Everyone knows that the most popular American Christmas songs were written by Jews. But like Leonard Bernstein’s “MASS,” (see my piece on the recent Queens performance here) there’s a long tradition of Jewish musicians involved in Christian-inspired music — and even a few non-Jewish composers who’ve written for the Hebrews. Here are four of the most interesting:
1. Felix Mendelssohn wrote Christian music like Symphony No. 5 “Reformation,” St. Paul Oratorio along with other chamber and vocal pieces.
2. Gustav Mahler set “Veni Creator Spiritus” as the first part of his Eighth Symphony.
3. The Gregorian chant “has its roots in the pre-Christian music of the Jewish service,” according to writer William Benzon in “Beethoven’s Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture.”
4. Josh Groban, whose father converted from Judaism to Christianity, recorded “You Raise Me Up,” a new gospel favorite.
Plus, here a couple of Jewish melodies by Christian composers:
Protestant Max Bruch wrote a beautiful Kol Nidrei for cello and orchestra, composed for the Jewish community Liverpool in 1880.
Franz Schubert, a Catholic, wrote at least one choral setting of Psalm 92 — in Hebrew.