APM: Composers Datebook
May 17, 2019 Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco is one of America’s foremost reform congregations. For some 50 years its cantor was Reuben Rinder, who, in addition to his liturgical duties, was a composer, impresario, and musical mentor. Cantor Rinder influenced the careers of two of the 20th century’s greatest violinists, Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern, and also commissioned two of the 20th century’s most famous concert versions of the Jewish liturgy, the Evening and Morning Sabbath Service settings of Ernst Bloch and Darius Milhaud. Milhaud’s Sabbath Morning Service was first heard at Temple Emanu-El on today’s date in 1949, with its composer conducting. Milhaud was born in Provence and wrote that the Provencal Jewish tradition evoked in his score differs somewhat from the more standard Ashkenazi liturgy prevalent in most American synagogues then and now. The composer’s intention was to create a personal musical statement that could serve as both an actual liturgy for the faithful and as an ecumenical musical experience for any and all who hear the work, whether in temple or concert hall. In that respect, Milhaud’s Sacred Service was a great success. Alongside Bloch’s setting, written in the early 1930s, shortly before the onset of the Holocaust, Milhaud’s setting, written in the years following the conclusion of World War II, remains a powerful and moving affirmation of religious faith.