The Rediscovery of a Passover Cantata

AjzensztadtMarch 14, 2014, marks the first performance since the Holocaust of Chad Gadya [One Little Goat], a Passover cantata by David Eisenstadt [Dovid Ajzensztadt].

As the music director of liturgy and the founder/conductor of the choir at the Grand Synagogue in Warsaw, Eisenstadt was a major figure in Jewish music in Poland in the 1920s. During the Holocaust, he was confined to the Warsaw Ghetto, where he continued to compose, perform, and teach. He led a choir and helped establish the Jewish Symphony Orchestra in the ghetto.

In 1942, Eisenstadt and his wife were put on a cattle car to the Treblinka extermination camp. They were separated from their twenty-one-year-old daughter Marysia, who desperately tried to join them. They watched helplessly as Marysia was shot dead by an SS officer. Eisenstadt and his wife were gassed soon after arriving in Treblinka.

Very few of Eisenstadt’s compositions are extant. Chad Gadya only survived the Holocaust because in the 1920s he sent its manuscript to cantor Froim Spektor in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, where Eisenstadt had once been a choirmaster. In a handwritten note, Eisenstadt asked Spektor what he thought of the work. “You are the only man whom I truly respect,” he wrote. “I beg of you . . . send me your opinion.”

Spektor left Russia for South Africa in 1928, bringing the manuscript with him. Eighty-five years later, Dr. Stephen Muir, a Senior Lecturer in Musicology and Performance at the University of Leeds, discovered the work in the possession of Spektor’s granddaughter in Cape Town.

“We’ve opened up a window onto a culture that was destroyed, where so many talented lives were cut short and entire artistic legacies were very often destroyed too,” says Dr. Muir in a university press release. “By uncovering this long-lost music, it’s like finding a message in a bottle, washed up on the other side of the world.”

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