Part 1. Allegro – Verses 1-4 – Interlude 1 – Verse 1 – Interlude 2 03:33
Part 2. Moderato – Verses 2-4 – Interlude 3 – Verses 5-8 05:52
Part 3. Allegro – Verses 9-10 – Interlude 4 – Allegro furioso 07:13
Part 4 Verse 11 01:19
Part 5 Verse 11b 00:52
Part 6 Verses 12, 13a – Interlude 5 – Allegro non troppo 03:09
Part 7 Verse 13b - Postlude 03:32

Liner Notes

Stefan Wolpe’s Yigdal Cantata—for baritone solo, mixed chorus, and organ—is a highly complex setting of the stalwart medieval hymn of faith known by its text incipit as yigdal [elohim ḥai] (We exalt the presence of the living God) and based on Moses Maimonides’ “thirteen principles of faith.” This liturgical poem, constructed according to an Arabic meter, is most commonly attributed to Rabbi Daniel ben Yehuda of Rome, who is thought to have written it in the 14th century, but whose identity (apart from his name) and the circumstances of the poem’s composition remain uncertain. Some liturgists, however, have argued that the poem was written by Emanuel ben Solomon of Rome. 

Although the strophic poem occurs in the Ashkenazi rite as an opening hymn in the daily morning service, it is probably most familiar to synagogue-oriented American Jewry from its other role as an optional concluding hymn following Sabbath and holyday evening and/or musaf services (Sephardi, Italian, and Yemenite rites, among others, also traditionally include yigdal at the conclusion of the Sabbath eve service). Its thirteen lines summarize and reflect poetically Maimonides’ thirteen principles—as presented in his introduction to Mishna Sanhedrin 10:1—which stipulate that there is indeed an almighty Creator of the universe; that His essence is absolute unity and oneness; that He is without material substance or form; that He is eternal—i.e., without beginning and without end; that only [this one and only] God is to be worshipped; that the biblical prophets represent truth—that their prophecies are true; that Moses was the greatest of all prophets; that the entire Torah is of Divine origin and was given directly by God to Moses; that the Torah—God’s stipulated ways—is immutable and not subject to any alteration; that God is aware of all human thoughts and actions; that God both rewards and punishes; that the Messiah will ultimately come; and that there will be a messianic resurrection at a time of the Creator’s choosing.

The liturgy of the Sephardi tradition includes a fourteenth line, and in some prayerbooks a fifteenth, summarizing: “These are the thirteen principles of faith; they form the foundation of faith in God and of God’s Torah . . .”

The genesis of Wolpe’s cantata was a commission from Cantor David Putterman and New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue as part of their much-heralded and long-running program for encouraging contemporary composers to address the Hebrew liturgy (see the notes to David Diamond's Mizmor l’david). The work received its premiere in excerpted form at that congregation’s third annual service of new music on a Sabbath eve in 1945 in the company of other newly commissioned prayer settings by Leonard Bernstein, Henry Brant, Darius Milhaud, and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

At the time of the Park Avenue commission and premiere, the piece was known simply as Yigdal, and only subsequently and in its extended form did it come to be titled Yigdal Cantata. Indeed, as is obvious to any listener, this is no functional prayer setting or closing synagogal hymn, but a sophisticated concert cantata in every sense. Wolpe viewed the full work, too, as one that would transcend synagogue worship and—according to his biographer, the preeminent Wolpe scholar, Austin Clarkson—as a universal expression of hope for world peace. In turn, in this composition, that hope is based on a broad, liberal interpretation of the concepts of faith contained in the poem.

The spirit of faith reflected in this cantata is animated throughout by driving energy and excitement, even in its quieter passages. There is about it an overall relentlessness that binds together the individual stanzas and their individual pronouncements. The intervallic leaps and motoric direction of the solo vocal lines give them at times a jagged quality and an emotional intensity that is mediated by a sense of soaring reverence. They are declamatory yet lyrical, with the lyricism building to dramatic moments. The chorus both supports and imitates the soloist’s phrases but also functions as a dramatic partner. Far from an accompaniment, the virtuoso and almost fiendishly difficult organ part is an integral, organic part of the whole. At times it collaborates with the baritone solo, at times with the chorus, and at times with both, but it is a soloistic element in its own right, to which are devoted five interludes, a postlude, and other distinct passages passim.

Yigdal Cantata is divided into seven parts, over which the thirteen strophes are spread and, in two cases, split between two of the parts. The structure is as follows:

PART 1. [Allegro]

Strophes 1–4 (chorus)
Interlude 1 (organ)
Strophe 1 (baritone solo, chorus)
Interlude 2 (organ)

PART 2. [Moderato]

Strophes 2–4 (baritone solo, chorus)
Interlude 3 (organ)
Strophes 5–8 (chorus)

PART 3. [Allegro]

Strophes 9–10 (baritone solo, chorus)
Interlude 4 (organ)


Strophe 11 (chorus)


Strophe 11b (baritone solo, chorus)


Strophe 12–13a (chorus)
Interlude 5 (organ)


Strophe 13b (baritone, chorus)


The provisions of tempo markings as quasi-subtitles for parts 1–3 only, and for only the last two of the five interludes, might even be seen as bespeaking a deliberate, almost defiant brand of inconsistency that, subtle a detail as this may be, in some ways defines Wolpe’s individualism and independence. The written indications for the fourth interlude, “Allegro furioso (with the fanaticism of an embittered sentiment),” is even more telling of his originality of sentiment. 

By: Neil W. Levin



Composer: Stefan Wolpe

Length: 25:32
Genre: Liturgical

Performers: Christfried Biebrach, Bass;  Horst Neumann, Conductor;  North German Radio Chorus;  Wolfgang Zerer, Organ

Additional Credits:

Publisher: Peer Music



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