Yossele Rosenblatt: The Cantor With The Heavenly Voice
NPR, Sept. 6, 2019You’ve probably never heard of Yossele (Josef) Rosenblatt unless you’re a serious fan of Jewish cantorial music. But if you have, you know he’s the equivalent of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Luciano Pavarotti — a singer to be remembered forever.Rosenblatt was born in 1882 in a small Ukrainian town, in a house with a dirt floor. By the 1920s, he was a superstar cantor in the United States, often mentioned in the same breath as opera great Enrico Caruso. Reviewers sometimes described Rosenblatt as a man with two, even three voices: a warm baritone, a ringing tenor and a shimmering falsetto. What’s more, he could navigate between them with ease.“People felt that he was authentic, that what he sang was real,” says Cantor Bernard Beer, the director of the Belz School of Jewish Music at Yeshiva University in New York. “He was an Orthodox Jew. He meant what he was doing. His prayers came from the heart.”
Rosenblatt seemed born to the cantor’s life. The stories of him making beautiful musical sounds while still in the cradle are impossible to verify. But by the time he was 8 years old, he was being paid to sing at synagogues throughout Eastern Europe. He emigrated to New York in 1912, and when Rosenblatt sang, the synagogue was jam-packed. Every seat, every aisle was filled, everyone there to hear the little man with the full dark beard. “They treated … these cantors like superstars. They were the superstars of their era,” says Joseph Gole, a past president of the international Cantors Assembly.
You have to think back to what life was like for Jews who emigrated to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he says. “These were people [who] found their culture and their art in the synagogue. … Going to hear a cantor was like maybe other people’s experience of going to hear an opera or going to hear a concert.”
Worshippers were drawn not only by Rosenblatt’s voice, but by his compositions. He wrote most of what he sang. Gole explains that he included a little melody, a little something more concrete to hang onto than the traditional free-form cantorial chanting, and “the congregation could … join in and … walk out humming.” … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Standing Room Only: The Remarkable Career of Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt
Jewish Action, Fall 2003
In an obituary for Cantor Josef Rosenblatt, whose seventieth yahrtzeit was observed this year, The New York Times noted, “He was so well known in this country that letters from Europe addressed to ‘Yossele Rosenblatt, America,’ reached him promptly.”1
No other chazzan has ever attained such nationwide popularity and fame among both Jewish and Gentile audiences as Yossele Rosenblatt, while remaining completely observant and retaining his position at the amud. There have been some who became world-famous, such as the celebrated tenor Richard Tucker, who also began his career as a cantor. Tucker, however, was not Orthodox and led congregations only on the Yamim Noraim or Pesach once he became a star of the Metropolitan Opera.
Rosenblatt, on the other hand, despite having turned down offers to appear in the opera, rose to become a star of the entertainment world of the 1920s, all the while wearing his large black yarmulke and frock coat. He endeared himself to all who heard him, whether in person or in his recordings. His enormous popularity was evident even decades after his death.
Yossele was born in 1882 in the Ukrainian shtetl Belaya Tserkov—the first boy in the family after nine girls.2 His father, a Ruzhiner chassid who frequented the court of the Sadagora Rebbe, was himself a chazzan. Recognizing his young son’s extraordinary talent, he began to tour with him to help supplement the family income. The father would daven as the chazzan, but it was the child prodigy, Yossele, whom the crowds came to hear.
When he was eighteen and just married, Rosenblatt accepted his first permanent position in Munkacs, Hungary. His creative genius as a composer had already begun to bloom, and he soon found the atmosphere in Munkacs too confining. When the position of Oberkantor (chief cantor) in the more forward-looking city of Pressburg, Hungary, became available, Rosenblatt, still only eighteen years old, was chosen over fifty-six other candidates.
Standing not much more than five feet tall, Rosenblatt was still a commanding figure with his heavy, dark beard and fastidious appearance. He possessed a magnificent tenor voice of great beauty and extraordinary range, with a remarkably agile falsetto. In addition, he had perfect pitch and could read the most difficult musical score at sight. The sweet timbre of his voice, the superb control he displayed—particularly in coloratura passages—and his trademark “sob,” inspired his congregants and thrilled his concert audiences. And much of what he sang, and later recorded, was his own composition, significantly influenced in its tunefulness by his Chassidic background. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Bit by Electronic Bit, a Cantor’s Voice Is Restored
NYT, July 20, 2019
He was called the Jewish Caruso. Indeed, fervent enthusiasts sometimes referred to Caruso as the Italian Yossele Rosenblatt.
Mr. Rosenblatt, who died in 1933, was regarded as the greatest cantor of his time. But his was a time when music was recorded on heavy shellac or celluloid 78 r.p.m. records. The quality of those recordings was never that faithful in the first place and wore away over the years.
Enter Mendel Werdyger, a lush-bearded 52-year-old Hasidic Jew who runs a record shop on 13th Avenue in Borough Park, Brooklyn. With no college degree and no professional training in sound engineering, Mr. Werdyger has used advanced audio restoration programs on the ordinary computer in his ragtag office to patiently clean away the crackles, hisses and other distortions on those creaky old 78s.
