Genius in the Synagogue:
A Musical Portrait of Max Janowski

Fall 2012

Program Notes

Hariu (Psalm 100)

Max Janowski, arr. Jonathan Miller

When the Sabbath, Peace Inviting

W.A. Mozart, anonymously arranged for the 1914 Union Hymnal (Reform)

The Sun Goes Down

Max Janowski

Tsur Yisroeyl

Max Janowski


Max Janowski

from the cantata And They Shall Not Learn War Any More: Sh'ma Yisraeyl

Max Janowski

Az Moshiach Vet Kum

Max Janwoski

L'cha Dodi

Max Janowski

Adonai Roi (Psalm 23)

Max Janowski, arr. J. Miller

Avinu Malkeynu

Max Janowski, arr. Patrick Sinozich

Yiboneh Homikdosh

Chassidic folk song, arr. Max Janowski / J. Miller


From Avodath Kodesh (Sacred Service): S'u sh'arim

Max Janowski, arr. J. Miller

Sh'ma Koleynu

Max Janowski, arr. J. Miller

De ole ark's a-moverin'

Spiritual, arr. Max Janowski

May The Words

Max Janowski, arr. J. Miller

Esa Eynai (Psalm 121)

Max Janowski, arr. J. Miller

L'koved Shabes

Max Janowski, arr. J. Miller

Sim Shalom

Max Janowski, arr. J. Miller
encore:  Chassidic Kaddish Yosef "Yossele" Rosenblatt, arr. Janowski



This program is intensely personal for me. It springs from my personal relationship with the music—and the personality—of Max Janowski of blessed memory.  I first met Max Janowski when I was ten years old, the year I began Sunday school and Hebrew school at KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation in Hyde Park.  He was a rumpled, somewhat cranky guy, but everyone loved him; over the years I came to love him too, and not just because he was the first person who ever paid money for me to sing! 

I was 17 when “Max” (as he is almost exclusively known) hired me for one of his many “satellite” high-holiday choirs. It has been one of the great honors of my life to continue that tradition of worship to this day.  As the high-holiday cantor at Congregation Rodfei Zedek, down the street from KAMII, I now lead much the same liturgy that I first experienced as a young bass in 1979—beautiful, almost-all-sung services that last several hours, almost all in Hebrew, simply some of the most wonderful and hearfelt experiences of my entire life. That is a gift to me from Max.

* * * * * * *

Max’s music is a gift to us all. He emigrated here from Berlin (via Japan and New York) in 1938, having taught in Tokyo as his way out of Nazi Germany.  He spent a year composing and traveling with a Jewish cantata in 1937, and then he got wind of the composing competition at KAM Temple in Chicago. Max won the competition, the prize for which was the music-director position at the shul!  In 1938 he arrived here, and he served that congregation for 53 years until his death in 1991.

Along the way, Max self-published more than 150 works of Jewish music, and wrote several hundred more that are still in manuscript form. The work is uniformly terrific.  He never compromised quality as a composer;  in that sense he was like Beethoven, intensely critical of himself. He was also intensely critical of others, which made him fans as well as some enemies.  He was a natural teacher, a charismatic figure, a complete showman, a virtuoso in every sense of the word;  it has been said that he would have been another Vladimir Horowitz had Hitler’s rise to power not changed the landscape so severely.

* * * * * * *

Max made his virtuosity look easy.  I was happy to have the task of arranging eight of his compostions – originally written for solo, choir, and organ – for the performing forces of Chicago a cappella. That means that I had to do something with the organ part!  In most cases I followed the model provided by Patrick Sinozich in his brilliant arrangement of Avinu Malkeynu:  Patrick simply put the organ part in a “Choir 2” for the most part. That approach helped me a great deal, though there were still some sticky moments.

The most delicious experience of all eight was Sh’ma Koleynu.  What a great piece! I have sung it for 33 years in high-holiday services;  however, I had never taken it apart and looked at its musical building blocks before.  I was required to do this for the arranging process, and I found myself muttering in awe at my desk as I looked at the material that Max had provided. The counterpoint is exemplary, the texture and harmonies glorious, and the feeling spot on.

