In this section I hope to teach you about various composers of Jewish music who influence the music we do at TAE.
Salomon Sulzer was born March 30, 1804, in Austria. It’s said that, as a small boy, Sulzer fell into a torrential Alpine river. Having been miraculously saved from drowning, his mother vowed to devote him to the service of the Almighty and thereafter dressed him only in pure white. Schooled at the yeshiva in Switzerland, Sulzer concurrently studied music and decided to become a cantor. At age 14 Sulzer was elected cantor in his hometown, but in 1826 on an extended leave of absence, he traveled to Vienna where he was employed for the next 21 years as the chief cantor of the Vienna Jewish community. It was there that Sulzer undertook the serious study of composition, where he became close friends with Franz Schubert and other famous members of the Vienna Opera. It was, however, under the influence of the chief rabbi of Vienna, Isaac Noa Mannheimer, that Sulzer took upon himself the shared goal of creating Jewish unity by gathering and assembling the many threads of our musical tradition in published volumes of music. The first of his three-volume work, “Schir Zion,” was published in 1839 and the last completed in 1865. It was Sulzer’s deliberate attention to proper diction, musical form, and harmony that wed liturgical words with sacred sounds; it can be said that he almost single-handedly reintroduced dignity and decorum into Jewish worship through choral music, pioneering a renaissance of Jewish music.
The music of Salomon Sulzer is a part of nearly every service we do at Temple Adat Elohim. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that melodies you may have thought came from Mount Sinai were really written during the 19th century by Sulzer. As an example, the famous tune for the Shema and the Aleinu are composed by Sulzer. If you are with us for a service where we read the Torah, Sulzer’s music is what you hear as we prepare to take our Torah from the Ark and as we bring the sacred scroll into the community. Let’s think about his setting of the Aleinu. It is in a major key, which evokes feelings of joy and hope. The first section is set up as a recitative, as we declare God’s greatness and acknowledge our uniqueness. Then the tone of the piece changes as we join together and bow. There is a sense of awe that comes from this section and the power of all of us bowing together. When we are joined by the TAE Chorale and the Band of Milk and Honey, we highlight this section by the addition of the instruments and the Chorale singing in harmony.
As you experience the music of Sulzer, I hope you can connect to its history and the major role Sulzer continues to play in Jewish music.