Oh, What is Man
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Kitziger’s setting for the memorial service on Yom Kippur of “O, What Is Man?” to an adaptation of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (piano sonata no. 14 in C-sharp minor, op. 27, no. 2) for soprano or mezzo-soprano and organ is one of his best-known products—remembered today more as a curious relic than for musical or liturgical validity. Like similar adaptations of the time from secular classical music, it raises eyebrows now, although as of the late 20th century it was still heard in a few classical Reform congregations in the Deep South, where it had been ingrained in custom. For those who recognize the source, it may seem curious, but in Kitziger’s time, Reform worshippers found it inspiring and uplifting—especially those whose musical tastes were already conditioned by Western art music.
That now defunct fashion of adapting secular art music for liturgical purposes, however, has its contemporary counterpart in the deliberate adoption of secular folk, folk style, and even commercial pop and rock tunes for liturgical texts—a trend that pervades traditional and orthodox services as well, which gained momentum during the last two decades of the 20th century.