Klezmer Music: Early Yiddish Instrumental Music, 1908 - 1927

Album cover: Pseudo-colorized image of big old-world folk band headed by absolutely garish type.

Klezmer Music
Early Yiddish Instrumental Music, The First Recordings: 1908 - 1927
Arhoolie Folklyric 7034, CD 7034, 1997
(replacement of Klezmer Music: The First Recordings 1910 - 1927, circa ~1985)

It's hard to remember now that there was a time when klezmer recordings was hard to find, and klezmer "revival" bands were very, very bad. It wasn't until I came upon a private tape made by The Klezmorim for use by drummers auditioning for the band that I became aware of how diverse klezmer was, and how gripping the music.

The person who did the most to make old klezmer recordings and "neshama" (soul) accessible to people rediscovering the music on the West Coast, maybe anywhere, was Dr. Martin Schwartz, of the University of California at Berkeley. Marty had the goods, and he had the ear to know what was worth listening to, and why. A decade, decade and a half ago, he released a first collection on Arhoolie. It was the first good collection of remastered klezmer '78s. This year the collection has been updated, cleaned up additionally by the amazing David Julian Gray (one of the original "Klezmorim," now bringing the NPR into the digital age in Washington, DC). The result is a CD that still makes the perfect introduction to klezmer. Thanks, in part to Gray's work, this is also an album where one doesn't notice the snap, crackle, and pop of old 78s, and instead notices the music close to how it was originally recorded.

Being able to revisit his work has also allowed Marty to revise his album notes reflecting the klezmer revival (or "revitalisation," as he decides, after Michael Alpert). Marty also pulls in some cogent remarks from Zev Feldman, whose own research into klezmer (and early recordings with Andy Statman) have also been influential. The result is an album of even greater breadth than the original, wonderful sound quality, and impeccable, well-written notes. This is an ideal introduction to klezmer, and like those childhood books that one continues to read as an adult, this is the sort of album that will always be worth listening to.

From the opening xylophone of Jacob Hoffman's "Doina and Hora" you become aware that there are things here that you never heard before. Things worth hearing. Compelling music. And yet, the music is often familiar. The Abe Schwartz Orchestra's "Sadegurer Chusid'l" is almost an archetype (until you compare it with the Joseph Moscowitz song of similar title and begin to hear the essense and space between both!). Also notable is the Abe Schwartz Orchestra reflects the stateliness of a bygone era (note especially the Mechutonim Tanz, the In-laws dance). We don't play music quite that way, anymore. The revival, twenty years on, reflects many other influences and changes in how we listen and to what we listen. Sometimes, it is clear that we haven't just changed, we've also lost. Musicians are still trying to sound as good and as soulful as Naftule Brandwein does on the "Kallarash".

It is especially notable that the bands tend to be either very big, or that the recordings are of a single featured soloist with one accompanyist. I hope that someone reading this will write to tell me more. Examples of featured player recordings include the accordionist, Mishke Ziganoff and flautist S. Kosch. The lilt of this 1909 recording called "Haneros Haluli" by H. Steiner is especially intriguing when you compare it to the Muzsikas version of the same, on their "Lost Jewish Music of Transylvania". (It wasn't until the release of Alicia Svigals wonderful "Fidl" album that it became clear to those of us on this side of the revival how much and how varied the klezmer fiddle repertoire is.

This is an essential collection for anyone who loves klezmer, or who just wants to know more. Professor Schwartz's notes are especially wonderful, as he knows how to explain and where to say more.

... the second [part of the recording in question] is a rhythm transposition of a tune in 4/4/ time, found e.g. in the folk song "Vos hob ikh gedarft fun mayn heym avektsuforen" ("Why did I have to leave home?"), the first klezmer version of which was recorded as Bucharester Chusidel by Hochman's Orchestra in 1924. The melody was taken over for a Greek rebetic love song, ....

Or, from his notes on the Joseph Moscowitz piece:

... As Moscowitz played, his head moved lower and lower over the cymbalom. At the crescendo one could not see his face, only his bald head gleaming like a hand mirror. Then, with a sudden upwardflourish of his arms, the music ended. One saw his shy, lean face again, with its grey moustache. Everyone cheered, applauded and whistled. Moscowitz drank off his wine, and playned an encore.

