all works

mixed  voices (satb)

men's voices (ttbb)

for two parts

solo or unison


cantor & choir


ease / challenge


shabbat / general

high holy days


   - wedding

notes about:
   - texts
   - translations
   - organ parts
   - playbacks

terms of use


mrwinikoff music

block the bass


join email list


Notes on Texts and Settings

A-donay Ro-i
Ahavat Olam
Aleinu "Hagadol"
Ana Tavo
Eil Melech Yosheiv
Hama'avir Banav
Havein Yakir Li
Hayom Harat Olam
Hayom T'amtzeinu
Hatzi Kaddish
Ki Kh'shimcha
L'cha Dodi
Ma Tovu
Magein Avot
Maoz Tzur
Prayer for Israel
Psalm 24
Psalm 29
Psalm 113
Psalm 150
Shalom Rav
Shehecheyanu (HH)
Shiviti A-donay
Un'ta-ne Tokef
Uv'shofar Gadol
V'al Y'dei

A-DONAY RO-I is, of course, Psalm 23, which is found in the Yizkor (Memorial) Service recited on Yom Kippur, Sh'mini Atzeret, the last day of Passover, and the last day of Shavuot.  The present setting, with its somber, introspective mood, is well-suited for that use.  The accompaniment, a depiction of the "quiet waters" famously mentioned in the text, is optional.  Challenge level - 3 out of 6 stars

AHAVAT OLAM, from the daily Ma-ariv (Evening) service, is the second blessing following the call to prayer (Bar’chu).  It acknowledges the loving gift of G-d’s laws and commandments to Israel, which are “surely… our life and the span of our days.”  Translation

This setting is styled in the characteristic Sabbath evening chant mode (nusach), employing two main themes first independently, then combined in double canon.  The first theme then returns by itself, now clothed in full harmonies, to conclude the work. 

In performance, the unison passages should be approached like “plainchant” with a unified approach to pitch, tone-color, line and general ensemble.  Challenge level - 3 out of 6 stars

ALEINU “HAGADOL.”  The Aleinu is a familiar text normally occurring three times in the daily liturgy.  Its original purpose, as reflected in the present setting, was to introduce the Malchuyot (“Sovereignty”) section of the Musaf (Additional) service for Rosh Hashanah; soon it was also introduced into the Musaf of Yom Kippur, and eventually into the daily liturgy.  In this elevated function in the High Holy Day service, it is known as Aleinu Hagadol (“The Great” Aleinu).  Translation

This setting utilizes the customary (and very specific) chant for this passage, aiming to depict the sublime moment when the cantor kneels and prostrates on the phrase “va-anachnu kor’im umishtachavim umodim,” then rises again as the choir concludes triumphantly with “lifnei melech….”  Such kneeling is permitted only during these “Days of Awe,” and symbolizes not our remorse as sinners, but rather our acknowledgment of G-d’s supreme and universal sovereignty.Challenge level - 3 out of 6 stars

ANA TAVO.  This powerful, psychologically insightful prayer functions as a preamble to the first confessional (Ashamnu) in the penitential rite of Yom Kippur and Slichot.  It serves as preparation for the confessional (vidui) by evoking in us the sober and uncompromising acknowledgment of our imperfections – a necessary step in the process of repentence.  Consistent with much of the atonement liturgy, it is presented in the first-person plural (“we” “us”), reflecting the precept that Jews are responsible for one another in atonement.  Translation

Although modern prayer books omit the first word Ana (“Please”), this setting continues the tradition of many musical renderings by including it.  This dramatic rendition is inspired by that of the great Baruch Schorr.  The central fugue section suggests the empty rhetoric of our excuses and rationalizations, which build to a cacophony before ultimately dissipating like steam “l’fanecha” (“before You”).  Challenge level - 3 out of 6 stars

EIL MELECH YOSHEIV.  This piyyut (liturgical poem) introduces the statement of the Thirteen Divine Attributes (known also as the “Covenant”), which are a recurring theme throughout Yom Kippur – our appeal to divine mercy and compassion.  The opening image is of the Almighty seated on His throne of compassion, governing in lovingkindness, dealing charitably with all creatures, not according to their wickedness, Who taught us His Thirteen Attributes.  The climactic image (from Exodus 34:6-7) is of G-d descending in a cloud, passing near Moses as He reveals the attributes of His nature in the Covenant.  Translation

