Yiddish song: an A-Z of research
Ruth Rubin's Voices of a People (1979) gives an excellent introduction to the field. Song texts are interspersed with an engaging commentary; melodies to some songs are also included.
Chapter 18 of Idelsohn's book Jewish Music: Its Historical Development (1929/1992) is devoted to 'The folk-song of the Ashkenazim', in which he analyses the texts and modes of the songs.
Rothmüller (1953) also dedicates a chapter to 'Jewish [Ashkenazic] folk-song' (chapter 13).
Sendrey (1970) surveys pre-1800 Jewish music in the Diaspora, with comprehensive references to extant manuscript and printed sources.
Heskes (1994) devotes four chapters to the Yiddish song, concentrating upon three main areas: Russia, the Holocaust and America. The greatest part of the discussion centres upon popular Yiddish song in America.
Publications of songs/song texts
A selection of publications of Yiddish songs with details of contents are listed below. Obviously, it is impossible to produce a comprehensive list owing to the number of publications; some of the most important and well-known volumes are listed.
Cahan (1881-1937) published two volumes of Yiddish songs in 1912. The first is a collection of love songs, the second is mixed. After his death, a volume of 560 song texts, some of which are accompanied by melodies, was published in 1957, edited by Max Weinreich.
Volumes 9 and 10 of Idelsohn's Thesaurus of Hebrew Oriental Melodies (1932a) deal with 'The Folk Song of the East European Jews' (758 songs) and 'Songs of the Chassidim' (250 songs) respectively. All songs are presented with the melody and text of the first verse.
A collection of 187 Yiddish songs from Galicia, the work of Shmuel Zanvl Pipe, was published by Dov Noy and Meir Noy (1971), along with some of Pipe's writings.
Mark Slobin's (1982a) translation and publication of a collection of material by the great Russian-Jewish musicologist Beregovski comprises reproductions of collections entitled 'Jewish folk music' (1934, 140 Yiddish songs), 'Jewish folk songs' (1962, 67 Yiddish songs) and various untexted niggunim and instrumental tunes. Slobin adds English translations for texts.
Vinkovetsky et al. (1991) Anthology of Yiddish Folksongs present four volumes of Russian songs categorised by subject matter. (The fifth volume of this study, ed. Leichter, 2000, is a collection of songs by Mordechai Gebirtig).
A facsimile copy of Ginzburg and Marek's 1901 publication of 376 song texts, in Yiddish and Russian translation, was published in 1991.
Kipnis (n.d.) published several collections of Yiddish songs in Warsaw. The song texts are presented with melodies.
Lefkowitch (1917) includes 19 songs in Yiddish and 5 in Hebrew.
Schack and Cohen (1924), Kremer (1930) and Lefkowitch (1935) give collections of songs with elaborate accompaniments for piano, suitable for home music-making. In these collections, songs are presented in Yiddish with introductory material in English. A similar collection by Ruth Rubin (1965) (with guitar accompaniments by Ethel Ram) includes 'singable' English translations.
The song collections of Janda and Sprecher (1962) and Jaldati and Rebling (1966) are German publications, both slim volumes consisting of some fifty song texts (in transliterated Yiddish and German translation), presented with the melodies for the songs and a short German introduction.
Ruth Rubin's regular contributions (1956, 1959b, 1962, 1963) to the American folksong journal 'Sing Out!' also present songs, published either individually or in small groups, with commentaries.)
Of several volumes of Yiddish songs available today, undoubtedly the most popular are the three issued by Eleanor (Chana) and Joseph (Yosl) Mlotek (1972, 1988, 1995), which have become standard reference works for Yiddish songs in addition to being used widely by performers. The songs are sorted by subject material; texts are given in Yiddish and transliteration; an introduction to and English paraphrase of each song is also given. Songs are also cross-referenced (though this is not exhaustive) to other 'standard' collections such as those of Ginsburg and Marek, Kipnis and Cahan. Of inestimable benefit to scholars is the Mloteks' attribution of songs to their creators: the origins of many songs presented as anonymous folklore in other collections are here laid out.
Silverman (1983) presents a more modest collection of songs, again grouped by subject. Texts are presented in transliteration and 'singable' English translation.
A-Z of research topics
Much of the work on folksong by Abraham Idelsohn (see above; see also Idelsohn, 1932b) is concerned with the analysis of modal characteristics of songs.
Slobin (1983) analyses general characteristics of early twentieth-century secular Jewish folksong (see Slobin, 1980, for detailed discussion of the use of the augmented second interval).
