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

Gevald di mantens! (Wow, the mountains!) - a Yiddish panegyric to the Catskills.

Ben Yagoda sent me this sheet music, inherited from his father. It's a 1923 Adolf King song recorded on Okeh records sung back in the day by Morris Goldstein. I don't see it mentioned online so thanks, Ben, for pointing me to this rarity! Now, just because it's rare doesn't mean it's good, but as my hobby is to resuscitate lost songs, good or not, here goes the version I just recorded.

We were discussing this song in Yiddish class and somebody said he and his family went to the Catskills when he was young and everybody knew the locals hated the Jews who swarmed into town every summer summer. Hence the farmer with the stick in his hand: he didn't care who was a movie star, who was a bill collector, who was a buffoon, who was deaf and dumb ...

Note that on the cover the title is spelled in Yiddish Gevalt di mantens and in English (and throughout the sheet music) Gwald di mantens. On the last page, where the lyrics are given in original Yiddish, the spelling is

געװאַלט די מאונטענס

My theory about some of the omnipresent inconsistencies in printed Yiddish music come from there being at least two typesetters - one who did the setting of the music itself, one who did the Yiddish texts written out properly on the back page, and maybe a third who did the cover. In this case, I suspect the guy who set the back cover had a better ear for English (or more years in the country) and therefore rendered the American diphthong. I ignored that, though, and sang mantens.

Adolf King's rhymes don't rhyme in klal yidish, the dialect (or rather, non-dialect) I was taught. This happens frequently and stresses me out. I don't want to sing without rhymes, but I don't know enough to render the song consistently in King's dialect. So I take the middle road, endorsed by no important people: I sing the way I know, but sing the rhymes so they rhyme. So sue me.

The song was arranged by P. Laskowsky and for once, I decided to play the piano part more or less as written. These parts were always dumbed down so amateur pianists (of whom there were a great many at the time) could play them. They were never performed by professionals as written. But as I myself am an amateur pianist, the skill level was about right (in fact I had to play it slower and speed it up). I only recently discovered the owner's manual for my Yamaha piano and enjoyed using different piano voices in this tasteless rendition.

Two more songs in this same vein are: Mayn vayb kumt fun Zakopane and Mayn vayb iz in der country, Hurrah Hurray!

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

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