The more I have worked with Max’s music, the more I see it as one of the main models for my own composition.  Max was never a slave to fashion;  he created his own musical idiom.  He was always willing to let the music go to a brand-new place, even if the next passage was completely at odds with what he had just written, based on the emotional demands of the text.  Like a great opera composer working with abrupt changes of events in a libretto, Max would take the meaning of words from the Torah or the Psalms or Prophets—and he would just run with it. If a huge mood change followed, then so be it; the words guided him there.  If I can be guided by a similar principle when writing music, I’m pretty sure I’ll be the stronger for it.

* * * * * * *

Many other people have helped to bring us to this day. Cantors Julius Solomon , Miriam Eskenasy, Deborah Bard, Richard Cohn, and of course Cory Winter are among the many in the chazzan community who have championed Max Janowski’s music and who in particular have helped me to understand it better. Thanks to all of the singers, cantors, soloists, rabbis, choristers, congregants, audience members, instrumentalists, financial supporters, and fans who have helped to champion this great music over so many years. I would also like to thank Howard Gilbert, my dear friend and true champion of Janowski’s music and memory; Jayson Rodovsky, editor at Transcontinental Music in New York, who is publishing my new arrangements; and the talented and hard-working singers, staff, and board of Chicago a cappella who have brought this program to life.  A hearty L’chayim to you all!

--Jonathan Miller
Founder and Artistic Director

Notes on the Music

Max Janowski, arr. Jonathan Miller:  Hariu

This jubilant setting of Psalm 100 has been performed around the world.  Its joyous refrain, in a pulsing duple meter, contrasts with the freer, cantorial-style rhythm of the solo sections.

W. A. Mozart (1757-1791), arr. for the Union Hymnal (Reform), 1914:  When the Sabbath, Peace Inviting

When Max Janowski arrived in Chicago in 1938, most of what was being sung in Reform synagogues was music that we today might considered “watered down”:  instrumental tunes or even Protestant hymns, with (vaguely) Judaic sentiments – and almost all in English.  This tune is taken from a famous piano sonata of Mozart, arranged anonymously for four voice parts.  The text, dripping with Victorian sentimentality, is attributed to the Talmudic scholar Marcus Jastrow, who emigrated from Prussia to Philadelphia in 1866.

Max Janowski:  The Sun Goes Down

This piece is a bit of a mystery. Published in 1948, before Janowski had really hit his stride with melodies inspired by cantorial nussach traditions, it seems to suggest that Janowski was seeking to find a style and what today we might call a “zone” for his composing.  The piece was published by Clayton F. Summy, a prominent church-music publisher not known for Jewish compositiong. To our knowledge, Janowski was not yet working in a church setting, and the piece does not bear the description of any commissioning party.  The text can be traced to a setting in The Sabbath School Hymnal (4th ed., Chicago, I. S. Moses, 1897). It seems likely that this hymnal would have been available to Janowski at K.A.M. Temple, providing a text for him to use.  Other than this, it bears no particularly Jewish traits. This seems indicative of the extent to which the Jewishness of Reform worship had been assimilated into the wider culture.

Max Janowski:  Tsur Yisroeyl

With this piece from 1958, Janowski hits his stride with his new musical style he was forging. His ongoing relationship with the congregation Beth El Ner Tamid, in Milwaukee, resulted in the commissioning of several important pieces in his catalogue. From the prefatory matter in the published score, it appears that the work may have been created in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Third Jewish Commonwealth (the present-day state of Israel). In any event, the work takes as its central inspiration the traditional cantorial melody from the Sabbath morning service.  Listeners familiar with the Bloch Sacred Service will recognize this hauting melody, given here as in the Bloch to a baritone soloist in the role of cantor;  Janowski’s treatment is about four times longer, lingering on and repeating the powerful melody and heartfelt words. Somewhat unusually, the musical setting repeats not only the entire text but also the final bracha (blessing) of “Baruch atoh Adonoi,” (Blessed art Thou, O Lord) although only at the work’s conclusion does the choir give the traditional response of “Baruch Hu uvaruch sh’mo” (Blessed be He and blessed be His name).

While this work was not formally arranged in a new score for a cappella choir, as many others on this concert have been, the ensemble has worked for months to interpret the original organ part in a way that all of the beautiful original harmonies are preserved. We are retaining the original Ashkenazic pronounciation in this song, as it contributes to the power of evoking the German synagogue tradition from which this melody springs.

