|More about Salomon Sulzer
The synagogue in Hohenems after its rebuilding, 1863 - 1867
Following expulsion from Hohenems (1676) Salomon Sulzer’s ancestors settled in the small village of Sulz. Many families returned to Hohenems shortly afterwards. Sulzer’s ancestors were allowed to stay in Sulz as they were prosperous. In 1744 the “plundering raid of Sulz” took place. The houses of the Jews in Sulz were plundered and destroyed. This also led to Sulzer’s grandfather returning to Hohenems with his family. Up until 1813 Sulzer’s family went by the name of Levi. In 1813, at a time when Vorarlberg belonged to the kingdom of Bavaria, all Jews were forced to accept a German surname. The Levi family decided on the name of Sulzer in memory of the time of exile in Sulz.
Childhood and Youth
Salomon Sulzer was born on 18th March 1804 in Hohenems, near the synagogue. His devout family soon realized that their son, who showed great musical talent very early on, was destined to become a choirmaster and organist. Besides this, three particular events marked his childhood:
- When Salomon Sulzer’s grandfather was about to die, his mother brought the three-year-old boy to his grandfather’s deathbed. The dying man is said to have told the boy, “I am convinced (‘muwtoch’) that this child will become a great man.”
- As a child Salomon was a frequent visitor at the home of the choirmaster and organist of that time Benjamin Levi-Bermann. One day the choirmaster and organist gave the six-year-old boy the task of fetching his coat for him. The path led along the Ems stream that had burst its banks. Salomon fell into the water and was swept along by the floods. He would certainly not have survived if a brave man by the name of Karl Hugler had not saved him.
- One evening Salomon did not come home. A search party was sent out and he was found sitting on his father’s lap in the synagogue. The boy had fallen asleep.
Due to Salomon’s special musical talent and perhaps also as a result of these events his parents decided to let their son study to become a choirmaster and organist.
As part of his education, he first went to Endingen in Switzerland where he followed the instruction of a famous choirmaster and organist of that time. He also spent time in Karlsruhe in Germany and various places in France.
In 1820 when Sulzer was only 16 years old, the Israelite community in Hohenems appointed him choirmaster and organist. Even at that time he tried to modernize the church service by forming a choir and a small string orchestra.
His remarkable baritone singing voice soon became known far and wide and, prompted by the preacher Isaak Noah Mannheimer (1793 – 1865), Salomon received an invitation to go to Vienna.
Salomon Sulzer in Vienna
In 1826 Salomon Sulzer travelled to the capital city of the empire of Austria. Only a few days after his arrival he was appointed the job of choirmaster and organist at the newly built city temple in Vienna. A tremendous jump in his career!
Soon Sulzer not only made a name for himself as a highly gifted singer, but also as a prominent public figure. This was proved, by way of example, during the 1848 revolution. In the hope of achieving equal right for Jews, his sympathies lay with those fighting for freedom. He experienced fighting at close range, composed revolutionary songs and sang at the funeral of the so-called “ soldiers fallen in action in March”.
What is Sulzer’s greatest contribution?
Together with preacher Isaak Noah Mannheimer, he was co-founder of the “Viennese Rite”, a new modern form of church service. This new moderate form was accepted by both reformers and traditionalists.
Sulzer published two large collections of compositions for Jewish church services. These collections (“Schir Zion I and II” – “The Harp of Zion”) earned Sulzer the reputation as “Creator of modern music in the synagogue”. His collections contained not only his own works, but also those of other famous composers, even those of Christian faith. The 92nd Psalm, composed by Franz Schubert for Sulzer, is considered to be particularly important. His famous baritone voice was often to be heard in choirs made up of about twelve boys and two to four men’s voices. The singing was carried out in Hebrew.
Later Sulzer decided to introduce the organ into the liturgical service – an unconventional step that led to much controversy amongst the Jews. A new type of choirmaster and organist was born, the so-called “Sulzer Choirmaster and Organist”. This was to be understood as a priest who was responsible for the order of service together with the rabbi.
Sulzer’s private life in Vienna
Salomon Sulzer was given an apartment in the buildings of the newly built city temple situated on Seitenstettengasse in the first district of Vienna.
In 1827 he married Franziska Levi-Hirschfeld who also came from Hohenems. The couple were to have 16 (!) children altogether, 14 of whom reached adulthood. On the birth of their sixteenth child Fanny Sulzer died at the age of 46.
Some of Sulzer’s children followed in their father’s footsteps and began a career in music. For example, his son Julius was appointed choirmaster at the Hofburg Theatre in Vienna. His daughters Maria and Henriette were both celebrated opera singers.
As a prominent public figure Salomon Sulzer had many contacts and could count many famous people, particularly musicians, amongst his circle of friends (see the following chapter). As a result, he not only performed in the synagogue but also sang songs by Schubert. In doing so, he was once accompanied by Franz Liszt on the piano. This caused him to come into conflict with the Jewish community which demanded him to give up all public appearances. In 1839 he did indeed decide to renounce his career as a concert singer, yet he still appeared occasionally singing secular songs. Sulzer also earned his living as a singing teacher. He must have had a kindly manner about him as he was fondly called “Papa Sulzer” by his pupils.
More information about Salomon Sulzer
biography | his life | integration | friends | music | the reformer | recognition