Brider, zog (Brother, Say) is by the 19th century Yiddish poet Sholem Berenshteyn. No one seems to be sure of his life dates (and not even his first name – some say Shmuel) but he lived in Kamenetz-Podolsk, Ukraine, and died before 1880. In 1869 he published his collection Magazin fun yidishe lider far dem yidishn folk in Zhitomir, which was reprinted several times.
The best source for his biography is Zalmen Reisin‘s Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur, volume 1. Reisin considers him one of the first Yiddish folkpoets and even the poet Mikhl Gordon („Maskhe‟, „Di bord‟) considered him a better poet than himself. As Reisin points out, his work sometimes touches upon typical maskilic themes (anti-Hasidic, Russian patriotism) but he mostly stays clear of them, and his most popular poems became songs with traditional themes such as Brider zog and Sholem-Aleykhem which the Bessarabian folksinger Arkady Gendler sings on his recording, released in 2001, Mayn shtetele Soroke, produced by Jeanette Lewicki.
The most extensive discusssion of the song Brider, zog is in Joseph and Chana Mlotek‘s book Perl fun der yidisher poezye which was recently translated into English by Barnett Zumoff as Pearls of Yiddish Poetry, Ktav Publishing. The song was originally titled Zmires has 15 verses; what was sung were the first four verses.
I have attached the Yiddish words and music in the version found in Z. Kisselhof‘s Lider zamlung far der yidisher shul un familye, St. Petersburg 1911 which is very close to the version sung here.
The unidentified singer is clearly more of a „pro‟ than we are used to hearing in the songs posted on this blog. But listening to her interpretation of khasidic song does raise interesting questions about the “art song” interpretation of khasidic style. The late, great Masha Benya, among others, comes to mind in this regard. This singer turns a song, which melodically could be quite boring, into an interesting performance.
“Klezmorim mayne” is a recording of an unidentified singer recorded by Ben Stonehill in the lobby of the Marseilles Hotel (Broadway and 103rd street in Manhattan) in summer 1948.
The Ben Stonehill Collection
Lorin Sklamberg’s article in News from YIVO about the Ben Stonehill Collection should be read in its entirety. It’s a fascinating story. Sklamberg is the sound archivist at YIVO in addition to being the lead singer for the Klezmatics.
In 1948 Mr. Stonehill (1906-1965), armed with a home recording device, preserved the singing of some 1078 songs by Jewish displaced persons temporarily housed in a Manhattan hotel “and for several weeks interviewed hundreds of informants, gathering performances of both well-known and obscure Yiddish folk and theater songs, Hasidic nigunim and songs of the Holocaust as sung by singers ranging from strictly amateur performers to some remarkable vocal artists, including the Vilna poet-partisan Shmerke Kaczerginsky.” He transferred the recordings from wire to reel before his death and left copies at Yeshiva University, Yad Vashem, Library of Congress and YIVO. Janina Wurbs digitized and completed a preliminary catalogue.
The song “Klezmorim mayne” can be found at YIVO on Stonehill CD #3, song #43. There are many gems in the Stonehill collection, but I think it’s greatest worth will be as a reflection of the broad Jewish musical world in the 1930s in Eastern Europe; in other words, a key to help us answer the question, what did the Jews sing before the war? Old fashioned ballad hunters like myself will be disappointed since most of the collection consists of popular, well-known songs, but then once in a while someone will sing a song like “Klezmorim mayne”, an old death ballad from the 19th or even perhaps 18th century, and – wow! Nothing makes me smile more than an old death ballad.
Noyekh Prilutski’s second volume of Yiddish folksongs (1913) which has no melodies included, does include a number of variants of this particular ballad that is built upon the alef-beys. The singer here forgets the stanza for the letter “ז” – zayin – which none of the hotel lobby spectators seem to notice, but they do notice when he confuses lines in another verse and laughter is heard. The singer, unfortunately unidentified, does not lose his cool in the midst of this ridicule and continues to sing beautifully. Great performance under pressure. Below is the text in standard Yiddish, then an English transliteration in the singer‘s Yiddish dialect, intercut at every verse with the translation.
klezmurim mayne zise,
(Oy) Shpilts mir of dus shtikele,
far mayn gsise.
My dear klezmer,
Play for me that melody
before I die.
Di alef makht,
Ov hurakhmim shoykhayn bimroymim
Di bist a futer
iber ale yesoymim.
The alef makes the sound of
“Our merciful father who dwells in the heavens,”
You are a father
over all the orphans.
Di bays makht – bays a hoz.
A shud avektsevarfn,
Kimt tsi gayn der malekh-hamuves
dem khalef tsikopns tsi sharfn.
The beyz sounds like – beys a house.
A shame to throw it away.
Then the angel of death comes
and sharpens his knife at the head of the bed.
Oy di giml makht – gold in zilber
duz iz dokh a heyvl-havulim.*
A yeder mentshns leybn
iz dokh azoy vi a khulem.
O the giml makes – gold and silver.
This vanity of vanities.
Every person’s life
in no more than a dream.
Oy, di daled makht – di hent in fis
zay tien in mir kiln.
un dus fayfele in deym harts,
tit in mir shpiln.
O, the daled makes – the hands and legs
are starting to get cold.
and the little flute in my heart,
starts to act up.
Oy, di hay makht – hayle hadvurim.**
Oy, hayle hadvurim,
A Yedn mentshns leybn,
iz dokh azoy vi a khulem.
O the hey makes – “these be the words” [Deuteronomy 1.1]
“These be the words”
Every person’s life
Is just like a dream.
Oy, di vuv makht – vayse klayder,
zey tien dem mentsh bashaynen.
Oy, rifts aran mayn vayb un kinderlekh,
Lomikh zay farn toyt bavaynen.
O the vuv makes – white clothes
beautify the man.
Call in my wife and children
and let them lament me before I die.
Oy di khes makht – khevre kedoyshim***
ir zent dokh haylike mentshn.
Rifts aran mayn vayb un kinderlekh,
Lomir zey farn toyt bentshn.
The khes makes – the khevre kadishe [burial society]
you are holy people.
Call in my wife and children
Let me bless them before I die.
Oy, di tes makht – tint in feder
mit deym ken men dokh ales bashraybn.
oy git mir (ayer?) tint in feder,
lomikh testament shraybn.
The tes makes – ink and pen,
with this you can describe everything.
Give me (your?) ink and pen,
and let me write my testament.
Di yid makht – yo, yo yo!
Ikh hob gemaynt kh’el aybik leybn.
Atsindn**** rift men meykh,
kh’zol din-vekhesbn opgeybn.
The yud makes – yes, yes, yes!
I thought i would live forever.
Now call I am called upon
to give a full reckoning.
Oy din־vekhesbm opgeybn
dos iz dokh zayer shlekht.
oy herts mikh oys raboysay,
tsindst un tsu kopns di lekht.
To give a full reckoning,
is indeed very bad.
So listen to me gentlemen,
light by my head the candles.
Di lekht ungetsinen,
tsevishn mane palatsn,
oy vay tsu mayne yesoymendlekh,
zey hobn shoyn nit keyn tatn.
The candles have been lit,
among my palaces.
Woe to my little orphans,
they have no more father.
* usually without the indefinite article “a” which makes it singular.
**hayle hadvruim. In the bible “Eyle hadvurim,” but in the singer’s Polish Yiddish dialect, he adds the “h” sound before “Eyle”, thus the phrase can now be used for the “Hey” letter in the alef-beys of the song.
***khevre kadoyshim. A folksy form of khevre kadisha?
****atsindn. A form of atsindert ־ now