Max Janowski:  Hashkiveynu

In the Sabbath evening liturgy comes this beautiful prayer, with one of the loveliest and sweetest image of the divine spreading a canopy of shelter and protection over us humans.  Many composers of Jewish music have created their most beautiful works specifically to this text;  an analogy from outside Jewish music can be seen the way that composers of high-church music, writing a complete Mass setting, seem to put their best heart and soul into the Agnus Dei.  The comforting text gives rise to a soaring yet gentle melody from Janowski at the opening.  In the middle, as the prayer mentions the bad things from which we need protection, the music gets louder and more powerful.  At the end, when the image of shelter returns, so does the opening melodic material, leading up to the final bracha. This setting, dating from 1959, was dedicated to Cantor Anshel Freeman, who had recently died.  Freeman was a towering figure in the Chicago cantorate, and his daughter, the contralto Beatrice Horwitz, became over the years one of the foremost interpreters of Janowski’s works and one of his most trusted musical colleagues.

Max Janowski:  Sh’ma Yisraeyl
(from the cantata And They Shall Not Learn War Any More)

The year 1963 marked Max Janowski’s 25th anniversary as music director at K.A.M Temple in Chicago. He wrote this cantata for a celebration of his musical leadership.  This is some of his most exquisite work, in musical idioms rarely found elsewhere in his output.  The first movement is a setting of Psalm 98;  the final movement sets Chapters 1-6 from the prophet Micah;  and the middle movement, which is the one performed today, is a setting of the “watchword of our faith,” the Sh’ma (Hear, O Israel) and the V’ahavta (“and thou shalt love the Lord thy God…”).

Janowski takes a distinctly Middle-Eastern or Sephardic turn with this exquisite melody for the Sh’ma / V’ahavta text. The choir hums underneath in unduluating chords, while the awe-inspiring soprano solo takes wing.  There is even a sultriness to the melody, which although surprising makes the prayer both beautiful and unforgettable.

Max Janowski:  Az Moshiach Vet Kumen

Of course, Max Janowski was fluent in Yiddish as well as Hebrew, English, and German.  It is said by Cantor Cory Winter that Max Janowski was influenced more powerfully by Beatrice Horwitz than by anyone else in the area of Yiddish song.  There is a wonderful old recording of “Bea” singing this song, which was published in 1972.  The song is full of excitement at the prospect of the coming of the Messiah, when the diligent and sincere lovers of Jewish tradition will sit and study with “our teacher Moses (“Moishe Rabeynu”) and will sing with King David (“Dovid Hamelech”).  Like many Janowski works, this one follows the text closely with constant changes of mood, dynamics and tempo, to showcase not only the eager anticipation of the choir but the grandeur of the soloists’ emotions.

Janowski was not above quoting himself musically. In fact, in a striking move, he pulls the “V’ahav’ta” melody from the “Sh’ma Yisraeyl” – the previous piece on our program – and inserts it here, right in the place where the text talks about studying!  The audience would have understood implicitly the reference to the following lines about teaching one’s children these words and such.  It is a deft move, done with humor and skill.

Max Janowski:  L’cha Dodi

On Friday evenings, for decades, Shabbat services at K.A.M. (and later at K.A.M. Isaiah Israel) were infused with the joy and beauty of this simple refrain.  Max would sit at the organ, and one of his talented soloistswould intone the L’cha Dodi melody, and the whole congregation would reply with joy to welcome the Sabbath Queen, one of the enduring poetic images in Judaism.  This setting, dating from 1957, was sponsored by yet another congregation with which Janowski was associated, Congregation Beth Sholom in the far-south suburb of Park Forest, Illinois. 

This text has changed over the years in various prayerbooks and local and denominational practices.

Max Janowski, arr. Jonathan Miller:  Adonai Roi (Psalm 23)

Janowski’s setting of Psalm 23 has a sense of the pastoral. Its overwhelming sense is one of calm. The soloist’s melody has some qualities of nussach, but it is so gentle, with undulating motion, that one can easily forget that the tune does have a cantorial sort of flavor. In addition to its gentleness, the key of A-flat major is a bit unusual in Jewish music;  Janowski uses it again in Esa Eynai later in our program, there with a more dramatic overall feel.

