Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Der blumengartn - The flower garden - 1891 parody of "The Church across the Way"


This song, Der blumengarten, ought to be a starring example in some upcoming PhD dissertation about Jewish assimilation in New York City at the turn of the city. David Meyerowitz was paid by Yehuda Katzenelenbogen to write Yiddish words to what must be the most goyish song ever. It even has a musical quote from "Nearer My God To Thee"! Here's the sheet music cover. Click for a larger view (you'll want it for your publication)
One Easter Sunday morning, while the sun was shining clear,
And good folks to the old church came the parson's prayers to hear,
They little knew while seated there, upon that blessed day,
A human life was ending in a home just o'er the way.
A man in deepest poverty, without a single friend,
Would answer soon the call of death, his life was nearing end,
With no one there to comfort him, no tender words to say-
He heard the morning service in the church across the way.

Chorus.
The minister was preaching his good and sacred teaching,
The congregation sat, in ecstasy;
The bells had just ceased ringing, the choir was sweetly singing
"Nearer my God to thee."

The preacher's words touched ev'ry heart within those sacred walls;
He told how honor always thrives and how deception falls.
The outcast in that humble home, whose life had been a blank,
Sighed softly at those truthful words as nearer death he sank;
Be knew not. that the preacher was his honored brother Ned,
Whom he'd not seen for years, not since to hide his crime he fled.
If he could live life o'er again, his thoughts would never stray
From each word taught that morning in the church across the way.

Here's my living room version from yesterday. I put together the keyboard track by pasting little bits together, because I can't actually play.

I've written about David Meyerowitz before, and invite you to read this great puff piece written about him in 1911 by Almer C. Sanborn: THE MAN WHO WRITES AN OPERA A WEEK -- Yet Does Not Know a Note of Music! Here are some tidbits:

He has bound himself to write the music of one operetta a week, to conduct all its rehearsals and play the principal role twice a day. In addition he has agreed to furnish the other actors with all the new songs they need for their different acts ... on Saturday night he receives his check for $40. ... Mr. Meyerowitz cannot read music ... When he has finished his operetta, he takes the libretto and sings his airs as he reads the words to the conductor. The conductor transcribes the music as he sings it.

Also astonishing to me is that, according to Zilberzweig, as a young emigrant from Latvia he wasn't able to read or write in any language. He taught himself English and Yiddish.

Meyerowitz's Yiddish verses are on a very old trope of man's life rising and falling, in this case the parable involves a blooming tree. I sang only the second and third verses (in reverse order). 

Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump. WARNING: I found this Yiddish kind of odd and hard to translate and my rendition is clunky. Anyone, please feel free to send me an improved version! jane@mappamundi.com


Der blumengarten

In a sheynem zumer tog ven di zun shaynt loyt hel
Ven zi tsit iber ir vog dan blaybt natur's bafel
Yeder fir zayn gezikhtele um nit tsu zayn zo shvakh
Zukht men zikh a vintele un dortn loyft men glaykh
Avu di sheyne boymelakh bashitsn aykh dafun
Vayl di grine bletelakh farshteln aykh di zun
Dort vu file dreyen zikh farbrengen zikh zo sheyn
Vu file mentshn freyen zikh khapt mir on a geveyn

Vayl, der boym mit ire blumen vi zis vi ayngenemen
Feygelakh dort kumen amuzirn zikh gants sheyn
Dos herts fangt zikh on benken, es fangt zikh on bald denken
On der bayshpil fun boym - iz nor der mentsh aleyn

Dos boymele batrakht nor gut di tsvaygelakh dos glaykh
Ven a yeder boyml blit iz er mit kinder raykh
Di zelbe tsayt ir nor batrakht dem boym in tsvaygn nor
Vi fun yedn iz er farakht vi shreklekh es kumt for
Dort farbrengt men zikh zo sheyn, men hulyet un men shpast
Un der blaybt dort gants aleyn fun yedn zo farhast
Dort farbrengt men zikh zo sheyn, men hulyet gor on shir
Dem moshl mentsh kenstu farshteyn vayl er past nor far dir

chorus
Di froy vos hot keyn kinder, der mentsh vos hot keyn fraynd
Iz nokh erger vi a blinder vos er zet nit vi es shaynt
Der vos iz fun fraynd fartribn un di vos hot nit vemen tsu libn
Der bayshpil fun boym - iz nor der mentsh aleyn

Dos boymele ven nor dos blit, nu ver iz dan in noyt
Dem krankens herts iz dan barut, a yeder vert derfreyt
Fil porelakh bashlisn dort tsu blaybn eybik tray
Vayl es blaybt der bester vort dort vu di luft iz fray
Yetst batrakht es nor atsind bagrift gor yetst dem shrek
Ven es kumt a kalter vind un rayst dos alts avek
Di grezelakh di grininke a vayse kleyd badekt
Di feygelakh di kleyninke zey flien vayt avek

chorus
Di erd iz dan farborgen, di feygelakh zey zorgn
Un vartn afn morgn tsu krign zeyer heym
Yo, ven der mentsh farshpilt es, dan zestu yo un filst es
Az der bayshpil fun boym - iz nor der mentsh aleyn



On a lovely summer day when the sun shines brightly
When she covers her way, then nature's order remains
each for his family and not to be so weak
one seeks a little wind and one runs there
Where the beautiful trees shelter you
Because the green trees block the sun from you,

 there where many hang around enjoying each other so much
Where many people rejoice, I'm overtaken by a lament

Because the tree with its blooms, how sweet, how pleasant
Little birds come there to amuse themselves prettily
The heart begins longing, it soon begins thinking
That the tree is an example for man himself

Observe the little tree well, the branches too
When every tree blooms it's rich with children
At the same time, just consider the tree when its branches are bare
The way it's scorned by all, how terrible it seems
Over here people pass the time so prettily,
They frolic and joke
And over there, completely alone, another is hated by all
Over here people pass the time so prettily,
They frolic on and on
People, you can understand this parable
Because it fits you, too

The woman who has no children, the man who has no friends
They're even worse off than a blind person who can't see the light
One who's driven away from friends and the one who has nobody to love
That the tree is an example for man himself

When the tree is blooming, ah, who is in distress?
The invalid's heart is peaceful, ah, everybody is happy then
Many couples there promise to be true forever
Because the best pledges are made there where the air is free
Now consider this, consider the terror when a cold wind comes
And tears everything away
The green grass decked with a white dress
The little birds fly far away

The earth is then concealed, the birds are anxious
and wait for tomorrow to receive their home
Yes, when man loses this, then you see and feel
That the tree is an example for man himself


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

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