About this Recording
8.559430 - BERLINSKI: Avodat Shabbat (Friday Evening Service)
English 

Herman Berlinski (1910-2001)
Avodat Shabbat

 

About the Composer

The Jewish creative orientation of composer and organist Herman Berlinski (1910–2001) represents a fertile synthesis. His Jewish roots and family traditions were fundamentally eastern European, but he also acquired and adopted the cultural perspectives — and especially musical affinities — of German Jewry; his Paris studies added 20th century French as well as international influences; and eventually he emerged as a thoroughly American composer and an ardent advocate of artistic innovations in the American Synagogue.

Berlinski was born in Leipzig to parents who had emigrated from the highly developed Jewish community in Lódz (then Russian Poland) in the wake of the dangers of backlash following the 1905 Revolution. He demonstrated natural musical gifts at an early age and at sixteen entered the Leipzig Conservatory — primarily as a piano student, with additional studies in theory and composition. In 1918, when an independent Polish Republic was declared following the First World War, his father chose to declare that he and his family were Polish citizens (residing in Germany) rather than accepting an official passport classification as "stateless", since actual full German citizenship was difficult to obtain and involved a complicated process. They remained in Leipzig until the installation of the National Socialist regime, which barred Jewish musicians from participation or employment in musical institutions outside the Jewish community. Berlinski left Germany in 1933, easily able to secure an exit permit with his Polish passport. He went initially to Lódz, where he had many relatives and where he did some concertizing. Not prepared to accept Polish army service, however, he left shortly afterward for Paris. There he studied at the prestigious Ecole Normal de Musique: composition with the legendary Nadia Boulanger, teacher of so many of the 20th century's most important composers; and piano with the subsequently infamous Nazi sympathizer and collaborator, world-renowned pianist Alfred Cortot. Berlinski supported himself by directing, arranging, and sometimes composing incidental music for productions of an émigré Yiddish art theater, known then as PIAT (Paris Jewish Avant-Garde Theatre). This troupe in effect comprised the survivors of the well-known Yiddish art theater in Vilna, whose repertoire ranged from Sholom Aleichem and Peretz to classic Russian plays in Yiddish. These were literary plays, unrelated to the musical Yiddish theater in America — the so-called Second Avenue variety — or to its Romanian foundations in the operettas of Goldfaden. Nonetheless, it was common to include appropriate incidental music and even to superimpose or incorporate some songs in those productions. For Berlinski, this was not only an artistic but a "human experience", because it brought him into contact with so many Ukrainian, Polish, and Lithuanian Jews then stranded in France — a profound personal episode that was later to find reflection and expression in some of his American works.

Berlinski found his studies with Boulanger less than fulfilling. Unlike many of her other American pupils (or so he felt), he was not seeking to shed ethnic boundaries as perceived limitations in favor of the more universal approach and technique of the so-called international school. Moreover, he found her unable to relate to his artistic preoccupations with things Jewish. After two years he parted ways with her and entered the Schola Cantorum, where the respected Sephardi synagogue composer and music director Leon Algazi actually taught a course on Jewish music (in a fundamentally Roman Catholic religious musical environment). Berlinski later recalled that he was received "with open arms" by the French composer Daniel Lesur and his circle, La Jeune France, which included Olivier Messiaen. Messiaen — a deeply and mystically religious Christian whose faith informs many of his major works — understood, along with others in that group, Berlinski's natural inclination to draw upon his Judaism. Berlinski later credited Messiaen with having encouraged him personally to utilize the musical language of his traditions, as fellow composers in that circle made use of Gregorian chant.

In 1934–35 Berlinski applied for French citizenship, which carried with it the obligation of military service in the French Foreign Legion. Though he never did obtain his citizenship, he later recalled with pride his participation at the Belgian border when German army units broke through; and he always took great satisfaction in being "one of the few Jews with the opportunity to have a machine gun in my hand and shoot at them".

After France's surrender to Germany and the establishment of the Vichy government, Berlinski determined to leave while he (and his wife) still could, and to head for America. His father had gone there earlier, and he also had a number of relatives who had emigrated directly from Lódz and were residing in New Jersey. In this he was assisted by a man named Varian Fry ("the American Schindler"), who had come voluntarily to France to facilitate the rescue and emigration of stranded European intellectuals.

