“Ikh tu dir a brivele shraybn” performed by Harry Ary

Commentary by Benjy Fox-Rosen

A powerful song lamenting the horrors of war. A soldier lies wounded in the hospital and writes to his mother and fiancé.

This recording is from Ruth Rubin’s field recordings courtesy of Lorin Sklamberg and the YIVO Sound Archive. It was recorded in 1955 in Montreal. The singer is named Harry Ary, he is the same singer who sings “In Droysen iz Finster” from Ruth Rubin’s “Jewish Life: The Old Country” LP of field recordings. I love his delivery and especially the very slight differences between each verse. He may be my favorite male singer on that record.

Note the difference in the opening phrase on the first, and later verses; at the beginning of the second and third verses, he sings a sharp fourth instead of the natural fourth.

On the second and third verses, when he repeats the last two lines, I especially like the different way that he treats, “mayn harts” and “mayn kale.” The variations have very much the same shape, but are sung varied slightly each time. Also his final cadences at the end of each verse are of particular interest to me, for he sings almost a quarter tone sharper than a flat second (in the mode), and this is of course intentional. This difference in tuning is often overlooked in transcriptions and re-interpretations of folk sources, however these controlled variations in pitch are what make this singer particularly interesting.


I will write you a letter Mamenyu,
And Mamenyu, I write of my health,
Oy, my hand was amputated,
And in both eyes, Mamenyu, I am blind.

I lie in the hospital, wounded,
And the doctors stand around me,
My heart is gushing with blood,
My dear Mamenyu is not near me.

I write a letter to my bride,
And I write of her alone,
That she should rip up the engagement,
And go with someone else to the khupe.
(translation by Benjy Fox-Rosen)

Itzik Gottesman writes: Below is the version of the song from “Yidishe folks-lider” edited by Moyshe Beregovski and Itzik Feffer, Kiev 1939, page 119. The melody is essentially the same, and the words vary only slightly. However one textual change should be noted: in the Beregovski-Feffer version the singers says in the second line of the third verse “I write to you only about myself” which is the opposite of Harry Ary’s version.”

4 Responses to ““Ikh tu dir a brivele shraybn” performed by Harry Ary”

  1. Indeed, what a quietly devastating song. Thanks for your excellent description of this nuanced performance, Benjy.

  2. Great description and translation, Benjy!

    It’s a very good point about the shading of the lowered 2nd.

    Actually, I hear at least *two* variants of the shading going on. In the cadences, during the “3-3-2-1” moment, the second is higher than in the final “2-1″ moment, when the second is closer to a flat second. He’s almost completely consistent in these shadings.

    Having two *different” “low minor seconds” makes the shading even more exquisite.

    By the way, I hear the same “3-3-2-1” shading happening in the opening lines of the verses as well.

    As most of this blog’s readers know, this kind of pitch shading is found quite often in cantorial music as well as in Yiddish folk song, but Mr. Ary seems to me to be particularly nuanced and beautifully consistent in his use of this particular musical device.

  3. Leo Summergrad Says:

    Hate to give even the slightest criticism to such a terrific site.
    1. The second word in the title is “tu”, not “tsu”.
    2. Where is the transliteration of the Yiddish?

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