Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Dos greste yam umglik fun der shif Titanik - another Yiddish song about the sinking of the Titanic

Itzik Gottesman wrote in the Forward about The Titanic in Yiddish Folklore:
On April 15, 1912, the Titanic sank into the sea as it made its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean from Southampton, England, to New York City. More than 1,500 people died in the freezing waters and the entire world not only talked about this event but also sang about the tragedy — the Yiddish speaking-masses included.
He includes extended lyrics to a familiar song recorded iconically by Lorin Sklamberg as Lid fun Titanik.

There are loads of songs in English too, of course, paying tribute to the Titanic disaster. Many of us learned "It Was Sad When That Great Ship Went Down" in school. What strikes me about the Yiddish ones, though, is their focus on one amazing thing: that the rich, for once, went down with the poor. Their wealth could not save them.

In the Penny Song collection there are two Titanic songs. This one, by A. Margolis (or maybe Margolies) borrows the melody from "Di New Yorker Trern," which I just recorded with pianist Aviva Enoch, so I used her piano part again to accompany this song.

Here's my translation:

A terrible calamity on the great ocean
Happened to the ship Titanic at night
It crashed hard into an iceberg
Suddenly the ship began to sink,
the strongest, best ship in the world,
Carrying thousands of passengers with it,
Poor and rich, jewelry and gold,
Famous people, also millionaires,
Men and women sinking together,
Finding their graves in the wild waves.

The greatest catastrophe in the world
Ever caused by a ship's rupture
The suffering is so great it bloodies the heart
It makes a shiver, a chill go down your spine
So many victims: orphans and widows
The greatest catastrophe in the world!

This disaster took place at night
No ships were noticed from afar
They were all wondering how to save themselves
Signals were sent in all directions
The lifeboats were sent out into the ocean
Also ships hurried to help
Probably hoping to save the people
They found them, alas, too late.
Only a few people were saved from the storm -
Most of the victims were swallowed by the abyss.

No one is protected from God's anger.
Whether you're poor or a millionaire,
When death comes, you're lost.
It's hard to save yourself from the Angel of Death.
Everything, truly, was installed on the ship
Just as science today would have it.
How quickly it was destroyed!
Everything on board sank to the bottom.
Many immigrants, also very fine wealthy folks,
The ocean swallowed all of them the same way.

Here's the song sheet, click for a larger view:

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

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