I have a soft spot for the music of Louis Lewandowski, the greatest composer of Jewish liturgical music in modern times. Lewandowski was the first Jew to be admitted to the Berlin Academy – on the specific request of no less than Felix Mendlesohn, and served as music director for the Neue Synagogue in Berlin – the central Synagogue of Jewish life at that time. I knew a number of his settings from my childhood at New London, and others from my time at Belsize Square Synagogue – which was founded by refugees from Berlin. Many will be familiar to members here.
Lewandowski’s music is characterised by a touching combination of German dignity and Heimishe warmth. It aims towards the heavens and on a good day touches these heights and opens, for me, a window into a place where otherwise ineffable thoughts and emotions succeed in standing before God.
We celebrate, this Sunday evening at New London 7:30pm, our Winter Quest Lecture – Passions and Perspectives on Synagogue Music with Dr Alexander Knapp and our own Cantor Jason Green. These Quest events are special events in our year-round journey, offering a depth and a richness it’s impossible to convey purely in a Shabbat service. I do hope you will be able to join us this Sunday.
And the beautiful aphorism at the head of this note? It is the epitaph on Lewandowski’s gravestone. Love does make melody immortal, but so does our continued turning towards these beautiful melodies using them for our contemporary engagement in prayer and religious life.