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Jacobi was commissioned by Cantor David Putterman to compose this setting of the evening prayer text, ahavat olam, for the 1945 annual service of new liturgical music at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York. Beginning in 1950 and thereafter—except for special anniversary occasions and retrospectives—full-length services by single composers were commissioned under that program and premiered at the synagogue. But prior to that, those special Friday evening Sabbath eve services included new individual prayer settings by various composers. The 1945 service at which Jacobi’s Ahavat olam was first performed also presented newly commissioned settings of other texts in the Sabbath eve liturgy by composers Leonard Bernstein, Henry Brant, Julius Chajes, Darius Milhaud, and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.
Jacobi therefore conceived this Ahavat olam as an independent piece, and it was not part of his second full service, commissioned in 1952 by Cantor Putterman and the Park Avenue Synagogue, which was his last work. In the Ahavat olam, Jacobi exhibits a more traditional flavor than is found in any of the pieces in his 1931 Temple Emanu-El service, although some of the effective open harmonies are present here as well. At the time of the Emanu-El commission, Jacobi had had little if any exposure to traditional cantorial art, and under Saminsky’s influence, he began only then to acquaint himself with its stylistic features and idioms. But in the intervening fifteen years he had become increasingly involved with Jewish liturgical musical issues and concerns, which is evident in the natural flow of the solo melismatic cantorial lines in this setting—even though they are creatively stylized within a measured rhythmic structure. Cantorial-type ornamentation is ever present in some of the choral passages, such as in the opening phrase, in the sopranos and tenors in unison. The delicately bouncing treatment of ki hem ḥayyeinu (for they [the teachings of the Torah and its commandments] are our life....) also reflects a standard device in many traditional choral settings of this prayer, but the musical substance here is entirely fresh and refreshing. Appropriately, the setting thus reflects the dual spirit of the Sabbath in Jewish life: tranquillity and joy.