The choir opens with the tenors announcing a theme that will recur in various guises throughout the piece.  The musical coloration is that of Yom Kippur, even alluding at one point to the famous Kol Nidrei chant.  A folk-like theme in the treble voices appears against a quasi-ostinato (“obstinate”) or repeating pattern in the tenor and bass, while the conclusion, with its stately harmonies, depicts the grandeur of its imagery.  Challenge level - 4 out of 6 stars

HAMA'AVIR BANAV.  This passage from the Evening (Ma'ariv) service tells of Israel being led through the divided Red Sea, and their subsequent recognition and acceptance of divine power and sovereignty.

This grand anthem for SATB (including separate accompanied and a cappella versions) begins in a hesitant halting march mode that slowly gains confidence and strength.  It soon blossoms into a triumphant soaring major, signifying Israel's passage from slavery to freedom and divine covenant.  This work is well-suited for concert use, and especially apropos to Passover. Challenge level - 4 out of 6 stars

HANEIROT HALALU (Meditation on the Chanukkah Lights).  The text is somewhat didactic, aiming to instruct and remind children young and old of the special significance of these lights, which are symbolic of the “miracles, wonders, victories and battles” which G-d wrought for us “in days of old, at this season.”  While most musical renderings are lively and overtly joyful, this setting is intended to be reflective, evoking the tranquil mystery of the moment when we kindle the Chanukkah lights.  It is the sacred magic of Chanukkah through a child’s eyes, as fondly recalled by the adult.  Translation    Challenge level - 4 out of 6 stars

HASHKIVEINU (1989).  One of the central prayers of the Ma-ariv (Evening) service, Hashkiveinu has a very real drama, evoking a list of dangers and misfortunes that might befall us during our nightly sleep, from which we ask for divine protection.  We pray for peace during the night, sheltered beneath G-d’s wings, with renewed life and vigor at daybreak.  Translation

The text has inspired eloquent cantorial and choral renditions, a handful of which have served to inspire this traditional setting which inhabits the grand scale and elaborate manner of those classic works, making use of idiomatic devices such as the choir’s sustained hummed chords under the cantor’s proclamations, along with responses on repeated text phrases.  Its drama suggests the High Holy Days, while the nusach is very much of Shabbat. 
Challenge level - 4 out of 6 stars

HASHKIVEINU (Night Prayer).  In contrast to the earlier setting (see above), this has the almost hypnotic feel of a lullaby throughout, with a recurring lyrical, aria-like melody that morphs organically in various ways according to the text.  While it has little of the traditional style cantorial singing (hazzanut) of the other setting, the music is nonetheless firmly rooted in the Friday evening nusach.  Translation    Challenge level - 2 out of 6 stars

HAVEIN YAKIR LI.  This fragment of a verse from Jeremiah is among the most celebrated passages in the entire High Holy Day liturgy, embodying the metaphor of parental love of G-d for “Ephraim,”  His people Israel.  The verse casts a high profile in the Zichronot (“Remembrance”) section of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf (Additional) service.  Being a moment of great pathos, it has given rise to much musical inspiration for the cantor or, traditionally, a boy soprano or alto. 

This music is excerpted from a much larger setting of V’al Y’dei (Zichronot).  It uses the common device of an ostinato (“obstinate” or repeating) pattern in the choir against a solo duet for soprano and alto.  The 5:8 meter and irregular phrasing are not typical, however. Challenge level - 3 out of 6 stars

HAVIEINU - Motet.  Still widely known in the classic settings by its former incipit T’vieinu, this text is the concluding one of a set of verses in the atonement liturgy, each of which quotes a scriptural passage preceded by a petition correlating to the scripture.  This petitional verse based on Isaiah 56:7 implores G-d to “Bring us to Your holy mountain, and let us rejoice in Your house of prayer” for “My house shall be proclaimed a house of prayer for all peoples.”  Translation

