Photo: Albert Combrink Sunset

Hashkiveinu (Louis Lewandowski)

A simple prayer at bedtime. Such a familiar experience in many homes; a mother tucking in the children, father before the evening meal as the family sits round the table, little ones in the pajamas freshly bathed and brushed. “Good Night, Sleep Tight, Don’t let the bedbugs bite!” Lullabies and bedtime prayers are often indistinguishable  as musical genres, so ingrained is this need to wrap up the day and reach out to the Protectors-in-charge who must keep the Earth turning while we float into unconsciousness.

Sometimes the prayers are a habit, said with hardly a second thought after the evening routine is complete. At other times, when you clutch your newborn baby to your breast and you hear the soldiers of King Herod, or Hitler, approaching, that prayer might take on a very different quality.

mother-prayer b

Hashkiveinu (Lay us down to sleep), is a “Night Prayer” from the Jewish liturgy, sung at Friday Night Shabat Services and on the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. With its roots traced back as far as the 9th Century, its imagery is rich and multi-layered, inviting settings by a variety of composers.

The version which I have had the pleasure of performing in synagogue services is a setting by Louis Lewandowski (1821-1894). At least I suspect it is by him, as the Synagogue’s dog-eared pale sheets of music copied and photocopied a hundred times, does not even give the composer’s initials, let alone any publisher’s details or which collection the music is from.

Hashkiveinu Part 1 (Louis Lewandowski): Beverley Chait (Soprano) & Albert Combrink  (Piano)

Listen to a preview of this poem sung with Organ accompaniment by Cantor Paul Heller (Cantor at Stockholm’s Great Synagogue 2000-2011) HERE.

1990 German Stamp of Lewandowski

1990 German Stamp of Lewandowski

Synagogues can be great music libraries, great collections of cultural legacy. This particular synagogue contains cultural riches, but as a non-jewish visitor, perhaps some of them will always remain a mystery to me. I search in the files until the sheets in my hand matches up to the cue-sheet from the Rabbi. I act in good faith, good hope, with good intentions having to make up where knowledge falls short. And before the evening service I say many a little “evening-prayer” to myself that I won’t offend someone by leaving out something really important!

As a child, the Polish-born Lewandowski displayed great musical talent and won the composition prize of the Berlin Sing-Akademie at age 13. He became the first really important “Choir Master” of the Reform Movement, credited with reworking and updating the traditional Cantorial Collections of  music by Salomon Sulzer (1804-1890) and Hirsch Weintraub, whose Four-Part Harmony attracted much excited attention on his 1838 visit to Berlin’s main synagogues.

Berlin Synagogue c.1850

Berlin Synagogue c.1850

Lewandowski worked himself up until he had secured the most prestigious Choir Master position in Berlin. He had at his disposal both a fantastic organ in the Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue and well-trained Berlin conservatory graduate organists, and the services of great singers such as the tenor Jacob Lichtenstein (1806-1880) stimulated his desire to compose a body of liturgical works for soloist, Four-Part Harmony and (sometimes optional) Organ. He was deeply in awe of Felix Mendelssohn, and even managed to study composition with a cousin of the great composer. His music displays elements of the German Lied, and an easy flowing melodic gift and a lightness of touch which confirm his obsession with Mendelssohn.

Lewandowski’s big collections for Synagogue use, Kol Rinna and Todah Wesimrah contain music in which the congregation can take part. Some items have become so popular, that despite being conceived for a soloist, some congregation members might spontaneously sing along. As Shabat services are Prayer Services and not Concerts, this slightly unpredictable element is just part of the landscape. Sometimes we present it as an Art Song, and sometimes the congregation might have a few members who just join in.

Shabbat candles1

Hashkiveinu Part 1, 2 & 3 (Louis Lewandowski): Beverley Chait (Soprano), Temple Israel Singers & Albert Combrink  (Piano)



Lewandowski’s setting of this beautiful text falls in 3 sections:

Part 1 – Cantor Soloist

~~Lay us down to sleep, Lord our God, in peace, raise us erect, our King, to life; and spread over us the shelter of Your peace. Set us aright with good counsel from before Your Presence, and save us for Your Name’s sake.

Hashkiveinu opening

An improvisatory melodic line based on the simple chords of i, iv and v is seductive and simple, with delicious languorous stretches on the Augmented 2nd interval (Steps 6 to 7 of the minor scale), which gives this melody its instantly recognisable Jewish flavour. The accompaniment is unfussy and chordal, creating a simple, unobtrusive canvass on which the voice can paint its florid twirls on the papyrus scrolls. The excerpt below indicates the improvisatory freedom implied by the notation.

