Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Monday, October 10, 2016

Der amerikaner seder (The American Seder) as sung by Madame Littman at Agid's Clinton Street Variety House

UPDATE: Reposting to include the video I made today. A commenter had previously shown this to be a parodic version of a song called Der Seider (Der seder) or (as it was alternatively called on the inside front cover) Die Seider Nacht (Di seder nakht).

The sheet music cover says the music was by Hyman Altman and the lyrics by Adam Mesco. However, on the inside front cover it says, interestingly, "Words by A. Mesco. 1st verse and refrain by M. Zavodnik." This makes me wonder if the satirical version found in the American Yiddish Penny Song collection was actually the original, and that subsequently the song was adapted for some other use (perhaps in a show) and given a "straight" second and third verse by Mesco. Also interestingly, the Penny Song version just says the song is by Zavodnik. So did Zavodnik steal the tune from Altman or vice versa?

I really dragged my feet about recording this one. I found the Rumshinsky arrangement as given in the sheet music weird (you'll hear it on the first verse) and without a period recording I had trouble envisioning what the song was supposed to sound like. The tune goes best at a fair clip (the way I've recorded it) but that made the words go by too fast.

So I compromised and slowed down when there were a lot of words! This is the second keyboard accompaniment I've made by running a music notation software file into my Yamaha and recording the output on a second computer.


Below, the songsheet from the American Penny Song collection (translation at the bottom).

You can read about Max Zavodnick. Also read a bit about the Clinton Street Variety House: Sam Agid. "Madame Littman" is Pepi Litmann, who recorded quite a bit in Europe before coming to America.

Translation and song sheets after the jump.

 Click the pictures for larger views.





The seder night is valued and esteemed
In all Jewish houses
You sit around the table, happy and fresh
Ready, as if to meet the czar
Matsos and wine, everybody has to have those
Horseradish and maror and kharoset
An onion, an egg - and salt water
Above all, the four cups of wine
The king, reclining,
Gives his queen a kiss, a caress
Everybody feels the flavor of the Garden of Eden
Beautifully dressed in honor of Passover
The best food and drink
The seder is a pleasure

The seder is a fine thing
There are no other nights like these
People are free, it's a wonder,
Dressed in lovely clothes
It's simply sugar sweet
The whole time, cups of wine are flowing
Boys and girls, plump dumplings,
Oy, I like the seder.

A doctor with a good reputation, a pious man from the old country
Took on himself a vow:
He didn't neglect one detail of celebrating the seder
Year after year
He lived very well - he had lots of servants
But he came to lust after one of them


He joked with her and laughed the whole seder night
He treated her like a queen
He's no greenhorn in his profession
He knows his wife is sick and weak
So he sent her to the sanitorium
When there's no wife at home
Then the man has the best show
To have a great seder

A border in a house, when the lady of the house loves him,
He's a viceroy
Such happiness when he meets up with his "partner" in the business
Then things aren't so cheerful
Sitting down at the seder, with the teeth gnashing,
The two men look at each other
Both of them lie on the floor grabbing each other by the hair
And tearing at each other like roosters
You don't need to go to the theater to see a drama like this!
Because the "Missus" is a school child
She shrieks, Gevald! I want it this way:
There should be TWO kings
Because this is an American seder.

Hesse bet is the word for the reclining place that the person leading the Seder sits on. It is actually a hesiv bet... היסב בעט, hesiv meaning reclining in Hebrew.


For sheet music and/or performances contact me: jane@mappamundi.com

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