Monday, July 9, 2012

Abie mitn Fidl

Like a lot of Yiddish culture in America, the origin of much Yiddish music is now generally so unfamiliar as to be easily dismissed as 'folk music,' as if the lyrics to 'Oyfn Pripitchek' were found on an anonymous clay Sumerian tablet. On the contrary, many of these 'folk' songs have well established authorship. For example, 'Oyfn Pripitchek' was written by Mark Varshavsky, a colleague of Sholem Aleykhem and a fellow maskil.

In the US, the Yiddish stage was the source of the musical pop culture for Eastern European immigrants. Many of these songs were so well crafted that they far outlived the shows they were written for and are still known to the grandchildren and great grandchildren of those same immigrants. Abe Ellstein, one of the Big Four composers for the Yiddish stage, may not be a well known name today, but his songs are still familiar, even if his name isn't. Ellstein wrote the music for Yidl mitn fidl, Mamele, Zog es mir nokh a mol, and many, many others.

While much of his work for the Yiddish stage has been recorded time and time again, he also composed lesser known symphonic pieces, as well as an opera based on the story of the Golem of Prague. Unlike Yidl mitn fidl, recordings of those pieces are much harder to find. Enter the beautiful people at the Milken Archive. The fine folks there have issued recordings of Ellstein's classical work and you can even see a clip of a live recording of Hassidic Dance here. How cool is that?

1 comment: