The early organ sinfonias of Herman Berlinski
Frohbieter, Ann Williams
Citron, Marcia J.
Doctor of Musical Arts thesis
As the first composer to forge a Jewish idiom for the pipe organ, and the only composer to produce a major body of Hebraic concert works for the instrument, Herman Berlinski is a composer of exceptional creativity. The document begins with the fascinating story of the composer's life. Berlinski, a native of Leipzig, completed his college degree at the Leipzig Conservatory in 1932. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Berlinski fled to France, where he lived on student visa status, studying with Nadia Boulanger and Alfred Cortot. Following the Nazi invasion of France, Berlinski served as an infantryman, and, after the fall of France, emigrated to America. In 1954 he was hired by Temple Emanu El, New York as Assistant Organist/Music Assistant. He soon realized that no Jewish organ repertoire of any significance existed and set about to create the music himself. Major organ works written at Emanu El include "The Burning Bush" and Sinfonias Nos. 2 and 3. In 1963 he moved to Washington, D.C. to become the Organist-Director of Music of the Washington Hebrew Congregation. Among his compositions for organ are twelve major works entitled "sinfonias," which he composed between the years 1954 and 2000. This document examines the first three sinfonias, each of which is a multi-movement suite. Sinfonia No. 1, Litanies for the Persecuted, is a nine-movement suite for organ, narrator, and alto soloist, written in memory of Jews who died in the Holocaust. Sinfonia No. 2, Holy Days and Festivals, is a five-movement suite of organ preludes, one for each Jewish festival and High Holy Day. Sinfonia No. 3, Sounds and Motions, is a six-movement secular suite for solo organ which explores colors and rhythms. The final chapter summarizes characteristics of Berlinski's compositional style---including the use of chromatic harmony, mixed meters, classic forms, and finely-shaded dynamics---and discusses influences on his style and the significance of his work. Although Berlinski always writes as a Jew, his music transcends parochial boundaries, to touch the souls of all mankind.