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Obituary to Itzik Shvarts, 1906 - 2001, z"l, by Bob Cohen

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[Note: This article was posted on Virtual Ashkenaz (now closed) by Bob Cohen. It is html-ized and made available here by permission. ari]

Ashkenaz.19.22: Bob Cohen (zaelic) Tue, 10 Feb 1998 (152 lines)

Here is the article written in 1972 by Itsik Svarts (pen name Andre Kara), the Yiddish historian and former director of the Iasi Yiddish theater (1948-1966), who was born in Podu Iloiei (Podoloy) in 1905 and is still living and writing in Iasi. An amazing man, full of energy and yiddishkeit, who has been publishing in Yiddish and other languages since 1931. He was a personal friend of Itsik Manger's in Chernowitz, and also knew Beregovski. The article appeared in the Timisoara Jewish cultural Journal "Revista Cultului Mozaic" in 1972. My translation from the Romanian is rather inelegant, but hey, better than nothing. I can't type in Romanian letters, like "t" or "s" with little snakes hanging beneath them ("ts" or "sh") so I will inelegantly transcribe them as 'ts' or 'sh'. I will leave Iasi and some place names as such, since "Iashi" looks weird. Complain to the Romanian Academy if you want. My notes are in [*], brackets.

Jewish Musicians in Moldavia
By Itsik Shvarts

It cannot be said that memories of Jewish "Lautauri" [*professional folk musician, although usually refers to gypsies*] from Moldavia were ignored by historians. Some of the information is of a memorial character, such as that written by I. Psantir, or it is literary, as in the evocative celebration of the Jewish musician Lemesh, written in romanian by C. Stere.

They all had a remarkable role in the difficult life remembered by lautauri. At weddings, engagements, family parties, at Purim, and at festivals they delighted or moved the listeners, awakening in them trust for life and the future. The Prince of Ligne, who visited Moldavia in 1788, noted in his journal (at Iasi, dated Dec. 1) that the Jews from Iasi were musicians, merchants, and middlemen.

The earliest mention of a Jewish "Lautar" is dated 1744, when there is a "tax exemption" for "Solomon, Jewish cimbalist from Iasi" (N. Iorga, Studies and Docs. Vol IV. vol 2, page 251). Somewhat later, in 1816, "two rows of Jewish musicians" played in the court of the Boyars on the occaision of St. George's Day, as well as German musicians and two local bands.

The information from Iasi shows that there was a guild of Jewish musicians by 1819. The guild was 'renewed' in 1830 and 1854, and had its own Synagogue on Strada Pantelimon.

The population censuses done in the first half of the last century provide numerous mentions of Jewish musicians. We learn, for example, of a "Iosap, the musician" from Herta in 1820. In Iasi there was noted, in 1832, a "Shmil Lautar" and "Avram the cimbalist" as well as four musicians mentioned living in Botosani. At this point we should remember N. Filimon, who considered the cimbalom to have been introduced into the world of Romanian music by the intermediary of Jewish musicians.

Two Scottish missionaries who visited Moldavia in 1838 described a Jewish wedding where Jewish musicians played on violin, viola, cobza [* a Romanian fretless lute - looks like an oud that shrunk in the wash*] tambourine, and on a 'harp' of curious form, played with two sticks. This is, of course, the cimbalom.

The names of Jewish musicians listed in the 1845 census is already quite large. We learn that in Botosani there were four fiddlers, four clarinetists, four bassists, and three 'badchunim', of whom the oldest was "Shaia ben Boroch". In that year there were eight Jewish musicians in Falticeni, all fiddlers. In the valley we hear of one or two fiddlers or cimbalists who were Jewish.

In those towns where there was no Guild of Jewish musicians, these musicians were paid by a patron, as in Focsani in 1844.

The life of a Jewish musician was quite hard. When they could not manage to earn their living in the smaller towns they would leave for the city. Travel papers, kept in the archive of the Iasi Jewish Community, were issued for "Iosip ben Wolf the musician; who wishes to travel the countryside of Moldavia in a hired coach for three months to perform his trade." This was a long and difficult tour, considering he didn't hacve his own transport. This entry also notes that this musician was short in stature, was thirty eight years old, and wore traditional Jewish costume.

