Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Friday, February 26, 2021

Di troyerike hokhtsayt (Isaac Reingold's Yiddish version of "The Fatal Wedding" of 1893)

The sad wedding
To sing with the melody from the English song
The Fatal Wedding by Isaac Reingold

There are plenty of Yiddish songs about abandoned wives, languishing away with their babies while the husband has gone off to America.

Victorian and post-Victorian society also wept over the plight of grass widows - in this case the husband has not crossed the sea but merely ignored his inconvenient first wife and his child, with drastic consequences. In the Gussie L. Davis song, "The Fatal Wedding," the husband/would-be bigamist and the baby die. In the Yiddish version, the husband and the new bride die. The grass widow visits their graves and leaves flowers.

In the original, the abandoned wife with baby in arms crashes a big fancy wedding in a church. In Reingold's version, the fancy wedding is in a tempel - this is the first time I've seen the word tempel in a Yiddish song.

Gussie Lord Davis (1863-1899) was a minstrel show composer and the first Black songwriter to make it on Tin Pan Alley. Denied formal admission to the Nelson Musical College in Cincinnati because of his race, he performed janitorial duties at the college in return for private lessons. His first commercial success, "We Sat Beneath the Maple on the Hill" was written when he was only 18. He also wrote "Goodnight, Irene."

My German language informant, Randi Kloko, told me the word shalend is surely the German schallend: "sounding, ringing out" - this is only one of many daytshmerisms in the lyrics.

My favorite thing about this song is the disconnect between the tragic words and the bouncy tune. My least favorite thing about it is its length - the story can't be compressed into less than five minutes! I asked my genius friend and bandmate Jack Herrick to "gussy it up" and give some variety to the monotonous tune and he did me proud, thanks Jack! He also mixed the song for me! Here it is:

Translation and transliteration of the Yiddish after the jump.
Di troyerike hokhtsayt

Der tempel var balaykhtet in a kalte vinter nakht,
Di klangen fun der muzik hobn shalend ufgevakht.
Fil tsendlike karetn varn raykhnvayz geshpant;
Di hokhtsayt hot geshaynt tsu zayn fun rakhtsn faynstn shtand.
Gekleydt in samet un in zayd, dershaynt dos libend par
Bagleyt fun fraynd, batretn zey dem heylikn altar.
Gegilte khipe shtangen shteyen greyt der tseremoni,
Muzik shpilt, un hertser fil, zey klapn taktfol tsi.

Nor tsvishn ale geste mit a beybi af der hant,
Kumt a yunge bleykhe muter, ales fremd un umbakant.
Dokh zi kumt un shtert di simkhe, kumt un vekt a troyer of.
Freylekh var der onfang hokhtsayt, troyerik ober var der sof!

"Oh, lozt mikh, gute mentshn!" bet zi - "lozt mikh vayter geyn
Dem gliklikhn farlibtn khosn, vintsh ikh zeyer tsu zen.
Yo, mir hot a farlibter oykh geshvorn eybik glik
Geshvorn un mikh dokh farlozt, dos var dray yor tsurik!"
Plutsling hot di froy derzen dem khosn's fray gezikht
Un vi der bal mesader hot genumen ton zayn pflikht
"Halt!" - hot zikh derhert ir shtime - "nit bageyt keyn zind!
"Ikh bin dizn herrn's froy - un dizes iz zayn kind!"

Iberrasht fun shrek un shtoynen blaybt a yeder af zayn ort
Keyner vagt keyn vort tsu redn, nor di hertser klapn fort.
Plutsling falt di bride khaloshes, falt un vakht zi nit mer of!
Freylekh var der onfang hokhtsayt, troyerik ober var der sof!

Bald hot men dem korbn funem tempel aheym gebrakht.
Troyerik iz foriber yene viste shrekens nakht.
Rakhe nemen shvert der foter far zayn tokhters toyt;
Der khosn ober hot dem toyt zayn lebn zelbst fartroyt.
Bald gegrobn hot a greber frishe kvorim tsvey,
Shpogl naye tsvey karetn, tsugegreyt far zey.
Bald lozt zikh di muzik hern, mit ir merder khor,
Tsum eybik finstern getselt bagleytet men dos por!

Un di elende almone mit ir eyn un eyntsik kind
Zaynen af dos nay geblibn vi di bleter afn vind
Oft bazukht zi yene kvorim, brengt oykh blumenkrents arof,
Freylekh var der onfang hokhtsayt, troyerik ober var der sof!

The Sad Wedding

The temple was lit up on a cold winter night.
The sound of the music woke, ringing.
Dozens of carriages were richly harnessed.
The wedding appeared to be of richest, highest society.
Dressed in velvet and silk, the loving couple appears.
Accompanied by friends, they approach the holy altar.
Gilded khupa poles, the ceremony is ready,
Music plays and full hearts beat in time.

But among the guests, with a baby in her arms,
A pale young mother is coming, a stranger, known to nobody.
She comes and stops the celebration, she comes and awakens a sorrow,
The beginning of the wedding was joyful but by the end it was sad.

"Oh, let me through, good people," she begs,
"I really want to see the happy, loving bridegroom.
Yes, I had a beloved, he swore eternal happiness to me too,
He made the vow and then abandoned me three years ago."
Suddenly the woman caught sight of the bridegroom's cheerful face,
And as the rabbi began to do his duty...
"Stop!" her voice was heard - "don't commit a sin!
I am this man's wife - and this is his child!"

Astounded, astonished, in terror, everyone was still.
Nobody dared to say a word, but the hearts were beating hard.
Suddenly the bride fell in a faint, she fell and never woke again!
The beginning of the wedding was joyful but by the end it was sad.

Soon the victim was brought home from the temple.
That dismal, terrible night passed sadly.
The father swore vengeance for his daughter's death
But the bridegroom took his own life.
A gravedigger soon dug two fresh graves,
Two brand new carriages prepared for them.
Soon the music was heard, the murder-choir,
The couple was escorted to their dark eternal abode!

And the desolate widow and her only child
Were once again left like leaves in the wind.
She often seeks out those graves and brings garlands of flowers.
The beginning of the wedding was joyful but by the end it was sad.

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