Abraham Baer

Cantor
1834-1894

Abraham Baer was born in Wielen, Poland. He worked as a cantor and teacher in several communities throughout western Prussia before settling as a cantor at the Goteborg Synagogue in Sweden in 1857. During his tenure there, along with organist Joseph Czapek, he published Muisk till sangerna vid Gudstjensten (1872), a two volume collection of hymns made up primarily of Salomon Sulzer’s liturgical compositions and arrangements. 

Abraham Baer's magnum opus was entitled Baal T’fillah: Oder, Der practische Vorbeter: Vollständige Sammlung der gottesdienstlichen Gesänge und Recitative der Israeliten nach polnischen, deutschen (aschk'nasischen) und portugiesischen (sephardischen): Weisen nebst allen den Gottesdienst betreffenden rituellen Vorschriften und GebräuchenBaal Tfilla includes original compositions, as well as music borrowed from Salomon SulzerLouis Lewandowski and Samuel Naumbourg, covering the liturgy of the entire Jewish calendar year. This major anthology by Baer, cantor in Göthenburg, Sweden (where he served from 1857 until his death), a minor corner of the German-speaking Jewish world by all accounts, had everlasting effects. Four European editions of Baal T’fillah appeared (Göthenburg, c. 1877; Frankfurt A/M, 1883; Frankfurt A/M, ca. 1900; Nürnberg, 1930) attesting to a continuous demand well into the early 1930s. The remarkable list of congratulatory notes by cantors and musicians from the four corners of the Jewish world, which appeared in the opening of the second edition, is indicative of the impact and status that this anthology instantly acquired. 

Baer’s anthology eventually became an authoritative source in the new schools for training cantors established in the USA by the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements in the 1950s: the Cantor’s Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (now the H. L. Miller Cantorial School; see N. Levin 1997); and the School of Sacred Music of Hebrew Union College. A testimony to the canonical standing of Baer in the eyes of these educators (Europeans in origin) was its selection as the opening volume of the massive 35-volume collection, Out-of-Print Classics of Cantorial Liturgy, published by the Sacred Music Press (an operation of the Hebrew Union College) in 1953 (and again in 1985). The American reprints of Baer’s work are of emblematic significance because this indicated the acceptance of this written source over the orally-transmitted traditional improvisation of the liturgical lore. Although this phenomenon had already taken root in Western European cantorial circles, the reliance on a written musical text by their American progenies was certainly more sweeping.

For additional information about the life of Baer, see Hammarlund, Anders. A Prayer for Modernity: Politics and Culture in the World of Abraham Baer (1834-1894). Stockholm: Svenskt visarkiv/Statens musikverk, 2013, available online.

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