Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Original recording found! Of the early "mit zayn fidl" (NOT the Molly Picon version)

UPDATE: I've now found a recording, I think by Simon Paskal, of the 1909 song, so here it is and now I don't have to record it. Click to listen: Yidl mit zayn fidl

I posted this song at my Polish Jewish Cabaret blog because a version of it was sung by Shlomo Lindenfeld, a darling of Warsaw cabaret in Yiddish between the wars.

Also, my band Mappamundi recorded the Polish version of this song - written in the 1930s and called Stara piosenka - on our Cabaret Warsaw cd.

The song belongs here, as well, because its text is among the Yiddish Penny Songs. On the songsheet it is credited to an F. Zinger who has now been identified as Fishl Zinger (Fishel Singer).

The Zilberzweig Leksikon confirms he was the composer and says he wrote the song "from an English text and motif." That would be Irving Berlin's deplorable 1909 song "Yiddle on Your Fiddle Play Some Ragtime."

I'd have said the Yidl/fidl rhyme was generic, and the tune and lyrics of the Berlin song are not related to the Zinger song though they seem to have come out more or less at the same time.

Crack discographer Michael Aylward pointed me to the record label below, of Idel mit sein fidel, on which is printed: "Duet from the opera Sambation" - Der Sambatyen came out in 1882, 27 years before Irving Berlin's song (and Fishel Zinger's claim of authorship)! Michael writes:
Just been reading the entry for Fishl Zinger in Zylbercweig. So, he grew up in Iasi ! Already a Goldfaden connection. Could this be yet another case of an arranger claiming credit for the composition of a song. As for the statement that this was based on an "English text and melody", this is puzzling, especially the subsequent claim that this was also sung in other languages, I suspect this might be Zylbercweig's informant, B. Gorin, confusing "Yidl mitn fidl' with Berlin's later "Yiddle on Your Fiddle."

Shlomo Lindenfeld, the great re-appropriator, printed the lyrics in his pamplet Der kupletist in 1912; you can find the text he printed at my other blog. The lyric is full of Yinglish but I don't believe Lindenfeld knew much English at all; this is a reason I suspect he was lifting Zinger's song.

Tuvim's version of this song in Polish, Stara piosenka (it means "Old Song"), shares the melody of the tune and provides a much-expanded narrative of Yidl's life. Tuwim gives composing credit to Ralph Benatzy / Benatzky, but the exact tune he used was recorded earlier (and can be heard on YouTube! click the link) as "Fiedel das alte Liedel" (Fiddle the old tune) arranged by Arthur Marcell Werau and performed by Marek Weber's orchestra. So it was already old then. See the label at

Back to our prototype song: the song in question, Yudel mit zayn fidl, appears in part in the freilachs (freylekhs) medley recorded long ago by Nathan "Prince" Nazaroff, a Russian immigrant to New York who seemed to live that fine line between street performer and bum but who has his own tribute band these days! His picture, from his only album (on Folkways of course, 1954) appears above (click for a larger view).

Here's my translation of the text printed in the American Penny Songs Collection:

Yidl went to America
His home in Russia was abandoned
He took his fiddle with him
He'd studied the instrument for many years
Here, he became a great hot shot
He plays well on all instruments,
At Yiddish ceremonies, or even for the goyim
Everybody knows how well Yidl plays

Yidl with his fiddle
Is worth a million bucks
Because he has the best bow in the world
He never plays a bad note
He fiddles all the time
Yidl with his fiddle, oy

My friend Zlate fell in love with Yidl
Because he was a pretty young man
He was supposedly teaching her fiddle
He deceived her in everything
Later, he left and abandoned her,
Now the poor thing, she's 'fat' and always lamenting.
What's the matter, my Zlate? her old father asks her
With tears in her eyes she quickly says: (refrain)

Yidl went to live in 'lodgings'
He didn't have even a penny
He taught fiddle to the 'Missus'
So he didn't have to pay any rent
Late at night when her husband is at a 'meeting'
And Yidl is left there alone with her
He gives her concerts that raise the roof
The 'Missus' says to him very prettily: (refrain)

Yidl's holding forth broadly at the theater
Lots of pleasure is pouring forth
When I stand up and sing 'Di Fidl' for him
He is very pleased and proud there in the quiet
When I've finished singing 'Di Fidl'
He yells BRAVO in a loud voice
Long years to Yidl, how prettily he sings a tune,
Hey, now let's sing it again: (refrain)

Here is the original cover (click both or either for a larger view):

Here's the original Yiddish:

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

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