Today klezmer seems to mean just about anything vaguely Jewish with a clarinet
huge amounts of half-baked jazz meanderings and new age stuff fill the
CD bins posing as "klezmer" these days. Lets face it there is a
lot of crap out there masquerading as klezmer, trying to get your CD Euro or
dollar. In Di Naye Kapelye, we prefer to tell folks we play Jewish music. Old
Jewish music. Music that would appeal to my grandfathers aesthetic sense.
We see no need to invent tradition. We live in East Europe, where the basic
tools of the klezmers art active traditional music and dance
are all around us, as well as elderly Jewish survivors.
contemporary "revival" bands are using the more traditional forms of klezmer
music to re-assert a Jewish aesthetic of music. Alongside Di Naye Kapelye, one
should mention Alicia Svigals, Budowitz, the Chicago Klemzer Ensemble, Joel
Rubin, Khevrisa as well as Brave Old World. More and more musicians the
Klezmatics, Lorin Sklamberg, and Jeff Warschauer, for instance are
utilizing Hasidic traditions in an effort to "reclaim" klezmer music as
something that speaks to a Jewish aesthetic, instead of being merely another
commercial mishmash of fusion ideas. There is real Jewish music, but chances
are you wont find it easily in your local CD shop.
The music of
Di Naye Kapelye attempts to recreate the kind of Jewish music that might have
been heard before the mass emigration of East European Jews to America at the
turn of the 20th century. In order to learn about the repertoires, playing
styles, and dances one needs to do some salvage ethnology. To learn about
Yiddish culture in Europe means visiting a lot of Jewish old age homes. It is
more than fifty years after the Holocaust and the founding of the state of
Israel things are not as they once were, and never will be again.
I am a bessarabisher yid my grandparents were born in Bessarabia,
todays Republic of Moldova, in the towns of Orhei (Uriv in Yiddish) and
Krivelyany (Kivelyan), and lived in Chisinau (Keshenev) until the time of the
1905 pogrom. I was born in New York, and now reside in Budapest.
Categories of Jewish Repertoire
Although I live in Hungary,
the majority of our musics influences come from Romanian musicians. The
reasons are simple. Romania was crucial to the development of klezmer dance
repertoire. My ancestors came from Moldavia. I grew up eating mamaliga in New
York City. My grandparents spoke Romanian Yiddish. And Romania is one of the
few places in Europe today that can boast a rich and active traditional context
for folk music.
As ethnomusicologist Dr. Walter Zev Feldman points
out in his 1995 article in the American journal Ethnomusicology, Moldavia
played an important role in the development of modern "klezmer" music. Dr.
Feldman posits four layers of repertoire in klezmer music:
"Core" Repertoire: music played previous to 1850, consisting of
instrumental wedding songs, table songs, and instrumental versions of
liturgical music, usually played in duet by violin or flute with cimbalom
The "Oriental" Repertoire : Music
influenced by Turkish classical tradition. Until the 20th century,
Ashkenazic Jews alongside Gypsy, Armenian, and Greek musicians
actively participated in the dissemination and performance of Turkish music
throughout the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul as well as in Romania
and borrowed back much of the repertoire and theory into early klezmer music.
The Co-territorial Repertoire: Music both popular and
folk borrowed from neighboring ethnic groups, especially Romanian,
Ukrainian, Russian, and Hungarians. After the "Jewish enlightenment" it became
more common for men to dance together with women (a practice still avoided by
Orthodox Jews), and models for such music were sought outside of Jewish life.
In particular, Romanian music grew in popularity after dances such as the
bulgareasca and the sirba became, in effect, dance crazes among Jews at the end
of the 19th century. According to the Ukrainian Yiddish singer
Bronya Sakina, "The more Romanian it sounded, the better we liked it".
The fourth category can be considered a 20th-century
culmination of the previous three, and is characterized by the compositions of
remarkably talented European-born American klezmorim such as Dave Tarras,
Naftule Brandwein, Shloimke Beckerman, Abe Schwartz, and others who recorded
this music on phonograph records after 1917. A new style of composition,
especially in dance music such as bulgars and freylachs, combines with modern
elements to serve a new context of Yiddish life in America.
went on, American klezmer continued to develop, accepting elements of Yiddish
theater music, jazz, and popular American music. In Europe, however, Jewish
instrumental music was rarely recorded. Besides traditional music, people of the time
had other forms of entertainment as well. Gambling in general and especially
sports betting became increasingly popular during these times. In the late '90s
with the internet boom online betting sites started to offer wagering through the internet.
Click here for a list of such betting sites. The best thing with modern technology
is you can combine betting with listening music in the comfort of your home.
Jewish Music in Iasi
When I began to record music in Romania in the late 1980s, many of
the elder Gypsy musicians I approached in Transylvania enthusiastically played
Jewish tunes for me, alongside the Romanian and Transylvanian Hungarian music I
was asking after. I was intrigued. Where had they learned these tunes? From
playing for Jewish weddings, they answered. And so I began to learn something
of the styles and repertoire of Jewish music from the elder generation of Gypsy
musicians such as Ferenc "Arus" and Bela Berki of Mera, Samuel "Cilika" Boross
of Cluj, Bela Gaspar, Arpad Toni of Voivodeni, Vassile and Gheorghe Covaci in
Maramures, and others. I made trips through Transylvania, Bukovina, Maramures,
Eventually I had the great pleasure of meeting Prof.