The work is called a motet due to its dense texture, its “prelude and fugue” form, and its challenging nature.  The brief but intricate fugue is built on a thematic fragment of the Kol Nidrei chant.  There follows a development of thematic material from the first section.  The style aimed for might well be described as “19th Century Grandeloquent.”  Challenge level - 5 out of 6 stars

HAYOM HARAT OLAM.  “Today the world was born.  Today all creatures stand in judgment….”  This passage occurs three times in the Musaf of Rosh Hashanah, concluding each of the three themed sections “Malchuyot,” “Zichronot,” and “Shofrot” (verses of “Sovereignty,” “ Remembrance,” and “Revelation”).  Translation

In contrast to the many musical settings which begin softly and crescendo, this rendition opens with a monumental announcement by tenor solo and choir response, followed by an awe-infused echo.  The choir then intones a hobbling, humble theme that recurs in varied form through the piece.  The opening declaration returns like a thunderbolt, then tranquilly fades before returning again in the momentous fashion of the opening.  Challenge level - 4 out of 6 stars 

HAYOM T'AMTZEINU.  This litany concludes the Musaf service of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  It is a fragment of a longer piyyut which is found in its complete form in the Italian rite.  It is a statement of faith that G-d will strengthen and support us on this momentous day of judgment, when He will hear our prayers with mercy and favor.  Translation

This rendition is loosely based on traditional tunes and modes.  In performing this setting, it is important to take a restrained tempo, and maintain a sense of dignity and sobriety, as opposed to an overly lively mood.  The effect should be of joy and pathos.  Challenge level - 2 out of 6 stars

HATZI KADDISH for Friday Evening.  The Kaddish (“sanctification”) prayer takes on different iterations and purposes in its ubiquity throughout Jewish liturgy.  While perhaps best known as a prayer of mourning, it also functions in its complete form (Kaddish Shalem) as the conclusion of the Amidah.  In its “half” (Hatzi) Kaddish form, it introduces the call to worship in the Shacharit (Morning) service, and the Amidah (Silent Devotion) in the Musaf (Additional), Mincha (Afternoon) and Ma-ariv (Evening) services.  Translation

On a typical Friday evening, the Hatzi (aka "Reader's") Kaddish is chanted in a devotional natural-minor mode, often cadencing on the 5th degree of the scale.  This rendition draws inspiration from the great settings by Zavel Zilberts and Max Helfman. 
Challenge level - 2 out of 6 stars

HATZI KADDISH for Musaf – Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur.  The Hatzi Kaddish that introduces the Musaf (Additional) service of the Days of Awe constitutes a powerful and momentous point in the ongoing day of worship.  The Musaf, especially on Rosh Hashanah, stands in relief as the climactic centerpiece of the day.  While the pure chant mode for this Kaddish is rather auster, the famous rendition by nineteenth-century composer Wolf “Velvele” Schestapol (after which this present setting is modeled) has become so widely known that its famous melody has come to be regarded as though it were nusach, even to the point of being used unabashedly by other composers.  While not utilizing that tune, the present setting echoes the grandeur and portent of Schestapol, and of this moment in the epic High Holy Day proceedings.  Translation  Challenge level - 2 out of 6 stars

KADSHEINU.  This passage constitutes the common core text of four counterpart prayers found throughout the liturgy of Sabbath and holy days, and known functionally as k’dushat hayom (“sanctity of the day”).  The occasion-specific versions are:

Shabbat: R’tzei vimnuchateinu
Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot: V'hasieinu
Rosh Hashanah: M’loch al kol ha-olam
Yom Kippur: M’chal la-avonoteinu

This setting in modernist style is textually and, for the most part, musically non-specific to any of these occasions, though it does make subtle allusion (at bars 10-11, 14-15, and 21-22) to Friday evening nusach.  Translation       Challenge level - 3 out of 6 stars


KI KH'SHIMCHA. – is the concluding section of the celebrated Un’ta-ne Tokef, recited in the Ashkenazic rite on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  In stark contrast to the lurid drama of the previous sections, Ki Kh’shimcha is profoundly elegiac in mood, ruminating on the transience and frailty of humankind, while emphasizing the abiding patience and compassion that G-d maintains for the sinner “to the day of his death.”  It concludes triumphantly, “But You are our Sovereign, ever-living G-d.”  Translation

This setting, atypically, gives no role at all to the cantor, instead assigning the full weight of interpretation to the choir.  It is written largely in the customary “Ahava Raba” mode, in essence a Phrygian scale with a raised third degree. 