As both a German native and a veteran French Legionnaire who had fought against Germany, Berlinski was technically ineligible for an exit visa, since the cooperating French authorities were required to hand over all such individuals to the Germans. His illegally "purchased" exit visa still required an approval stamp. He obtained that only because the French official did not realize that Lipsk, shown as his birthplace on his passport, was simply the Polish translation for Leipzig, and thus assumed incorrectly that Berlinski had been born in Poland rather than Germany. There was still the problem, however, that Poland was occupied by Germany as well. Fry helped him invent a Russian identity, which finally qualified him for exit, since the Soviet Union was still technically neutral as a result of the infamous but soon-to-be violated nonaggression pact. He left France and arrived in the United States only two weeks before the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

Berlinski's first fruitful contact in New York was Moshe Rudinov, cantor of the nationally prestigious Reform synagogue Temple Emanu-El. Rudinov introduced him to the small but intensely committed coterie of Jewish music intellectuals, the Jewish Music Forum, and he soon became well acquainted with the leading personalities of that society, such as Lazar Weiner, Joseph Yasser, Abraham Wolf Binder, and Lazare Saminsky. Always on the lookout for Jewish-related pieces for its intimate recital events, the Forum programmed the only full piece that Berlinski had saved from his French period, a flute and piano sonata on Jewish themes. On the same program that evening, Leonard Bernstein offered a piano preview of his Jeremiah Symphony.

Berlinski taught piano privately until Yasser, the acclaimed musicologist who was also a synagogue organist, suggested that he study organ and offered to teach him. Thus Berlinski, soon to establish an international reputation as a classical organist, began his study of the instrument as late as 1951. He had had a fascination with the organ since his Leipzig student days, but its study was not part of the curriculum and was generally learned within the Church. In New York he eventually became a virtuoso performer and an active member of the American Guild of Organists.

Lazare Saminsky, organist and music director at Temple Emanu-El, needed an assistant organist, and he became Berlinski's mentor, especially with regard to particular organ techniques for Jewish services and for accompanying a cantor. In 1954 Berlinski became Emanu-El's assistant organist, and in 1955 he gave his first recital. When Saminsky died, Berlinski became his successor as principal organist, but by that time the overall responsibilities of musical direction belonged to the cantor, Arthur Wolfson. While at Emanu-El, Berlinski began composing extensively for various media, including choral and other liturgical works, and especially addressing new organ music.

In the early 1950s Berlinski commenced graduate studies in Jewish music at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he delved into serious musicological investigations of ancient Jewish liturgical origins and practices, biblical cantillation, and traditional Jewish prayer modes with Joseph Yasser, Johanna Spector, Solomon Rosowski, and Max Wohlberg. From these guiding spirits he acquired a solid appreciation for the cantorial traditions and their modal foundations, important inspirations for his future compositions. His primary composition mentor at the Seminary was Hugo Weisgall, the esteemed American composer and chairman of the faculty, under whose guidance he completed his master's degree in composition after abandoning his initial effort at a historical thesis on rabbinical prohibitions vis-à-vis music. He then earned the Seminary's first doctoral degree in composition, also with Weisgall, with a dissertation titled Kiddush hashem — a large choral orchestral work that has never been performed. Much of its material, however, was later reworked and used in Berlinski's Litanies for the Persecuted, one of his best-known works.

In 1963 Berlinski could not resist the invitation to become music director of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, also one of America's oldest and most prestigious Reform temples, which had already been exposed to high musical standards under Max Helfman's direction for the High Holy Day services. Its leader, Rabbi Gerstenfeld, wanted it to become a center for the finest sacred music in Washington, D.C., on a par with the city's most prominent churches, and he assured Berlinski a virtually free hand. Indeed, Berlinski quickly succeeded in making that synagogue a showcase for Jewish liturgical music creativity, and it became known nationally throughout the Reform movement for its musical sophistication and its adventurous but nonetheless diverse music. Services were even occasionally reviewed by music critics from the general press, and eventually Berlinski was given the highly unusual title Minister of Music. At the same time, he garnered an international reputation as the foremost interpreter, as well as composer, of Jewish organ music, and he began giving organ recitals throughout Europe and America. After his retirement, he founded his own concert chorus, Shir Chadash, which became recognized for its programming of historical and contemporary Jewish music at annual concerts at the Washington National Cathedral and the Kennedy Center. Its annual Hanukka concert was supported by the city and the Kennedy Center, and its concerts of High Holy Day music, given each year between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, were geared to the non-Jewish general community and well attended. Both became important annual events on Washington's cultural calendar, but they ceased when Berlinski could no longer prepare and direct them.

