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Pete Rushefsky is a tsimblist and 5-string banjoist living in Buffalo, NY. His upcoming CD with Elie Rosenblatt is entitled "Tsimbl un Fidl: Klezmer Music for Hammered Dulcimer & Violin." He also performs with Boston-based vocalist Rebecca Kaplan. He has authored The Essentials of Klezmer 5-String Banjo, Volume I and can be heard on the CD "Git Azoi--It's Good This Way" with Rochester, NY's 12 Corners Klezmer Band. E-mail Pete Rushefsky.
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Format: softcover, 186pp.
Well it took over eighty years, but finally, thanks to the work of Josh Horowitz and Tara Publications, Wolff Kostakowsky's book International Hebrew Wedding Music is back in the shelves at your local music store. I'm sure the new title, "The Ultimate Klezmer" was coined by Tara rather than the musicologically oriented Horowitz, but this book just about lives up to its billing.
The original Kostakowsky collection was published in 1917 in New York, and is a tremendous source of information on the repertoire of klezmorim between the wars. Over two-hundred and fifty tunes are presented, typologically organized.
Numerous examples appear from what Zev Feldman has termed the Jewish "core repertoire:" freilachs, shers and a couple specimens of the beautiful "Good Morning," or Dobriden pieces. Today's klezmorim will recognize many of these from other books, reissues of historic recordings and revival band CDs. Often Kostakowsky's version will offer a twist on the familiar version--a keen reminder that just because Brandwein or Kandel played a piece a particular way does not mean that their performance should be considered "standard."
The collection's scope also points to the versatility of early-20th century klezmorim, who could be called upon to perform Ukranian Kolomeykas, Hungarian Csardases, Polish Obereks, Italian Tarantellas and, of course, music of the Zionist movement.
However, I find the most interesting aspect of the collection to be how it represents a snapshot of a transitional stage in klezmer as the music was taking root in the new world. Only a few tunes are designated as old-world khosidls, while Romanian pieces more recently appropriated by Jewish musicians-- Horas and Sirbas-- are given large amounts of print. The jewel of the collection is the tremendous sample of early Bulgars, captured as they were rising to dominate new world Ashkenazic dance music, but prior to Dave Tarras's indelible imprint on the form.
Horowitz has included a helpful discography to point the reader to recordings of many of the tunes notated in the book. This is especially useful because Kostakowsky mainly offers stripped-down versions of the melodies, with only occasional notation of typical ornaments. In another value-added step that accompanists will appreciate, Horowitz offers his guidance on chordings for each piece. Unfortunately, the original's fiddle fingerings have been dropped.
I would have appreciated a longer introduction to help the reader place the significance of the collection in the time it was compiled, but Feldman's article on the Bulgar1 can be used as an excellent companion resource. A spiral binding would have been helpful to those of us who are less fleet with pages than tsimbl hammers.
This volume is for C instruments, so clarinetists will have to transpose. A B-flat version of the original manuscript is known, but there are currently no plans to reprint it.
All in all, this is as close to an "Ultimate" compilation of klezmer tunes as exists commercially, though musicians seeking the original compositions of Tarras and Max Epstein, or Yiddish vocal repertoire will have to look elsewhere. A must for any aspiring klezmer musician or klezmologist.
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Contents copyright © 2001 by Pete Rushefsky. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Page last revised 11 June, 2007.