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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Dos bisele mashke - Yiddish drinking song from a Solomon Smulewitz Lambert cylinder recording

A week ago I got this email from a guy at the Library of Congress:
As you may know, the National Recording Registry is an annual list from the Library of Congress... Each of these recordings has been chosen by the Librarian of Congress, with input from the National Recording Preservation Board. Each of these recordings have been deemed so vital to the history of America—aesthetically, culturally or historically—that they demand permanent archiving in the nation’s library... Currently, those of us who work on the Registry are attempting to build out the above website with a variety of scholarly essays on each of the 525 titles on the Registry. I was wondering if you might be able write something for us on the topic of: "Yiddish Cylinders from the Standard Phonograph and Thomas Lambert Co."? Unfortunately, we are not able to pay you at this time.
The song he was referencing was this one, Dos Biselle Mashke (A little booze), written and sung by Solomon Smulewitz sometime around 1903. (I recently put him into Wikipedia if you're interested: Solomon Smulewitz). Here it is:


The Lambert Yiddish cylinders are among the oldest Yiddish recordings ever made and the only reason they are now widely available is that Henry Sapoznik, whom I met back in the late 1980s at his seminal retreat for Jewish musicians called KlezKamp, put together the Attractive Hebrews compilation for Archeophone Records (and received an award for it). (The cd's cover image is from a song called A Boychik up-to-date by Louis Gilrod and David Meyerowitz, both frequently seen on this blog. It's a great sheet music cover but, sadly, the lyrics are too annoying to sing.)

If I seem to be linking more than usual, it's because Sapoznik is a legendary character in all senses of the word (read about his long history in klezmer and American old-time music at Wikipedia).Yet the Library of Congress guy - who took the recording from this cd and who has the extensive liner notes - hadn't even bothered to contact him.

Sapoznik always has an interesting project underway. At his website (Henry Sapoznik) you can read about the most recent ones, and he says he'll soon be posting more of his work on Yiddish radio.

He's issued a number of cds of the oldest, rarest Yiddish recordings. Look them up and buy them. Read about the Lambert cylinders project and sample the tracks: Attractive Hebrews at the Archeophone website or at Amazon.

The word mashke is sometimes translated as whisky rather than generic liquor.

You can listen to and read about a "folk-processed" version of this song, called by the singer Tsu dir, tsu dir dos glezele vayn, at Itzik Gottesman's Yiddish Song of the Week blog. It often happened that theater songs escaped out into the wild and became thought of as "folk" songs. If you think about it, every folk song was written by somebody - we just don't know who.

Sapoznik's transcription of the words and my translation from the Yiddish after the jump. I'm also including the singable translation he made!


Dos bisele mashke

In dir in dir du glezele vayn ligt dokh mayn gantser glik.
Ven ikh vil nor lustik zayn gib ikh af dir a blik.
Tsu dir tsu dir hob ikh lust du bist mayn nekhome.
Du derkvikt mayn shvakher brust du derhalt mir mayn neshome.

Hob kapores af dir dos gelt
Hob ikh in der gantser velt arayn.
Ikh lakh mikh oys fun der gantser velt
Ven ikh hob nor a glezele vayn.

A glezele vayn iz gut
A flash iz nokh beser

Du bist geshmak vi tsiker zis, ikh bin dir vi a kind getray.
Khotsh du varfts mikh fun di fis dir tsulib iz alts keday.
Far dir far dir iz dokh keyn zakh tayer bist bay mir in mayn lebn lib.
Fun dayn vegn gey ikh shoyn in fayer un afile in der finstere grib.

Tsu shtarbn bin ikh teykef greyt, fun dayn vegn khotsh in keyver arayn!
Ven ikh zol visn az nokh mayn teyt beser mir gebn a bisele vayn!

Vi gut es iz tsu zayn teyt... shiker!

The little bit of booze

In you, little glass of wine, lies my entire happiness. When I want to be merry I look at you.

I desire you, you are my solace. You delight my feeble breast, you keep my soul alive.

To hell with you, money, to hell with the whole world, I laugh at it as long as I have a little glass of wine.

You're delicious, sweet as sugar. I'm as faithful as a child to you.
Even though you knock me off my feet, everything's worth it because of you.

For you, for you, nothing is too expensive. You're so dear to me.
For you I'd go into fire and even into the dark grave.

I'm ready to die right now, for you I'd go even into the tomb!
If I knew that after my death...
You'd better give me a little wine!

How good it is to be dead ... drunk!

Henry Sapozik's singable translation of A bisele mashke

To life, to life

In you, in you, my glass of wine,
Lay my joy all in a drink.
When I want to feel fine
I just have to give you a wink.
To you, to you, you are the best,
You make me whole,
You restore my weary breast.
You revive my very soul.
To hell with all my dough
And to all that's mine
I tell the world just where to go.
Ha! Ha! Ha!
When I have a glass of wine
A glass of wine is good; a bottle is even better.

You are tasty, sugar sweet.
I'm just like a dutiful kid.
If you knock me off my feet
I'll love you for what you did.
For you, for you, you're what I desire,
You are my love and what I crave.
Because of you I go through fire
And even into my darkened grave.
I'm ready to draw my final breath
And into my tomb I would sink.
If I knew that you caused my death
I'd still rather have a drink.
How good it is to be dead. Drunk.


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

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