Sabbath Service in Hassidic Style
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Shir l’shabbat (1962), commissioned by the Metropolitan Synagogue of New York and premiered there, was Lazar Weiner’s third full synagogue service. Its subtitle, Sabbath Service in Hassidic Style, can be misleading because the music does not draw on any identifiable Hassidic material; nor does the work pursue the most obvious stylistic features of Hassidic niggunim or d’vekut (see the introduction to Volume 6). In any case, the Reform movement—for whose format this Sabbath eve service was written—was not quite ready in 1962 to accept anything transparently Hassidic; it would be at least another decade before some of its congregations would find aspects of Hassidic melos endearing rather than inappropriate for American worship.
Shir l’shabbat does reflect, however, subtle and indirect Hassidic influences, which was Weiner’s intention as well as his boundary. For the most part, these influences manifest themselves in simple, restrained tunefulness, which itself could be new to many Reform congregations of that time. There is an overall freshness about the approach to both melody and harmony. Kernels of Hassidic elements can be unmasked by careful analysis, but they are so artistically treated in the context of classical construction that they provide an abiding flavor rather than a simplistic echo of Hassidic Sabbath celebration. One has the feeling that Weiner astutely took into account contemporaneous American perceptions of what constitutes Hassidic music—which, especially then, could often be merely playful melody.
The published score contains a supplement to accommodate traditional liturgical texts that had been omitted from Reform liturgy. The purpose of that supplement (something Zavel Zilberts also provided for music commissioned by or written for Reform congregations) was primarily to encourage the use of the service by Conservative synagogues that might find it attractive.