Love Makes the Melody Immortal: the Music of Louis Lewandowski
A preview by Betsy Schwarm
“Liebe macht das Lied unsterblich!” = “Love makes the song (or melody) immortal!” The exclamation point is on the original inscription, so let’s carry it into the translation, and be grateful that Prussian composer Louis Lewandowski’s family chose those words for his gravestone. Lewandowski (1821 – 1894) spent his career in Berlin, much of it as choirmaster of the city’s Neue Synagogue, where rather than just conducting the choir, he also wrote settings of sacred texts for choir, cantor, and organ. Jewish congregations know his music, if not his name. As for other music lovers, the chance to become acquainted with Lewandowski’s life and works will arrive Sunday, November 7th, thanks to the Colorado Hebrew Chorale (henceforth CHC).
CHC’s upcoming Lewandowski program came about through a connection with the University of Wyoming (UW) in Laramie. UW had received a grant from the German Embassy for an interdisciplinary series of programs and events related to the theme of 1700 Years of Jewish Life in Germany. A visually prominent element in the commemoration is an art installation prepared by the embassy, and including a view of the Berlin synagogue where Lewandowski worked.
Seth Ward, board president of CHC, serves on the faculty of UW’s Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies. Pointing out to event organizers that Lewandowski was “the most standard composer of synagogue music in the 19th century,” and that 2021 is the bicentennial of Lewandowski’s birth, he suggested that CHC join with the UW Collegiate Chorale to perform Lewandowski’s music. The program would also include Ward speaking about Lewandowski and the music in the context of the times. On Sunday, November 7, starting at 5pm, the program will take place, both live in Laramie at UW’s Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts and also live-streamed.
What makes Lewandowski important? His generation was one of the first in which Jewish residents of the German states were beginning to find even limited acceptance in society. Within the musical world, Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847) was the most prominent and successful example; however, he was not basing his career on writing synagogue music, as Lewandowski was. Unusually, Berlin’s Neue Synagogue was equipped with an organ, which Lewandowski put to good use, not just for accompanying chords but also for preludes and interludes in his liturgical settings.
The instrumental element makes his music even more broadly appealing to listeners, whatever their faith. His music is quite tuneful, lending itself to congregational singing and choral performance. Not one to delve into semi-operatic glories, Lewandowski preferred to capture the spirit of the text and bring it into the heart. That, after all, is something that both Bach and Mozart sought to do in their sacred works, so Lewandowski was bringing a tested approach into a new religious tradition. Such is the excellence of his craftsmanship that his sacred music is still familiar in synagogues today. It is music that deserves to be more widely known, even outside the sort of settings for which it was composed.
That fact ties well into the mission statement of the CHC: ‘to preserve, promote, and celebrate the Jewish experience through song, by performing with and for diverse audiences.’ As music director Carol Kozak Ward emphasizes, it is the ensemble’s active intention to engage in ‘multicultural outreach:’ how better to do that than by presenting the works of an influential composer of synagogue music in concert/lecture form to a broader public? No worship attendance required, just an interest in discovering something new.
The CHC Lewandowski program (presented together with the UW Collegiate Chorale) will be Sunday, November 7th, starting at 5pm at UW Laramie’s Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts, 1000 East University Avenue, on the north side of Business I-80. Admission is free of charge. To save the drive, and still discover Lewandowski, take advantage of the livestream opportunity: the link for free access will be available on CHC’s website:
As for the CHC in its usual home base of Colorado, and beyond Lewandowski, sample its online offerings. These include the latest of a continuing series concerning Jewish composers on Broadway, this to be streamed Sunday, November 7, from 7:30pm to 8:30pm (thus, following the livestream of the Lewandowski program). Further out in the schedule, the evening of Sunday, November 21, you’ll find the program Text and Context: The Valley Awakens, featuring music of composer David Wohl and poetry of Joanna Chen. Each features the engaging voices of the Colorado Hebrew Chorale with music in the context of time and place, a fulfilling and enriching way to explore repertoire that may be unfamiliar, but yet has much to offer to the curious listener.
For registration links to any of these online programs, including the Lewandowski livestream, go to this page: https://www.coloradohebrewchorale.org/covid-programming/
To the middle right of that page, you’ll see Events: scroll down to find the event of your choice.
Immediately above the Events box is contact information for the ensemble.
The Colorado Hebrew Chorale sincerely hopes that live, in-person performances will resume in the next year. Arrangements are already underway for the winter of 2022/2023. No doubt details will ultimately make their way to Scen3, though you can hear of them soonest by touching base with the chorale itself. Since 1993, the CHC has been performing unique repertoire to diverse audiences, a mission it shall continue to serve!