Herman Berlinski led a fascinating and unpredictable life. From inauspicious beginnings, he travelled in influential artistic circles in Europe and fought in the French Foreign Legion. After emigrating to the U.S. in the middle of the Second World War, he became an influential figure in Jewish music as a composer, organist, and music director.

Interview by Neil W. Levin and Barry Serota.

Part 1, Family Background and Early Years: Berlinski reflects on his multifaceted background, the general European Jewish experience in Europe prior to the Second World War, and the pervasive Jewish influence in his music.

Part 2, The French Years: Details Berlinski's circuitous journey to France, his study at the École Normale de Musique de Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Alfred Cortot, his work with a dramatic Yiddish theater, service in the French Foreign Legion, and his narrow escape to America.

Part 3, America: Traces Berlinski’s early career in America, including his becoming a virtuoso organ player and working at New York’s Temple Emanu-El with Lazare Saminsky.

Part 4, Jewish Theological Seminary: Focuses on his studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary with Hugo Weisgall, Joseph Yasser, and Max Wohlberg, as well as his attempt to file a controversial thesis on rabbinical inhibitions in the development of Jewish music.

Part 5, Washington, DC: The final phase of Berlinski’s career took him to Washington, DC, where he served as music director at Washington Hebrew Congregation. This excerpt recounts his work there and includes a summation of his compositional approach.

Note: This recording has been lightly edited to enhance public access.

Date: October 23, 1998

Credit: Milken Family Foundation

Related Tags:

Alfred Cortot Arnold Schoenberg Arthur Wolfson Herman Berlinski Hugo Weisgall Jewish Theological Seminary Joseph Yasser Lazar Weiner Lazare Saminsky Moshe Rudinov Nadia Boulanger oral history Rabbi Norman Gerstenfeld Washington Hebrew Congregation

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