Berlinski was a prolific composer. His nonliturgical concert opera include many symphonic and chamber works, concertos, song cycles, a violin sonata (Le Violon de Chagall, after the famous Jewish painter), oratorios and other dramatic works, a dozen organ sinfonias, and numerous other organ pieces. His liturgical catalogue — apart from his magnum opus Avodat shabbat and other pieces recorded for the Milken Archive — includes many individual prayer settings and service excerpts, as well as organ pieces for the synagogue.

Berlinski's Etz hayyim (Tree of Life), originally The Beadle of Prague, which he abandoned and rewrote, was commissioned by Project Judaica to mark the opening of the Smithsonian Institution's The Precious Legacy, an exhibition of treasures from the Prague Jewish Museum that toured North America from 1983 to 1986. In 1993, the Union Theological Seminary in New York, the nation's leading pan-denominational liberal Protestant Christian institution, commissioned him — along with Robert Helmschrott, the Roman Catholic composer from Munich, and the Protestant Heinz Werner Zimmermann of Frankfurt — to compose Bonhoeffer Tryptich. This work was conceived to honor the German Evangelical (Lutheran) pastor and resistance leader Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was murdered by the Germans in 1945 for his Resistance activities and humanitarian efforts. It has been performed in Germany, America, Israel, and South Africa.

Berlinski's oratorio Job was commissioned for the groundbreaking ceremony of the rebuilding of Dresden's main synagogue, in 1988, and was performed by the Dresden State Opera Orchestra and Chamber Chorus. That same year, his Mazkir n'shamot (In Remembrance of the Soul), commissioned by the Library of Congress for a concert commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of Reichskristallnacht, was premiered at the Library's Coolidge Auditorium. His twelfth organ sinfonia, Die heiligen Zehn Gebote (The Sacred Ten Sinaitic Pronouncements [commandments]), for tenor, baritone, two trumpets, narrator, percussion, chorus, celeste, and organ, was first performed in October 2000 at Leipzig's Thomaskirch (St. Thomas Church) as part of an entire concert devoted to Berlinski's music, and was repeated a month later in Munich.

At the time of his death, Berlinski was working on a large-scale composition based on the High Holy Day liturgy and partly based on reworked sections of his earlier cantata Days of Awe. He did not live to complete it. But only a few months before he passed away, his chamber work for baritone, mezzo-soprano, double bass, and piano, Celan — inspired by the life and work of the great French-Romanian Jewish poet and Holocaust survivor Paul Celan — was given its premiere at the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington. His last completed works are a quintet for clarinet and strings, and Psalm 130 for solo voice, chorus, and organ, commissioned by the Washington National Cathedral.

Among Berlinski's many other important works are the following: Litany of Solomon ben Aaron, a tribute to Jewish martyrdom; Yizkor, a memorial service; Sh'virat hakkelim, which quotes from Russian synagogue music; The Death of Rachel ; and a Psalm of Unity. Especially notable among his other organ sinfonias are two that are also scored for voices: David and Goliath and The Glassbead Game.

Berlinski's music is not confined exclusively to overt Jewish themes. However, he always insisted that the imprint of his Jewish experience was inextricable from anything he wrote: "I don't think I can write a piece of music, no matter what I do and what I will try, that does not have the stamp of my Jewish existence". Indeed, inspiration from Judaic themes, biblical cantillation as well as narratives, liturgy, Jewish history, and the Hebrew language itself all permeate his aggregate output on one level or another. He viewed Judaism not only as religion — though that played a major part for him — but also as a civilization, along the lines of Mordecai Kaplan's ideas. He always felt that those extramusical sources helped him focus his musical conceptions.

From his classical training and from his special devotion to the organ, Berlinski always thought naturally in polyphonic terms. He correctly perceived Jewish sacred music as historically — and therefore fundamentally in origin — nonpolyphonic, especially in its early roots of biblical cantillation and psalmody. Finding ways to incorporate these elements within polyphonic frameworks was therefore his self-imposed challenge. He often credited German composer Max Reger with having exerted a profound influence on his own technique, particularly with regard to polyphony. Yet his synagogue works, no matter how bold or progressive the harmonic language or general approach, are all skillfully crafted around nuclei of traditional liturgical melos. And despite his penchant for a kind of post-Bartók chromaticism, the flowing freedom as well as modality of cantorial chant is usually discernible.

