Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Dos tsifer blat (The clock face) - written by Oscar Solomonescu for Pepi Littman, sung by Kalman Juvelier

I found this handwritten manuscript of the Tsiferblat lyrics at Harvard; the song itself can be heard available at the FAU website sung by Kalman Juvelier. Reading unfamiliar Yiddish cursive is not easy and I guessed a lot. Notice that on the record label, in Yiddish it says "Der tsifer blat" and in the transcription on the next line it says "Das Zifferblatt." Did two typesetters work on the same label?

Frank Seiden recorded this song as "Das zifferblatt von chochmes nuschem" and Michael Aylward tells me the operetta was by Professor Hurwitz. The flip side of the recording is Mener, mener, also written by Solomonescu for Pepi Litman.

The song starts as a general bewailing of the evils of man, then visits the Spanish Inquisition, and finally points out that Dreyfus is currently being sentenced for the second time "because he is a Jew." This dates the lyrics accurately. Only the first verse appears on the recording. Look after the jump for the whole song and translation.

So click below for the Youtube video, including my translation. Kalman sang only the first verse. I think the second and third are more interesting.


Pepi Litman was born Pesha Kahane in Tarnopol, Eastern Galicia, in 1874. She was one of the female performers who performed in men's clothing. She made quite a few recordings. She died in Vienna in 1930.

An actor born in 1871 in Romania, Osias or Oskar Solomonescu is found in the 1905 Manhattan census as Osias Solomonesky,  listed as an actor with a first wife, Esther. He became a citizen in Brooklyn in 1906. Later he remarried and became a milliner: I found him, as Osias Solomonescu, in the 1920 Queens NY census with wife Fanny, son Louis and daughters Esther and Rose (the kids modernized the name to Solomon). He was buried as Oscar Solomonescu in Mount Hebron, the actors' cemetery, in 1939. Interestingly, he was known for playing women's roles. Perhaps he and Pepi played opposite each other this way.




The singer here, Kalman Juvelier, was born in Lemberg in 1863. He came to American in 1900, was naturalized in 1906. He's found as a widower in the 1910 Manhattan census, listed as an actor, with son Max and daughter Jennie; later that year he married Bina Abramowitz. In 1930 they were still married, living in Manhattan, and he was still acting. He died in 1939 and is buried in Brooklyn.

The world is rich with many creatures, with all kinds of beasts.
They live quietly and don't demand much.
But mankind is the worst of them.
The lion is cleer and smart enough.
When he is sated he's brave.
And mankind wants just to oppress, suffocate the weak
He growls as if he were in hell

Man, man (sung: world, world)
Your hours are numbered
Give your clock face a look.
It was pointless, your oppressing the weak --
Soon, of course, you're going back [to the other world].
The clock face shows accurately
that your end isn't far off.
And the hands stand still - it doesn't help to weep
You must be ready.

Just consider Spain in the time of the Inquisition
People burned - as many as they could manage
No animal would have done this
Driven along, swept away - lamenting terribly
The desolate, unlucky Jew
The terrible cries were heard, all right,
They didn't tire of torturing him.

Among the beasts of the forest no outcry is heard
They know nothing about racial hatred
They don't want war, they don't know about victory
There's no religious hatred there
Think about Dreyfus -- what they did to him --
They never tired of torturing him
He suffered endlessly. Now he's being sentenced for the second time
Because he's a Jew.

דאָס ציפֿער בלאַט

די װעלט איז דאָך רײַך מיט בריאים אַ סך
מיט חיות פֿיל אַלערלײ
זײ לעבן זיך שטיל און פֿאַרלאַנגען ניט פֿיל
נאָר דער מענטש איז דער ערגסטער פֿון זײ
דער לײב איז דאָך קלוג און שטאַרק אױך גענוג
דאָך װען ער איז זאַט איז ער בראַװ
און דער מענטש װיל נאָר דריקען דעם שװאַכען דערשטיקען
װי דאָס גיהנום שרײַט ער נאָר חבֿ חבֿ

מענטש מענטש (װעלט װעלט) דײַנע שטונדן זינד דאָך געצײלט
גיב אױף דײַן זײגער אַ בליק
אומזיסט האָסטו נעבעך דעם שװאַכן געקװעלט
דו מוזט דאָך שױן באַלד גײן צוריק
דאָס ציפֿערבלאַט צײַגט אַקוראַט
אַז דײַן ענד איז שױן ניט װײַט
און דער װײַזער בלײַבט שטײן – דאַן העלפֿט קײן געװײן
צום גײן מוזט דו שױן זײַן באַרײַט

2
נעמט נאָר אין אַכט – אין שפּאַניען באַטראַכט
אין דער צײַט דער אינקװיזיציאָן
מענטשן געברענט – װיפֿיל נאָר געקענט
קײן חיה װאָלט דאָס ניט געטאָן.
געטריבן געיאָגט – און שרעקלעך געקלאָגט
דעם עלענדן אומגליקלעכן יוד
געהערט גוט האָבן זײ – זײַן שרעקלעכן געשרײ
דאָך אים מאַטערן װערן זײ ניט מיד

3
בײַ די חיהת אין װאַלד – דאָרט גיבט קײן געװאַלד
זײ װײסן פֿון קײן ראַסן האַס
זײ װילן קײן קריג – און װײסן פֿון קײן זיג
דאָרט גיבט עס קײן שֹינאת-הדס
אַנו דרײפֿוס באַטראַכט – װי זײ האָבן פֿון אים געמאַכט
צו מוטשן אים װערן זײ ניט מיד
געליטן האָט ער אָן אַ צאָל – מען יעצט צום צװײטן מאָל
אים פֿאַרורטײלט װײַל ער איז אַ יוד.






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

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