Magazine article The Tracker

The Organ and Its Music in German-Jewish Culture

Magazine article The Tracker

The Organ and Its Music in German-Jewish Culture

Article excerpt

The Organ and Its Music in German- Jewish Culture, Tina Frühauf. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 284 pp. $74.00 (hardcover). That any remains of German-Jewish organ and liturgical music survived Kristallnacht and eventually the Ho- locaust is remarkable; and that Tina Frühauf was able to produce a com- pact, fluid narrative from the paucity of extant documents at her disposal is equally extraordinary. Originally published in 2005 as Orgel und Orgel- musik in deutsch-jüdischer Kultur, this, Frühauf 's English-language text, is not only her own translation of the earlier publication, but is a substantial revision of both fact and format as well.

While organs were introduced into European churches between AD 900 and 1 100, there is iconographie evidence that the organ was part of Jewish culture in Palestine as early as the second or third centuries AD. One 14th-century illuminated German Hebrew manuscript shows a portative organ with part of a Hebrew prayer: "I will sing of Thy power; indeed, I will sing aloud." Frühauf and others suggest that the synagogue organ made its way from Spain to northern Europe in the late 14th century, and the first extant document showing the organ being played in a synagogue is a 15th-century illuminated prayer book in the possession of a Bohemian family.

The organ, though, remained principally an instrument of Christian worship in Germany until the 19th century. From the work of Moses Mendelssohn1 evolved far-reaching reforms that subsequently established the organ as integral to Jewish culture. The first known occasion on which the organ was used in a German synagogue occurred on July 17, 1810. Through continuing and often contentiously argued debates, religious reform made the organ a matter of fact in German synagogues by the mid-i9th century. One of the last synagogue organs ordered before the outbreak of World War II was built by Steinmeyer for a congregation in Berlin. Completed in late 1930, it was one of the largest (68 stops) and most significant organs in all of Germany.

Eight years later, it, along with almost all of central Europe's synagogue organs, fell victim to the riots of November 1938. During the two days of Kristallnacht,2 more than 200 synagogues were destroyed, thousands of businesses and homes were plundered, and about 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps. In an interview with the author, Samuel Adler, son of the cantor and composer Hugo Adler, gives a first-hand account of the destruction of the Mannheim synagogue.

So they set two explosive charges; one in the ark which, by the way, contained the 122 Torah scrolls of all sizes, the other under the organ. The first explosion blew out the entire front wall; the second blew a huge hole in the choir loft floor, destroyed the balcony and blew the organ [console] over the side so that it hung from a cable over the balcony about 50-feet from the main floor.

Samuel Adler was only ten years old when he and his father crept into the synagogue hoping to save as much of the music library as possible. Adler continues:

Just then, since there was so much dust, I sneezed. Immediately we heard one of the officers downstairs command a man to go upstairs and to shoot anyone there on sight. He had hardly finished shouting when the cable of the organ gave way and the console crashed to the floor barring the entrance to the door leading upstairs. …

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