In performance, it is important to observe accurately all the extended note durations and slow tempi, which are crucial to the overall effect.  Challenge level - 4 out of 6 stars

K'VAKARAT.  “As a shepherd musters his flock, bringing each under his staff, so do You summon and pass each living soul before You.”  This passage from Un’ta-ne Tokef is yet another moment of musical inspiration for the cantor and choir.  Its imagery invites music of a pastoral and even hypnotic nature.  This music, with its featured soprano solo, is excerpted from the setting Uv’shofar Gadol.  Translation

A very deliberate, slow tempo is important in this passage, and it will be preferable that the soloist take additional breaths as needed, rather than speeding up.  Challenge level - 2 out of 6 stars

L'CHA DODI.  This sublime piyyut (liturgical poem) is the centerpiece of Kabbalat Shabbat, the preliminary service for “Welcoming the Sabbath.”  This liturgy is rooted in the mystical idea of Shabbat as an honored guest in our homes.  In poetic language echoing the Song of Songs, L’cha Dodi depicts Shabbat as a ravishing “bride,” whose arrival we eagerly welcome.  On the final verse, the congregation rises and turns to face the room’s entrance to greet the “Sabbath Queen.” Translation

This setting is loosely based on the tune traditionally assigned to this piyyut in the week(s) preceding the fast of Tisha b’Av, and uses other elements characteristic of Shabbat nusach (chant modes).  Thematic cohesiveness is tempered with variety in this rendition, such as in the casting of the refrain always in a contrasting meter to that of the verse.

The setting is designed to be used either as a whole, or abridged/excerpted in any of a variety of ways as needed.  Challenge level - 2 out of 6 stars

MA TOVU.  “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob! Your dwelling places O Israel!”  Balaam’s ironic exclamation of praise (from Numbers 24:5) becomes the opening verse of this prayer, the remainder of which is comprised of various Psalm verses.  While it is most properly said by the individual on entering a house of worship, and as preparation for worship, it has long been a favorite text for choral setting.  Because no strong tradition of nusach is associated with it, it has sometimes been the basis for musical experimentation for composers, though typically it is cast in a festive, auspicious major key, particularly when intended to open the Friday evening service.  This setting in modernist style continues that practice.  Translation    Challenge level - 5 out of 6 stars

MAGEIN AVOT is a kind of condensed version of the Friday night Amidah (silent devotion).  In most traditional congregations, it is one of a group of prayers recited aloud immediately following the silent devotion, and which are concerned solely with Shabbat, regardless of any festival or observance that might be concurrent.  In scanning the text of Magein Avot, one can discern the major precepts of this Amidah.  Translation

In musical terms, this prayer lends its name to one of the important chant modes – the so-called Magein Avot mode, which dominates the liturgy of Friday evening and early Saturday morning.  It is tranquil, reflective and devotional in mood, a natural-minor scale often cadencing on the fifth degree. This lithe setting utilizes that mode.  Challenge level - 2 out of 6 stars

MA-OZ TZUR is widely known as the hymn for Chanukkah, but in fact the complete hymn is concerned not only with the story of the Maccabbees, but with other tales of deliverance from Egypt, Babylonia and Persia.  The well-known Hebrew text in this setting, as in the classic settings, is the opening verse of that six-verse hymn.  The newly-composed English stanza is not intended as a translation of the Hebrew, but makes reference to it as well as to an emblematic precept of this Festival of Dedication, found in the haftarah (prophetic reading) for the first shabbat of Chanukkah:  “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.”  - Zachariah 4:6.    Challenge level - 3 out of 6 stars

PRAYER FOR THE STATE OF ISRAEL - In most congregations, this prayer is recited at the end of each major Torah service, just before the scrolls are returned to the Ark.  Since it takes the form of a solemn and official declaration, it is often recited standing, with a scroll held next to the reader.  Translation

This setting is in a grand manner with an optional piano accompaniment, also making it suitable for concert use   Challenge level - 3 out of 6 stars

