The Impact of Leib Glanz Upon The Art of Hazanut
As in every art form, there are those who excel in presenting their art to the world and who live on through their works for eternity.  Beyond that, there are those rare visionaries, individuals who possess such creativity, coupled with immense courage, that ultimately impact their art form for generations to come. Generally, these artists and composers are usually considered "ahead of their time" and may be confronted with opposition during their lifetimes. Ultimately, their thoughts and visions succeed in steering the art form into new paths to the point where anyone who comes later, finds himself building upon their innovations.

In the world of classical music such individuals included the likes of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky or Hindemith; and in the world of fine arts, geniuses such as Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, El Greco, Monet, and Picasso. Each one changed their art for all eternity.

Similarly, the art of the cantor has evolved through the years.  The roots of this art can be traced back to ancient times when the cantillation of the bible was begun, leading to the early development of the ancient Jewish prayer modes (nusach).   The first ones to "pour old wine into new vessels" in past centuries were Solomone Rossi, Salomon Sulzer, Louis Lewandowsky and others like them who began to incorporate Western European choral music into the synagogue service, using age-old motifs.  Synagogue composers, such as David Novakovsky, Abraham Dunajefsky, Nissi Belzer, and "Pitzsche" Abrass, wrote choral harmonies to traditional Eastern European chazanut. This continued to develop in the twentieth century by notable composers such as Sholom Secunda, Max Helfman, and Max Janowsky.  Present day composers continue to build upon these earlier works.

In Eastern Europe, in the late eighteenth century, a new phenomenon began developing: the virtuoso cantor when the art of the cantor reached beyond the walls of the synagogue onto the concert stage. In that sense, chazanut has emerged not only as a form of worship, but also as entertainment.  Indeed cantors were often referred to as "Omed Kuntsler" (artists of the pulpit). One of the earliest of this type of cantor was the eighteenth century Cantor Yoel Dovid Strashunsky, known as the Vilner Balabesl.  Other notables were Yerucham Hakatan, Solomon Rozumni, Avraham Berkovitz (Kalachnick), and Jacob Bachmann.

 In order for these extraordinary cantors to have a vehicle to present their phenomenal vocal and musical talents, music had to be composed.  Hence, some of these artists were not only great singers but great composers as well.  Four individuals stand out, in my humble assessment, as innovators of the so-called "Golden Age of Cantorial": Yossele Rosenblatt, Zavel Kwartin, Moshe Kousevitsky, and Leib Glantz. To appreciate the impact of Leib Glantz on cantorial art, it is essential to first understand the contribution of the other three great personalities.

Yossele Rosenblatt possessed a voice of rare beauty that sounded almost like a cello.  His compositions are full of melody, sophisticated but simple; they appeal both to the lovers of chazanut and the uninitiated.  He was the Verdi of chazanut.

Zavel Kwartin, with his magnificent baritone, was the master of the predictable. His music was genuinely Jewish.  He taught us how to be dramatic without veering away from the road of nusach and old-fashioned chazanut.

Moshe Kousevitsky created a style based upon vocal acrobatics.  Because he possessed an enormous voice that had a nearly limitless range and flexibility, he created and adapted compositions that would show off the brilliance of his voice and technique. Every cantor today would like to sound like Koussevitsky. Unfortunately, the road is littered with the corpses of ruined voices of Kousevitsky wanna bees.  Yet his style survives.

Leib Glantz was different.  I never had the honor to meet him personally, nor hear him sing in a live performance.  It was my privilege to serve as the cantor of Shaarei Tefilah synagogue in Los Angeles for eight years, on the same pulpit that he had graced prior to his making Aliya to Israel in 1954. During my years at Shaarei Tefilah, I heard many members of the congregation warmly reminiscing about his days as their cantor.  I also had the pleasure of spending hours with his wife, Miriam, listening to her describe Glantz's unique approach to chazanut.

I was first exposed to his music as a teenager while studying chazanut and
nusach with Noah Schall, who had me listen to Leib Glantz's Selichot  Service. The Slichot was one of Glantz's last recordings. It was recorded live for Israeli Radio at a synagogue service in Tel Aviv's Tiferet Zvi synagogue. This was the completely mature Glantz, and it was radically different from anything I had ever heard before. 