Even so, the stories behind the recordings, are sometimes as interesting as the musical and discographic details:

Although Goldberg's orchestra is clearly a klezmer ensemble, it is uncertain whether they recorded any distinctly Jewish pieces, in addition to the known Greco-Moldavian, Greek and turkish selections. Mr. Poché, who received me in Paris, denied knowing of any discs by Orchestre Goldberg other than these two (his and mine).

There are other excellent collections of early klezmer music, although not soooo many, and none that are better. This one will always have a soft spot in my heart because it was one of the first, because it is so well-done and well-annotated, and because I will never forget the lecture Professor Schwartz gave back in the early '80s at the Berkeley/Richmond Jewish Community Center in which he made klezmer real to me. The lecture covered American Jewish music history, showing us how what we were then newly calling "klezmer" had flourished in this country, and how the musicians had then gone on to influence American popular music as our grandparents and great-grandparents became "American," in turn. I also have a memory, vigorously denied by Marty in a recent exchange, of him and his mother singing a duet to conclude the talk. Maybe I imagined it. In any event, this re-compilation and extension of the original collection is dedicated to her memory. Play these tunes and dance a few to her spirit. Enjoy.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 1/1/98


  1. Doina and Hora (Hebrew dance), Jacob Hoffman - xylophone; with Kandel's Orchestra, New York, 1923 3:04
  2. Sirba, Orchestra Orfeon, Istanbul, Turkey, 1912 3:33
  3. Mechutonim Tantz, Jewish Orchestra (Abe Schwartz' Orchestra), New York, 1918 3:17
  4. Kallarash, Naftule Brandwein - clarinet solo; & his Orchestra, New York, 1922 3:12
  5. Yiddish Chusedel, Max Leibowitz - violin solo, Philip Friedman - piano, New York 1916 3:31
  6. Kleftico Vlachiko, Orchestra Goldberg (w. cornet solo), Istanbul, 1908 3:20
  7. Fihren die Mechutonim (tanz), N. Brandwein (Naftule Brandwein & Abe Schwartz's Orchestra), New York 1923 3:34
  8. Koilen (dance), Mishka Ziganoff (accordion solo), New York, 1919 3:28
  9. Ch'sidishe Nigunim (H. Gross & B. Katz) (Part 1), Boibriker Kapelle (H. Gross - leader; Dave Tarras - clarinet; Beresh Katz & Abe Schwartz - violins, etc. - trombone or tuba), New York, 1927 2:55
  10. Haneros Haluli, H. Steiner - violin with unkown cymbalom, Poland 1909 2:49
  11. Sadigurer-Chusid, (Moskowitz) Joseph Moskowitz - cymbalom; Max Yussim - piano, New York, 1916 3:10
  12. Doina (pt 1), S. Kosch - flute solo w/cymbalom acc., Lemberg, Poland, ca. 1911 3:15
  13. Doina (pt 2), S. Kosch - flute solo w/cymbalom acc., Lemberg, Poland, ca. 1911 2:42
  14. Turkische Yalle Vey Uve, Orchestra Orfeon, Istanbul, Turkey, 1912 3:17
  15. Sadegurer Chused'l, Abe Schwartz' Orchestra, New York, 1917 2:57
  16. Biem Reben's Sideh, Yiddisher Orkester (Abe Schwartz' Orchestra), New York, 1917 3:32
  17. Oi Tate, S'is Gut, Naftule Brandwein's Orchestra, New York 1925 3:11
  18. Schweir und Schwiger Tanz, Abe Schwartz' Orchestra, New York, 1920 3:10
  19. Rumänische Fantasien (Pt 1), Joseph Solinski - violin solo, with cymbalom acc., Poland, ca. 1911 2:40
  20. Khosidl, Belf's Rumanian Orchestra, probably Russia, ca. 1912 2:38
  21. Der Shtiller Bulgar, Jewish Orchestra (Abe Schwartz Orchestra), New York, 1918 3:03
  22. A Mitzve Tenzel (Tabak), Hochman's Orchestra, Nnew York, 1921 3:01
  23. National Hora (Part II), Abe Schwartz - violin; with Sylvia Schwartz - piano, New York, 1920 3:25
  24. Sher (Morris Fried) (Part II), Abe Schwartz Orchestra (Abe Schwartz - violin), New York, 1920 3:06

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