PSALMS 24 and 29.  In the synagogue, Psalm 24 is used on weekday mornings, and Psalm 29 on Saturday morning for the final procession of the Torah scrolls through the congregation before they are replaced in the aron kodesh (holy ark) at the end of the Torah reading.  The setting of Psalm 24 is in the form of a grand anthem, and should only be performed with accompaniment.  It makes subtle use of High Holy Day nusach fragments.  The rendition of Psalm 29, which may be sung a cappella, is patterned after a melody widely used in the American Jewish community, including the insertion of solo passages on certain verses. Both rated Challenge level - 3 out of 6 stars

PSALM 113 opens Hallel, the special liturgy of praise and thanksgiving recited on most major and minor festivals.  This setting is cast in a Russian/Slavic style, and utilizes chant modes associated with the Sh’losh Regalim, the three pilgrimage festivals – Pesach (Passover); Shavuot (Pentacost); and Sukkot (Tabernacles).  Challenge level - 4 out of 6 stars

PSALM 150 is certainly among the most well-known of the Psalms.  Not only does it occur in high profile in the Shofrot section of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf (perhaps mainly due to its mention of the shofar or ram’s horn), but given its musical imagery it is, not surprisingly, a favorite text for musical settings in whole or in part. 

This choral rendition is in a modernist style, hinting at the Mixolydian coloration typically heard in the chanting of Shofrot.  It attempts to depict in some fashion the various musical instruments mentioned, and concludes with an antiphonal fanfare-like flourish.  Challenge level - 5 out of 6 stars

SHALOM RAV is, alternately with Sim Shalom, one of the two prayers for peace that conclude the daily Amidah.  Shalom Rav normally occurs in the Mincha (afternoon) and Ma-ariv (evening) services, while Sim Shalom concludes the Shacharit (morning) and Musaf (additional) services. 
Challenge level - 3 out of 6 stars

SHEHECHEYANU (Evening of High Holy Days) is a very short, practical, congregation-friendly festive choral setting of this blessing utilizing the traditional Ma'ariv tune of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.   Challenge level - 2 out of 6 stars

SHIVITI A-DONAY.  “Before me I have ever set the Lord…”  The verses are Psalm 16:8-9, and are found in the Yizkor (memorial) liturgy.  The Hebrew text of the first sentence is also the subject of meditative plaques hung in synagogue chapels and sanctuaries, intended to inspire contemplation of the name of G-d. 

The present musical setting is cathartic in temperment, as in the climactic cadence on “k’vodi.”  In performing this setting, it will be helpful to singers and conductor to regard the quarter note pulse throughout.  A sense of line and shaping of phrases is essential to the effectiveness of this work.
Challenge level - 3 out of 6 stars

UN'TA-NE TOKEF.  “We recognize the profound holiness of this day…”  Recited in the Ashkenazic rite, Un’ta-ne Tokef is one of the most celebrated passages in the High Holy Day Musaf, not least due to the well-known martyrdom legend attached to it.  Its pictorial imagery is at times remarkably similar to that found in the famous Latin sequence Dies Irae, and just as that text has inspired great musical renderings by the likes of Mozart, Berlioz and Verdi among others, Un’ta-ne Tokef has spurred similar inspiration for synagogue musicians and composers such as Lewandowski, Binder, Zilberts and Helfman.  Translation

This brief rendition (setting only the first verses) is adapted from a pre-existing melody (first eight measures of this piece), the origin of which is unknown to me.  In my youth, I knew it as the refrain tune for B’rosh Hashana, the middle section of the piyyut.  Challenge level - 2 out of 6 stars

UV'SHOFAR GADOL.  “A great horn is sounded; a quiet, thin voice is heard.”  This setting of the second paragraph of Un’ta-ne Tokef opens with an aural image of the earthly shofar blast resounding upward to heaven.  The closing fugue is punctuated repeatedly by the fortissimo choral tutti a proverbial “rubber stamp” on the phrase " gzar dinam" (“the decree of judgment”).  The final unison phrase outlines the descending minor triad heard over and over in chant and responses throughout the High Holy Days.  Translation    Challenge level - 4 out of 6 stars

V'AL Y'DEI (Zichronot).  Each of the three themed sections (Malchuyot – Sovereignty verses; Zichronot – Remembrance verses; Shofrot – Horn or Revelation verses) of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf service is comprised of ten apropos scriptural verses:  three from the Pentateuch, three from Psalms, three from Prophets, and a concluding verse again from the Pentateuch.  Each of the Prophet passages is introduced with the citational clause V’al y’dei avadecha han’vi-im, katuv leimor: (“By the hand of Your servants, the Prophets, it is written:”). 

