Frederick Emil Kitziger figured prominently on the classical as well as sacred music scenes in New Orleans during the last three decades of the 19th century and contributed significantly to the musical repertoire of the American Reform movement during that same period. He was born in Altenberg, Saxony (Germany), a town near the Czech border, and he studied music at the Leipzig Conservatory. In 1865 he immigrated to New Orleans and began his musical life there playing brass in various bands, which he continued to do after his return from a brief trip back to Germany to marry and an ill-fated attempted at farming in Crowley, Louisiana. He became a section leader first in the English-language Grand Opera and, at some point in the 1870s, in the French Opera Orchestra; and the extant evidence suggests that he may have served one or more major churches as organist and choirmaster.

Beginning in the 1970s, John H. Baron, a longtime professor of musicology at Tulane University in New Orleans, undertook the first serious examination of Kitziger’s life and music, the initial results of which were first published in 1983. This remains the seminal study of the subject, and Baron has continued with subsequent unpublished research and even edited some of Kitziger’s music. The present consideration and biographical sketch is reliant on Baron’s published information and the documents he unearthed, as well as more recent interviews and personal communications with him. We must remain indebted to Professor Baron for his painstaking research, which included not only written and other material sources, but also interviews with descendants.

By all accounts, Kitziger was a non-Jew. Certainly, he does not appear to have identified himself as a Jew in New Orleans—neither religiously nor ethnically—despite his professional as well as personal ties to the Jewish community, a not unusual phenomenon in the social context of New Orleans and other southern cities of that time. Whether he might have had any Jewish ancestry in Germany—including forebears who might have converted to Christianity—remains unknown. Baron was unable to confirm any specific religious affiliation (he was buried in a nondenominational Christian cemetery, with a cross over his grave) or any evidence that Kitziger considered himself Jewish. Indeed, Baron refers to him as a Christian.

In the introduction to his first volume of published liturgical music (1888) Kitziger indicated that he had been associated with synagogues since about 1868 (“I have been connected for the last twenty years with Jewish houses of worship as organist and musical director”). But apparently, the earliest extant evidence concerning his musical association with synagogues dates no earlier than 1881, when he wrote some music on a professional basis for Touro Synagogue—a merger of two earlier congregations (Gates of Mercy, founded in 1928, and Dispersed of Judah, founded in 1838)—which remains New Orleans’s oldest synagogue. That same year, he was appointed its organist and music director. In addition to his regular duties in that connection, he continued to write music for its services for additional remuneration.

By 1888 he had accumulated a sufficient number of original liturgical pieces to begin publishing them as the four-volume Shire Yehudah—Songs of Judah: A Collection of Sacred Songs for Soli and Chorus with Organ Accompaniment (1888–1899); and the first volume, Sabbath Morning and Evening Services, was issued that year. (It was revised in 1892 and again in 1899 in an enlarged edition.) The work was titled in honor of the synagogue’s namesake, to whom Kitziger paid tribute in his introduction: “In honor of the great philanthropist Juda Touro, whose name graces the synagogue in which I at present preside at the organ, I have named these series.” He also professed acquaintance with the work of two celebrated giants of western and Central European synagogue music in the modern era—cantor-composers Salomon Sulzer (Vienna) and Samuel Naumbourg (Paris)—claiming that he often “tried to cling to the character of those ancient Jewish chants, so well and impressively interwoven with compositions of [such] masters.” (Strangely, the name of Louis Lewandowski, in many ways their Berlin counterpart, was not mentioned.) But it must be confessed that no such desiderata is evident in Kitziger’s own music—neither in terms of melodic/modal liturgical traditions, nor of established cantorial idioms, nor of artistic quality. His simultaneously stated nod, however, to composers already associated with American Reform synagogue music, Alois Kaiser and Moritz Goldstein, is more apt.