For Berlinski, any nontonal music and any polyphony — whether tonal, pantonal, or nontonal — had to derive from a homophonic line, from what he called his "inner voice" that he could sing first. His immersion in the study of Ashkenazi cantorial tradition with Cantor Max Wohlberg at the Jewish Theological Seminary — of sacred tunes emanating from the Middle Ages, modal chants, and even older biblical intonations — impregnated both his own musical thinking and much of the melodic material he invented. "I cannot think of a melody [of mine]", he proclaimed a year before his ninetieth birthday, "that does not, in one way or another, reflect this osmosis and absorption of Jewish material". His embracive artistic and stylistic credos are summed up in the continuation of his ruminations during that interview:

Consonance and dissonance are the two poles of a bipolar system that, together, amount to a musical idiom for me. That is the language… I consider dissonance, still, as an expression of inner tension. And you can go from dissonance to dissonance and intensify the density of the dissonant writing. But there is no work of mine where a consonance in the solution does not play a very important role… It is not a question of dissonant or not, or of tonal or nontonal: they are both elements. Tonality and atonality do not, either one, go without the other. Both elements, for me, must work together.

Berlinski's many honors include a MacDowell fellowship (1958), the Peabody Waite Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1984), the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Guild of Organists (1995), and the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit from the president of the Federal Republic of Germany (2001).

Neil W. Levin

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Program Note

Notwithstanding his many subsequent large-scale grand religious works, Berlinski always considered Avodat Shabbat — his complete setting of the Reform version of the Friday evening Sabbath service according to the Union Prayer Book — his magnum opus. In some ways this work has come to represent a continuation of the path forged by Ernest Bloch and Darius Milhaud, who had successfully approached the Hebrew liturgy for the first time not only as specific synagogue music for worship, but also as universal artistic expression that could transcend practical Judaic and religious confines. Bloch and Milhaud had written Sabbath morning services, while Berlinski addressed the evening liturgy. And, whereas Bloch had used traditional material directly in only one part, and Milhaud had incorporated significant parts of the rare Provençal liturgical melodic tradition, Berlinski chose to rely, albeit not slavishly, on Ashkenazi prayer modes and biblical cantillation motifs.

Although Berlinski was consciously inspired by those two works — especially Bloch's — his own service was not begun with such lofty aspirations. It began as synagogue music per se and developed later into the universal statement that it indeed is. Avodat Shabbat was born as a commission by Cantor David Putterman for New York's Park Avenue Synagogue as part of its extraordinary program of encouraging both highly established and promising composers to experiment with liturgical expression for its annual "new music" services. The timing in terms of Berlinski's own development was fortuitous, since he had become increasingly disillusioned with the dearth of worthy artistic endeavor among many North American Reform synagogues and what he perceived to be a static, if not fossilized, condition. He was well aware of much worthy contemporary synagogue music as individual settings, but he saw little opportunity for a broader and deeper expression of the liturgy as cultivated art music. Apart from a few isolated incidents, Putterman's annual commissions were providing the only real incentive for composers to devote their gifts to the synagogue on that level.

Cantor Putterman, generally conservative in his risks, and knowing that Berlinski had not yet explored the liturgy on that artistic level, invited him first to write a single setting for v'sham'ru, a brief text in the Friday evening service. After its premiere at the Park Avenue Synagogue, Putterman, now fully satisfied that Berlinski was a major talent, commissioned him to write a complete service. Avodat shabbat received its premiere in its original form (cantor, choir, and organ) at Park Avenue in 1958. Following that premiere, Berlinski's friend Rabbi Abraham Klausner (congregation Emanu-El in Yonkers, New York) became convinced of its higher possibilities as a work for serious rendition within a symphonic context. In 1963 Rabbi Klausner showed the score to his friend Leonard Bernstein, who enthusiastically supported its public concert performance. Bernstein noted that he was especially impressed by its simplicity and its freshness: "from the heart... and a fine compromise between tradition and somewhat contemporary sounds". He even wrote that he might consider performing the work himself in the future.

