|I. Organ Prelude
|II. L'kha dodi
|IV. Sh'ma yisrael
|V. Organ Interlude
|VI. Mi khamokha
|VII. Mourner's Kaddish
|VIII. Adon olam
|IX. Organ Postlude
The ultimate flowering of art music for the American Synagogue occurred in the mid-20th century, due in no small measure to the pioneering efforts of Hazzan David Putterman at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City. At Putterman’s instigation and under his leadership, prominent or soon-to-be prominent American composers (native as well as European-born émigré)—such as Leonard Bernstein, David Diamond, Jacob Druckman, Morton Gould, Roy Harris, Darius Milhaud, Lukas Foss, and Kurt Weill, as well as some Israeli composers such as Paul Ben-Haim—were commissioned to write either complete Sabbath services or individual prayer settings to be introduced at that synagogue’s annual service of new music. For more than twenty-five years, those special services were keenly anticipated by an increasingly curious and musically discerning audience of congregants, as well as by members of the general public.
In 1965, I was privileged to join the roster of those distinguished composers when on May 7 my Shirei Ahava L’Shabbat (Love Songs for Sabbath) was given its first performance by Cantor Putterman, with the synagogue choir conducted by Harold Aks, and McNeil Robinson at the organ. It was through me that the supremely gifted Robinson was engaged for this premiere, and he was subsequently hired as the synagogue’s full-time organist—a position he holds to this day.
Cantor Putterman was a benevolent taskmaster who insisted that “a service is not a concert.” In other words, he pleaded for gebrauchsmusik (functional, or practical music). But I resisted and indeed composed a concert-service, which required extra rehearsals and therefore could be performed only occasionally. This was the largest work I had attempted up until that time, and I was not about to be dissuaded. Consistent with the prestige attached to those annual services, the famous Yiddish theater composer and musical personality Sholom Secunda reviewed the premiere in The Jewish Daily Forward:
The more I heard, the more overwhelmed I was by the young composer’s talents and his dramatic music and all the more forgot where I was: in a synagogue, or in an opera house? In comparison with the other presentations of the Park Avenue Synagogue, the Gottlieb service is a great achievement and success...this time the music was echt and by a gifted composer.
Secunda went on at great length to praise the music as drama, but not as worthy for worship. This of course has always been an ongoing debate in writing music for any liturgy. At the time, however, I believed that if great composers of the past could write works of dimension for the church that were impractical for weekly liturgical use, why couldn’t composers write concert-services for the Jewish ritual? Nevertheless, I learned an important pragmatic lesson from the experience, and in later years I came to write more functional synagogue music.
Following the premiere, Cantor Raymond Smolover of the Jewish Community Center in White Plains, New York, persuaded me that the theatricality of the service would be further enhanced by introducing poetic readings as well as a dancer to interpret a few liturgical passages. In May 1966 the work was performed in White Plains in this new version, performed by Cantor Smolover, with Felicia Montealegre (Mrs. Leonard Bernstein) as the reader and choreography by Anna Sokolow. Thereafter, other performances featured such readers as singer Adele Addison and actress Mildred Natwick.
The most thrilling of those latter-day performances were the ones in May 1967—under joint Roman Catholic–Jewish auspices in a church on the campus of the College of St. Catherine, in St. Paul, Minnesota. The stations of the cross and the altar were covered, for that was, as far as I have been able to determine, the first time a full-length Jewish service was presented in its entirety under such patronage. The artists included Cantor Jacob Goldstein from Temple of Aaron, the combined student choirs of the Colleges of St. Catherine and St. Thomas under the direction of Sister Lucina, a member of the faculty, and others. The event caused much upheaval in the local press, both in favor and against; there was even an ominous telephone call to the participating rabbi’s elderly mother, as well as a bomb threat. After all these years, I would like to believe that because of this unique interfaith encounter, the students who participated, now adults, are intolerant of such bigotry when and wherever they encounter it.
In the program booklet for the premiere, I commented that the lines from a poem by the great medieval Spanish-Hebrew poet Yehuda Halevi, which form the spoken text in the Organ Prelude, are an expression of what I have tried to convey in the music.
The service is dedicated to the beloved memory of my teacher Max Helfman, a masterly servant of Jewish music and the one who first encouraged me to compose. In the Mourners’ Kaddish I quote the words of Helfman’s setting of Carl Sandburg’s poem “Mill Doors.” I allude to the melody for two reasons— because the words are about parting and loss, and because of the dedication:
You never come back.
I say good-by when I see you going in the doors,
The hopeless open doors that call and wait...
In addition to the movements presented on this recording, the remainder of the service comprises the following: Ma tovu; Psalm 96: Shiru ladonai; Hashkivenu; V’shamru; Cantillation Chorale and Half-Kaddish; Silent Meditation and May the Words; Vay’khullu; Kiddush; and Va’anaḥnu and V’haya adonai.
