Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music Receives Major Gift in Memory of Dr. Jack Gottlieb, z”l

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Dr. Jack Gottlieb Jewish Music Studies Endowment Fund Established by the Theophilous Foundation

Dr. Jack Gottlieb, z”l, (1930-2011) was an internationally recognized composer of Jewish liturgical music and choral, opera, theater, and orchestral works, and a leading authority on Leonard Bernstein’s music. As Professor of Music and Composer-in-Residence at the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music (DFSSM) at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC), his influence now extends to generations of cantorial students. His distinguished musical legacy will be perpetuated by the creation of the Dr. Jack Gottlieb Jewish Music Studies Endowment Fund at HUC’s DFSSM by a gift from the Theophilous Foundation, which was established by Dr. Jack Gottlieb’s bequest to promote and nurture the ongoing promulgation and development of serious and innovative music for the synagogue.

Jack Gottlieb

Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., HUC President, stated, “We are grateful to Cantor Josh Breitzer ‘11, a Director of the Foundation, esteemed cantorial alum and cantor of Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, New York, and adjunct professor at the DFSSM, who was blessed to have a longstanding friendship with Dr. Gottlieb, wrote his master’s thesis on Dr. Gottlieb’s music, and is devoted to preserving Dr. Gottlieb’s musical legacy. We are privileged to be entrusted with Dr. Gottlieb’s heritage of artistic creativity and Jewish commitment, and to disseminate it for future generations.”

“A Celebration of the Legacy of Jack Gottlieb, z”l, in Honor of His 90th Birthday” will take place on October 13th at noon ET, featuring President Rehfeld, DFSSM Director Cantor Richard Cohn, Cantor Breitzer, Cantor Barbara Ostfeld ’75 (the first ordained woman cantor and Dr. Gottlieb’s student), Cantor Danielle Rodnizki ’20, Westchester Reform Temple, and Isaac Sonett-Assor ’23, Cantorial Intern, Westchester Reform Temple. To participate in this milestone event, please register here.

Cantor Breitzer noted, “Working with Dr. Gottlieb for the last 18 months of his life was a high point of my student experience at the DFSSM. His insights on Yiddishkeit, creativity, collaboration, academic rigor, and artistic integrity constantly inform my cantorate. I am so excited that Jack’s singular legacy will now be carried forward by HUC-JIR and passed on to generations of Jewish sacred music makers.”

Cantor Richard Cohn, DFSSM Director, said, “The DFSSM is recognized as the primary center of Jewish liturgical practice engaged with the renewal and integration of works such as Dr. Gottlieb’s within the contemporary environment of public worship. This mission uniquely positions the DFSSM to house Dr. Gottlieb’s compositions and writings, make them accessible to all for study and interpretation, and ensure that Dr. Gottlieb’s music is performed in perpetuity, while encouraging faculty and students to be actively engaged in the composition of new Jewish music that honors his lifetime achievements.”

The Dr. Jack Gottlieb Jewish Music Studies Endowment Fund will support the teaching, research, and publications of the Dr. Jack Gottlieb Scholar in Jewish Music, the first recipient to be named in 2021; provide annual support and recognition for composer(s) over the age of 50; and present an annual award to a composer of new Jewish worship music. It will thus further Dr. Gottlieb’s principles and tangible work in the foreground of Jewish music worldwide and sustain Dr. Gottlieb’s acclaimed legacy.

As a composer, Dr. Gottlieb described his own music as “basically eclectic,” in the American tradition of Aaron Copland. Reflecting the influences of composers Irving Fine, Max Helfman, Aaron Copland, Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein, and Bela Bartók, his music was informed by Jewish musical traditions and the sonorities and cadences of the Hebrew language, as well as by the most sophisticated elements of Broadway and other American popular song cycles. With its rhythmic vibrancy, eclectic spirit, openness, and general mood of optimism, Gottlieb’s music has the thorough ring of a quintessentially American composer.

