Commentary by Itzik Gottesman
I have found only one other version of Tayere Toni – in the Pipe collection “Yiddish Folksongs from Galicia” edited by Meir and Dov Noy, Jerusalem, 1971 page 118-119. There the names of the lovers are Bronye and Bernard. From the Pipe version it is clear that the song is a ballad – Bernard does indeed die in the third verse, and in the fourth verse Bronye shoots herself and they are buried together in one grave. A motif much more common in non-Yiddish ballads, rare in Yiddish ones.
From Lifshe Schaechter-Widman’s shorter version, recorded in 1954 in the Bronx by song collector Leybl Kahn, a ballad-story is implied but is left hanging, and I have to wonder did Lifshe not sing the other verses because she did not know them or because they did not appeal to her? Didn’t ring true or Jewish? The fact that she doesn’t repeat any of the lines also implies that we are dealing with a ballad, a story in song; Lifshe was more inclined to repeat lines in lyric love songs than in ballads.
Though the use of German names in Tayere Toni would lead one to believe that the song is relatively new, the beautiful melody sounds very old to me. Her singing, as always, is haunting and so complex given the relative simple melody. By the way, the great folklorist I. L. Cahan (not to be confused with Leybl Kahn) “disqualified” a song that Shmuel Zanvil Pipe had collected because the character’s name in the song was Moritz. “Moritz”, wrote Cahan, could not be part of any folksong.
But today we have to respectfully disagree with Cahan (and I think Pipe wasn’t too happy about his judgement in this case either). Jews in the Galician and Bukovinan territories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had German names, and were no less “folky” because of it.
Pete Rushefsky adds:
Musically, Tayere Toni reinforces the conversation between Bernard and his beloved Toni with a subtle harmonic interplay in the key of Bb minor.
The first two lines of each stanzas are rendered in Bb minor and harmonized by Bb minor, F major and Bb minor: a simple I Minor – V Major – I Minor progression that effects a light waltz-like melody as Bernard attempts to woo Toni. Harmonically each of Bernard’s two lines stand on their own – there is a simplicity and purity to his love.
Toni’s answers in the stanza’s third and first half of the fourth lines contradict Bernard, and are voiced to resolve (incompletely) on the C of a dominant F major chord. Toni’s response requires the full duration of her two lines to resolve harmonically, and for a moment, a listener tuned to Jewish modal tendencies wonders if she might distance herself further from his sentiments with a full modulation to F-freygish (also known in cantorial literature as “Ahava Raba”, or “altered Phrygian” – F, Gb, A, Bb, C, Db, Eb).
But despite a rapidly ascending then descending movement in the last line that is frequently seen in freygish melodies, Toni does not reach down to the tell-tale subtonic Eb which would confirm F-freygish. Rather, at the end of the stanza, Toni’s cadence resolves back to the tonic Bb. Though there is complexity in her responses and desires, in the end, these two are fated to live and die together.
“Tayere Toni, kim aher tsi mir
Nem dir a beynkl, zets zikh anider lebn mir.”
“Tayerer Bernard, ikh ken nisht zitsn leybn dir.
Di mame vet araynkimen, un vet shrayen af mir”
“Dear Toni come over here to me,
Take a chair, and sit next to me.”
“Dear Bernard, I can’t sit next to you.
My mother will enter and will yell at you.”
“Tayere Toni, ikh ken dikh nisht fardarbn.
Zeyst dekh az ikh halt shoyn baym shtarbn.”
Tayerer Bernard, vest nokh vern gezint.
Tayerer Bernard, di bist mayn tayer kind.”
“Dear Toni, I can’t ruin you.
Can’t you see, that i am dying.”
“Dear Bernard, you will become well,
Dear Bernard, you are my dear child”.
Spoken Dialogue after the song:
LEYBL KAHN: Dos lid hot ir gehert fun vanen?
Where did you hear this song?
LSW: Dos hob ikh gehert in Zvinyetchke.
I heard this in Zvinyetchke.
LK: In der Bukovina.
LSW: Yo, di Bukovina.
LK: To vi kumen azoyne nemen vi Toni un Bernard?
So where do the name Toni and Bernard come from?
LSW: Bay undz hot men dokh daytshmerish gezingen.
We sang, after all, Germanized Yiddish.
LK: Menshn fleygn hob azoyne nemen.
People used to have such names?
LSW: Ye, avade.
Yes, of course