Gerovitch, Eliezer (1844-1914)

Born in Kitaigorod, in the province of Kiev, in Russia, in 1844, Eliezer Mordechai ben Yitschak Gerowitsch gets a religious education in various Yeshivoth (institutions that provide a thorough teaching of the Talmud and the Torah). His religious erudition acquired during his childhood will largely contribute to develop his compositions of synagogal music during the last years of his life.

Since he is a child, Eliezer Gerowitsch shows great gifts and a deep interest for music. But he won’t go further until the age of 18, due to the relative poorness of his family. He leaves then for Berditchev, a town known for the quality of its cantorship, to study music, and harmony in particular. Gifted with a nice tenor voice, he studies singing with Moïse Spizberg, First Cantor (Hazan) of the Synagogue of Berditchev, who will employ him as Cantor in his synagogue. He gets familiar with the synagogal classical repertoire, and composers such as Sulzer, Lewandowski, Naumbourg or Weintraub. Later he will be Cantor in the synagogue of Nicolaiev, where he will develop his talents as a composer of synagogal music.

Hungry to deepen his musical knowledge, he quits his position and goes to Saint-Petersbourg, where he studies singing in the Music Conservatory. He meets Rimski-Korsakov with whom he starts a rich correspondance on the theme of synagogal music and its relations with the music of the Orthodox Greek Church.

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Synagogue de Rostov

Although he was expected to occupy the vacant position of Hazan in Saint-Petersbourg, he prefers to go to Rostov-sur-le-Don, more adapted to his health issues. It is there that his talents of synagogal composition grow and flourish. He composes two collections of synagogal music in six volumes, three under the title Shire T’filoh and three under the name Shire Zimroh.

Gerovitch’s works and synagogal practice correspond to his will of restoring the spirit of the tradition in the most « accurate » way, using arrangements and harmony, often modal, the closest possible of tradition, despite of the climate of opposition by the reformists who wish to introduce in the liturgy popular composers, such as Haendel and Verdi.

Admired by his community for his character and achievements, Eliezer Gerowitsch dies in Rostov the 8th of October 1914.

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(From the preface of Shirei Tefillah of Gerovitch, written by Professor A. W. Binder, Teacher of liturgical music, Hebrew Union College)

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