Dr. Gottlieb was an authority, author, and lecturer on the influence of Jewish popular, folk, theatrical, and even liturgical music traditions on the rise of American popular music, to which he devoted many years of study and research. He was a vocal proponent of reforging a connection between learned cantorial-training and aesthetic-standards in American synagogues, and advocated for liturgical music appropriate to the dignity of prayer and the sophistication of Hebrew liturgy.

In a conversation with Cantor Breitzer, Dr. Gottlieb explained, “The Almighty, to me, is the creative impulse. To create something out of nothing, where there had been nothing before, is a mystery, and always shall be to me. And to me, that’s the divine process. It’s the old childlike conundrum of something [having to] come from somewhere. And it’s the old thing – what’s in the back of the back of the back of the back of the back? And I guess that’s what I believe to be the creative impulse, or the divinity, or God, however you want to describe it. So God to me is a process. God is not a finite entity. God is adaptable.”

Dr. Gottlieb received his B.A. from Queens College, NY, an M.F.A. from Brandeis University, and a D.M.A. from the University of Illinois. Synagogue composer Max Helfman, his first mentor whom Dr. Gottlieb deemed his “spiritual father,” was the one to inspire him to write sacred music. As Helfman’s student at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, he encountered Israeli and American Jewish composers, discovered new artistic possibilities inherent in a modern Jewish cultural consciousness, and found a lasting artistic direction.

Dr. Gottlieb also studied with Aaron Copland and Boris Blacher at the Berkshire Music Center. From 1958 to 1966, he was Leonard Bernstein’s assistant at the New York Philharmonic. In 1967 his sacred service, Love Songs for Sabbath, was given at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, MN, probably the first time a full-length synagogue service was ever heard under Catholic auspices (excerpts recorded on Naxos 8.599433 with six other choral works).

From 1973 to 1977, he was Composer-in-Residence and the first full-time Professor of Music at HUC’s DFSSM.

In 1977 he joined the Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc., as publications director of Amberson Enterprises, and served as consultant for the Bernstein estate. He was recognized as a leading authority on Bernstein’s music, the editor of Bernstein’s books, including Young People’s Concerts, and also edited Prelude, Fugue & Riffs, the Bernstein newsletter. At the gala concert by fifty musicians on his 50th birthday in 1980 at Merkin Concert Hall in New York, Leonard Bernstein, who both performed and spoke, hailed Dr. Gottlieb as “one of the most important talents on the American musical scene.”

He was named by the New York Philharmonic as the Leonard Bernstein Scholar-in-Residence for the 2010-2011 season. Among artists who have performed Dr. Gottlieb’s works are Bernstein, members of the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, Seiji Ozawa and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony, and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; singers Jennie Tourel, Adele Addison, Lee Venora, and John Reardon; the Gregg Smith Singers, and many other choral groups; actresses Tovah Feldshuh and Felicia Montealegre; and a host of cantors, synagogue choirs, and other choral groups throughout the United States and Canada.

Dr. Gottlieb passed away on February 23, 2011. He was awarded the posthumous Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by HUC in 2011 at Graduation Ceremonies in New York, where his composition Eitz Chayim was performed by HUC’s cantorial students. A memorial concert commemorating his life and work was held on his third yahrzeit in 2014 at HUC in New York.

He was past president of the American Society for Jewish Music and received numerous awards, including from the Zamir Choral Foundation “in recognition of his lifetime contributions to Jewish music.” Among these compositions was his Songs of Godlove, a two-volume set of 51 solos and duets (Transcontinental Music).

Some of his secular works were inspired by iconic movies. Among them were Downtown Blues for Uptown Halls, songs; The Silent Flickers, for 4-hand piano; Rick’s Place, piano trio; Three Frankenstein Portraits for a cappella chorus; and an opera, The Listener’s Guide to Old-Time Movies. His books Working with Bernstein, a memoir (Amadeus Press, 2010), and Funny, It Doesn’t Sound Jewish: How Yiddish Songs and Synagogue Melodies Influenced Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood (Library of Congress and SUNY Press, 2004) received rave reviews nationwide.