Union Hymnal Selections
From the 1897 edition
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The initial edition of the Union Hymnal contained one hymn borrowed from the Berlin Reform prayerbook, the melody of which was composed by Cantor Bernhard Jacobsohn; its English version, “Voice of God,” was created by Harry. H. Mayer. There is one hymn in this sampling by Kaiser, to a rhymed paraphrase of Psalm 82 by John Milton, “How Lovely Are Thy Dwellings,” which Kaiser intended (though not exclusively) as a substitution for the Hebrew liturgical text drawn from that Psalm, ma tovu ohalekha—a common prelude to evening services, even though its origin in the liturgy lies in the morning service, upon one’s entry into the synagogue.
The other Union Hymnal selections here are all based on traditional melodies either of minhag Ashkenaz or of Western Sephardi custom, which Kaiser knew from his years in Sulzer’s choir in Vienna. He adapted variants of these tunes to fit metrical English texts by others. “All People on Earth Do Dwell” is based on a Western Ashkenazi misinai leitmotif for the Festival of Shavuot. Because it is traditionally applied to the text of akdamut, a piyyut recited on Shavuot, it is commonly known as the “akdamut tune,” even though it is also applied to numerous other texts in the evening as well as morning services on Shavuot and would more accurately be identified simply as the Shavuot leitmotif. Its English text here is a paraphrase of Psalm 100 by William Kethe. Kaiser most likely included it in the hymnal for singing at Confirmation services, which were (and still are) held on Shavuot when the Festival occurs on a Sabbath or a Sunday, or on the nearest Sabbath or Sunday to Shavuot.
For “Into the Tomb of Ages Past,” Kaiser abridged a complex and extended melody (actually, a song) attributed to Lewandowski, which, in its complete version, includes fragments of several High Holy Day motifs. Known as Ya shimkha because, beginning at least as early as 1876, when Lewandowski published the piece as a prelude to the concluding or n’ila service of Yom Kippur, it became a custom in Berlin synagogues to sing it for this purpose to a poem of that title by Yehuda Halevi. In Lewandowski’s arrangement, the piece leads directly into the commencement of the n’ila service proper: ḥatzi kaddish, with its unique n’ila misinai motif, fragments of which he wove into the concluding passage of Ya shimkha but were not preserved in Kaiser’s abridgment. It was also adopted by many other German communities where Lewandowski’s music predominated. Kaiser adapted it to a poem by Penina Moise, which appears also to refer to the conclusion of Yom Kippur—especially in the second line of the first stanza (“Another year has now been cast”).
“O Star of Truth” is taken from one of the most ubiquitous Western, or Amsterdam Sephardi, melodies, which is used for multiple texts; its English text is by Minot J. Savage. The tune source of “There Is a Mystic Tie That Joins” is an equally well-known Western Sephardi melody that is employed as a skeletal motif for hallel as well as for tal (dew) and geshem (rain) prayers on Pesah and Sukkot. The English text by Max Myerhardt contains the dated but once common references to the Jewish people as “the children of the martyr race.” Both these Sephardi tunes were adopted in the 19th century by mainstream Ashkenazi synagogues in Germany, where they were known from the Hamburg Sephardi congregation; and they also entered Ashkenazi repertoires in Vienna via the Turkish Temple there.
“To Thee We Give Ourselves” draws on one of several popular tune versions of a piyyut traditionally sung responsively at the conclusion of the Sabbath mussaf service, anim z’mirot. In adapting it to a text by Gustav Gottheil—the rabbi at New York’s Temple Emanu-El for a time in the 19th century who also wrote the famous English paraphrase version of ma’oz tsur under the title “Rock of Ages”—Kaiser used a variant of this particular anim z’mirot tune. The tune of “Behold It Is the Springtide of the Year” is based on motives that recur throughout the Ashkenazi prayer modes (nusaḥ hat’filla) at various points but are perhaps most closely associated with cadential formulas employed in the morning service of Festivals. The English text is by Alice Lukas.