Armed with the Bernstein letter, Rabbi Klausner was able to persuade the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the lay federation of American Reform congregations) to fund Berlinski's orchestration of the work and the premiere of the new version. His orchestration was ambitious, perhaps even a bit overly so: double woodwinds plus English horn, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, two harps, strings, and elaborate percussion (cymbals; triangle; gong; tenor, bass, and small drums; and tambourine) — but, daringly, without violins. Berlinski also expanded the original solo vocal parts to include a soprano and mezzo-soprano or contralto, and he added settings for a few texts. This version was given its premiere that same year (1963) at Lincoln Center in New York, with the tenor role sung by Cantor Jacob Barkin, and the chorus and orchestra conducted by Abraham Kaplan. It shared the program with Leonard Bernstein's Jeremiah Symphony.

Upon his acceptance of the original Park Avenue commission, Berlinski began by approaching the task according to his previously worked-out convictions concerning new sacred music: "There are three different elements that must be combined in the creation of a liturgical work", he once wrote. "The spontaneous spark, without which a composer is not truly a composer; a clear understanding of the religious function of the music, without which a work will lack direction and conviction; and, finally, a knowledge of the traditional materials that are common denominators between the composer and the congregation".

The harmonic structure often reflects the tension between the two basic traditional modes of the Ashkenazi Sabbath eve liturgy: the so-called adonai malakh mode, based on a scale akin to western major but with important differences, including a scale that embraces more than an octave; and the magen avot mode, whose scale is akin to natural minor. In one instance (the l'kha dodi), there is the direct quotation of a specific traditional tune. Pervading the service is what the eminent synagogue composer Herbert Fromm called a "personal interpretation of tradition".

Of the various devices and techniques that bring formal unity to Avodat shabbat and render it a cohesive work, none is so forceful and basic as the continuously recurring principal motive, derived from a fusion of biblical cantillation and traditional psalmody and introduced in the opening prelude. The prelude's middle section generates the solo cantorial line in the ma tovu, a typical (but not liturgically required) introductory text for formal Reform as well as other nonorthodox Sabbath evening services. That motive appears throughout the ma tovu and, at the end, in the orchestra; and it recurs, both in its original statement and in varied or modified forms, almost in a rondo fashion, in the tov l'hodot; the bar'khu; the ahavat olam; toward the end of mi khamokha; near the conclusion of hashkivenu; and in the kiddush, Adoration, and closing Benediction. There are other, secondary recurring motives as well.

For his setting of l'kha dodi, Berlinski selected one of the oldest and most famous traditional western, or "Amsterdam" Sephardi versions (often referred to as the Portuguese tradition in European and English sources). It must have been new, however, to typical American Ashkenazi congregations of that time, who undoubtedly thought it exotic. The tune has an interesting pedigree. Not only is its basic identity long established in the Amsterdam Sephardi tradition, but it is a firmly rooted l'kha dodi version in the London Portuguese Sephardi community as well — which is basically the same tradition despite local variances. This is hardly surprising, because many of the London Sephardi cantors came from Amsterdam over the years and became importers of such melodies. By the mid-19th century, this l'kha dodi was notated in a London compilation that reflected that Sephardi community's established practice, which itself is a document of its authenticity. There are also other independently written and recorded confirmations of its long-established use in both London and Amsterdam, including one notation dating as far back as the late 18th century. There are, of course, local variances between the Amsterdam and London renditions that became crystallized as the tune was preserved in each community by oral transmission from one generation to the next; but it remains essentially the same tune. Moreover, the pioneer Jewish musicologist Abraham Zvi Idelsohn notated a variant of this tune in the early 20th century in Jerusalem as he heard it from a Moroccan Jew. The preeminent authority on Sephardi music, Edwin Seroussi, has therefore suggested Morocco as its origin, positing the thesis that it might well have been part of the North African Sephardi tradition that was exported to, and established in, Amsterdam and London in the 17th century.

Berlinski's incorporation of a Sephardi tune into an otherwise fundamentally Ashkenazi-based service was not without aesthetic or historical justification. In the 19th century, certain solidly Ashkenazi German congregations, most notably in Hamburg, adopted a number of Portuguese Sephardi melodies into their repertoires and even came to consider them their own. In part, that practice stemmed, consciously or not, from a type of aristocratic pretension to perceived authenticity and, consequently, status. There is no evidence that this particular tune was included among those melodies. However, in 1877 Abraham Baer published his seminal and monumental compendium of the entire aggregate Ashkenazi synagogue melodic and modal tradition as he had heard it in numerous synagogues and from numerous cantors — lay as well as professional — throughout German-speaking Europe. (We do not know the extent to which, if any, his documentation reflected any actual firsthand experiences in eastern Europe.) He identified his entries according to their established tradition or practice — e.g., German (old or "new" version); general Ashkenazi; or "Polish" (i.e., eastern European, but probably as heard in Polish synagogues in Germany or the German cultural realm). For a number of tune entries in that compilation he also included alternative "Portuguese" versions — so labeled — that were generally known in the German Ashkenazi world. Among them is this l'kha dodi, which was Berlinski's own source.

