Liturgical Settings I
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Several of Schlessinger's settings are based on pre-existing music. Examples included here are “Day of God,” an adaptation of the traditional kol nidrei melody to an unrelated English replacement text translated liberally from its German model (see the notes to Arnold Schoenberg’s Kol Nidre in Volume 7, and those to John Zorn's in Volume 10); S’u sh’arim, for which Schlesinger used an excerpt of an a cappella Roman Catholic Mass setting (Messe in C) by Charles Gounod; Adonai, adonai, an appropriation for Festivals and High Holy Days of an operatic aria by Meyerbeer; and Ki vayom haze, a pronouncement from the Yom Kippur liturgy set to one of the most familiar Italian operatic arias, “Una Furtiva Lagrima” from Donizetti’s L’Elisir D’Amore (The Elixer of Love).
“The Lord Will Give His Angels” is a text for the conclusion of Yom Kippur that appeared in the initial edition of the Union Prayerbook and was retained in its subsequent editions. Alenu [alenu l’shabe’a la’adon hakol], sometimes known as the “Great Alenu”—the text that precedes and introduces the t’ki’atot section of the traditional Rosh Hashana mussaf service, and also occurs on Yom Kippur (without the t’ki’atot)—is an overly stylized setting of the missinai tune for that function. It is one of Schlesinger’s very few nods to minhag Ashkenaz, but his harmonization gives it an excessively bombastic character rather than preserving its more appropriate stately mood. His setting of kama ya’avrun is an excerpt of the High Holy Day text b’rosh hashana, which in turn is the third section of a piyyut, une tana tokef. It was eliminated on ideological grounds from the Union Prayerbook, but Schlesinger took it from a revised edition (1891) of Merzbacher’s prayerbook. It seems strange as a part of Classical Reform, which understandably rejected (as did subsequent Reform phases) its pronouncements and convictions. In any case, this setting appears at odds with the poem’s theological content, whose mood is bypassed and whose dire, vivid, and frightening references to the consequences of Divine judgment are hardly expressed by the music.