Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei
, Op 47, was written in Berlin in 1881 and dedicated to the cellist Robert Hausmann (1852–1909). It comprises two entirely separate musical entities. The first part is based upon a German synagogue chant, probably originating in the early sixteenth century, which has since become the universally accepted Ashkenazi setting of this eleventh-century Aramaic text. While living in Berlin, Bruch had learned one of the numerous variants of this melody from Cantor Abraham Lichtenstein (1806–1880), similar to the one that Louis Lewandowski (1821–1894) included in his two synagogue anthologies: Kol Rinnah U’t’fillah
and Todah W’simrah
. The second part is based upon the middle section of the song ‘O weep for those that wept by Babel’s stream’ (a paraphrase of Psalm 137) by the Anglo-Jewish composer Isaac Nathan (1790–1864), one of over thirty settings of texts that comprise Hebrew Melodies
by Lord Byron (1788–1824), dating from 1815–16. The intense drama of the first part of Bruch’s Kol Nidrei
, in the minor key, is counterbalanced by the overarching lyricism of the second section in the major. The composer speculated that it was primarily the enormous popularity of this work that accounted for assumptions regarding his Jewish identity. However, his earliest known ancestor was Thomas Bruch (born 1560)—the first in a long line of Christian clerics. The passion of the ‘cellist as cantor’ performing a melody that has become iconic over the centuries evokes a mood of religious devotion in those who hear it as a profoundly liturgical expression. For those who are inspired by the beauty of secular art music, it creates an atmosphere of deep meditation and repose.
from notes by Alexander Knapp © 2012