramer was a well-known choral director of Jewish choruses in the New York area in the late 19th and first four decades of the 20th centuries. Before immigrating to the United States, he studied in Berlin. He is said to have been associated there in some choral or other assistant musical capacity with Louis Lewandowski, the music director at the Oranienbergerstrasse Synagogue, who was one of the central figures in the development of modern Western synagogue music and architect of the choral service of the 19th early-20th-century German Synagogue that appertained in varying degrees among orthodox, Liberale, and Reform synagogues alike.
In New York, at different times, Kramer directed Yiddish as well as Hebrew choruses allied with movements and organizations representing the various shades of Jewish political, social, and national orientation. His name is ubiquitous in the programs of Jewish choral concerts and is found frequently in photograph captions and concert press announcements of his day. He was active in the short-lived organization known as the United Hebrew [Jewish] Choral Societies of the United States and Canada, which was an attempt to bring together all, or at least many, of the Jewish choruses with differing political leanings and missions. With the illustrious choral conductor Leo Low, Kramer codirected that 600-voice massed chorus—comprising nine individual choirs—at the society’s first concert and music festival, held at the Hippodrome in New York in 1923.
In 1883 Kramer succeeded Daniel Korn as the choirmaster at Congregation Shearith Israel (the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue) in New York (see Introduction to Volume 2). He served at that post for nearly sixty years, during which time he compiled and transcribed the entire repertoire and arranged and rearranged much of it. He also composed a number of original settings in keeping with the style and flavor of the western Sephardi musical tradition maintained by Shearith Israel. Some of these have remained in continuous use.
Kramer’s compilation of his own choral arrangements of the traditional melodies sung at Shearith Israel at Sabbath eve services was completed and edited by his successor, Oskar Guttman, and published posthumously.
By: Neil W. Levin