Beregovski ('The interaction of Ukranian and Jewish folk music' in Slobin, 1982) and Goldin (1989) consider the mutual influences of neighbouring musics.
Rothmüller (1953), himself a composer, discusses the use of Yiddish songs by Russian composers of the first half of the twentieth century: many began by harmonising folk songs before going on to use the melodies in more substantial compositions.
Harbater (1983) and Silber (1986-7, 1997) focus on the work of Israeli composer Ami Ma'ayani. Harbater compares the work of Ma'ayani with the Yiddish art songs of Moses Milner (Russia) and Lazare Weiner (America), noting that the sounds of Ashkenaz biblical cantillation (rather than those of secular Yiddish folk songs) play an important part in many of their compositions. Silber (1997) discusses the music of Israeli composer Daniel Galai, another composer of Yiddish art songs; she also considers the new Yiddish song-cycle 'The Well' by Chava Alberstein, recently recorded by Alberstein and the Klezmatics.
Mlotek (1964, 1965) discusses parallels between Yiddish ballads and those from other folklore cultures.
Rubin (1952, 1979) discusses Yiddish children's songs (the former article concentrating on the nineteenth century). Further, this repertory occupies a significant part of the published repertory of Yiddish songs.
Yiddish choral music forms the focus of a thesis by Horowitz (1978). Following an informative survey of the historical development of the genre, Horowitz discusses repertoire. Yiddish choral music became highly politicised in the 1920s and 30s (see Snyder, 1984, for a case study of the Paterson Jewish Folk Chorus).
The contribution of great Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem to Yiddish song is discussed by Rubin (1959) in an article written to commemorate the centenary of his birth.
Rubin (1956) also wrote a short article about the work of Mark Warshawsky, the most popular Yiddish folk bard of his day, whose work was publicly supported by Sholem Aleichem.
Mordechai Gebirtig is one of the most widely represented composers in today's canon of Yiddish songs, his songs forming part of many currently-available recordings and collections of Yiddish songs. Recorded albums of Gebirtig's songs include Norwegian singer Bente Kahan's 'Farewell, Krakow' (1992). Volumes of Gebirtig's songs currently available include those published by Pasternak (1998) and Leichter (2000).
Idelsohn (1929) devotes a chapter to Hasidic song; he also published a collection of 250 Hasidic songs and melodies (Idelsohn 1932a, vol. 10; see above for discussion). Koskoff (1978) discusses songs of the Lubavitcher Hasidim. Kahan-Newman (1999) gives readers a rare window into Hasidic women's' music making, describing a long, prayer-like poem in Yiddish sung to the bride at a wedding within a Satmar community.
Composers such as Sholom Secunda turned simple Yiddish songs into virtuosic showcases for the hazzan's talents (see, for example, his setting of 'Dos Yiddishe Lied'. These songs often included the imitation by the performer of ficticious cantors or lay characters in the song text; others (see, for example, the collection published by Pinchik, 1964) were publications of songs written or sung by famous hazzanim.
Turniansky (1988, 1989) uses 'historish' Yiddish songs as evidence of events including fires, plagues and trials in seventeenth-century Poland. These lengthy songs, outside the oral folklore tradition provided 'an immediate, realistic portrayal of an event for a contemporary public' (1989, p. 42), rather like today's newspapers.
The emotional weight of the Shoah is felt profoundly in Yiddish song, with its long history of emotional comment on contemporary issues. The mid-1960s saw the publication of articles concerning the Holocaust by Ruth Rubin (1963a and 1963b). The former article is tied in with J. F. Kennedy's appointment of Sunday, 21.4.63 to be observed as Warsaw Ghetto Day. The latter article presents a condensed chapter from her Voices (1979), documenting Yiddish song of the Second World War. Heskes (1994) devotes a chapter of her survey of Jewish music to 'The Musical Legacy of the Holocaust'.
A compilation of Holocaust songs is presened by Kalisch (1985): Yes, We Sang!: Songs of the Ghettos and the Concentration Camps. This book of 25 songs with piano accompaniment includes introductory material about the songs, life in the camps and Kalisch's family.
Further studies have investigated music-making in specific ghettos and concentration camps. Ruttner (1992) focuses upon the Vilna ghetto; his short article is followed by transcriptions of twenty-seven songs from Vilna. Gila Flam's profoundly moving book, Singing for Survival (1992) documents Yiddish songs sung in the Lodz ghetto.