Hashkiveinu Cadence

A brief instrumental interlude imitates the voice outline, heightening the meditative aspect of the prayer. Then follows a list of heartfelt petitions to the Almighty

~~Shield us, remove from us foe, plague, sword, famine, and woe;

In a few bars, using imitative rising sequences, Lewandowski quickly builds the work to a passionate and deeply personal emotional climax. Three times he uses the same accompaniment triplet-figuration, but alters the harmony:

Hashkiveinu Modulatory petitions

This drives the music towards a modulation to the relative major key at the climax of the entreaty:

~~and remove spiritual impediment

The Concept of Satan and Hell are contested in Judaism: technically neither exist, and are replaced with a state of “distance from God” or a place where Yahweh is absent. Therefore the words have been changed to “removing people/voices which may be or cause spiritual impediment to closeness with God”.

~~from before us and behind us.

After the climactic entreaty in the stratosphere of the voice, the soloist unhurriedly, elegantly and  gently, glides down the stave, like an acrobat untwirling from an elevated contortion. The voice clings to the silken chords it is unwinding, freeing itself form the harmonic constraints, yet still unwilling to let go of them completely. Combining a French Sixth cadence with a cantorial improvisation on Diminished Fourths and Augmented Sixths, creates the most delicate and tender ending, so that this Mendelssohnian Jewish Evening prayer comes to a close as the light goes out.

Hashkiveinu End of Part 1

Part 2 – Chorus in Ternary Form  (ABA)

~~and in the shadow of Your wings shelter us for it is you Lord who protects and rescues us;

A) A Four Part chorus in strict Tripple Meter enters. Voices move  in the same rhythm. The prayer has moved form the individual to the communal. Here, congregations will often join in.

Hashkiveinu part 2

~~for you are Lord, the  Gracious and Compassionate King. 

B) Imitative writing between the voices and counterpoint vary the texture

Safeguard our going and coming – for life and for peace from now to eternity.

A) Repeating the same material as before, Lewandowski adds a few chromatic passing notes to keep things interesting on repetition.

Part 3 – Chorus in Free Rhythm

~~And spread over us the shelter of Your peace. Blessed are You, Lord our God, who spreads the shelter of peace upon us, upon all of his people Israel and upon Jerusalem.

As the prayer winds down, it uses a style of choral singing for which Lewndowski was particularly known. Freer in rhythm than Part 2 – a more conventional choral setting – but not as free as Cantorial improvisation. One line “Blessed are you oh Lord” can even be taken by a soloist, before the choir draws a serene veil of darkness over the scene.

praying-hands-in-marble_56921_12 HAnds pray


Hashkiveinu (Louis Lewandowski) Lyrics in Hebrew and English

Hashkiveinu in Hebrew

Hashkiveinu in Hebrew

Part 1

Hashkiveinu ADONAI eloheinu l’’shalom, v’’ha-amideinu malkeinu l’’chayim;
Lay us down to sleep, Lord our God, in peace, raise us erect, our King, to life

Ufros aleinu sukat sh’’lomecha,
and spread over us the shelter of Your peace

V’’tak’’neinu b’’eitza tova mil’’fanecha,
Set us aright with good counsel from before Your Presence

V’’hoshieinu l’’ma-an sh’’mecha.
and save us for Your Name’s sake

V’’hagein ba-adeinu, v’’haseir mei-aleinu, oyeiv, dever, v’’cherev, v’’ra-av, v’’yagon;
Shield us, remove from us foe, plague, sword, famine, and woe;

V’’haseir satan mil’’faneinu umei-achareinu,  (Satan can be replaced with “Kol Rah” translated as “Bad Voices”)
and remove spiritual impediment from before us and behind us.

Part 2

Uv’’tzeil k’’nafecha tastireinu –-
and in the shadow of Your wings shelter us

Ki Eil shom’’reinu umatzileinu ata;
The Lord who protects and rescues us, is you

Ki Eil melech chanun v’’rachum ata.
the  Gracious and Compassionate King are you

Ushmor tzeiteinu uvo-einu
Safeguard our going and coming –

–- l’’chayim ulshalom mei-ata v’’ad olam.
for life and for peace from now to eternity.

Part 3

Ufros aleinu sukat shlomecha.
And spread over us the shelter of Your peace.

Baruch ata ADONAI, haporeis sukat shalom,
Blessed are You, Lord our God, who spreads the shelter of peace upon us

V’’al kol amo Yisrael v’’al Y’’rushalayim.
upon all of his people Israel and upon Jerusalem

Louis Lewandowski

Louis Lewandowski