Biographies of Sulzer & Lewandowski

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Salomon Sulzer (1804-1890) and Louis Lewandowski (1821-1894)

 were undoubtedly the most prolific and important composers of synagogue music in the nineteenth century.  Today their compositions are sung in synagogues in this country, in Israel, and wherever Jewish congregations observe the Sabbath and the Holy Days.

     Sulzer was born in Hohenems, Austria. His family moved to that town from Sulz, where their name was Levi. Sulzer studied with several German, Austrian, and Swiss cantors until he was appointed cantor in his hometown. There he introduced the choir. He published a book of Jewish music, including songs for the Sabbath, Holy Days, weddings and funerals. His important book “Zwanzig Gesänge für den Israelitischen Gottesdienst” (Twenty songs for the Israelitic divine service) was published after his death. Sulzer also sang and composed non Jewish music and was known as a interpreter of the Austrian composer Schubert. He was appointed professor at the Imperial Conservatory of Music in Vienna and was honored by emperor Francis Joseph as a knight of the Order of Francis Joseph I. He was also inducted into Academia Nationale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. Today there are recordings by the Vienna Boys Choir, by no means Jewish, of his “Lecho Dodi,” “Adon Olam,” “Etz Chaim,” and many others, all sung in Hebrew.

     Lewandowski was born in Poznan, which was located in Poland at some times and in Germany at other times depending on the latest war. His career began at the age of twelve, when he was appointed a singer in a Berlin synagogue. Then, in 1844, he was invited to organize a choir, also at a Berlin synagogue, thereby becoming the first synagogue choir master anywhere. Twenty years later he was appointed choir master and chazzan at the New Synagogue in Berlin, where he published two books of music called “Kol Rinah” and “Todah Vezimrah.” These books contain music sung to this day. He taught at the Jewish Teachers Seminary and founded the Institute for Aged and Indigent Musicians. He was honored by the German government with the title of Royal Musical Director.

    His numerous compositions include “Tzadik Katomar Yiroch” sung every Friday night in all synagogues and so many others that we cannot list them here.

    Today, both of these musical giants are revived, as they can be heard on the internet, but also on any Sabbath in the “shul” of your choice.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Assassination, Anarchy, & Terrorism (2012).

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