We also know of a cimbalist who took the advantage of becoming a merchant. An entry in the Iasi Jewish Community dated July 11, 1854, gives the name of this rare example: "Zelig Tsambalaru."

Alongside the important role of Jewish musicians in cultivating Jewish musical folklore, we should also remember their role in spreading Romanian song, as in the example of the Lemesh family.

Often the membership of the bands were mixed: Romanians, Jews, and Gypsies who played weddings and parties and suchlike in their localities.

We have found, in the Iasi Jewish Community archives, a receipt addressed to "Maria, wife of Georghe Paun" to accept ten 'galbeni' in money from "Leah, wife of Mendel", that is, 370 lei sent by Mendel from Istanbul. The money was sent through the oldest of the Jewish Musician's Guilds, and the reciept is dated May 9, 1856. From this archive source we can learn of the comradeship between "David the fiddler, Ilie Trimbacierul, and Itsik the clarinetist" alongside "Iordach, Stoian, and Ion Pui" among others, that they pledged on June 12, 1857 "that we will all share in our earnings... and we will all pay from our earnings to repair any damage to our instruments." [see notes below for my comments - Bob.]

In 1864 another Scot noted the names of Iasi Musicians: "Fishel, Simon Grinberg, Meier Kaufman, Leibn Grinberg, Itsik ben Ghedale, Moishe ben Iancu, Iosif David Volftal, Herscu."

This, to be sure, is not a complete list of all the Jewish musicians who played in Moldavia, only of those who turned up in the census counts. We still need to know about other musicians, for example, those who played in Goldfaden's theater orchestra. We also remember the Bughici family: Avram, Moishe, Pavel, Iosef, and Iancu, who left a musical notebook.

[The end. As for the Bughici family, there was also Gheoghe Bughici, who played until the 1970s, another Bughici in Bessarabia who wrote some book about klezmer, and Dimitru Bughici, who moved to Israel about four years ago - he was a famous piano teacher who moved to Bucharest and who liked jazz much more than klezer, to be sure. As for the notebook they left, Itsik and I have searched his library-cum-apartment for it several times but cannot find it. Itsik, however, did have Izu Gott, the Jewish accordionist, play the notebook into a cassette tape in 1975, sight reading as he went. It sounds clunky, but the music is there. About forty tunes including dances, doinas, theater tunes, and the ever popular "Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer, Do". Itsik bought the notebok in 1948 to use for the Iasi theater. He also lent it to gypsy bands who played for Jewish weddings in the 1950s.

[Other Iasi klezmer families included the Weiss family, who switched from klezmer to being a family of doctors whose present family members in Iasi are all classical musicans, and the Siegal family, one of whom, Gheorghe Siegal, became the big Romanian TV star Gheorghe Sava with a convenient name change.

[I have seen the reciept from Istanbul in 1856 - it lives in a cardboard box of papers underneath Itsik's bed in Iasi. As for the mention of a musician named Paun, I know a Vassile Paun, a gypsy musician from the village of Redoia, near Bacau, who is a fiddler and one of the last competant players of the cobza. As for the elusive Lemesh family, I know of a Lemesh who was a fiddler who played in Goldfaden's orchestra in Iasi, and there is some recent news that members of the Lemesh family moved to Philadelphia. There are no Lemeshes left in Iasi, however.

[Of course there is all kinds of bibliographical info in here that I haven't traced, but I hope to get around to it someday. Until then, I think this article is a fascinating little view of old time Moldavian klemzer life. I didn't expect there to be so many clarinetists before 1860, for example. And there is much for modern klezmer musicians to learn here: about contract riders, for example "We will all share in our earning... and pay for damage to our instruments..." Or maybe take the example of Zelig Tsambalaru and just go get an honest job!]

Translation by Bob Cohen

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