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by Michael Reid Winikoff

Choir (SATB or TTBB) with optional organ
Musaf - Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur

DURATION: 2:20                                                                            Purchase

-- for SATB (G minor)
   Listen/View (with organ)
   Listen Only (faster load)

-- for TTBB (A minor)

   Listen/View (a cappella)
   Listen Only (faster load)

THE PRAYER - “We recognize the profound holiness of this day…”  Part of the Ashkenazic rite, Un’ta-ne Tokef (sometimes rendered Unetaneh 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. 

The first sections of this piyyut (liturgical poem) are, in essence, the depiction of a lurid courtroom drama, where G-d plays the principal roles of judge, witness, jury, prosecutor and defender, meting with perfect balance of justice and mercy the decree of judgment to each living soul. 

There follows a terrifying enumeration of the many sentencing possibilities that might befall us, followed by a reminder of the opportunity to throw ourselves on the mercy of the court through "penitence, prayer and charitable deeds."

We eulogize on the frailties of humanity, its transience, its vain pursuits, its seemingly inconsequential existence, but all in the ultimate context of an abiding and eternal G-d

THE MUSIC - This brief work (setting only the first verses) is effective as a dramatic introduction to this important moment in the service, and may, in some circumstances, be preferable to a lengthy full-scale rendition of this prayer.  It adapts a pre-existing melody (first eight measures of this piece), the origin of which is unknown to me.  In my youth, I knew this tune as the refrain tune for B’rosh Hashana, the middle section of the piyyut. 

PERFORMANCE - To achieve the desired effect of grandeur and gravitas worthy of the prayer, the setting should be sung sostenuto throughout and, at its climactic forte, with restraint.  See also related settings, Ki Kh'shimcha, Uv'shofar Gadol and its excerpt, K'vakarat.

Challenge level - 2 out of 6 stars

Un’ta-ne tokef k’dushat hayom
Ki hu nora v’ayom
Uvo tinasei malchutecha
V’yikon b’chesed kis-echa
V’teisheiv alav be-emet

We recognize the profound sanctity of this day,
Fraught with awe and dread,
When we perceive Your dominion
And compassion,
Which are founded in truth.