Some notes from the concert at the Unitarian
Society of New Haven in March 2014.

Program Notes

Lemiș Sher. Milu Lemis (1847-1918) was born into a highly regarded klezmer family in Iasi (Romania), where he performed regularly for concerts and the theater (and undoubtedly for weddings and other parties) before emigrating to Philadelphia in 1847. He maintained an ongoing correspondence with former students back home in Bessarabia, and in 1912 sent the manuscripts for these two Sher melodies to his “disciple” Costachi Parnău. The first was inscribed “for my dear Costache” and the second, “Sher for Mr. Costachi, son of Zaharie.”

A Volich. The term “Volich” was used by klezmorim in the northern region of Jewish settlement—roughly Poland, Lithuania, and White Russia (Belarus)—to describe tunes from the klezmer “south” (Bessarabia, Moldova, Ukraine, Wallachia) using the generic term for Wallachia, variously Vlakh, Vlach, or Wallach. Melodies with this designation often take the Freylakh or Redl dance form, but this piece is a Dobriden, or “good morning” melody announcing the dawn of a wedding day as the klezmorim paraded through the shtetl or Jewish quarter. This striking piece is found in the Zusman (Sussman) Kiselgoff Collection republished in Kiev in 2002, which presents 24 melodies transcribed from Edison wax cylinders collected in a 1912 expedition to the Lubavitch and Moghilev regions of eastern Belarus sponsored by the St. Petersburg Society for Jewish Folk Music  

Tango: Serdse (Heart). This song may have originally been written for a 1934 Soviet film musical called Jolly Fellows, but it was popularized by the Ukranian-born Pyotr Leshchenko, who began to sing it as an Argentine Tango from 1935. Though the lyrics are in Russian, this tango was popular with Jews in Europe before the Shoah, and in America up through the 1970s. 

Belf Chosidls in E. Though a relatively large corpus of early 20th century recorded klezmer music exists from American sources, there are only a handful of known European recordings. Of these, the largest collection is from Belf’s “Romanian” Orchestra, recorded in 1914. But, the group was neither comprised of Romanian musicians nor recorded in Romania! There is some speculation, but apparently “Romanian” signaled “Jewish” in the record market at the time, and certainly it signaled the more elaborate, developed music of the klezmer “south.” Adding to the mystery is that the majority of the 42 known Belf sides are of the slow dance form Chosidl—which is almost unknown in the American discography and represents a large shift in the musical tastes of immigrant Jewish communities. These two pieces show the introspective side of the Chosidl genre, which developed as way for secular, Mishnagdic Jews to incorporate an element of Hasidic spirituality into what became a highly individual, expressive dance form. Nakhes fun Kinder translates as “satisfaction from children,” and Khasid U Rabina means “the hasid with the rabbi.” 

Khevre Nit Gezorgt (Friends, Don’t Worry). This is a traditional freylekh recorded by an unknown orchestra on an American Yiddish ’78 that I learned from the repertoire of the Wholesale Klezmer Band from Greenfield, MA. Our point of departure from this jolly, danceable freylekhs was to stipulate that we could go as far away as we wanted from the original melody as long as we kept the tempo consistent.

Hora de la Hanești. The Zhok, or slow hora is part of what historical ethnomusicologist Walter Zev Feldman calls the “Transitional” klezmer repertoire, showing a mix of influences from Turkish, Moldavian, Greek, Tatar and other sources while preserving an essential Jewish identity. This hora shows a strong Moldavian Roma Lăutar (professional musician class) influence, but could just as easily be played for a Jewish wedding.

Turetskaya. This piece can be used to acompany either the dance Freylakh or Bulgar depending on tempo and rhythmic accompaniment, and is another piece found in the repertoire of the Belf Orchestra. We like this piece for concert performance because it shows a great deal of modal development over the four internal sections of the melody, which is characteristic of tunes from the klezmer “south” described above, and may be one of the reasons the Belf Orchestra explicitly mentions “Romania” in its name—to signal the kind of developed, exciting music that resulted from the cultural melting pot of the Bessarabian territories.

Suite in A. The suite opens with an unusual Redl from the Kisselgoff collection called “Der Fone.” It shows the elegant simplicity characteristic of Belorusian klezmer tunes before moving on to a Lexajim (L’Chaim) from the Moyshe Beregovski Collection. Russian ethnomusicologist Moishe Beregovski did field work in Ukraine on the eve of WWII, contributing the single most comprehensive collections of Jewish instrumental music, song, and niggunim that exists from a European source. The L’Chaim is a sprightly, flexible freylakh (happy) dance tune that leads into the even more exuberant Aaron’s Tanz that I learned from clarinetist and cantor Yankl Falk, and recorded with Di Naye Kapelye in Budapest in 1997.  

USNH Concert, March 30, 2014

This concert was given at the Unitarian Society of New Haven as part of their Sundays at four series.