Tracks

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Track

Time

Yihyu l'ratzon 01:08
Ein kamokha 02:03
Vay'hi binso'a 00:51
Sh'ma yisra'el 01:56
Aliyot (Torah readings) 02:00
Y'hal'lu 01:27
Ki lekakh tov 02:19
 

Liner Notes

In the modern era, beginning with the groundbreaking work of Salomon Sulzer in Vienna (1804–1990) and Louis Lewandowski in Berlin, synagogue composers throughout the Ashkenazi world have created artistic settings of the principal texts of the Torah service for cantor and four-part choir—both a cappella and with organ accompaniment. From about the 1940s on, a number of American composers have written structurally unified and conceptually self-contained Torah services as single, multi-movement works. These range from functional synagogue music intended primarily for worship to sophisticated works equally suitable for concert performance—such as this one by Yehudi Wyner, which, in its full version, features orchestral accompaniment.


Curator's Note: For further explanation of the Torah service liturgy according to the Reform format, see the note accompanying A Reform Sabbath Morning Torah Service in Volume 3: SEDER T'FILLOT—Traditional and Contemporary Synagogue Services.


In terms of use for synagogue worship, Wyner obviously intended his Torah Service primarily for the liturgical format of Reform services. At the time of its composition, instrumental usage (especially apart from the organ) would have been permissible on Sabbaths and other holy days only within the Reform movement—albeit with a few exceptions among synagogues affiliated with the Conservative movement (and of course none among orthodoxy). In his selection of Torah service texts for musical expression (not all are addressed), however, he chose creatively to combine some from the format of the Union Prayerbook—at that time the de facto official, nearly exclusive, prayerbook of the Reform movement—with some texts from the traditional liturgy that had been eliminated by the prayerbook editors, and he added others that appeared in both liturgical formats.

Wyner also chose to precede the Torah service proper with a setting of the “silent meditation” and prayer text yih’yu l’ratzon (May the words of my mouth and my heart’s meditations be acceptable . . .). Since this is not actually part of the Torah service itself, he viewed that addition as an acceptable liberty, which makes sense from a traditional liturgical standpoint. This silent meditation appears at the end of the shaḥarit (morning service) in traditional worship. (The distinction between shaḥarit and mussaf—the so-called additional service that follows shaḥarit and the Torah service on the applicable occasions on the liturgical calendar—was eliminated by the editors of the UnionPrayerbook; see The Union Prayerbook and its Evolution in the Introduction to Volume 1.)

The Torah service follows immediately upon the conclusion of shaḥarit in traditional Sabbath morning worship—so that the concluding meditation of shaḥarit (yih’yu l’ratzon) leads almost directly into the opening text of the Torah service (en kamokha)—separated only by the cantor’s or reader’s recitation of kaddish shalem (“final” or “concluding” kaddish, not to be confused with the mourners’ kaddish), which does not occur in Reform worship. Thus Wyner’s seizing upon the text of yih’yu l’ratzon as a prelude to his Torah Service was not a liberty taken without merit. It comes across both as a justified overture and as a creative reference to the juxtapositions of the shaḥarit and Torah services, which, for all practical purposes, are both part of the larger, encompassing Sabbath “morning service”—whether or not it (or mussaf in traditional worship) extends past noon.

Another aesthetically imaginative—and instructive—touch in Wyner’s treatment of the Torah service as a whole is his inclusion of examples of the cantillation of the weekly Torah portion according to the established eastern European Ashkenazi formula (the ta’amei hamikra) together with the b’rakhot that precede and follow each of the divisions of the k’ri’at hatora, the intoned reading of the portion assigned to each Sabbath. 

For the concluding text of the Torah service, uv’nuḥo yomar—sung after the scrolls have been returned to the ark—Wyner chose, not atypically, to begin his setting with the fifth line of that text, ki lekaḥ tov. Over the span of nearly two centuries, Ashkenazi synagogue composers have begun their setting at various points—from the very beginning (uv’nuḥo yomar), at the third line (kohanekha yilb’shu tzedek), or including only the last three lines (etz ḥayyim hi).

Wyner probed the various texts of the Torah service for their significance in terms of Jewish historical resonance and of spiritual preparation for what since antiquity has been the central event of communal worship on Sabbaths, the Three Festivals, the High Holydays, and other special occasions of the annual liturgical cycle. These texts, he said,

do not merely shape the sense of anticipation that leads to actual contact with the holiest of books, but they evoke a sense of resolution that follows the readings. They also contain significant references to a remote past. These allusions, once identified, make the remote past seem very near and contribute to a remarkable sense of continuity and communion.

Commissioned by a private patron in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1966, The Torah Service was given its premiere performance by a group of Yale University students at a synagogue in Woodbridge, Connecticut. 

By: Neil W. Levin

 

Credits

Composer: Yehudi Wyner

Length: 11:45
Genre: Liturgical

Performers: Joshua Breitzer, Cantor;  New York Virtuoso Singers;  Yehudi Wyner, Conductor

Additional Credits:

 Publisher: Associated Music Publishers Inc. For rental info see: http://www.musicsalesclassical.com/composer/work/3050/34642

This recording under license from Bridge Records, Inc.

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