The Library of Congress has recently acquired the collection of Herman Berlinski, one of the most important 20th century composers of music with Jewish themes. This archives documents the life and work of Mr. Berlinski and includes music, both printed and manuscript, correspondence, scrapbooks, photographs, sound recordings, programs and a variety of related materials.
"This collection is a significant addition to the Library's rich holdings of music materials that document the work of composers and artists in the 20th century," said Jon Newsom, chief of the Music Division.
Herman Berlinski's prolific output includes symphonic and chamber works, solo works for the organ, song cycles, numerous liturgical choral works and oratorios. Among his recent large-scale works is Ets Chayim (The Tree of Life), commissioned by Project Judaica for performance at the Smithsonian Institution on the opening of the "Precious Legacy" exhibit.
Mr. Berlinski has given organ recitals throughout Europe and America, in Temple Emanu-El in New York, Notre Dame cathedral in Paris and the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Germany. His principal works for the organ include "Eleven Sinfonias," "The Burning Bush" and "The Glass Bead Game," commissioned by the Rogers Organ Company for the new Carnegie Hall organ in 1974.
In 1993 the Union Theological Seminary of New York commissioned Mr. Berlinski, with Catholic composer Robert Helmschrott of Munich and Protestant composer Heinz Werner Zimmermann of Frankfurt, to compose a work in honor of the German anti-Nazi fighter Dietrich Bonhoeffer. "Altar Tryptichon for Bonhoeffer" has now been performed in America, Germany, Israel and South Africa. One of the composer's most recent major works, "Oratorio Job (Hiob)," may also be his most important. Commissioned for the groundbreaking ceremony for the rebuilding of the synagogue in Dresden, Germany, it received its world premiere there (in its German version) on Nov. 9, 1998.
A work commissioned by the Library from Mr. Berlinski for "A Kristallnacht Remembrance Concert," titled "Maskir Neshamoth" or "In Remembrance of the Soul," was performed in the Library's Coolidge Auditorium on Nov. 19, 1998. Recently, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington was the setting of the world premiere of Mr. Berlinski's CELAN, a chamber work inspired by the life and work of poet and Holocaust survivor Paul Celan.
Mr. Berlinski's latest work, a quintet for clarinet and strings, was completed in June 2001.
A resident of Washington, D.C., Herman Berlinski was born of Polish Jewish parents in Leipzig on Aug. 18, 1910. Mr. Berlinski received his primary music education at the Landeskonsevatorium Leipzig, graduating with honors in 1932. Forced to leave Germany at the onset of the Nazi regime, he became a student of the École Normale de Musique, studying composition with Nadia Boulanger and piano with Alfred Cortot. Formerly a Polish citizen, he enlisted as a volunteer in the French Army, receiving the Croix du Combattant Volontaire from the French government for his wartime service.
Mr. Berlinski fled the German occupation of France in 1941, settling in New York, where, in 1960 at the age of 50, he became the first person at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America to earn the degree of Doctor of Sacred Music. He has held the posts of organist at Temple Emanu-El and Minister of Music to the Washington Hebrew Congregation. He was the founder and director of the Shir Chadash Chorale, a choir distinguished by its pioneering programs of historical and contemporary Jewish music.
Mr. Berlinski has lectured widely as a visiting professor, both in the United States and in Germany. His most recent lectures were given under the auspices of the American Information Agency at the Mendelssohn Academy in Leipzig, and at the Europäischen Zentrum für Jüdische Musik in Hannover, Germany.
Among the honors, awards and fellowships the composer has received are a MacDowell fellowship (1958); the Peabody Waite Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1984); a commission from the McKim Fund in the Library of Congress (1985); the Shenandoah University and Conservatory medal of Excellence (1992); and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Guild of Organists (1995). Most recently, Mr. Berlinski received the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit from the president of Germany (2001).
The Herman Berlinski Collection will be available to researchers in the Performing Arts Reading Room, LM-113, Madison Building, once it is organized and a finding aid compiled.