The result: three compact discs with Mr. Rosenblatt singing 35 tracks, including prayers and even a folk chestnut, “Mein Yiddishe Mama.” The first CD has sold 15,000 copies; the third was released a few weeks ago.
“It never sounded so clear,” said Bernard Beer, director of the Philip and Sarah Belz School of Jewish Music at Yeshiva University. “I was brought up with this music and I know those recordings from childhood, and I listened to it and I told my associate there’s no comparison to anything that was done before.”
The achievement would have been striking had it been that of a sound engineer. But what sound engineer would spend 5 to 10 hours per song to produce CDs for the rarefied world of cantorial buffs? It was, for Mr. Werdyger, a work of love and zeal.
A tall, broad-shouldered father of 6 and grandfather of 10 who, like many Hasidim, wears a double-breasted frock coat known as a rekel, Mr. Werdyger has cantorial DNA. His 90-year-old father, David Werdyger, is a cantor who succeeded another superstar, Moishe Oysher, in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. His brother Mordechai Ben David, 59, is a popular singer of what Mr. Werdyger laughingly calls “Hasidic rock.” With a sonorous voice of his own, Mr. Werdyger leads prayers at his shtibl, or room-size synagogue, in Borough Park.
Growing up in Crown Heights and Borough Park, Mr. Werdyger had a yeshiva education, going all the way through kolel — a Talmudic institute for adults. At 21, he went into his father’s business, Aderet Music, a wholesaler of Jewish recordings. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Tapping into the ‘Golden Age’ of Cantorial Music for the 21st Century
Carin M. Smilk
JNS, Aug. 13, 2018
Aryeh Leib Hurwitz is attuned to all things musical. A chazzan (“cantor”) and ordained Chabad rabbi born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., he studied at yeshivahs around the world while honing his voice and performing skills. The 29-year-old father of nearly 3-year-old twins has been on stage in Berlin and Johannesburg. He has sung before NBA crowds. He can belt out familiar pieces from “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Les Misérables,” croon at weddings and headline a jazz band. And, of course, he sings in synagogue during the High Holidays in the classic tradition of chazzonus, the quasi-operatic Jewish music of more than a century ago—music that transports listeners back to a time before great human sound wasn’t accessible by the click of a button.
Here, he shares a bit about himself and the Eastern European musical tradition that is his hallmark.
Q: Is cantorial music entertainment, spiritual nourishment or both, and how so?
A: In the 19th century, cantorial music was the only form of Jewish entertainment. You looked forward to going to the synagogue to hear your favorite cantor perform, and with that, receive spiritual nourishment. Of course, that changed significantly over the decades, in time and place. Today, cantorial music is an art performed globally on the High Holidays. However, its art is beautiful year-round, and still plays the role of both entertainment and spiritual nourishment in various communities around the globe.
Q: How has cantorial music changed in the past two decades since the turn of the 21st century?
A: The golden age of chazzonus was in the early 1900s. There’s been a major decline since the likes of Josef “Yossele” Rosenblatt, Moishe Oysher, Moshe Koussevitzky and so on. Having said that, since the turn of the century there has been a nice comeback unfolding. With cantorial music now available with the click of a button (YouTube) and people appropriating culture, there are many different occasions where cantorial music is on display.
Q: What is its role in Jewish life?
A: The cantor is the shliach tzibbur, the “representative of the community.” Their job is to pray to the Almighty on their behalf. Cantorial music is the tool that the chazzan uses to spiritually connect the congregant with God. That’s why it’s largely associated with the High Holidays and life-cycle milestones. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
FOR FURTHER REFERENCE:
Previously Unknown Manuscripts of the Works of the Famous Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt Donated to the National Library: The National Library of Israel — Exactly 80 years after the death of the famous cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, the archive of the Rabbi and cantor Menachem (Emil) Gross was donated to the Music Collection and Sound Archive of the National Library.
What is the Cantorial “Golden Age”?: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Feb. 26, 2020 — What is the Cantorial “Golden Age”? Hefker khazones (Wanton Cantorial Music), Or the “Key to the Jewish Soul”?
Offspring of Greatness: Henry Rosenblatt (1995): Perry J Greenbaum blog, YouTube, Sept. 7, 2018 — A documentary interviewing the son, Henry Rosenblatt [1907–1998], of the great chazzan (cantor), Yossele Rosenblatt [1882–1933]; it was produced and directed by Ed Konecnik. There are very interesting insights and explanation of his father’s singing style.
A Cantor’s Tale: Alexander Gelfand, Forward, Dec. 1, 2006 — He was a vaudeville star who was offered $100,000 to appear in Al Jolson’s “The Jazz Singer.” He toured North America, Europe and Palestine to tremendous acclaim, earning record fees and a kiss from Enrico Caruso.
SPECIAL VIDEO: Never Say You Can’t: Jennifer Bricker Story: YouTube, Apr. 28, 2020 — Even though Jennifer had unique challenges growing up, her parents wouldn’t allow the word “can’t” to enter her vocabulary
This week’s French-language briefing is titled: Communique: Souligner Yom Hazikaron et Yom Haatzmaout malgré le coronavirus (Avril 30,2020)