My first reaction was very negative. I felt that it was way over my head.  Noah Schall raved about Glantz's genius while enjoying my bewilderment.  He took it as a challenge to make me see what Glantz was about, and to teach me to understand and appreciate his genius. Mrs. Glantz once described Glantz's approach to cantorial: Glantz believed that the music was an accompaniment to the text.  Basically, he was not looking to create pleasing melodies, to show off his range or his phenomenal coloratura. These were just vehicles to be used only when they could interpret the meaning and the spirit of the text, the nusach, and the atmosphere of the prayer.

Before Glantz made this the cornerstone of his cantorial, it was usually the other way around. The music was of primary importance, very often having very little connection to the text. Glantz, on the other hand, wasn't concerned about how melodic, beautiful, or entertaining the music was. It was meant to stir you up, even to disturb you if the text called for it. Above all, this music was intended to bring you to understand deeply what the author of the prayer was saying to God.

In order to listen or to sing Glantz's music, one is required to be in a completely different mind-set. Glantz cannot simply be listened to casually, especially in his later compositions. He needs to be studied and absorbed slowly. As a novice listener, one has to listen to him a number of times before you can even begin to appreciate his genius.

His style evolved throughout his lifetime. His first recordings (1928-29) contain some of his most famous compositions: Shema Yisrael, Tefilat Tal, and V'chol Maaminim. Though highly original, these were just the first stirrings of what was beginning to develop. Since these compositions are relatively conventional, they remain part of the standard repertoire of every cantor of note, and are sung as part of their popular repertoire. They are always "crowd pleasers."

As he further crystallized his approach, in his middle era. His most notable recorded composition is "Shomer Yisrael." Here Glantz begins with a typical nusach melody that a simple Jew would pray in the synagogue in the morning service. He slowly builds up intensity upon that motif.  The listener becomes caught up in this growing intensity and is deeply moved. At the same time he becomes almost disturbed. I recall being introduced to this number by Cantor Arie Subar of Montreal, an avid fan of Glantz.  He heard Glantz sing Shomer Yisrael at a concert, and became so emotionally shaken that he had to leave the auditorium. Indeed, every time I hear this composition, I am still in absolute awe. I have yet to hear anyone other than Glantz sing it.

All great innovators begin their careers in one era and end in another. The middle period is the bridge between the two. It was a very prolific time for Glantz. Not only did he write chazanut but also zmirot (songs) that are sung at many Shabbat dinner tables. A great example is the ever-popular D'ror Yikrah.

His style reached its full bloom during his last ten years in Israel (1954 until his passing in 1964).  In Tel Aviv he enjoyed an audience that clearly understood the Hebrew language. This audience was capable of comprehending what he was trying to do.  Indeed, many of the people who became Glantz fans were beginning to regard "conventional" chazanut as somewhat superficial.  It was during this period that his unique style came into full maturity.
With an audience capable of understanding the words, Glantz was able to provide ever-deeper interpretations of the prayers, finding hidden meanings and illuminating both the explicit and implicit content.  He accomplished this by venturing into musical areas rarely explored before him.  He used chromatics (12 tone scales), as well as modern musical concepts of tonality.  He would use diminished and augmented intervals, and even atonal expressions.  He introduced "pshat" (deeper interpretations, literal meanings), as well as expressionism into his music.  At times Glantz would "refresh" the nusach by veering far away from it, then returning to it, preventing monotony and reinforcing it anew.   

His colossal vocal abilities enabled Glantz to venture vocally to wherever his creative mind took him. Though his voice was unique, his style and philosophical approach have deeply influenced all who came after him.  Even some of his contemporaries in their later years began to use his concepts. Indeed, we hear a lot of  "Glantzism" in the latter years of cantors such as Moshe Ganchof, Shlomo Mandel, and Moshe Kraus.

Contemporary composers of liturgical music are currently writing music with modern harmonies, mainly because Glantz proved that one could still be rooted in tradition and at the same time be thoroughly modern. The music performed at Jerusalem's Great Synagogue is a study of how tradition and modernism can be successfully combined -- an example set by Leib Glantz.

My cantorial compositions are extremely influenced by Glantz's teachings.  I write music to enhance the text, while endeavoring to be emotionally stirring, musically interesting, yet true to the nusach. Glantz opened up my imagination and showed me the limitless horizons of creativity, while at the same time remaining true to tradition. I may even write atonally, while at the same time being tonal. I can venture from one mode into another key using any note on the original scale as the new tonic of a new scale. I can use chromatics, dissonant intervals, large interval jumps; in short, I can go fearlessly wherever my imagination takes me, thanks to the path shown by the immortal genius of Leib Glantz. He will forever be an integral part of the continuous development and metamorphosis of cantorial and Jewish Music.

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