Abrass, Osias

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ABRASS, OSIAS (Joshua ; 1829–1883), Russian ḥazzan and synagogue composer. He was born in Berdichev and became known as "Pitshe Odesser" ("The Mite from Odessa") when as a boy he gained fame for his soprano solos in the choir of his teacher, Bezalel Shulsinger in Odessa. Abrass also studied with *Sulzer in Vienna. He was ḥazzan and choir leader in Tarnopol in 1840 and in Lvov in 1842. In 1858 he became chief ḥazzan in the Odessa synagogue, the largest in Russia. Abrass' phenomenal vocal performance as well as his contributions to synagogal choir music enhanced the fame of this synagogue and set new standards in Eastern European liturgical singing. His sole printed work was Simrat-Joh; Gottesdienstliehe Gesaenge der Israeliten (1874) for cantor and choir. His virtuosity in coloratura was compared with that of Adelina Patti, the great soprano, as exemplified by his "Simrat-Joh" No. 27, or the following "ornamental extension" of the note E-flat (ibid. No. 32):

Abrass' 39 published compositions may be judged best as a further attempt to connect the traditional meshorerim style with Western choral music. He uses chordal harmony, effects learned from Rossini (No. 10), and even fugato technique (No. 18) only to embellish a basically monodic melody. See also G. Ephros, Cantorial Anthology, 1 (1919), no. 51.


Friedmann, Lebensbilder, 2 (1921), 73–79; Idelsohn, in: Ha-Toren, 11 (1924), 138–54; E. Zaludkowski, Kulturtreger fun der Yidisher Liturgie (1930), 67–71; Sendrey, Music, index; A. Rosen (ed.), Geshikhte fun Khazones (1924).

[Hanoch Avenary]