Contents & Performance Notes
- Klezmer is the traditional instrumental music of the Jewish people of Eastern Europe. A music with universal appeal and power to communicate, it reflects the spirit of Judaism - and in particular the celebration of its weddings. Purists tend not to like the word 'klezmer' on the grounds that it has more to do with recent revivals of the music than with its origins in the Ukraine, Galitsia and Romania. But for the rest of us the word has its own resonance and magic, calling to mind an exciting musical world full of emotional intensity and vitality.
- We have inherited an extraordinary legacy of early recordings of klezmer musicians. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Jews left Eastern Europe in vast numbers, driven out by the latest waves in centuries of persecution. Many went to North America, arriving, as it happened, just as recording technology and the record industry were beginning to take off. Many of these recordings from the 1910s and 1920s have now been painstakingly collected, lovingly restored and reissued on CD. They form one of the main sources in our ongoing rediscovery of klezmer.
- Klezmer has strong affinities with a number of other volumes in this series, but two of them seem particularly pertinent; Sevdah and The Gypsy Fiddler. Like the Bosnian music of Sevdah, klezmer is part of the musical continuum which runs through the Balkans, bringing with it exotic scales (the freygish of klezmer, with its augmented second between the 2nd and 3rd degrees of the scale) and a spontaneous, improvisatory approach which recreates the music afresh in every performance. It is a world inhabited too by Gypsy music, with which klezmer often shares its instrumentation: violin lead, viola, bass and cimbalom - plus of course the increasingly prominent clarinet.
- The arrangements in this collection follow the same flexible format as other books in the series and can be performed as solos, duets, trios or by larger ensembles. You can go ultra-authentic (simply use the melody and the violin accompaniment found in the complete edition) or recreate the sound of current klezmer revival bands by adding bass guitar and percussion. Either way, remember that the musical notation is approximate - rhythms can be pulled and squeezed, pitches dip and dive, and melodies can be showered in a confetti of ornamentation.
- The collection opens with the klezmer classic Odessa bulgar. You won't hear klezmer in Odessa nowadays, but the city's Jews have now reclaimed their magnificent 19th-century synagogue, which was requisitioned as a sports hall during the Soviet era. When I visited the synagogue during the festival of Shavuot there was a large and surprisingly youthful congregation. Perhaps one day klezmer will again be played in Odessa - and its other traditional homelands.
- My thanks to Steve and Carol Shulman of the Freylach Spielers for their insights and practical help with the manuscript; to Michael Schlessinger of Global Village, New York, for running up my phone bill so productively; to Rosette Rozenberg for her help with titles and all things Yiddish; to losif Vaisman for his generosity and patience; to Val and Dolf Mogendorff for welcoming us to their wedding; to my editor, Anthony Marks, for his (even more than usual) involvement and inspiration; and, of course, to my dear Henry Landsberger and family.
- Bulgar from Odessa: This is one of the many tunes named after this Ukranian city. The bulgar is an up-tempo dance form with a characteristic three-note up-beat. Enjoy the contrast between the bold character of the first four bars and the more serpentine quaver movement which follows - where you might well add some ornamentation.
- At the Rabbi's Feast: This is a classic example of the chosidl, a dance style with a stately and processional character. Playing the melody in third position helps to create a rich, dark sonority. In the original recording of this piece by I. J. Hochman, the opening semiquavers of the third section are played almost as a glissando - try playing them with one finger!
- Freylechs from Bukovina: Freylekh is the Yiddish word for "happy" or "joyful", and a freylechs is a lively dance tune. Like many klezmer melodies, this one is known by several titles, including Mitzvah tants. Try playing the opening in third position, with B natural grace notes before the semiquaver groups. The static chords in the third section are a favourite klezmer device.
- Freylechs from Warsaw: You can see why this scintillating tune is so popular with the new klezmer bands - it demands to be played with almost reckless abandon! The accompaniment features a characteristic klezmer syncopation, grouping the quavers 3:3:2. The melody suits the violin well: play the opening quavers off the string, enjoying the string crossings. In the last section you can add some gritty double stops across open E and A.
- Leading the In-laws Home: This sublime melody is an example of a hora - a slowish, triple-time dance with, characteristically, a silent second beat in the accompaniment. Its composer, Naftule Brandwein, was a clarinet virtuoso who emigrated to the United States from Galitsia in the early years of the 20th century. His 1923 recording is an improvisational tour de force, with the recurring refrain constantly varied rhythmically and melodically.
