Louis Lewandowski was born in the Polish town of Wreschen. At the age of 12, after his mother’s death and because of his family’s extreme poverty, he left for Berlin where he became an apprentice for Cantor Asher Lion. Soon the boy’s musical ambition reached out beyond the ghetto. With the help of Alexander Mendelssohn (cousin of the composer Felix Mendelssohn), Lewandowski became the first Jew to attend the Berlin Academy of the Arts. But after showing great promise in the field of secular music (including a prize for composition from the prestigious Berlin Singakademie), Lewandowski succumbed to a serious nervous disorder and was forced to relinquish his scholarship and abandon his studies. It was after his partial recovery that the lad decided to devote himself fully to the music of the synagogue.
For 24 years Lewandowski worked as choirmaster at the Heidereuter-gasse Temple in Berlin, conducting the music of Salomon Sulzer. But in 1864 the building of the Oranienburgerstrasse Temple, which was equipped with an organ, offered Lewandowski the opportunity of creating an entire new service with organ accompaniment -- a task never before undertaken. The culmination of his career came in 1882 with the publication of his magnum opus, Todah W’Simrah (Thanks and Song), a setting of the entire liturgical cycle for four-part choir, cantor and organ.