Flam (1997) observes that few Israeli singers perform in Yiddish, and none do so exclusively; further, she observes that few American Yiddish recordings are available in Israel. However, Silber (1997) notes that for some Israeli musicians, including but not limited to the ultra-Orthodox, Yiddish is relevant to daily life; she outlines the a revival of Yiddish which has been going on in Israel since the 1980s. Further, Yiddish folksong scholarship has thrived in Israel (see Hasan-Rokem and Yassif, 1989, Gerson-Kiwi 1958, 1994 and Gerson-Kiwi and Shiloah, 1981 for summaries).
Investigating non-Germanic words in Yiddish, Szulmajster-Celnikier (1991) bases her linguistic study upon 127 popular Yiddish songs (texts but no melodies are given). Prince's (1987) study of the dialects used by singer Sarah Gorby (see above) is another example of a linguistic study using Yiddish songs.
Rubin (1953) explores the relationship between love and marriage customs in the shtetl with the exploration of these themes in song texts. Dworkin (1960) also discusses the social context of love songs. Like Rubin, he notes a discrepancy between courtship as expressed in songs and cultural norms.
As noted by Bromberg (1995), lullabies form a significant part of currently-available printed collections of Yiddish songs; she presents an analysis of Yiddish lullabies. Metzger (1984) observes that two specific threads run through the lyrics of many Yiddish lullabies: 'the dream of almost every Jewish mother that her child would become a religious scholar, and the hope that there would soon be an end to poverty.
Rubin (1948) discusses the role of the Jewish community in New York City, with its strong links with other communities, as both a carrier and preserver of Yiddish material. This theme is continued in her 1961 article, in which she discusses the songs of Jewish American immigrants.
Slobin (1982b) discusses the iconography of Jewish-American sheet music of the period 1898 - World War I.
Yiddish song in Canada has also been the focus of studies - Rubin (1960) discusses the fruits of a year she spent in Montreal and Toronto collecting songs. Lichtenberg (1993), herself a Yiddish singer based in Toronto, further discusses the local Yiddish music scene, contextualising her detailed study of singer Chana Erlich (see above).
Another relatively common theme in Yiddish songs is political protest. Rubin (1977) presents an outline of the history of Yiddish protest songs.
Religious music and Yiddish song
Wohlberg (1978) notes that the difference between sacred and secular Eastern European Jewish song is not always clearly defined. With reference to various Yiddish song collections dated between 1912 and 1948, he identifies synagogue tunes in various songs.
Russia and Eastern Europe
Central to activities concerning Jewish folk music during the first half of the twentieth century in Russia was the Society for Jewish Folk Music. The Society, led by Joel Engel, both promoted the study and performance of Jewish music and published articles, arrangements of folk songs and works by Jewish composers; surveying pre-Soviet Yiddish song scholarship, Kiel (1991) explores the importance of the Society's publishing activities in countering anti-Semitic charges that the Jews lacked an authentic national culture.
A contemporary of Joel Engel, Moshe Beregovski undertook folklore collecting expeditions annually from 1927 until the outbreak of World War II. In 1934, he published the first part of a what was intended to be a five-volume monograph entitled 'Jewish Musical Folklore', a volume of Yiddish songs (see Slobin, 1982a, discussed above). Meticulous care is evident in Beregovski's notation: whereas other collections of Yiddish folksongs tend to present the basic melody only, Beregovski gives a reproduction of the singer's rendition, including ornaments, even if this means notating the melodic line separately for all verses of a song. (Various studies including Adler 1995a, 1995b and Braun 1987 give further details of Beregovski's life and work.)
The polemics and politics of Soviet Yiddish scholarship are discussed by Slotnick (1976) and Mlotek (1978).
Mlotek (1954) investigates to what extent North America has been treated in the texts of East European Yiddish folk songs.
Bohlman (1987, 1993) presents pictures of Jewish music making in German towns and villages.
See Broughton et al. (1999) for a short biography of Israeli singer Chava Alberstein.
Perhaps the most comprehensive study of a single Yiddish singer is Lichtenberg's (1993) thesis about Chana Erlich. Now living in Toronto, Erlich, born in 1915 had sung songs in Vilna as a student and as a partisan in the Jewish Resistance during World War II.
Prince (1987) uses the recordings of singer Sarah Gorby (d. 1980) as the basis for a linguistic study, investigating dialect change in Yiddish. A short biography of Gorby is given in addition to Prince's analyses.
Russian-born singer Nehama Lifshitz is the focus of an article by Ro'i (1991). Her singing career began in 1949 and continued until her emigration to Israel in 1969. The stage became a platform for Lifshitz to tell the outside world about the plight of the Soviet Jews.
Slobin and Spottswood (1995) discuss the singer David Medoff, whose work spanned an enormous variety of cultural strands: 'As live performer and recording artist he seems never to have noticed the ethnic boundaries he crisscrossed for about twenty years' (p. 261).
