In 1869 Nowakowsky was offered the post of assistant conductor to Nissim Blumenthal at the newly built Brody Synagogue in Odessa, and to instruct in the choir school that Blumenthal had established.
Blumenthal had experimented with the use of western songs and the German language with traditional Jewish choruses. For instance, he used Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus fromThe Messiah sung to the words of Psalm 113: “”Halleluhu: hallelu avdei adonai” (“Praise the Lord, O servants of the Lord”).
Nowakowsky followed this concept but used Hebrew instead, adapting Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 91 setting of Psalm 98 for his chorus. This led to some fame for the synagogue, which was often visited by the nobility and the military elite simply to listen to the music. Their use of organ during services was soon picked up by larger synagogues, who’s members were visiting Brody.
The congregation expected to hear a new piece almost every week. Nowakowsky obliged and did so for 53 years. We can describe his output as follows: The bulk of his music is for the synagogue service, with members of the choir accompanying the Cantor who sang the solos. The choral works range from simple four-part harmony to up to 16 separate parts with organ and contrasting rhythms for the cantor’s solo voice. There were also instrumental works that were presented at concert halls, over 100 organ preludes, folk-song arrangements and German and Russian Lied.
Besides his work leading the choir, Nowakowsky also taught other cantors how to compose music. To do so he hand-wrote textbooks on harmony and counterpoint. Three of these instruction manuals are part of the archives now stored at the YIVO institute in New York. One is in German, another in Hebrew, and a third in the Russian language. Many of the students in his choir later became cantors themselves.
Although the David Nowakowsky Foundation thought we had all of Nowakowsky’s music, a researcher at Leeds University, discovered a previousluy unknown work in Johannesburg South Africa, taken there by one of Nowakowsky’s pupils.