Poem: Yehuda Halevi (ca. 1075–1141)
Translation from the Hebrew by Nina Salaman
How sweet to me the time between twilights,
To see the face of Sabbath, a new face.
O, come with apples, bring ye raisin cakes.
This is my day of rest; my lover, friend.
I sing to Thee, O Sabbath, songs of love....
THE BLESSED MATCH
Poem: Hannah Szenesh (1921–44)
Blessed the match that was burned and ignited flames.
Blessed the flame that blazed up in the secret places of the heart.
Blessed the heart that throbbed its last beat in honor.
REFRAIN (CANTOR and CHOIR):
Beloved, come—let us approach the Sabbath bride and welcome the entrance of our Sabbath, the bride.
STROPHES 1, 3, 5, 7, 9:
God, whose very uniqueness is His essence,
Whose very name is “One,”
Had us hear simultaneously the two imperatives in His Sabbath commandments:
“Guard the Sabbath,” “Remember the Sabbath”—
Two words spoken at Sinai concurrently
Were heard by Israel as one command.
To our one and unique God, and to His name,
Let there be fame, glory, and praise.
Jerusalem, sanctuary of God the celestial King
And temporal capital of human kings,
Rise up from the midst of destruction and ruin.
Enough of your sitting in a valley of tears;
God’s great mercy awaits you—
Indeed His mercy awaits you!
Your light has come.
Arise and shine,
Speak a song! Sing a poem!
The glory of the Lord is revealed to you.
Those who plundered you
Will be put to ruin;
Those who devoured you
Will be far, far from you.
Your God will rejoice in you
As the bridegroom is joyful with his bride.
Sabbath, you who are your Master’s crown,
Come in peace, in joy, in gladness
Into the midst of the faithful of a remarkably special people.
Come, O Sabbath bride—
REJOICE, O BRIDEGROOM!
Medieval text, poet unknown
Translation from the Hebrew by Israel Abrahams
Rejoice, O bridegroom, your bliss this assembly shall share, happy in you.
By grace of us all ascend, you and your goodly company.
Rise we, too, to our feet, lovingly to greet you.
One hope is now in all our hearts, one prayer we utter:
Blessed be your coming in, blessed be your going forth!
CANTOR and CHOIR:
Worship the Lord, to whom all worship is due.
Worshiped be the Lord, who is to be worshiped for all eternity.
CANTOR and CHOIR:
Listen, Israel! The Lord is our God.
The Lord is the only God—His unity is His essence.
Deuteronomy 6:5–9; Numbers 15:40
You shall love your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be taken to heart. Teach them diligently to your children, and speak of them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you awaken.Bind them as a sign upon your hands and place them as symbols between your eyes. Write them upon the doorposts of your house. Do all my commandments that you may remember and be holy unto your God.
[The Lord your God]
THEN SANG MOSES
I will sing unto God, for You have triumphed gloriously.
Horse and rider You have hurled into the sea.
God is my strength and song, You are my salvation.
This is my God [whom I will glorify],
My father’s God who shall be exalted.
Who is like unto You, among the mighty?
Who is like unto You, glorious in holiness?
Fearful in praises? Doing wonders?
mi khamokha ba’elim adonai,
mi kamokha ne’ddar bakodesh,
nora t’hillot ose fele.
[Who is comparable among the mighty to You, O Lord?
Who can equal the magnificence of Your holiness?
Even to praise You inspires awe, You who perform wondrous deeds.]
Your children saw Your majesty
and You parted the sea before Moses.
mal’khut’kha ra’u vanekha,
boke’a yam lif’nei moshe.
[Your children witnessed Your majesty, looking on as You parted the sea in their presence and in the presence of Moses.]
“This is my God!” they shouted.
[“This is my God.”]
[They sang, and repeated]
You shall reign forever.
adonai yimlokh l’olam va’ed.
[“The Lord shall reign for all eternity.”]
And it is said: “Indeed, the Mighty One delivered Jacob
and rescued him from a strong power.”
v’ne’emar, ki fada adonai et ya’akov,
ug’alo miyyad ḥazak mimmenu.
[And it has been said in Scripture: “For the Lord has rescued Jacob and liberated him from a most powerful foe.”]
Blessed are You, O God
barukh atta adonai
[You are worshiped, O Lord]
Blessed are You, O God, and blessed is Your name.
barukh hu uvarukh sh’mo.
[He is worshiped, and his name is worshiped.]
Redeemer of Israel.
[You who redeemed Israel.]
Poem by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926)
Lord, it is time. The summer was too long.
Lay now Thy shadow over the sundials, and on the meadow let the wind blow strong.
