Herman Berlinski, 91, a prolific composer of Jewish liturgical choral works and oratorios, many of which premiered in the Washington area, died Sept. 27 at Sibley Memorial Hospital. He had suffered heart attacks and a stroke.
Dr. Berlinski's considerable output included symphonic and chamber works, concertos, song cycles, a sonata for violin and piano titled "Le Violon de Chagall" and a work for two singers, narrator and instruments called "The Glassbead Game" that was based on the Hermann Hesse novel.
He also wrote secular pieces for the organ, which he learned to play at age 40. Religiously inspired works such as the oratorios "Job" and "The Trumpets of Freedom" and a composition for organ, "The Burning Bush," were among his best-known creations. His large-scale works included "Ets Chayim" (The Tree of Life), commissioned by Project Judaica to mark the opening of the Smithsonian's "Precious Legacy" exhibit. Other works, many inspired by the Holocaust, were performed at the Library of Congress, Kennedy Center, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and elsewhere.
One often-performed work, a series of suites titled "From the World of My Father," was first played in Paris in 1938. His final composition, "Palm 130," for solo voice, choir and organ, was commissioned by the Washington National Cathedral. It will be played for the first time Sunday to mark the dedication of a stained-glass window.
Dr. Berlinski, who fled Nazi Germany in 1933, settled in Washington three decades later to become music director at the Washington Hebrew Congregation, a post he held until 1977. He had begun his musical career as a pianist, but after mastering the organ, performed and recorded on the instrument in this country and abroad well into advanced age. His most recent recording, released last year, included a song cycle, "Return," depicting his return to his native Leipzig, Germany, for the first time as an adult.
In his later years, he established a choir called Shir Chadash that performed between the Jewish high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at the Kennedy Center and elsewhere.
Dr. Berlinski was a piano studies graduate of the Leipzig Conservatory of Music, where he initially studied clarinet. His early works included dozens of anti-Hitler songs composed for a German literary cabaret. After Hitler came to power in 1933, he moved to Paris and composed music for the ballet and the Yiddish theater. He studied composition with Nadia Boulanger and Alfred Cortot.
He joined the French Foreign Legion when France was invaded, serving first as a machine-gunner and later as a clarinetist in a military band. He left Europe in 1941 to live in New York.
There, he received a master's in music at Columbia University and a doctorate in composition at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He was organist at Temple Emanuel in the city for eight years.
In Washington, where his work was widely performed, he came to be regarded as a cultural institution. His collection of scores, recordings, correspondence and photographs was given to the Library of Congress this summer.
Survivors include his wife of 67 years, Sina Berlinski of Washington; a son, mathematician and writer David Berlinski of Paris; and two grandchildren.