Berlinski used this tune audibly only for the refrain. His careful harmonization with well-chosen chromatic elements, far from masking it, actually adds a fresh parameter. He also demonstrated his solution here to the problem of finding a way to employ polyphony with an old monodic line while still preserving its character. There is a delicate counterpoint even in its initial statement, motivically derived from the spirit of the original tune, with a Milhaud-like countermelody heard in the orchestral introduction and then again at the conclusion. That refrain is modally altered for its second appearance to a quasi-minor variation, with a brief canonic gesture at the end. The third occurrence begins with a bit of canonic treatment; and the final return of the refrain is heard in its original form, tying it to the beginning.

In the cantorially sung strophes, however, Berlinski departed from the traditional version (in which the strophes would have been variations of the refrain) in favor of newly composed but modally oriented sustained lines. Here the cantor is given rhapsodic opportunities that flow nonetheless naturally back to the choral refrains.

In his setting of sh'ma yisra'el (including the v'ahavta, which is the continuation of that "credo" text, collectively known as the k'ri'at sh'ma), Berlinski clearly relied to advantage on his studies in biblical cantillation with Rosowski, one of the most significant authorities on the subject. Here, in the v'ahavta section, he creatively combines the Hebrew text for the cantor, who follows the authentic cantillation for that passage, responsorially with the choir in an unrelated and freer polyphony sung to the English translation in the Union Prayer Book. Its a cappella rendition reinforces the effect of antiquity, especially contrasted against the rich orchestration of much of the other music in the service. That conscious juxtaposition of two unrelated musical elements produces an arresting dialogue, especially at the end, when the choral part becomes melodically related to the cantillation — almost as a sort of resolution. Although bilingual rendition is not entirely unknown in certain Near Eastern Jewish traditions — for example, among Yemenite and other oriental Jewish practices (albeit employed sparingly for special texts) — it cannot be considered part of any Ashkenazi tradition. Berlinski's fusion of Hebrew and English here must be viewed as an American innovation.

The hashkivenu is notable as the most pictorial expression of a dramatic text in this service. It faithfully represents the prayer's sentiments and its progression from the opening pastoral mood toward a passionate climactic plea.

The adon olam, the most common closing hymn text for Sabbath and other holy day services, mirrors the decidedly Arabic meter of the poem as well as its strophic structure. But the music goes beyond its simple strophic nature (precise pattern repetition) to a complex one, where the second line of each two-line stanza is slightly and subtly varied. This creates an illusion of strophic repetition without monotony. The scheme is interrupted, however, in the fourth stanza, where the soprano line slowly approaches its climax chromatically. Although, unfortunately, the overall sophistication of Avodat shabbat, together with its difficulty, prevented its entry into the general synagogue repertoire, this adon olam did gain acceptance on its own in a number of synagogues during that time and received performances within regular services.

The entire Avodat shabbat is sung here in the Ashkenazi Hebrew pronunciation (including even the Sephardi l'kha dodi), since at that time it was still the overwhelmingly predominant pronunciation in virtually all Ashkenazi American synagogues. Berlinski therefore set all the texts to the particular consonant sounds and syllabic stresses of Ashkenazi Hebrew.

The press reviews of Avodat shabbat were largely enthusiastic, apart from one by Yiddish theater composer Sholom Secunda, who could not relate to its complexity, its dissonant passages, its lack of more overtly traditional tunes, or even the very concept of it as a transcendent work of art. The Washington Post's critic, on the other hand, found it "conservatively romantic", texturally luxuriant, and exotic. Another critic was particularly struck by the cantorial line, which he interpreted as "flashing like a silver sword through the massed chorus". Perhaps most telling was the observation of yet a third Washington critic, who remarked that Berlinski had not ignored the congregational role, noting that he "keeps it involved without descending to the trite or the obvious", and that he succeeded in preserving an essential religious feeling throughout the work.

Neil W. Levin

 

 


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