Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Thursday, February 13, 2020

Azoy farvelkt a blum - Yiddish Parody of "Hiawatha" commissioned for Madame Bessie Thomashefsky, 1903

Well, during this long break I did not learn to play the piano better. I got sick instead. But hopefully I can pick up again now...

From Lider magazin 1903 this parody, "Thus Withers A Bloom,"
written by Solomon Smulewitz for Madame Thomashefsky,
 to sing with the melody from the song "Hiawatha"

These days pseudo-ethnic songs from Tin Pan Alley at the turn of the 20th century are extremely distasteful, but when singing them in Yiddish (with completely different stories) I consider the melodies to have been laundered.

This melody is nothing to write home about but I find it interesting that it's equally inappropriate for a song about "an Indian Maid" and for this song about a (presumably Jewish) maiden whose life is destroyed by a cad (we have had dozens of songs on this theme already).

You can hear the original, sung by Harry MacDonough here: Hiawatha on Youtube - with the original nauseating lyrics. I've shared my theory before, that white people at the time were damn sick of their own insipid white music but couldn't shed their sensibilities or their racism as they tried to branch out.

This story is told on the video I shared above:
Neil Moret, a pseudonym for Charles N. Daniels (who is credited with arranging Scott Joplin's first rag), was on a train out to Hiawatha, Kansas to meet up with a girl he had fallen in love with. The clickety-clack of the train wheels reminded him of Native American tom-toms, which he centered the piece on. He had the whole composition written by the time he got there, and everyone loved it. He had it published, and immediately it caught on like wildfire. It also sparked the "Indian Intermezzo" craze, from which we got pieces like "Iola" and "Red Wing".

So getting back to the Yiddish parody, published in Lider magazin presumably in 1903 - it was written by Solomon Smulewitz (Shloyme Smulewitz in earlier years, aka Solomon Small in later years). He has quite a bitter take here on man's behavior towards women (translation after the jump). Here's my recording from this past week:

Lyrics after the jump.

Azoy farvelkt a blum

S'vor a blimele a kleyninke, sheyninke, reyninke
Duftike, mir aza yor.
Mit ir reyts un parfyum
hot zi batsoybert un anttsikt
Kumt on eyner mit gepilder, a vilder, nun tsilt er,
di blimele oysraysn gor
Un on herts, on gevisn hot er ir opgeflikt...
Onfangs hot er fil geshpilt zikh, gekilt zikh, gefilt zikh,
Vi farshikert fun parfyum
un er hot dize blumen tsugedrikt tsu zayn brust gants zis.
Hobn gor genumen darbn, opshtarbn, di farbn
Fun dize prekhtik sheyne blum
Dan hot er es tsetretn zelbst mit zayne fis

Af aza art farvelkt a sheyne blum
Di raykhste fun natur
Nito mer ir's a shpur
Un yener shlekhter geyt zikh fray arum
Es tut im gor nit keyns
Er zukht nokh eyns.

S'vor a meydele a vikhtike, likhtike, tsikhtike,
Fayninke, mir aza yor
Mit ir reyts, mir ir umshuld
hot zi batsoybert un anttsikt.
Iberal in ale vinklen flegt finklen un shprinklen
Sheyne eygelekh a por
Bet a frant, um ir hand, un zi hot im baglikt
Onfangs vor er ir a trayer, a frayer, in fayer
Gelofn volt er ir tsulib.
Ober gikh opgekilt hot zikh im zayn fardorbenem harts
Ufgehert hot er ir libn tseribn getribn,
Yungerheyt in kaltn grub
Un in im nit getsaygt hot zikh keyn bang un shmerts

Thus withers a bloom

There was a small, lovely, pure bloom - we should all be thus.
With its charm and perfume it bewitches and enraptures
Along comes a wild, noisy fellow, now he takes aim and tears off the bloom
Heartless, without conscience, he plucks it.

He started to play with it, feeling drunk from its perfume
He pressed the bloom to his breast so sweetly.
The colors of this pretty bloom began to die
Then he began to trample the bloom with his own feet

Thus withers a beautiful flower, nature's finest,
There is no trace of it any longer
And that terrible man goes around free
[It doesn't hurt him]
He just looks for another one.

She was a maiden, important, she gave joy, neat and fine, we should be thus.
With her charm and innocence she bewitched and enraptured.
Everywhere, in every corner, her eyes sparkled
A dandy asks for her hand and she makes him happy

At first he was faithful, a sucker for her,
He would have run into fire for her,
But soon his passion cooled, and his corrupt heart,
He stopped loving her, and drove her, crushed, young, into a cold grave,
And in him was no trace of pain or sorrow.


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