Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Eili Eili (Eli Eli) - somber prayer in Yiddish at the center of a seething battle over who wrote it and who owned it.

Through the centuries musicians have stolen from each other. As soon as there is real money to be made, in recordings and in published sheet music, the question of who owns the rights to a song becomes fiercely contested. Before we get to that, here is Cantor Josef Rosenblatt singing "Eili Eili"


The song was wildly popular and recorded by at least a dozen artists back in the day. Many arrangers (perhaps self-servingly) called it "Hebrew Folk Song" and copyrighted their own arrangements. However, listen to the indignant words of Jacob Koppel Sandler (printed in HIS own sheet music):
Twenty-three years ago Mr. Sandler was the composer at the old Windsor Theatre on the Bowery, where a Yiddish Company was presenting Yiddish plays. During the month of April, 1896, the Management undertook to produce an historical drama entitled "Brochoh" or "The Jewish King of Poland," within a week. Mr. Sandler was directed to prepare a few songs and choruses for the coming production. For one of the songs the author of the play, the late Prof. Hurowitz, wanted something sad and appealing for the martyr, a Jewish girl, who was to be crucified for her faith, and while hanging on the cross to sing a pathetic prayer.

When Mr. Sandler asked for a scenario of the play, the author suggested that Mr. Sandler look up a few of the Psalms of David and draw his inspiration for the crucificial prayer therefrom. For Mr. Sandler wrote both the words and music of his songs.

... During that night "Eili Eili" was written and shortly after it was sung by Mrs. Sophie Karp in the new play. The song was an instantaneous success. ... The following season Bertha Kalich sang "Eili Eili" in the Thalia Theatre on the Bowery. Later Mr. Sandler drifted from the theatre, devoting his time to Synagogue Music and Choir training, and the song became a thing of the past to him. In the meantime, "Eili Eili" had been published by several people, each publication worse than the other. The arrangers took all sorts of liberties with the words and music and even the name of the original composer was omitted. The song travelled orally.

...As many of the large publishers began to issue "Eili Eili" under fantastic arrangements, stating that "Eili Eili" was a folk song and as such it was changed and changed again to suit the whims of each arranger... These mutilations cut Mr. Sandler to the heart, and, urged on by his children and by his friends, he gave the story of his "Eili Eili" publicity through the American Jewish News, New York Globe, New York Times, Musical America, Dramatic Mirror, Jewish Exponent (Philadelphia, Pa.) and all the Jewish newspapers.

... A special rendition was arranged at one of Charles D. Isaacson's large concerts with the composer at the piano... people were eager to do their part to give praise and recognition to Mr. Sandler to spread the news, to see that Mr. Sandler's name appeared on programs, on sheet music. Other newspapers and publications have since taken up the good work and Jacob Koppell Sandler has come into his own.

I think this is a picture of that very martyr girl for whom Sandler says he wrote the song:

Josef Rosenblatt, singer on the recording I've presented here, made a lot of money off this song. He recorded it about six times and at least two editions of the music came out with his name and picture front and center. Here is his shifty rebuttal to Sandler:
There is no more popular song in the entire field of Jewish music than "ELI, ELI." ... It is not quite clear where the song originated. A few years after "ELI, ELI" became famous the old musician, Jacob Sandler, and the theatrical director, Boris Thomashefsky, claimed this composition because it had been sung in one of their Operettas.

There is no doubt, however, that it had a much earlier origin. People who remember, tell of hearing this song in various parts of Europe where it was known as a folk song. The music has also been found to be among the compositions of a Cantor of the last generation, who used it as a tune for "Slicoth."

One thing is certain, however, and that is that the greatest share of the popularity of "ELI, ELI" is due to Cantor Josef Rosenblatt...

The present edition is a new arrangement by the famous Cantor Josef Rosenblatt who has presented it to the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company, Bakers of Sunshine Biscuits, in order that it may further disseminate the soul stirring message of this song throughout America.

Printed in yet another published version of Eili Eili I found this:
coupled with a specious declaration (by calling it specious I see I am siding with Mr. Sandler, his hurt tone convinced me):
This Incantation, which is known and sung by millions of Jews in Russia, Poland, and New York's East-side, shows strong influences of synagogal melody.

Click for larger view:


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

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