Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A Very un-Yiddish Scandal

I'm two-thirds of the way through the new Amazon Prime mini-series A Very English Scandal and let me say, I'm kind of obsessed. I'm not usually that interested in political scandal stories, but if you're any kind of Anglophile, you will be sucked in immediately by it's dry, semi-horror semi-comic tone, sweeping green vistas, and numerous cozy pubs. In between the buggery, attempted murder and the endless search for one National Insurance card. Also, Hugh Grant is a revelation as Jeremy Thorpe.

But, this isn't about that. First, let me say, there's absolutely nothing Jewish about A Very English Scandal. Isn't that the whole point of being an Anglophile? The fantasy world where one's own angst is blissfully non-existent?


I was indeed taken aback in episode one, when the Hugh Grant character (Jeremy Thorpe) takes his new would-be lover, Norman Scott, back to his *mother's* house and, once there, woos him (??) by playing this duet with his mother, I mean, Ursula.

(Apologies for the very stupidly shot video. Stay with me.)

Anyone who's spent a minute in the world of klezmer would recognize this tune, sometimes labeled as a Cirba and usually as Hora Staccato. I know it from versions by Moishe Oysher, Oysher and the Barry Sisters, as well as Dave Tarras. 

Here's Moishe Oysher and the Barry Sisters absolutely killing it. Apologies for the video; I couldn't find the version I wanted on Youtube. 

In the past, it had never occurred to me that this tune that felt so incredibly Yiddish might actually be... not.

But, it did occur to me just now, when the producers of A Very English Scandal decided to use it for a particular emotional moment. This very powerful man, Thorpe, has brought home a very vulnerable younger man, Scott, and is in the process of wooing- or more like wowing- him into doing what he wants. But, still, it struck me as odd that the producers would choose this tune, of all things, for that moment, especially when Hugh Grant appears to be struggling to keep up with his violin finger miming. Why pick a piece that was so difficult to pull off? And so Jewish??? 

A little more research showed me that this Hora Staccato is not by Moishe Oysher, or even Dave Tarras, but was composed in 1906 by a Roma violin virtuoso named Grigoraș Dinicu. The tune probably gained its greatest fame with another virtuoso, Jascha Heifetz. Heifetz often saved Hora Staccato as a show stopping encore number.

So, that makes a lot more sense. Thorpe was a very confident, indeed, arrogant man. Of course he'd pull out a literal virtuosic show stopper to try to impress his young friend, and of course he'd think he had the chops to pull it off. Faster, he cries. That moment so perfectly encapsulates Thorpe's arrogance and vanity, some of the very qualities that would, we know now, end his career in total ignominy.

Anyway, Hora Staccato is a great tune. And I'm glad I can give props to the real composer, the great Grigoraș Dinicu.

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