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Lazar Weiner

Lazar Weiner  Biography

The name Lazar Weiner probably does not sound familiar to most people. Outside a group of admirers this important contemporary composer of art songs is almost forgotten. Which is a pity, because his songs, set to modern Yiddish poetry, are very beautiful.

In 1897, next year a hundred years ago, Lazar Weiner was born in Cherkassi in the Ukraine. When he was seven years old, he became a member of the synagogue choir en later he joined the children’s choir of the Kiev Oper. Lazar Weiner grew up in a family with a strong jewish identity, though not very religious.

After his voice changed, he started playing the piano. In 1910, at the age of thirteen, he was admitted to the Kiev Conservatory, where he studied piano, musical theory and composition until the Weiner family emigrated in 1914 to the United States. In New York Weiner worked als piano and voice teacher and as accompanist of well known hazzanim like Yossele Rosenblatt, David Roitman and Zavel Kwartin. Through his work with singers his understanding of the possibilities of the human voice developed. This eventually led him to composing songs. In 1920 he composed settings to three Yiddish poems. He sent the songs to Joel Engel, a pioneer in modern jewish music. Engel liked the music, but thought it too Western Classical. He gave Weiner the advice to ‘compose Jewish music to Yiddish texts.’


While he still continued his study of classical composition, Weiner now also began to study Yiddish folk-music, trope (cantilation) and nusach (traditional melodies for the prayers).

In the 1920-ies Weiner began to conduct Jewish choirs; he collected and arranged existing Yiddish folk-music as well as composed new music for them.

In 1926, when he was naturalized, he became the music director of the Central Synagogue in New York, conductor of the Workman’s Circle Chorus and music director of the weekly radio program The Message of Israel. In the Central Synagogue he conducted worldpremieres of liturgical works by Ernest Bloch and Darius Milhaud. In 1939 Weiner was one of the founders of the the Jewish Music Forum, which promoted the work of important Jewish musicians. After this organisation ceased to exist in 1960, Lazar Weiner helped to found the Jewish Liturgical Music Society of America. From 1953 Lazar Weiner for many years taught at the Scholl of Sacred Music of the Hebrew Union Colle-Jewish Institute of Religion and the Jewish Theological Seminary, both in New York.


Weiner was, according to musicologist Albert Weisser, the greatest composer of Yiddish songs in his time. ‘His sensitivity for the sound and structure of Yiddish is unparallelled among modern composers. Weiner’s method is never to work completely literal, making it possible to play with the inner life and essence of the language, so that the rythm of the music never seems forced, but comes directly from what Weiner finds in the poetry,’ writes Weisser in the Journal of Synagogue Music January 1986.

Weiner was inspired by his sudies of Yiddish folk music and trope, but also by his analysis of the works of Joel Engel, Alexander Krein, Mosos Milner and other early 20th Century pioneers. From the work of one of those musicians, Joseph Achron, Weiner learned to enrich his music by experimenting with harmony and contrapunct. He composed many liturgical works, among which some complete services, in different styles, from simple ones with meodies close to nusach, to complex works in which he used modern techniques. Beside his songs Weiner also wrote an opera, Der Golem and several cantatas. His songs are though considered his best work.

‘If he would not have used Yiddish, but German or French texts, he would no dougt be counted among the best composers of the 20th Century, certainly the equal of Poulenc and worth more recognition and honour than many well-known American composers,’ writes Albert Weisser in the quoted article about Weiner. But Weiner was attached to Yiddish and there are anecdotes that he would fly in to a rage whenever there was a concert of Jewish music without Yiddish songs on the program. His fascination with Yiddish poetry began when in the early nineteentwenties he became friends with N.B.Minkoff, who introduced him in circles of Yiddish avant garde poets. Weiners best songs are settings to poetry of these poets, who belonged to two important literary groups, Di Yunge (The Young Ones) and Di Inzikhisten (The Introspectives). Some of Weiners beste songs were written to texts by Jacob Glatstein and N.B.Minkoff.

Workers’ Culture

His interest for Yiddish and its culture included organisational involvement in the Jewish Workers’culture, which was still very much alive at that time. In 1923 he founded the New York Freiheit Gesangsverein, an amateurchoir of hundred Jewish workers. Because there was not enough Yiddish repertoire for choirs, Weiner translated works by Mendelssohn into Yiddish and he made choir-arrangements of Yiddish songs. In his enthousiasm for Yiddish he founded even more choirs, among which the Yiddish Culture Chorus and the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union Chorus. His greatest success though was in conducting the Workmen’s Crircle Chorus, with which he began in 1930. In the 35 years in which he conducted this choir, he succeeded to make a professional sounding esemble out of this amateur choir. Also for this choir he had works by composers like Schumann, Mozart, Beethoven and Rossini translated by the best Yiddish poets of is time. The choir also performed works by Weiner himself. There were annual concerts together with orchestras like the New York Symphony, the NBC Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall and Town Hall, where Weiner’s A Mol in Tsayt (1939), Mentsh in der Velt (1939), Hirsh Lekert (1943) and Tsu Dit, Amerike were first performed.

10 Songs Composed by Lazar Weiner

 10 Tracks Composed   Add songs to playlist
  • A Nign
  • A Nign
  • A Nign
  • A Nign
  • A Nign
  • A Nign (reprise)
  • Ergets Vayt
  • In feld
  • Shnel Loyfn di Reder
  • Volt mayn tate reikh geven

4 thoughts on “Kaminos”

  1. Jim Borman says:

    Was Nicholas related to Alexander Saslavsky who married Celeste Izolee Todd?

  2. Mark Goldman says:

    Anyone have a contact email for Yair Klinger or link to score for Ha-Bayta?

  3. allan wolinsky says:

    wish to have homeland concert video played on the big screen throughout North America.

    can organize here in Santa Barbara California.

    contacts for this needed and any ideas or suggestions welcomed.

  4. Orien McKee says:

    Nat farber is my great grandpa 😊

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