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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Mener, mener - written by Oskar Solomonescu for Pepi Littman

This tune was supposedly from a Goldfaden operetta called "Bais Duwed" of which I can't find mention online. I found the lyrics, along with Der Tsiferblat, at Harvard -- written out longhand in Yiddish cursive by the composer, Oscar Solomonescu, and notated: for Pepi Littman, New York. And what a great song it is! I just can't believe this amazing tune, found for me by Michael Aylward, sung here by the magnificent Frank Seiden: Menner Menner, von Bais Duwed

And here's my version, sung this morning (the first time I've tried singing since our wretched election).


The composer, Osias Solomonescu, was born April 1869 in Yasi, Romania, to poor, Orthodox parents. Orphaned early, and penniless, but blessed with a beautiful voice, he found a home in some Romanian Yiddish theater troupe, where he sang in the chorus and played children's roles. His first adult role was Benyominl in Goldfaden's "Podriatshik" and after that he began playing comic roles, especially dressing as and playing a woman. He came to American in 1901 and played at the Eldorado. He also worked as a stage manager and "episode actor" in the Bronx Prospect Theater and in Philadelphia's Orchard Street Theater.

He wrote many theater songs most of which he sang himself. While still in Romania he translated the one act "The Red Trousers," which was later shown in Yiddish variety houses. Zylberzweig: "Solomonescu was unique in the Yiddish actors' world with his humorous letters, in which he described that era of the Yiddish theater." I'll have to look for that.

I think it's quite interesting that Solomonescu -- an actor known for playing women's roles in drag --  wrote these two songs for Pepi, an actress known for playing men's roles in drag (or at least, she played women pretending to be men). Quite modern.

Back to Frank Seiden (of whom I have not found a picture) -- he was one of the earliest Yiddish recording artists in America. I love his records even though they're very scratchy. Peter Nahon via MachineWhisperer.com avers that Seiden "led a wild life, winning a bar in New York's bowery during a poker game and tending bar there after his recording career was over."

One sees at ancestry.com that he was born in 1861 or 1862 in Austria/Galicia, immigrated in 1876 and was naturalized in 1886. He had one wife, Rachael, and four children: Jacob, Eva, Amalia/Mary, Joseph. He was listed in 1900 in Manhattan as a phonograph dealer, in 1905 in Brooklyn as an actor, in 1910 as "Vaudeville" in 1920 he was retired or unemployed. He was perhaps the Frank Seiden who died September 1926 and is buried at Mount Hebron cemetery in Flushing, Queens.

I hope some descendant will get in touch at some point and email me his picture!

Words and translation after the jump.



MENER MENER (MENNER MENNER)

Ikh bin nit fun di meydelekh vos zaynen zeyer raykh
Ikh hob keyn sheyne kleydelekh derfar bin ikh nit shvakh
Ikh ken a por petsh gebn men zol zikh mekhaye zayn
Ikh shver aykh bay mayn lebn az ikh bin a glik far a man
Nu, vos tog aykh a meydele a dare an eydele mit farmegn a sakh
Un vos es iz pasirt muzt ir zi farfirt
Loyfn tsum doktor glaykh

Oy vey mener mener mener
Oy vey gloybt nit az mit yener
Derfar vayl zi is shener vet ir gliklekh zayn
Mit sheynkayt shlogt nor kapores
Vayl ikh veys af klor es
Az ir vet hobn tsores ven zi vet keyn gezunte nit zayn.

Zol mikh a man baleydikn genart volt er zikh nit
Oy volt ikh im sheydikn kh'lebn mit klep zeyer git
Er volt shoyn farzogt a tsentn mikh tsu baleydikn gor
Ikh volt im gevart presentn er zol mikh gedenken a yor
Nu vos tog aykh der yikhes tsu alde rikhes
Gedenkt ir vet hobn tsores mit eydele un shvakhe zey megn oykh zayn raykhe
Shlogt mit zey kapores

Mayn khosn iz kh'lebn nit keyn nar men hot im fil shidukhim geredt
Un er vil nit nor derfar vayl zayn kale muz zayn fet
Ober ikh bin im gefeln nokh mir iz er farbrent
A khupe vil er shteln vayl ikh hob mir fete hent
Vos toyg er a kholerye er zukht nor a berye
Vos zi ken im brengen glik
Er zogt zi muzt zayn shtark mit a roytn kark
Un pulkes fet un dik.

I'm not one of those very rich girls.
I don't have any pretty dresses, I don't care about them
I can give a couple of punches, you'd be amazed
I swear on my life, I'm happiness for a man
Well, what good is a thin, elegant girl with a lot of earnings?
Whatever happens, you're going to have to run take her straight to the doctor

Oy vey, men, oy vey, don't you go believing
That because she's prettier, you'll be happy
Beauty? Forget about it. Because I know, clearly:
You'll be miserable if she's not healthy.

If a man insults me, let him not deceive himself,
I'll shame him with some fine blows.
Maybe he'll want to embarrass me by telling everybody,
I'll give him "gifts"! He'll remember me for a year!
What good is a fine family background to you, the devil take it?
Remember, you'll have misery ...with those elegant weak girls, even if they're rich
They're useless.

My fiance is, I swear, no fool. They've tried to make him lots of matches
But he doesn't want them because he only wants a fat bride.
But I please him, he burns for me,
He wants to get married because I have fat arms.
What good is some problem woman to him? He wants an efficient housewife
Who can bring him happiness
He says she has to be strong, with a red neck and thick thighs.



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

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