The work of Ruth Rubin as a folklorist has been discussed above; however, she is also fondly remembered as a singer. Several recordings of Rubin singing are still available, as is the documentary video A Life of Song: Ruth Rubin, directed by Cindy Marshall.
The work of Irene Heskes (1984, 1992, 1995) provides a retrospective account of the music of the Yiddish theatre. Heskes (1992) catalogues 3,427 Yiddish song titles (1895-1950) published in the USA, arranged by copyright year with information about the songs, paraphrases of texts and some graphic reproductions in addition to a substantial introductory essay on the subject 'Copyright and Song'. A large collection of theatre songs is published by Warembud (1995).
Shmeruk (1975) presents and comments upon the texts of three London Yiddish street songs from before the First World War. Derek Reid (1994) discusses six Yiddish songs from East London, particularly considering their relationship to other contemporary (non-Yiddish) material; see also Baron (1987) for an interview with Derek Reid.
Internet resources for Yiddish song
Judith Pinnolis' 'Jewish Music Webcenter' provides a wide array of research and bibliographic information on all aspects of Jewish music, including Yiddish song, at www.jmwc.org.
A database of the Robert and Molly Freedman Archive of Jewish Music, held in the University of Pennsylvania Library, is on the Web at digital.library.upenn.edu/freedman.
Zemerl, The Jewish Song Database - www.princeton.edu/zemerl - includes texts and sound clips of many Yiddish songs.
Ari Davidow's review of the release concert for the Klezmatics/Chava Alberstein's album 'Di Krenitse' is at: www.klezmershack.com/articles/9810.klezmatics.alberstein.html
Adler, I. (1995a) The study of Jewish music: a bibliographical guide. (Yuval Monograph Series, 10). Jerusalem: Magnes Press.
Adler, I. (1995b) «À la recherche de chants perdus»: La redécouverte des collections du 'Cabinet' de musique juive de Moisei J. Beregovski'. In Ndroje balendro: Musiques, terraines et disciplines, ed. Dehoux, U. et al. Paris: Peters. (French)
Baron, A. (1987) '"The moon shines bright on Charlie Chaplin...": Yiddish folksong, past and future' (Interview with Derek Reid). The Jewish Quarterly 34:2, 14-15.
Beregovski, M., trans. and ed. Slobin, M. (1982) Old Jewish Folk Music: The Collections and Writings of Moshe Beregovski. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Bohlman, P. V. (1987) 'Folk Music in the Urban German-Jewish Community 1890-1939'. Musica Judaica 9:1, 22-34.
Bohlman, P. V. (1993) 'Musical life in the central European Jewish village'. Studies in Contemporary Jewry 9, 17-39.
Braun, J. (1987) 'The Unpublished Volumes of Moshe Beregovski's Jewish Musical Folklore'. Israel Studies in Musicology 4, 125-144.
Bromberg, R. (1995) The Yiddish Lullaby: its Musical-Literary Qualities and its Social Function. M.A. thesis, Tel Aviv: Bar-Ilan University. (Hebrew, summary in English)
Broughton, S., Ellingham, M. and Trillo, R. (eds.) (1999) World Music: the Rough Guide: Europe, Africa & the Middle East. London: Rough Guides.
Cahan, Y. L., ed. Weinreich, M. (1957) Yidishe folkslider mit melodien. New York: YIVO. (Yiddish, with introductory material in English)
Dworkin, Y. (1960) 'Social background of East European Yiddish Folk Love Songs' in Patai, R. et al. (eds) Studies in Biblical and Jewish Folklore. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Flam, G. (1992) Singing for Survival: Songs of the Lodz Ghetto, 1940-5. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.
Flam, G. (1997) 'Singing Yiddish Songs in Israel'. Musical Performance, 1:3, 1-7.
Gerson-Kiwi, E. (1958) 'Musicology in Israel'. Acta Musicologica 30, 17-26.
Gerson-Kiwi, E. and Shiloah, A. (1981) 'Musicology in Israel, 1960-1980'. Acta Musicologica 53, 200-16.
Gerson-Kiwi, E. (1994) 'Oral Traditions of Music: In Search of Their Authenticity'. In Leichtman, E. C. (ed.) To the Four Corners: A Festschrift in Honor of Rose Brandel. Michigan: Harmonie Park Press.
