Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Friday, December 31, 2021

Der liarman - Isaac Reingold's Yiddish version of Schubert's Der Leiermann

It's a good day for endings.


Franz Schubert was born in 1797 and died in 1828. Winterreise (Winter's Journey) is a series of songs he wrote to texts by Wilhelm Müller. He knew he was dying, of syphilis; he was correcting the page proofs days before he died at the age of 31. He invited a friend: "Come to Schober's today and I will play you a cycle of terrifying songs; they have affected me more than has ever been the case with any other songs."


Isaac Reingold, who wrote so many of the funny and touching Yiddish lyrics featured on this blog (put his name in the search box to find them all), was, at the age of 30, himself dying, of tuberculosis and alcoholism, when he wrote his version of Schubert's song about a hurdy gurdy man, a beggar, who plays in the street, ignored or mocked by passers by. This is the only penny song which was written to a classical melody. At the end, when the narrator asks the street musician: "Will you play my songs on your hurdy gurdy?" surely Reingold was asking if his work would endure after his death.


I saved this song for the end of the Lider magazin project, or rather, the trauma of getting it done was terminal! I began, optimistically, a full year ago, securing someone's promise to sing it (as I knew it was no song for me). Hurdy gurdy player Tania Opland sent me her tracks in January. Then the project languished, to my increasing despondency, through winter and spring and summer and fall until finally my dear friend and singing companion Randy Kloko saved it by driving up from Florida earlier this month to record the vocals.


So, my eternal thanks to Randy for being part of this adventure, and thanks to Tania for waiting patiently (in the mean time she got so enthused about the song she did her own double-hurdy-gurdy version, in English). And thanks to Jack Herrick who put in hours with me mixing the song as the holiday season approached and I'm sure he had lots of better things to do.


Thanks to Vivi Lachs, who sent me the 20-some issues of Lider magazin which I've been working on for the last few years.


And thanks to those of you who have taken the time to let me know these songs have moved you in some way. 

Here's our living room recording.

Transliteration and translation after the jump. 

Der layerman
farfast fun Yitskhok Reingold
To sing with Schubert's melody from "Leirmann"

Teglekh af der shtrase zitst eyn layerman
Un farbay der mase shpilt er vos er ken
Dreyt un dreyt di korbe, shpilt un shpilt alts mer
Dokh di betler torbe blaybt im imer ler

Keyner vil im hern, keyner vil im zen
Un di milionern zaynen tsu gemeyn
Frayndlekh grist im keyner, a betler hot keyn verth
Im kenen nor di shteyner un der shtoyb fun d'rerd!

s'lakhn fun im kinder makhn im tsum shpas
Dokh frayndlekh iz der blinder, trogt keynmol keyn has
Un zo shpilt er imer, teglekh af der strit
Un baklogt zikh nimer af zayn shver gemit

Liber guter alter, loz mikh geyn mit dir
Vilstu mayne lider shpiln af dayn lir?

Every day a hurdygurdy man sits on the street
The masses pass by, he plays as best he can
He turns and turns the crank, he plays and plays, on and on,
But of course, his beggar's bindle always remains empty

Nobody wants to listen, nobody wants to see him,
And the millionaires are too vulgar
Nobody gives a friendly greeting; a beggar is worthless.
Only the stones know him, and the dust of the earth.

Children laugh at him and mock him
But the blind man is friendly, he hates nobody
And so he always plays, every day, on the street
And never complains of his dejection

Dear good old man, let me go with you.
Will you play my songs on your hurdy-gurdy?


For sheet music and/or performances contact me:


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