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"Break Forth in Melody & Song": Giacomo Meyerbeer

(1791 - 1864)

Few composers in the nineteenth century attained greater popular success than Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864). Son of a banker, who was Berlin's wealthiest Jew, and a mother of culture and religious commitment, Jacob (as he was then called) showed musical genius early. Among the manuscripts in the Music Division is an early work of Meyerbeer in his own hand, Hallelujah, Eine Cantatine fur 4 Mannerstimmen mit Begleitung einer Obligaten Orgel und der Chores ad libitum von J. Meyerbeer (Hallelujah, A Cantatine for 4 Male Voices with Organ Accompaniment and by Choir ad libitum, by J. Meyerbeer). A note on the title page adds: "Original manuscript unpublished," and so it remains to the present day. An unpublished manuscript by the leading nineteenth-century Jewish composer is an important item of Judaica, as is a piece of his religious music. But is it also a Jewish composition in content?

No author is listed, but a reading of the text discovers neither christological words nor allusions. The Grove Dictionary of Music lists it among Meyerbeer's works as "autograph Us Wc," i.e., a manuscript at the Library of Congress, and provides us with some important information. It attributes the text to "E. Kley" who is, of course, Edward Kley, one of the earliest Reform Jewish preachers and a writer of hymns. The text is a series of doxologies:

Holy, holy, holy
Holy thou art-Thy name is Holy.
Splendid and great in your works,
All call upon you in awe Hallelujah!

Oh thou who wast born of dust, a dove
The Holy One who appears in myriads of suns!
Stand silent in astonishment; Adore in prayer,

It goes on for three more verses. The first two verses Kley used again in a hymn published in the Allgemeines Israelitisches Gesangbuch, Hamburg, 1833, where the last stanzas differ from those in the Library's manuscript.

A signed, unpublished, holograph musical manuscript by Giacomo Meyerbeer, Hallelujah, for four male voices with organ accompaniment, written to be sung at a service of the Berlin Jewish Reform Temple housed in the Meyerbeer home. The words are by Edward Kley, tutor of the Meyerbeer children and preacher at the temple.

E. Kley and G. Meyerbeer, Hallelujah, Berlin, 1815? Music Division.

Edward Kley (1789-1867), born in Silesia, educated in Breslau, served as a tutor in the Beer* household from 1807 to 1817, at the same time acting as one of the preachers of the private Reform Temple in the home of early Reform leader Israel Jacobson. Meyerbeer, who was only two years younger, became his friend. For lack of space, the temple, with Kley as minister, was, in 1815, moved into the Beer home. By that time, Meyerbeer had already left Berlin to continue his musical studies in Darmstadt and in Paris. Among the letters from Kley to Meyerbeer, one dated October 31, 1815, reads in part, "Your Hallelujah, or better, our Hallelujah, has not been heard yet, for lack of a decent organ." The "Hallelujah" was probably prepared for use at the inaugural, or an early service of the temple in the Beer home. The manuscript is perhaps the earliest Reform liturgical composition extant, a work which throws important light on the beginnings of Reform Judaism's liturgical creativity.

*Born Jakob Liebmann Beer, he changed his name to Meyerbeer to fulfill the condition set by his grandfather, Liebmann Meyer Wulf, that he add "Meyer" to his name to become his sole heir.

Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, (DC: Library of Congress, 1991).