Louis Lewandowski

“Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov” (How beautiful are your tents, Jacob) is the opening line of a prayer that is said upon entering a synagogue and is therefore found as an inscription above many synagogue portals. The setting of this prayer to music by Louis Lewandowski for a four-voice choir, a cantor solo, and organ accompaniment is one of the most famous works by the composer, who was conductor of the New Synagogue Berlin since its inauguration. Raised in the Polish-Jewish tradition, Lewandowski came to Berlin as a youth and was patronized by Alexander Mendelssohn. He was the first Jew to be enrolled at the Berlin Academy of Arts and later celebrated as the “Mendelssohn of synagogue music.” Like no other, he stands for the musical reform of the worship service, but also for a synthesis of the orally transmitted Jewish prayer chants of (Central) Eastern Europe and the music of European Romanticism. The fact that an organ was included in the New Synagogue—contrary to the tradition of not having any musical instruments played in a synagogue—was due in part to an expert opinion by Lewandowski, who by this time had already been the choir conductor of the Berlin Jewish community for over twenty years. Lewandowski’s compositions are exemplary for the many influences that flow from the New Synagogue into the world: Generations of cantors grew up with them, and they continue to resound in both liberal and conservative synagogues and concert halls around the globe to this day.  

Timeline Berlin

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