Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Friday, March 4, 2016

A brivele der kale (A letter to the fiancee) - Yiddish theater song

A brivele der mamen (A letter to mother) was such a huge success, all sorts of "letter" songs popped up afterwards. Two of them are in the American Penny Songs Collection. I found this one sung by a woman with, surely a stage name, Bella Nevera. The song, by M. Aronson and Rumshinsky (he was Rumshisky then) was published in 1910 so the record was probably made around that time.

She has a voice that is kind of hard to listen to - an intense vibrato and a high, loud delivery. In those days, before microphones, being able to project your voice in a large, noisy hall was a high priority. Here she is (with subtitles and the text so you can sing along if you, too, are waiting to hear from somebody who is probably not going to come through):

While working on this video I tried to figure out where I'd heard the tune before. Bingo, it's on our own cd, Nervez! One of the Itzik Zhelonek songs, Mendele, about pogroms and emigration to Israel, was set to this tune, and my friend Randy Kloko sang the song on the cd. From ultrasonic soprano to baritone, quite a leap. Have a listen:

And you can read more about the song as Randy sang it on my earlier blog, Mendele.

Well, Ms Nevera sang only the first two verses, but we all knew where this story was going to end up. It's even more dramatic than you might have expected. Read and weep!

Well, bon voyage, my dear, may God bless you!
Don't forget to send for me quickly when you reach the golden land.
Remember, you promised to remain true to me forever,
And don't stop writing me letters from week to week.
So, good fortune to you in your travels
And send me more letters!

Don't forget to send a letter to your fiancee,
And all your letters will cheer me up.
I'll suffer every day, I'll cry and not sleep,
And every letter will give me new strength to hope.

The time passes quickly, days run past, and years,
The bridegroom forgot what he had promised.
His fiancee sits, she hopes and waits, and hot tears flow.
Had he, then, deceived her? Does he not want to hear of her?
To calm her heart, every day she reminds him of her request.

The weeks pass, one after another,
The earth seems to have locked up
Her passionately beloved bridegroom
In New York City, in the golden land.
She didn't wait any longer, she traveled there,
Her heart broke in pieces,
He is a Doctor of Medicine there,
Married, rich and happy.
She goes and stands by his house
And when he comes out she says to him:

She quickly grabbed a flask of poison
And drank it right before his eyes
She falls dead on his doorstop
And twists, drawn in.
And in the blink of an eye
He recognized his love victim
The doctor cried and wrung his hands
And wished to die
With tears for the great catastrophe
He now repeated her words:

I forgot to send letters to my fiancee
To cheer her in all her heartaches
How she suffered every day, endlessly
Not eating, not sleeping,
And only one thing remains now for me:
Only the hope of death.

Here's the songsheet, click for a larger view:

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

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