Melbourne to Vienna: Cantor Abraham Adler

Abraham Adler was born in Transylvania in 1916 where he was soundly educated in music and religion.

In 1943 he was taken into Soviet captivity, from which he was released in 1948. His family was
murdered in Auschwitz.

In 1950 Adler was appointed as a cantor in Haifa.

After marrying Hilda Miller, a Vienna native, he moved to Melbourne in 1955/1956, initially settling in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton.

After a 2-year stint at Carlton United Hebrew Congregation, Adler was invited to be the Cantor at Elwood Hebrew Congregation and stayed there till 1975.

Adler is well remembered in Melbourne, where he was Chazan at Elwood Synagogue, a synagogue with a large Holocaust survivor congregation.

During his years in Melbourne, he achieved great acclaim as a spiritual leader and a gifted and accomplished singer not only in religious services but in community events and concert performances. On a number of occasions during the years 1960 to 1966, he took part in broadcasts featuring Jewish music on Radio 3DB.

He also produced acetate recordings of cantorial masterpieces.

In course of a journey around the world, they visited Vienna in 1974, where Adler was offered the post of Oberkantor. Adler acted as Oberkantor of Vienna’s Jewish community, serving as prayer leader and chief singer in the Synagogue from 1975 to 1993.

At this time he began to collect cantorial and Yiddish music, which he bequeathed the Phonogrammarchiv in 1998.

His personal estate is kept at the Jewish Museum Vienna. Pieces of it, such as his cantor’s garment, a yahrzeit plaque, precious books as well as note-manuscripts and memorabilia, were displayed in the exhibition.

Cantor Adler’s accompanists have included musicians such as Felix Werder, Leo Rosner and Miriam Rochlin, each of whom has also made a significant individual contribution to Jewish musical culture in Australia.

Adler’s singing belongs to the Ashkenazi cantorial tradition, Eastern European in origin and quasi-operatic in style.

Felix Werder, commenting on the quality of Adler’s voice, recalls the versatility, colour and energy of his singing.

Also legendary was Adler’s ornamental and improvisational ability coupled with an instinct for the right depth and placement of emotion in his renditions of liturgical text.

Besides the legacy of his recordings, Adler published a two volume manuscript of cantorial pieces-Cantoralishe Recitativen- which is used as a text for the teaching of Jewish liturgical music.

He passed away in 2003, a short period after the passing of his colleague at Elwood Synagogue, Rabbi Chaim Gutnick.

To read more fascinating first hand accounts of Cantor Adler’s prayers and life, Click here:

To hear a selection of cantorial compositions from Cantor Adler, CLICK HERE

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