Itzik Shvartz and his wonderful wife Cili in Iasi in 1991. Prof. Shvartz, born
in 1905, is a prolific writer, folklorist, linguist, and former director of the
Iasi Yiddish theater who at this writing is still living in Iasi. He has known
all of the 20th centurys important Romanian Jewish personalities as well
as many of the Jewish musicians. His wife Cili was perhaps the best living
Yiddish traditional singer in Europe until her death in 1998 (her kosher soda
cookies were absolutely the best
From Itzik Shvartz I
learned about the life of klezmer families in 20th century Iasi: the Bughici
family, the Segal family, and the Weiss family. The Lemesh family were
important musicians in the last century who also played in Avram
Goldfadens original Yiddish Theater orchestra at the Pomul Verde wine
cellar in Iasi, but that family no longer resides in Iasi I have heard
they moved to Philadelphia.
Bughici band was
primarily violin-based. Many of the Bughici family were murdered in the 1941
Iasi pogrom, but several survived, including Avram, the violinist, and Dimitru,
who became a renowned piano teacher and jazz composer in Bucharest and now
resides in Israel. During the 1970s, Prof. Shvartz had made some cassettes of
the playing of Avram Bughici and Gheorghe Bughici, both on violin. Avram
Bughici sold a book of repertoire to Itzik for use in the theater. Although the
manuscript may now be lost, Itzik did make a cassette recording around 1975
with the accompaniment of accordionist Izu Gott (son of Dorohoi klezmer
clarinetist Berko Gott), sight-reading the pieces on accordion. (Izu, a
classically trained bassist who lives part of each year in Israel, has since
served as music director of the Romanian Federation of Jews, as well as its
president.) From Avram Bughicis book we can assume the nature of the
familys repertoire lots of khosidls, to be sure, several
freylachs, with some theater songs and doinas.
The Segal family were
considered more accomplished musicians, however, and played in the Iasi Yiddish
theater as well. Unfortunately, a manuscript of their music may have been lost
we are still looking for it but hopefully in the future I will
get the chance to meet one Segal still big in the Romanian entertainment
business Gheorghe Segal, known as TV personality Gheorghe Sava
and ask if he knows anything about this. Savas fathers gravestone
in the Iasi cemetery features a carved stone harp, as testament to his prowess
as a musician.
Elsewhere in Moldavia we know of other Jewish
musicians. In Roman, before the Holocaust, there was Hayim "Hersko" Herskovits,
a trumpeter, as well as fiddlers Moishe Musikant and Iancu Malai. The popular
Romanian song composer Richard Stein was also from Roman. Jewish musicians in
Roman often played alongside Gypsies, and a basic band was formed of a violin
or trumpet, accordion, and drum a very typical lineup for a modern
Moldavian band even today.
In modern Moldavian folk music we still
find traces of Jewish repertoire in the music of the fanfara brass bands. The
elder generation of Romanian and Gypsy folk fiddlers often have pieces of
klezmer origin in their repertoires, although this is becoming rarer these
days. Dances such as "Jidancuta", "Jidoveasca", and melodies commonly recorded
by early klezmer musicians are still current among many village repertoires.
Jewish Music in Transylvania
In Transylvania we
find fewer traces of Jewish musicians. One reason is the different social
development of Transylvanias Jews under the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. In
this region, as in Hungary (after 1825), it was mostly Gypsy musicians who
provided instrumental music for Jews. Transylvania was a part of Hungary
previous to 1920. As "Hungarian" Jews, Transylvanian Jews were enfranchised as
citizens in 1867, and even before that date were accepting social assimilation
to a "Hungarian" national identity, after the German Jewish model. In 1867
Hungarys Jewish communities split into Neolog (sort of "Reform") and
Orthodox, with certain communities remaining as "Status Quo Ante". Thus,
communities in Cluj (Kolozsvar in Hungarian), Arad, Sibiu, and Timisoara
(Temesvar in Hungarian) were predominantly Neolog, and adopted Hungarian
language in place of Yiddish.
Alongside many other Hungarian customs
they adopted, Jews were great patrons of Hungarian popular music, or Magyar
notak, and a Neolog wedding allowed for mixed-sex dancing. Gypsy musicians
were hired for Jewish weddings, and played a few Jewish songs (usually "Belz"
alongside various Yiddish theater songs and a few Sabbath zmiros) while
providing csardas music for dancing. In Fizesul Gherleii (Ordongosfuzes in
Hungarian) as well as Sarmas, local Gypsy village bands also played sets of
"Jewish Dances". Zoltan Blum, a Jew from Fizesul Gherleii, remembers Jews
dancing in a circle to this music before WWII. He also says that Jews in the
village lived harmoniously with their neighbors, except for three things which
they would never do with non-Jews: eat with them, bathe with them, or dance
This article is intended only
as a basic overview of research I have been doing for the last decade,
primarily on instrumental music in a Jewish context. I havent yet touched
on Jewish music in Bucharest, Braila, or many other places that I hope to visit
in the future. I have yet to do fieldwork in the Republic of Moldova. I have
not mentioned Sephardic Jewish music in south Romania, and I have not mentioned
liturgical music, vocal traditions, or theater music. Yet. Expect updates soon.
To wrap up, much archive research still remains to be done in
Romania, as the Jewish population of Romania slowly shrinks due to emigration.
For a fascinating look at the early history of Jewish musicians in
Moldavia, read an article by Itzik Schwartz.