Noteworthy: A Cantata from a Prolific Synagogue Composer

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August 29th, 2013

Max Janowski's Jewish liturgical works have become standard repertoire for many congregations. Jonathan Miller, founder and artistic director of Chicago a cappella, introduces us to a little-known Janowski cantata with a compelling message of peace.

“And They Shall Not Learn War Any More”
Max Janowski (1912-1991)
Recommended by Jonathan Miller

From Jonathan Miller:

"Janowski’s usual contrast of jubilant and contemplative moods is amplified in this cantata...the texts here, many familiar from the liturgy, resonate in a special way."
~Jonathan Miller

I was looking for something new to commemorate Max Janowski’s centenary year in 2012. Janowski was a German Jew who fled the country in 1933 when things started getting bad, settled in Chicago in 1938 as music director at KAM Temple, and was the most prolific American synagogue composer of the second half of the last century. His works, of which “Avinu Malkeynu” is the most famous, have become standard repertoire at hundreds of Reform and Conservative congregations at the high holidays and for the Sabbath. His musical settings of Torah portions for every week of the liturgical year are unparalleled in Jewish liturgical music.

Friends of Jewish Music, where I am managing partner, was responsible for the publication of Janowski’s work, and I was struck by this piece immediately when I found it in our catalog. Janowski’s usual contrast of jubilant and contemplative moods is amplified in this cantata. His command of Hebrew far exceeded that of Bernstein; the texts here, many familiar from the liturgy, resonate in a special way through Janowski’s score.

Janowski will often turn on a dime in terms of tempo, rhythm, and harmony when a text changes in feeling. In the first movement, there is a sharp mood change midway through the first movement, immediately followed by another faster tempo and running 16th notes at “Let the sea roar” (“Yiram hayam um’-lo-oh”).  Similar qualities infuse the third movement. 

Listen to Shiru Ladonai (movement 1)
 

 

The second movement is the real gem. Jews pray this text every day: the “Sh’ma Yisraeyl” (“Hear O Israel …”) and the “V’ahav’ta” (“And thou shalt love the Lord, thy God …). Janowski creates a haunting, Mediterranean-feeling sound-world. The movement maintains one mood, underscoring the sense that the “Sh’ma” and “V’ahav’ta” are essentially one prayer.

Listen to Sh'ma Yisraeyl (movement 2)
 

 

I’ve conducted the complete piece on two different programs, and Chicago a cappella did an unaccompanied version of the middle movement in 2012. Singers love Janowski’s lines and sing it with full heart and voice. One uncompromising thing about Janowski’s scores (similar to his rehearsal technique) is that you can’t check out emotionally; his scores demand full attention from all performers, in the best way.  You’ll need great tenor and soprano soloists. Audiences have responded enthusiastically, knowing—even if they have no experience with Hebrew texts—that they are hearing something special.

Listen to V'hayah B'acharit Hayamim (movement 3)
 

 

Date of premiere: 1963
Commissioner: K. A. M. Temple, Chicago, IL
Author/source of text:
Mvt. 1:  Psalm 98 (complete)
Mvt. 2: Deuteronomy 6: 4-10
Mvt. 3: Micah 4:106
Length: approx. 16 minutes
Parts: major solos for tenor (“cantor”) and soprano; shorter solos for alto and baritone; SATB (div); piano
Publisher: Friends of Jewish Music, distributed by Transcontinental (item # 986320)
Recording information: Women of the Lira Ensemble, with men from Chicago a cappella; Trevor Mitchell, tenor; Judith Marth, soprano; Igor Lipinski, piano; conducted by Jonathan Miller; recorded in live performance on April 6, 2013 at KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation, Chicago, Illinois

View Score 



Miller

Jonathan Miller is an arts entrepreneur who has successfully combined his skills as a professional singer, conductor, composer, arranger, producer, programming visionary and businessman. Since founding Chicago a cappella in 1993, Jonathan has guided the ensemble through more than 200 concerts, six commercial CD releases, numerous live radio and TV broadcasts, and thirty choral music demo CDs.

Passionate about bringing new music to Chicago audiences, Jonathan has presented more than one hundred works in their local, national, or world premieres. Jonathan holds a Ph.D. in musicology and brings his research skills to the ensemble's acclaimed, eclectic concerts, which routinely draw not only first-timers but also intensely loyal audiences and singers. He has conducted church, synagogue, and volunteer choirs and has served as a guest conductor, clinician and vocal coach. He has written more than fifty choral works ranging in style from neo-Renaissance to funk; his music has been sung at venues including St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, the Lincoln Memorial and the Pentagon. He lives in Downers Grove, outside Chicago, and is a member of the Chorus America board of directors.


Chorus America’s Noteworthy web series highlights choral repertoire that may not be familiar to you—yet. Each month, a different conductor, music director, or other artistic professional recommends a piece of music that hasn't been widely noticed, but in his or her opinion, deserves to be heard.

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