Max Janowski, arr. Patrick Sinozich:  Avinu Malkeynu

If there is one piece by which Max Janowski is known, this is it. Barbra Streisand recorded it for her 1997 album Higher Ground, and it had already been Janowski’s most famous work. The melody is, for many Jews, the tune that most fully represents the Days of Awe, especially Yom Kippur, a day on which the prayer is included in many different services. Patrick Sinozich, music director emeritus of Chicago a cappella, originally created this beautiful setting for the group in 2007 for the first Days of Awe and Rejoicing concerts.

For the record: Patrick Sinozich's arrangement of "Avinu Malkeynu" appears on our CD Days of Awe and Rejoicing.

Chassidic folk song, arr. Max Janowski / Jonathan Miller:  Yiboneh Hamikdosh

Yes, one can have jubilation in a minor key!  This Chassidic folk song was originally set for choir and piano by Janowski and published in 1972. The work was picked up by the Chicago Children’s Choir shortly thereafter and was part of the CCC’s tour and concert repertoire for many years. The boisterous piano part has been arranged for choral voices in Jonathan Miller’s setting, and the melody moves around the various voice parts with vigor.


Max Janowski, arr. Jonathan Miller:  S’u sha’rim from Avodath Hakodesh

Early in his career, Janowski published a small booklet that had an entire setting of the main sung portions of the Reform service, including this charming short piece. The English translation of the text may be familiar to choristers from a movement of Handel’s Messiah.

Max Janowski, arr. Jonathan Miller:  Sh’ma Koleynu (Hear Our Voice)

In his 30th year with K.A.M. Temple, Max Janowski wrote this exquisite work for the High Holidays, on the traditional prayer “Hear Our Voice.” The prayer is part of the Yom Kippur liturgy, and one gets a preview of it during the S’lichot service in Conservative synagogues.  This piece has it all:  a phenomenal keyboard part (adapted here for choral forces); stunning solo passages;  choral writing with the finest in carefully-wrought counterpoint; and, above all, a powerful, personal expression of the text.

Spiritual, arr. Max Janowski:  De ole ark’s a-moverin’

On Sunday mornings, Max Janowski could be found – for decades – at the organ, leading the music in the balcony at All Souls Universalist Fellowship in South Shore. This was a deliberately biracial congregation, founded in the last 1950s to be a place where black and white people could worship openly together and create an ecumenical community.  The atmosphere there was welcoming and full of heart, and Janowski led his choir there in everything from Bach to his own compositions to spirituals, pop songs, folk songs, and more.  This spiritual was found in his church-music filing cabinet after he died, and it is a wonderful setting of a seldom-heard tune.

Max Janowski, arr. Jonathan Miller:  May The Words

There is a moment at the end of the Amidah – the silent prayer that forms the centerpiece of Jewish worship – where the prayers become more reflective than usual, and this text is found there. In Hebrew, the prayer begins with the words “Yih’yu l’ratzon…” Janowski took the traditional Reform-Jewish translation of this prayer and set it to simple, lovely music, which he would lead from the organ to create a beautiful moment of repose.

Max Janowski, arr. Jonathan Miller:  Esa Eynai (Psalm 121)

This is a sort of companion piece to Janowski’s setting of Psalm 23. The pieces are in the same key and have similar feel;  however, Esa Eynai goes to more extroverted heights than Adonai Roi.  This is generally felt to be one of the composer’s finest efforts.  The solo melody is exquisitely written.  Composer Bob Applebaum, a favorite of Chicago a cappella’s singers and audiences, says that it was this very piece—which he heard during a worship service—that made him want to write Jewish sacred music.

Max Janowski, arr. Jonathan Miller:  L’Koved Shabes

Jewish wordless melodies are known as niggunim.  They are often sung to get a Sabbath service started, much the way Ravi Shankar will slowly ramp up his sitar playing in keeping with the mood of the crowd.  This catchy niggun is partly wordless and partly texted, with just enough words to give one the flavor of Shabbat.  The syllables not shown below are just “bims” and “bams” and the like.  Jonathan Miller has added some harmony to the simple, effective tune.

Max Janowski, arr. Jonathan Miller:  Sim Shalom

This is probably Song Number Two on the Janowski hit parade, if one might refer to his catalogue in that way. Sim Shalom is a prayer include in, among other places, the Musaf (additional) daytime service on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  It helps to form a powerful close to the long, intense worship experience of the Days of Awe. Janowski put his best musical self into this setting, with a beautiful refrain, poignant cantorial solos, and a momentum that keeps driving forward.

—Notes by Jonathan Miller