Bid the last fruit to ripen on the vine; allow them still two friendly southern days to bring them to perfection and to force the final sweetness in the heavy wine.
Who has no house now will not build him one.
Who is alone now will be long alone, will waken, read, and write long letters and through barren pathways up and down restlessly wander when dead leaves are blown.
Translation from the German by C. F. MacIntyre
[May God’s great name be even more exalted.]
MEDITATION ON COMMUNION WITH GOD
Poem by Yehuda Halevi (ca. 1075–1141)
Translation from the Hebrew by Solomon Solis-Cohen
My thought awakened me with Thy name,
Upon Thy boundless love to meditate;
Whereby I came the fullness of the wonder to perceive,
That Thou a soul immortal shouldst create
To be embound with this, my mortal frame.
I sought Thee whilst I dreamed;
And lo, Thy glory seemed
To pass before me; as, of old, the cloud
Descended in his sight, who heard
The music of Thy spoken word.
Then from my couch I sprang, and cried aloud:
“Blest be Thy glorious name!”
Sung in Hebrew
Lord of the world, who reigned even before form was created,
At the time when His will brought everything into existence,
Then His name was proclaimed King.
And even should existence itself come to an end,
He, the Awesome One, would still reign alone.
He was, He is, He shall always remain in splendor throughout eternity.
He is “One”—there is no second or other to be compared with Him.
He is without beginning and without end;
All power and dominion are His.
He is my God and my ever-living redeemer,
And the rock upon whom I rely in time of distress and sorrow.
He is my banner and my refuge,
The “portion in my cup”—my cup of life
Whenever I call to Him.
I entrust my spirit unto His hand,
As I go to sleep and as I awake;
And my body will remain with my spirit.
The Lord is with me: I fear not.
y’varekh’kha adonai v’yishm’rekha,
ya’er adonai panav elekha viḥuneka.
yissa adonai panav elekha,
v’yasem l’kha shalom,
[May God bless you and keep you.
May the face of God shine upon you.
May God’s countenance be lifted up unto you.
And give you peace.]
SET ME AS A SEAL
Sung in English
Songs of Songs 8:6
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
Set me as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, for jealousy is cruel as the grave.
The power of love is a burning flame of God.
And you shall love the Eternal One, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them to your children, and you shall speak of them when you are resting in your house, when you are walking by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house, and upon your gates.
Songs of Songs 8:7
Many waters cannot quench love, nor can torrents drown it.
SHOUT FOR JOY
Sung in English
Come, let us sing unto the Lord,
Let us make a joyful noise
Unto the rock of our salvation!
Come, let us greet Him with thanksgiving,
Let us shout for joy with psalms to Him.
For the Lord is a great God,
And a great King above all kings.
In His hand are the depths of the earth,
And the height of the mountains are His also.
The sea is His, and He made it;
And His hands formed the dry land,
And He formed it.
Come, let us bow down and bend the knee;
Let us kneel before the Lord our maker,
For He is our God:
And we are the people of His pasture,
And the flock of His hand.
Today if you would only listen to His voice.
How lovely are Your dwelling places,
Lord God of Hosts.
My soul is longing and yearning for the courts of the Lord:
My heart and my flesh sing out for joy,
Sing out to God, the living God.
The sparrow has found a home,
And the swallow a nest for herself
Where she may lay her young by Your altars,
You are Lord of Hosts,
My King and my God.
They are happy who dwell in Your house;
Forever singing Your praise.
They are happy whose strength is in You,
In whose hearts are the roads to Zion.
As they go through the bitter valley,
They make it a place of springs;
The autumn rain covers it with blessings.
They walk with ever growing strength,
They will see the God of gods, in Zion.
They walk with ever growing strength!
Lord God of Hosts,
Hear my prayer;
Give ear, O God of Jacob.
Turn Your eyes, O God, our shield;
Look upon the face of Your anointed.
One day within Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
I had rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God
Than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
He gives us His favor,
He gives us His glory.
No good thing will He withhold from them that walk,
That walk uprightly.
Lord of Hosts,
Happy the man who trusts in You, in You.
Psalm 81: 2–6
Sing joyfully to God our strength;
Acclaim the God of Jacob.
Take up a melody and sound the timbrel,
The pleasant harp, and sound the lyre.
Blow the trumpet at the new moon,
At the full moon, on our solemn feast day.
For it is a statute in Israel,
An ordinance of the God of Jacob,
Who made it a decree for Joseph
When he came forth from the land of Egypt.
Sing aloud unto God, to God our strength,
Unto the God of Jacob.
Make a joyful noise unto God!
Publisher: Theophilous Music, Inc.
Reading Recording: Clinton Recording Studio, New York, NY, May 2002
Translation of texts from the liturgy: Rabbi Morton M. Leifman
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