- In-laws' Dance: This is another classic chosidl which should be performed with a sense of weight and dignity. As a composition it is a model of how magic can be created with just six notes and two chords! I learned the tune at a klezmer workshop in Leeds, but only later discovered the name Dance of the In-laws on an Abe Schwarz recording of 1918. The title is perfect - you can imagine the two sets of in-laws dancing together, wary at first but warming up as the dance progresses! As in many klezmer tunes, you don't have to be too accurate with the triplet quavers.
- Sweet Father: This klezmer showpiece needs to be played fast and with a lot of panache. The version given here is based on a performance on the cimbalom by Joseph Moskowitz, recorded in 1916. Start near the heel so the syncopations have real punch. The middle section appears to take off in a country-fiddle style before finding its way back to more familiar klezmer territory. Don't be afraid of the open E string in the last section - its bright, glittering sound is all part of the effect.
- Dance of Displeasure: Try playing this melody with the fourth finger on the G sharps, followed by open A strings. (This also helps to get the G naturals in tune!) The whole melody can easily be played up an octave, too. This is a very simple tune, melodically and harmonically, which makes it a great basis for improvisation. Begin with just five notes - open D, E, F natural, G sharp, A. (Like many Yiddish words, "broyges" is hard to translate. "In a huff” is closest!)
- Bulgar from Kishinev: The bright, major-key character of this piece is an unexpected change from the minor tonalities of most klezmer music. In I. J. Hochman's 1918 recording, each pair of quavers has a mordent on the first note. (If doing it this way means that the first quaver is slightly longer and the second has to be "squeezed" a bit, it will sound even more authentic!)
- Dance of Delight : This tune is known under a variety of names, including the catch-all title Mazel tov ("congratulations"). The player should follow the shape of the melody - the first section builds to bar 6, with the repeated Fs (which are best played quite detached). The second section peaks in bar 17 with the top A flat. The accompaniment needs to be fast and driving, carrying the rhythmic momentum through the long notes of the melody.
- Doina: A doina is a rhythmically free, almost improvisational form, much favoured by the virtuosi of the early klezmer recordings. This example is very loosely based on a 1920 recording by Abe Schwarz (here in the role of violinist rather than bandleader), accompanied on the piano by his daughter Sylvia. The trills should be rather narrower than a semitone, and function more as a form of vibrato. If you want to include an easy violin part, simply play along with the lower line of the violin accompaniment. A doina will often lead directly on to a faster, more rhythmic tune, most typically, as here, a hora.
- Street Melody: This is perhaps the best-known hora of all. The title refers to the melody's function - it is played in the street after a wedding when escorting the in-laws home. The two sections of the tune are quite different: the first twists and turns over a wonderfully unpredictable harmonic sequence; the second section, with its patterned rhythm and static harmony, suggests a long diminuendo down from the high Gs. But the playing needs to be highly rhythmic throughout, mirroring the relentless pulse of the accompaniment.
- The Wise Man's Song: The tempo of this delightfully swaggering tune needs to be bright but not too fast. The repeated notes of the opening are a typical klezmer device, and work beautifully on the violin, inviting a variety of different bow-strokes. The second section has a more "slithery" quality, and needs to be played with great flexibility. Again, the characteristic triplet quavers can drift into other rhythmic guises.
- Little Galitsian Dance: Another klezmer showpiece. With its dazzling (and tricky!) opening, and its quirky final section, this is a firm favourite with modern klezmer bands. The piece is transcribed here from a 1923 recording by the clarinettist Schloimke Beckerman, and its original key of A works brilliantly on the violin. Watch out for the syncopated rhythm in the piano accompaniment.
- Jewish Wedding Song: This jaunty, bulgar-style melody cruises along over a fast and motoristic accompaniment. Enjoy the spiky three-quaver upbeats in the melody, contrasting with the more legato crotchet movement. In Harry Kandel's 1921 recording the orchestra always ornaments the melody with a slide up the first of the four crotchets and a mordent on the first of the paired quavers.
- Dance! Dance!: Perhaps the best-known of all klezmer tunes - you can hear it played in many different styles, from a fast freylechs to a slinky chosidl. This version is based on a 1917 recording by Abe Schwarz, slowed down and transposed up a fourth - where it feels as if it really was written for the violin. Experiment with different bow strokes and articulations on the semiquavers.
- Suitable for the Oboe
- Comes with CD
- Boosey & Hawkes (9 Aug. 2013)
"Jones (Edward Huws) - The Klezmer Fiddler: Jewish Music of Celebration"
Source: Jones (Edward Huws) - The Klezmer Fiddler: Jewish Music of Celebration
Time also recorded against "Practice - Oboe - Playing & Practice".
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2023
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)