Ode to David Eisenstadt
Cilia 12341 - The Jewish Music Series
Cantor: Mimi Sheffer (Musical director)
The Warsaw Singers
Director: Sebastian Gunerka
Organist: Mirlan Kasymaliev
Texts: Professor Eliyahu Schleifer, Sound Engineer: Piotr Grinholc, Graphic Artist: Norman Palm, Translation: Marta Dudek
Proofreading: Nicole Gentz, Anna Kasia Silverman, Artwork: Akiva Kenny Segan
Distribution by Keshet – Jewish Music in Dialogue - The Artists’ Agency for Jewish Music www.keshet.de
Excerpt from CD Booklet by Prof. Eliyahu Schleifer
This CD is dedicated to the memory of David Eisenstadt, masterful choir conductor and exemplary composer of synagogue music, one of the greatest Jewish musicians of Poland between the two World Wars who was murdered in the Shoah. Eisenstadt was born in the small Polish town of Nasielsk and brought up in a Hasidic family. As a boy he sang with his father, who served as Baal T’fillah, or lay cantor, in a local synagogue. Later he studied cantorial music, solfeggio and harmony in Nowy Dwor and Berlin and was soon recognized as a promising choral conductor. After various positions as choirmaster in Rostov on the Don and Riga, in 1921 Eisenstadt was appointed choirmaster of the Great Tlomacka Street Synagogue in Warsaw, the most important cantorial temple of the time. Here, where great virtuoso cantors such as Gershon Sirota and Moshe Kussevitzky sang, Eisenstadt found his fulfillment. He developed an outstanding choir of 80 boys and 20 men, over which he ruled as a demanding artist and which performed a varied repertoire selected from the great composers of Central and Eastern Europe. Jewish and non-Jewish musicians visited the synagogue to hear the choir and the cantor; among the admirers was the famous pianist and former Prime Minister of Poland, Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941). Eisenstadt also created a series of Jewish music concerts which were considered important artistic events in Warsaw.
Eisenstadt composed mostly for the synagogue. Very famous were his compositions for the Friday evening services, such as Sham’ah vatismach Tziyon and L’cha Dodi, which were widely sung in Europe and America. Some of his arrangements of Yiddish and Hebrew folk melodies became part of the classical repertoire of Jewish choirs. His dramatic works, now lost, included music for the play The Golem by H. Leivik and a cantata So the King Went to War on a ballad by the Polish poetess Maria Konopnicka (1842-1910). He also composed cantatas on Jewish sacred poems, such as B’nei Heichala by 16th-century Kabbalist Isaac Luria, and on the famous Passover song Chad Gadya. As educator, Eisenstadt was interested in furthering musical knowledge among the Jews and he began to publish a music encyclopedia in Yiddish, the first of its kind; however, he was forced to give up the project. During the Holocaust he founded a Jewish symphonic orchestra in the Warsaw Ghetto. There, the primary star was his daughter Miriam (Marysia) Eisenstadt, the Ghetto Nightingale. She was known for her beautiful performance of arias, Yiddish songs and even cantorial recitatives, such as Yossele Rosenblatt’s virtuoso pieces. During one of the Nazi “actions” to liquidate the Ghetto, Eisenstadt and his wife were taken in a cattle wagon to the death camp of Treblinka, where they were murdered. Miriam, who tried to force her way into the wagon in order to join her parents, was shot dead before their eyes.
Only a handful of Eisenstadt’s compositions were published during his lifetime, and most of his manuscripts perished with the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto. A few compositions that circulated among cantors were published by Cantor Israel Alter in L’Dovid Mizmor: Music for the Synagogue by David Aizenstadt (Johannesburg, 1950?); other works were printed in different publications, and a few must still be hidden in some archives waiting to see the light of day.