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William Sparger

William SpargerWILLIAM SPARGER (1860 – 1903) served as cantor of Congregation Emanu-El from 1891 through 1903. Born in Tallya, Hungary, in 1860, the son of a rabbi, Cantor Sparger’s exceptional musical talents and scholarly ability were recognized when he was a child. His father was his first teacher, and William went on to study at the University of Vienna and the Royal Conservatory as a teenager. He held cantorial posts in Dortmund and Worms, Germany, and immigrated to the United States in 1882.

In 1884, Sparger was elected rabbi of Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he achieved widespread recognition as a skilled preacher and community leader. In 1891, despite his successes as a passionate and outspoken rabbi, Sparger accepted a call from Temple Emanu-El to serve as its cantor.

Sparger devoted himself to the ministry of Emanu-El and brought outstanding musical talent to the congregation. Sparger engaged Frank Van der Stucken in 1892 to serve as choir director, a post he held until 1895. He also brought Heinrich Zoellner to Emanu-El to serve as choir director from 1897 to 1898. In 1898, he hired Max Spicker, who served as choir director until 1912, and Will C. Macfarlane as organist from 1898 through 1912. Each of these highly respected musicians composed and arranged music for cantor and choir. Many of their and Sparger’s compositions became staples of the musical liturgy in Reform synagogues in America for decades. In 1901, Sparger and Spicker published their famous two-volume work, The Synagogical Service, which contains their original compositions and those of their musical colleagues at Emanu-El. Sparger, along with Cantor Alois Kaiser, served as co-editor of the first edition of the Union Hymnal for use as the official musical supplement to the newly issued Union Prayer Book.

Following the High Holy Days of 1903, Sparger resigned his position at Emanu-El and essentially disappeared, leaving his family and colleagues bewildered and bereft. The meteoric rise of a cantorial pioneer fizzles and fades into the oblivion of speculation, mystery and intrigue.

— Cantor Howard Stahl



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