As in most all of the musical settings, this one sets the prophetic verses (from Jeremiah and Ezekiel) of the Remembrance section.  These soul-stirring verses convey the undying love with which G-d remembers Israel’s loyalty and devotion, and the parental compassion with which G-d will judge “Ephraim, my beloved son … for even as I reproach him, I remember him in tenderness….”  Full translation 

For all its atypical complexities, this setting is firmly rooted in traditon, informed by the renditions of Todros Greenberg and Joshua Lind, and makes use (as they did) of the customary nusach.  The soprano/alto duet (on "...lechteich acharai bamidbar") is typical, as is the coda section on "...rachem arachamenu" with its vehement exchange between cantor and choir, and the concluding cadenza flourish.  Challenge level - 5 out of 6 stars  This lengthy work may be abridged.

V'SHAMRU - Motet.  This text, a direct statement of Exodus 31:16-17, occurs in three important places during Shabbat:  1) it immediately precedes the Friday evening Amidah; 2) it occurs in the Shaharit (Morning) Amidah; and 3) it serves as the prelude to the Shabbat morning Kiddush (blessing of the wine).  Translation

Some of the most beautiful and sublime works in the Jewish choral repertoire happen to be renderings of this text (typically for Friday night use), among them the classic versions by Dunajewski, Spivak and Zilberts, all cast in the characteristic reflective minor.  This setting is called a motet because of its narrative quality, intended for spiritual contemplation by the listener rather than as a participatory congregational melody.  Challenge level - 3 out of 6 stars

V'SHAMRU (Duet/Choir/Congregation).  This highly adaptable setting is cast for congregational use, featuring duet sections with refrain.  Translation    Challenge level - 2 out of 6 stars

YA-ALEH.  The beautiful, soul-stirring piyyut (liturgical poem) introducing the S'lichot (penitential) section of the Yom Kippur evening service.  In its powerful simplicity, it embodies a mystical invocation of the two-way spiritual communion between the human and divine realms that characterizes the profound mystery and grandeur of this most sacred day. 

Ya-aleh is remarkable for its structural minimalism, with each of the eight verses consisting of three lines of 3 or 4 words each.  Only the middle word of each line changes from verse to verse, these being arranged in inverted alphabetical acrostic.  The poem derives from another prayer, “Ya-aleh v’yavo v’yeira-eh” recited in the Amidah of festivals and holy days. Translation

This rendition makes no attempt to serve as a vehicle for congregational singing, but is presented as a purely choral setting echoing and anticipating the characteristic musical themes and colors to be heard throughout the Day of Atonement.  It opens and closes with a musical depiction of the spiritual ladder of "ascension, arrival and descension" using a repeating pattern of imitation in the soprano and alto, against which the solo chants a solemn invocation. 

This work may be abridged / excerpted.   Challenge level - 4 out of 6 stars

YIGDAL for the Days of Awe.  This well-known hymn by Daniel ben Judah dates from early 15th Century Italy.  It survives as one of many hymns of its era based on Maimonides’ Thirteen Articles of Faith.  This musical setting, intended to conclude the Ma-ariv (Evening service) of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, is an adaptation of a nusach for this hymn as it occurs at the start of the preliminary morning service.  Translation    Challenge level - 3 out of 6 stars

YISM'CHU is a familiar prayer from the Amidah of the Saturday morning Musaf.  Its characteristic musical treatments are in a lively yet reflective mood, most often in the “Ahava Raba” (a.k.a. “freygish”) mode.  Translation 

The present rendition aims toward a rather cantorial treatment, but in two parts which may be sung all or in part by solo voices, choir, or both.  The form follows the popular procedure for this prayer – refrain with verses, though this is not the actual form of the text.  Challenge level - 3 out of 6 stars