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December 12, 2011
Hanukkah songs with a bit of history
Featured in the Milken Archive Newsletter

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Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, is still over a week away. But that doesn’t mean it’s too early to brush up on our candle-lighting prayers. Here are three pieces of classical Jewish music that represent this occasion.

Raymond Golstein’s B'rakhot L'hanukka

Unlike certain other parts of the Ashkenazi liturgy, there is no single authoritative melody for the Hanukkah benedictions. For example, the Raymond Goldstein-arranged B’rakhot l'hanukka (Benedictions for the Kindling of the Hanukkah Lights) is a setting for cantor and choir that utilizes unrelated melodies by three traditional cantorial composers--Solomon Ancis, Joshua Lind, and Zeidel Rovner--the last two of whom were famous synagogue composers in the quintessential eastern European folk-oriented mold. Goldstein’s paraphrase as a single unified setting evokes a typical traditional Hanukkah concert or public candle-lighting, but it is cleverly fused with a more contemporary harmonic character.


Hugo Adler’s Hannerot hallalu

Hannerot hallalu, which underscores the exclusive function of the Hanukkah lights in recalling God’s miracles and deliverance, is sung immediately after the lights are kindled. The admonition concerning the sanctity of the lights--and the prohibition of any profane or practical use other than simply looking at them--necessitates the use of a separate ninth flame (the shammash) to kindle the others. This choral setting, Hugo Adler’s Hannerot hallalu with its contrapuntal sections juxtaposed against more homophonic treatments, is appropriate for a public candle-lighting ceremony.


Leo Low’s Likhtelekh

Morris Rosenfeld, “the poet of the sweatshop,” was a pioneering force for Yiddish poetry in the United States and a leading poet of the labor movement during the early decades of eastern European immigration to the United States. His poem, Di khanike likht, looks into the symbolism of the Hanukkah lights with their evocation of lament over lost Jewish sovereignty and the ensuing centuries of persecution and suffering. It became attached to European folk melodies, such as choral conductor Leo Low’s interpretation of the poem. Low’s Likhtelekh is presented here in a choral arrangement by Larry Moore, as it might have been heard in past Yiddish folk chorus presentations.

Past Milken Archive newsletters:

Dave Brubeck | Leonard Bernstein and Hebrew Prayer | Human Rights Day

Preview Volume 07 | Free Hanukkah music | Degania anniversary

Thanksgiving | Black Friday Humor | Meyer Kupferman