Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Di tsvey shvester: Yiddish morality tale of the type called shund (trash)

UPDATE: I found this tune at the FAU website under the name Das shaifele sung by Kalmen Juvelier, or as it says on the website, K. Yovelyer. So now if you want to sing Di tsvey shvester you have the tune:

Dos shefele at the FAU Judaica Sound Archives

Back to the original post The word shund means trash, and it is a word European Yiddish musicians used to describe the operettas (and songs) that were being churned out across the Atlantic in New York City. As Rumshinsky pointed out in his autobiography, that's what the American Yiddish theater audience wanted. They did not want sophistication or subtlety. They wanted florid, predictable melodrama.

Morris Rund, member of Local 100 the Kosher Bakers' Union and also composer and street-seller of broadsides (and folksinger who could be hired for parties), was desperate to sell songs and he could crank out shund at a staggering velocity. I am photoshopping the Yiddish Penny Songs pages because they are so faded and hard to read.

This one, Di tsvey shvester, was the most illegible yet. I know what I did was crazy: I cut-and-pasted every single letter on this page from another of Rund's songs which was more legible. I could have re-entered it in Yiddish in so much less time, but I wanted to preserve the old-fashioned look. This took ALL DAY. I was willing to do it because I'm sick, too sick to sing or do anything really, because it's cold and snowy (yes, even here in North Carolina), and because I get peculiar satisfaction out of this. It wastes time, but then so does surfing the internet, doing sudoku or jigsaw puzzles, and when I'm done I can read this song and so can anybody else.

Ah, but would they want to?

I'm no historian, sociologist, ethnomusicologist or any other kind of "ist" but I opine that Yiddish music from the period covered by the Penny Songs collection, about 1895-1925, is not popular today for obvious reasons. It's shund. It's very Germanic (I'd forgotten that the established Jewish community in America at that time was much more German in origin than it would be later) meaning the tunes have none of the wildness preferred by the klezmer crowd and the spelling and vocabulary are detestable to Yiddishists. And the overweening morality is turgid.

I hate this song for so many reasons. But does that mean it isn't worth reading and thinking about? I've been meaning to ask my daughter, a historian, what the current thinking is about studying periods and people and movements which were not politically correct. Can people bear to think about the patriarchal patronizing sermons within these songs? Should we?

The tune is the same as Dos shefele by Perlmutter & Wohl.

Di sheyninke Esterl - un Khane ir shvesterl
Fun Europe gekumen aher
Zitst Khane in shepele - geboygn ir kepele
Zi arbet un plogt zikh do shver.
Nor Ester zi trakht - fun lebn un prakht
Raykhtum lukses lebn un guts
Es doyert nit fil - eraykht hot zi ir tsil
Farkoyft zikh tsu shand un shmuts
In samet un in zayd - geyt Esterl gekleyd.

Fun shand lebt yetst Esterl, zi lakht fun Khane ir shvesterl
Trogt 'jewelry' a sakh - lebt in lukses raykh
Zi hot eraykht shnel ir tsil!
Nor Khane geboygen (sic) ir kepele - zitst nokh als in shepele
Zi arbet dortn shver - mit nodl un mit sher
Yo, Khanele! Zi layd un plogt zikh fil.

Geheyrat hot Khanele
Zi hot shoyn a manele
Fir yor shoyn gevorn iz yetst
A virten a vaybele
A shtilinke taybele
Der man irer liebt zi un shetst
Zi plogt zikh nit mer
Der man arbet far ir
Vayl reyn geblibn iz Khane fun zind
Zi lebt zikh berit[?]
Farlangt keyn lukses nit
Yo, Khanele iz gliklekh atsind
Zi romt a tent di shtub
Zi nemt ales far lib!

Yo, gliklekh lebt yetst Khanele
Zi liebt un shetst ir manele
Zi hot shoyn kinder tsvey
Vi shtern laykhtn zey
Zi iz a mame un vert geshetst!
Nor oft dermont zi ir shvesterl
Badoyert di sheynenke Esterl
Farzorgn tif in herts
Trogt Khanele a shmerts
Vayl Esterl lebt nokh fun shande yetst!

Farlorn hot Esterl
Ir tsukunft ir shvesterl
Farlorn ir yugend ir glik
Shoyn gro ire herelekh
Yetst gist zi mit trerelekh
Volt gern shoyn khapn tsurik
Zi layd yetst a shrek
Ir sheynhayt iz avek
Farshvunden ir kheyn iz mit der vint
Zi blanket (blondzhet?) arum
Fremd elend on a heym
Ir ende iz shreklekh atsind
Tsebrokhn krank un mid
Zi valgert zikh in strit.

Yo, shreklekh layd yetst Esterl
Makone iz zi ir shvesterl
Zi layd yetst hunger, noyt
Bet a shtikl broyt.
Fun keyn lukses denkt zi nit!
Nor gliklekh iz yetst Khanele
Zi iz fun kinder a mamele
Farhayret iz zi yetst
Der man zi libt un shetst
Nor Esterl, zi valgert zikh in strit
The beautiful Ester and her sister Hannah came here from Europe.
Hannah sits in the shop, her little head bent over
She works and is so plagued.
But Ester, she thought about life, and beauty,
Riches, luxurious living, that good stuff
It didn't take long, she achieved her goal,
She sold herself into shame and filth
She is dressed in velvet and silk.

Esterl makes her living from shame now, she laughs at her sister Hannah
She wears a lot of jewelry, she lives in luxury
She achieved her goal so swiftly!
But Hannah bends her head - she's still sitting in the shop
She works hard there - with the needle and shears -
Hey, Hannah! She suffers and is much tormented.

Hannah got married, she has a husband already.
It's been four years now, she's a little homemaker, a little wife,
A quiet little dove
Her husband loves her and values her
She's no longer plagued
Her husband works for her
Because Hannah remained pure and without sin
She lives ?, doesn't demand any luxury
Yes, Khanele is happy now
She cleans and takes care of the house
She does everything out of love!

Yo, Hannah is living happily now
She loves and values her husband
She already has two children
They light up like stars
She is a mother and is valued!
But she often thinks of her sister
Feels bad about the beautiful Ester
Worries deep in her heart
Hannah carries a heartache
Because Ester is still living from "shame"

Ester lost her future and her sister
He lost her youth and her happiness
Now her tears are pouring forth
She'd like to go back
She is suffering terribly now
She lost her beauty,
Her charm disappeared like the wind
She wanders around among strangers, desolate, homeless
Now her end looks terrible
Broken, sick, and tired,
She wanders the streets

Yo, Ester is now suffering terribly
She envies her sister
She is suffering hunger, deprivation,
She begs for a bit of bread
She isn't thinking about luxury now!
But Hannah is happy,
She is the mother of children
She is now married
Her man loves and values her
But Ester, she wanders the streets

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