The name of Jack Gottlieb’s music company was Theophilous Music, Inc., and on his website, there is a legend that reads, “In Latin, Theophilous is ‘Amadeus.’ In German, it is ‘Gottlieb;’ and in English it is …?” The answer, of course, is “lover of God,” which is an apt cognomen for a composer and musician whose work centered on the Jewish liturgy, directly and indirectly.
Mr. Gottlieb, who was the first full-time professor of music at the School of Sacred Music, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and a past president of the American Society for Jewish Music, died on Feb. 23, at the age of 80 in his Manhattan apartment.
The cause of death was prostate cancer, according to his niece, Jane Gottlieb.
Through his music, Mr. Gottlieb very consciously erected a bridge between synagogue, concert hall, opera house and musical comedy stage. He composed both sacred and secular music, was a longtime associate of Leonard Bernstein, serving as his assistant with the New York Philharmonic from 1958-66 and as publications director and later consultant to the corporation responsible for overseeing Bernstein’s musical legacy.
Mr. Gottlieb was born on Oct. 12, 1930, in New Rochelle, to Morris and Esther (Ratzman) Gottlieb. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Queens College, a master of fine arts degree from Brandeis University and a doctorate in music from the University of Illinois.
Mr. Gottlieb’s first musical mentor, Max Helfman, inspired him to write liturgical music. In 1967 Gottlieb’s sacred service, “Love Songs for Sabbath,” was given at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn., possibly the first time a full-length synagogue service was heard under Catholic auspices. Among his other sacred music compositions is “Songs of Godlove,” a two-volume set of 51 solos and duets, published by Transcontinental Music.
Many of his secular compositions were inspired by his love of movies, among them a song cycle “Downtown Blues for Uptown Halls,” “Three Frankenstein Portraits” for a cappella chorus and an opera, “The Listener’s Guide to Old-Time Movies.”
A prolific lecturer and writer, Mr. Gottlieb’s most recent books include “Working with Bernstein” (Amadeus Press, 2010) and “Funny, It Doesn’t Sound Jewish: How Yiddish Songs and Synagogue Melodies Influenced Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood” (Library of Congress and SUNY Press, 2004).
He is survived by his sister, Irene Kaplan, Silver Spring, Md., a nephew and three nieces and several great-nieces and great-nephews.
Temple Emanu-El had planned a two-day 80th birthday tribute to Mr. Gottlieb for the end of March, and “my uncle was writing a talk that he planned to give at the event,” Jane Gottlieb said in a telephone interview this week. “With his illness, he was struggling to write it, and he managed to finish it just before he died.”
Mr. Gottlieb “requested no funeral,” she noted. “That was so typical of my uncle. He wanted the concert of his music instead.” Temple Emanu-El moved the two-day event to March 11-12, making his final wish a reality, and incorporating his sacred music into a synagogue service once again.