Ginzburg, S. M. and Marek, P. S., ed. May, D. (1991) Yiddish Folksongs in Russia: Photo Reproduction of the 1901 St Petersburg Edition. Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press. (Russian and Yiddish)
Goldin, M., trans. Rothstein, R. A. (1983/1989) 'On Musical Connections between Jews and the Neighboring Peoples of Eastern and Western Europe'. Program in Soviet and East European Studies Occasional Papers Series (International Area Studies Programs) 18. Amherst: University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Harbater, L. (1983) Yiddish Art Song: A comparitive study and analysis of selected works of three composers representing Russia, America and Israel. Ed.D. thesis: Columbia University Teachers' College.
Heskes, I. (1984) 'Music as Social History: American Yiddish Theater Music, 1882-1920'. American Music 2:4, 73-87.
Hasan-Rokem, G. and Yassif, E. (1989) 'The study of Jewish Folklore in Israel'. Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Review 11:1-2, 2-11.
Heskes, I. (1992) Yiddish American Popular Songs 1895-1950: A catalog based on the Lawrence Marwich roster of copyright entries. Washington D. C.: Library of Congress.
Heskes, I. (1995) Passport to Jewish Music: Its History, Traditions and Culture. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood.
Horowitz, L. P. (1978) Yiddish choral music. M.Mus dissertation: California State University, Fullerton.
Idelsohn, A. Z. (1929/1992) Jewish Music in its Historical Development. (1992 republication) New York: Dover.
Idelsohn, A. Z. (1932a/1973) Thesaurus of Hebrew Oriental Melodies. 10 vols. Originally published by Leipzig: Friedrick Hofmeister; reprinted 1973 in 4 vols. by Ktav Publishing House.
Idelsohn, A. Z. (1932b) 'Musical Characteristics of the East-European Jewish Folk-Song'. Musical Quarterly 18, 634-64.
Jaldati, L. and Rebling, E. (1966) Es brennt, Brüder, es brennt: Jiddische Lieder. Berlin: Rütten & Loening. (German and Yiddish)
Janda, E. and Sprecher, M. M. (1962) Lieder aus dem Ghetto: Fünfzig Lieder jiddish und deutsch mit Noten. Munich: EhrenwirthVerlag. (German and Yiddish)
Kahan-Newman, Z. (1999) 'Women's badkhones: the Satmar poem sung to a bride'. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 138, p. 81-99.
Kalisch, S. (1985) Yes, We Sang!: Songs of the Ghettos and Concentration Camps. New York: Harper and Row.
Kiel, M.W. (1991) A twice lost legacy: Ideology, culture and the pursuit of Jewish folklore in Russia until Stalinization (1930-1931). Ph.D. dissertation: Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
Kipnis, M. (n.d.) 140 folks-lieder. Warsaw: Zitlin. (Yiddish)
Koskoff, E. (1978) 'Some aspects of musical acculturation among Lubavitcher Hasidim'. Working Papers in Yiddish and East European Jewish Studies (New York: YIVO) 32.
Kremer, I. (1930) Album of Jewish folk-songs. London: Chappell & Co. Lefkowitch, H. (1917) Yidishe un hebreishe lieder. New York: Alpha Press. (Yiddish)
Lefkowitch, H. (1935) Jewish Folk Songs: Folk & Modern. New York: Metro Music Co.
Leichter, S. (2000) Anthology of Yiddish Folksongs, vol. 5: Mordechai Gebirtig. [see Vinkovetsky et al. for previous 4 vols.] Jerusalem: Magnes Press.
Lichtenberg, L. (1993) Identity and History: Constitutive factors in the Yiddish repertoire of Chana Erlich. M.A. dissertation: York University, Ontario.
Metzger, E. (1984) 'The lullaby in Yiddish folk song'. Jewish Social Studies 3-4, 253-262.
Mlotek, E. G. (1954) 'America in East European Yiddish Folksong'. In Weinreich, U. (ed.) The Field of Yiddish. New York: Linguistic Circle of New York.
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Mlotek, E. G. and Mlotek, J. (1995) Songs of Generations. New York: Workmen's Circle.
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Ro'i, Yaacov (1991) 'Nehama Lifshitz: Symbol of the Jewish National Awakening'. In Ro'i, Y. and Beker, A. (eds.) Jewish Culture and Identity in the Soviet Union (p. 168-188). New York: New York University Press.
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The present research has been supported by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Board (UK) and travel grants from Christ's College, Cambridge and the Faculty of Music, Cambridge University. I would like to thank my supervisor, Dr Ruth Davis and others, including Gitta Bechsh°ft, Dr Hugh Denman, Gila Flam, David Halperin, Yeshaye Metal, Derek Reid, David Rowland and Rabbi G. Y. Shisler, who have offered information and help.
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