Bruch completed the composition in Liverpool, England, in 1880:100 and published it in Berlin in 1881. It was dedicated to and premiered by Robert Hausmann, who later co-premiered Johannes Brahms's Double Concerto with Joseph Joachim, the dedicatee of Bruch's most famous work, the Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor. Hausmann had requested such a cello work from Bruch.:170
It is styled as an Adagio on 2 Hebrew Melodies for Cello and Orchestra with Harp and consists of a series of variations on two main themes of Jewish origin. The first theme, which also lends the piece its title, comes from the Kol Nidre prayer, which is recited during the evening service on Yom Kippur. In Bruch's setting of the melody, the cello imitates the rhapsodic voice of the cantor who chants the liturgy in the synagogue. The second subject of the piece is quoted from the middle section of Isaac Nathan's arrangement of "O Weep for Those that Wept on Babel's Stream", a lyric which was penned by Lord Byron in his collection Hebrew Melodies (which also includes the famous poem "She Walks in Beauty").
Bruch was a Protestant:109 and first became acquainted with the Kol Nidre melody when his teacher Ferdinand Hiller introduced him to the Lichtenstein family, the head of which served as the cantor-in-chief of Berlin. Cantor Abraham Jacob Lichtenstein was known to have cordial relations with many Christian musicians and supported Bruch's interest in Jewish folk music. While some commentators, including Abraham Zevi Idelsohn, have criticized the lack of Jewish sentiment in Bruch's concert-hall Kol Nidrei, Bruch never presumed to write Jewish music. He only wished to incorporate Jewish inspirations into his own compositions.