Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Saturday, November 7, 2020

A foygl in a golden shtayg (A Bird In A Gilded Cage) 1900 Yiddish music hall parody by Solomon Smulewitz

This is a very famous waltz, by our own Harry Von Tilzer aka Arie Gumbinsky. The original beats a Victorian dead horse: the beautiful young woman who sells her self out by marrying a rich old man (still happens of course). The first verse of the Solomon Small parody is on that same theme, but he pivots to workers' issues in verse 2 (where we see a cashier in a high-priced department store, surrounded by luxury and hands full of the customers' money, none of it hers) and in verse 3 (where in a world full of natural riches millionaires are sticking it to the workers).

Here's my living room version from today, with the wonderful guitar and bass tracks sent to me by Jim Baird, thanks Jim!

Here are two of the sheet music covers, and an illustration by John Held. Transliteration of the Yiddish and translation after the jump.

A foygl in a golden shtayg
by Shloyme Shmulevitz
Melody from the English song A Bird In A Gilded Cage

Der ball zet dort oys ful glants un prakht
Dort zaynen di raykhste layt
Di virthin fun yedn vert geakht
Ir sheynhayt tsu zukhn iz vayt
Mit perl, brilyantn fun kop biz di fis
Fun di beste vos iz gor faran
Ir shmeykhl ful yugnt iz lib, iz zis
Ven zi armt ir altn man
Dokh iz zi a foygl in a golden shtayg
Vayl nit in keyn gold ligt glik
Di foygl tsu zen vintsht a boym, a tsvayg
Di froy, eyn libendes blik
Gants elnt iz zi in ir raykhe hoyz
Zi laydet un makht a shvayg
In herts dortn tif iz der shmerts, okh groys
Vi dos foygl in golden shtayg

Ir kumt in a stor, in a groys gesheft
S'iz ales grosartik raykh
Di hunderte mentshn, dort ir treft,
di kasirerin merkt ir glaykh
A rum getsamt vi in a shtibele fayn
Zi zitst un darf keyn zakh ton...
Un di ale gelt vos di stor trogt ayn,
Nor in ire hent kumt es on,
Dokh iz zi a foygl in a golden shtayg
Nito vos makone tsu zayn
Zi iz fun fil armuth a glid, a tsvayg,
Un veyst nor fun noyt un payn
Ir kranke familiye ligt tsu hoyz
Zi laydet un makht a shvayg
In herts dortn tif iz der shmerts, okh, groys
Vi dos foygl in golden shtayg

Di erd iz fayn un mit ales raykh,
Un gut iz zi iberal
Zi git di produktn fir aln glaykh
Mir shepn vi fun a kval
Zi git undz dos lebn, zi git undz kraft,
Zi nemt bay undz keyn getsolt.
Mir vinen fun ir aroys ir zaft
Fun ir oykh mir tsien dos gold
Dokh zaynen mir feyglen in a golden shtayg
Tsum shpiltsayg fir eyn magnat
Zikh nemt er ales un git undz a fayg
Un makht es nokh kosher un glat
Mir shklafn, mir boyen fir im alts oys
Mir laydn un makhn a shvayg
In herts dortn tif iz der shmerts, okh, groys
Vi dos foygl in golden shtayg


The ball is shining and beautiful, the richest people are there
The hostess is esteemed by everyone, you'd search long to find an equal to her beauty (die Wirtin)
With pearls, diamonds from head to toe, the best there is to be had,
Her smile, so youthful and dear, is sweet when she comes in on the arm of her old husband
So of course, she's a bird in a golden cage, because happiness doesn't lie in gold.
The bird wishes for a tree, a branch; the woman, a lover's glance.
She's completely isolated in her rich house
She suffers and sighs.
In her heart the misery is deep and immense
Like a bird in a golden cage

You enter a store, a big business, magnificently rich,
You meet up with hundreds of people there, you notice the cashier too.
A room decked out as in a fine home, she sits and doesn't have to do anything
And all the money the store brings in goes into her hand.
Yes, she's a bird in a golden cate, there's nothing to envy.
She's a branch of the tree of poverty and knows only deprivation and pain.
Her sick family lies back home, she suffers in silence
In her heart the misery is deep and immense
Like a bird in a golden cage

The earth is fine and rich with everything, and it's good everywhere.
She gives her products for everyone alike, we can draw upon them as from a spring.
She gives us life, she gives us strength, she doesn't ask us for any payment.
We extract her juice, we also make money from her.
So we are birds in a golden cage,
A magnate's playthings.
He takes everything and gives us the finger,
And he makes this behavior just and normal.
We slave away, we build everything for him,
We suffer in silence,
And in our hearts the misery is deep and immense,
Like a bird in a golden cage.

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:


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