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Remembering Yossele Rosenblatt

Guest Post from the Milken Music Archives:

When discussing the Golden Age of cantorial music, the name “Yossele Rosenblatt” is one of the first that comes to mind. Yossele Rosenblatt was one of the greatest and best known chazzans of the early 20th century. He inspired audiences throughout the world with his passionate renditions of Jewish prayers and liturgy. He was one of the foremost tenors of his day but chose to express himself only within traditional Jewish worship, spurning offers to perform in secular venues. Rosenblatt’s style and compositions dominated synagogue prayer of his era and a significant portion of the American Jewish experience can be documented by studying Rosenblatt’s works.

Yossele Rosenblatt had already developed a reputation as one of Europe’s foremost chazzans when he immigrated to America in 1912. He had performed in Hungary, German, the Ukraine and other regions and his style and delivery were lauded by Jews of all religious classes, affiliations and backgrounds. Rosenblatt’s immigration to the United States coincided with the great wave of Eastern European Jews who were fleeing persecution to make new lives in America. They were nostalgic for the traditions of their homelands and eagerly embraced Rosenblatt and his familiar Ashkanazi style whose emotive expression he was able to communicate through his dramatic style.

Rosenblatt was capable of hitting high notes at remarkably high speeds in his cantillations and would often allow his voice to break in the middle of an arrangement to convey the passion of the moment. His admirers, including some of the greatest operatic stars of his day, admired his structured, metered style — a style which continues to influence the cantorial world until today.

Rosenblatt, like many early cantors, was quite observant but his style continues to be copied today by cantors throughout the religious spectrum. Rosenblatt said, on more than one occasion, that his voice was a gift from God and he would use it only in His service.

This is a guest post from the Lowell Milken Music Archive. The Archive was formed at the initiation of philanthropist Lowell Milken with the goal of preserving American Jewish music.

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