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Bachmann, Jacob

(1846–1905), cantor and synagogue composer. Jacob Bachmann was born in the town of Berdichev, Volhynia province (present-day Ukraine). His early music education came as a meshoyrer (Heb., meshorer), an apprentice choir singer, for Moyshe Pasternak, a noted Berdichev cantor.

Bachmann received a traditional religious education as well as some secular learning and acquired a rudimentary knowledge of music theory. In 1864, he enrolled as one of the first Jewish students at the newly opened Saint Petersburg Conservatory, where he majored in voice and studied composition under Anton Rubinstein, the founder of the conservatory and a composer much interested in his own Jewish roots.

Upon graduation, Bachmann toured Russia, performing with Rubinstein as his accompanist, and winning much acclaim. Because of his extraordinary voice—a lyric tenor with a natural range from bass to echo-falsetto—Bachmann’s colleagues and teachers expected him to pursue a career in the opera world. Instead, he shocked them and many others by choosing to forgo secular music and enter the cantorate, becoming one of the first “star” cantors to win popular fame throughout Eastern Europe.

In 1868, Bachmann assumed the post of cantor in Lemberg, where he founded a mixed choir and began to compose. He remained there until 1884, when he moved for one year to Odessa. He went on to perform as a visiting cantor in many cities, including places as far away as Constantinople. From 1885 to his death in 1905, he served as cantor of the Rombach Temple in Budapest.

In 1884, Bachmann published his most important work, Schirath Jacob (The Song of Jacob), a collection of traditional liturgical melodies, new musical arrangements, and original liturgical compositions. The work was a pioneering attempt to introduce the Reform movement’s musical style of mixed choral singing, modern harmonies, and organ accompaniment into the East European synagogue.

Bachmann’s other compositions include a popular 1879 cantata, based on Psalm 45, in honor of the silver anniversary of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elizabeth; the 1889 work Uwaschofor godol (The Great Shofar), for cantor soloist, choir, and organ accompaniment; and Yom Kippur Katan (Minor Day of Atonement [lit., “Little Yom Kippur”]; referring to the [infrequent] observance of the day before each New Moon as a day of fasting and prayer), for cantor soloist with choir and with or without organ accompaniment (1892). His compositions reflect some of the influence of nineteenth-century composers, including Anton Rubinstein and Giacomo Meyerbeer. Bachmann also published many articles in the Jewish press on questions of Jewish and European music.

Suggested Reading

Macy Nulman, Concise Encyclopedia of Jewish Music (New York, 1975); Iakov Soroker, Rossiiskie muzykanty, evrei: Bio-bibliograficheskii leksikon (Jerusalem, 1992).