Together, the four volumes of Shire Yehudah contain 347 settings for Sabbath and High Holy Day services. Especially in the first two volumes, Kitziger selected prayer texts from the various prayerbooks then in use among Reform and Reform-leaning synagogues in America—chiefly, Isaac Mayer Wise’s Minhag America (1856), in which Hebrew is prominent, with English and, to a lesser extent, German playing secondary roles; and David Einhorn’s Olath Tamid (the first part also 1856), which favors English. Kitziger may also have relied for some settings on two other prayerbooks current in American Reform services that are known to have been used in New Orleans as well: Benjamin Szold and Marcus Jastrow’s Avodath Yisrael and another by Adolph Huebsch, who also compiled a hymnal, with text in German, adapted to preexisting tunes. In some instances Kitziger even provided optional settings of prayers according to different versions or inclusions in the various prayerbooks. Obviously, this rendered his music usable by a larger number of congregations than would have been the case had it been modeled on any single prayerbook. But that situation had already changed by the last few years of the 19th century. His fourth volume (1899) reflects the relatively new Union Prayerbook (1894), which at that time was on its way to becoming the adopted de facto official ritual of American Reform (individual holdouts notwithstanding)—as the publication of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the national association of Reform rabbis. And his 1897 adaptation of a Mendelssohn piece for an English rendition of Ma tovu (published individually in folio) was set to the translation (or English version) in the Union Prayerbook.

Most of the settings in Shire Yehudah are in Hebrew, with some in English and a few in German, which Baron interprets as Kitziger’s having favored Wise’s prayerbook over the others. The fact that German still resonated with some congregants by the last decade of the 19th century is suggested not only by Kitziger’s German-language settings but also by those presented with Hebrew and German options in their text underlays, such as Mi Khamokha / Ewige Wahrheit in Volume II.

Kitziger’s own sales records indicate that by the end of the century Shire Yehudah had been purchased by synagogues (presumably Reform) in thirty-seven states. There were apparently sales to Canada, England, and even Germany, although it is difficult to gauge the actual usage abroad. In New Orleans, Kitziger’s music enjoyed regular and extensive use, and much of it found its way into the regular repertoire of major synagogues elsewhere in the South. Certain settings became standard in Reform worship throughout the United States. Even by 1888, if we accept the prefatory endorsement in the inaugural volume of Shire Yehudah by Touro’s rabbi, Isaac L. Leucht, Kitziger’s music was being heard not only in New Orleans but regionally as well: “These compositions have been constantly performed at my own synagogue, at Temple Sinai, also in several other synagogues in adjoining states....”

Like most of his contemporaries who composed and arranged music for the American Reform format, Kitziger’s harmonic language and melodic shapes unapologetically mimicks Western hymnody, other Protestant church forms, and classical art music. This reflected the prevailing tastes and expectations of American Reform worshippers as well as rabbis of that period. To the extent that he tried to follow the examples of Sulzer and Naumbourg (or Lewandowski, despite his omission of that name), he appears to have looked only to their Western classical craft—only to pieces for texts of the liturgy that have no traditionally required or established musical traditions—while ignoring for the most part their stylized but faithful incorporation of centuries-old traditional prayer modes and seasonal tunes and leitmotifs.

Apart from Shire Yehudah and the English version of Ma tovu, Kitziger’s other Jewish liturgical works include a Confirmation Service (1890) of eleven settings; a Yom Kippur Memorial Service (1897) of seven settings; a collection titled Twenty Hymns for Jewish Worship (n.d.); Psalm 128 for Jubilees and Anniversaries; and Psalm 100.

While the greater part of his creative energy was devoted to liturgical composition, Kitziger also wrote smaller so-called parlor piano pieces, a popular genre then. His Martha Washington Minuet, which Baron included in Piano Music from New Orleans 1851–1898 (1980), was actually danced at an event at the New Orleans Opera House known as the Martha Washington Tea Party—assumed to commemorate the American centennial. And Kitziger composed at least one major church work, a Mass in E-major.

By: Neil W. Levin


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