TUNE OF THE MONTH: Bardichiver Nigun

September's tune will bring back memories of the early days of KlezKamp for those who were there.  The long-running Yiddish Folk Arts program, which began in 1985 as a project of the YIVO institute in New York, was the first event to bring together, annually, those who were passionate about Yiddish culture.  I first attended in 1987, knowing almost nothing except how much I wanted to learn.  


In those early years, participants had the good fortune to hear and learn from the few remaining old masters of klezmer, Yiddish song and Yiddish theater, and first among those treasured elders was Sid Beckerman.  The son of Shloimke Beckerman, a clarinet player who had recorded a number of 78 rpm discs for Emerson in the early 1920s, Sid was an incredibly sweet man who had lips of steel; especially in those early years, he would sometimes play for well over an hour without pause.


When I walked into the tantszal  (ballroom) for the dance party on that very first Sunday night, I was blown away by the music.  It was endless, it was exciting, and I knew I had found my place in the universe.  One of the tunes that was being played that evening, among the first I heard and frequently repeated throughout the week, was a simple, two-part tune that seemed to hold within its 32 bars everything I already loved about the music.  Here is a recording that I made that night using a portable cassette recorder.

I never learned the name of the tune or where it had come from; unlike many of the other freylekhs and bulgars I heard and played that week and in subsequent years, no one ever provided an original source recording.  As far as I knew, it was just one of the tunes in Sid's repertoire.


Last week I was doing some systematic listening to the digital transfers of recordings in my collection, and imagine my delight when I came upon a soundfile of this very tune!  It was Victor 25-5030, recorded in 1940 by Abe Ellstein's orchestra with Dave Tarras, and it was called "Bardichiver Nigun."  The recording is interesting for a number of reasons.  First, Tarras begins playing the first A section in the low register, something which, I can say from my own experience, is much more challenging to do expressively than playing in the usual clarinet register two octaves above.  The second time through the tune, the trumpet, which has been almost a commentator on the melody,  takes the lead for the second time through the A section.

It is, however, the melody itself which is most interesting.  While both versions are clearly playing the same basic tune, they differ in some significant ways.  


In the first half of the A section, the Beckerman version, notated in black, ends the first phrase at the third tone of the mode, while the Tarras version, in blue, stays at the tonic.

This pattern is repeated in the second phrase, in which the two versions end on the fifth and the third, respectively:

The second half of the section diverges more dramatically, with the Beckerman version (top staff) continuing for an additional two bars:

The B section exhibits similar disparity.   In the Beckerman version, the first phrase is two bars long, with the second two bars representing a kind of elaboration upward, while the Tarras version again stays rooted firmly below, with the second phrase essentially restating the first:

And in the second half of the section, the lengths again do not match up, though in this case it is the Tarras version which extends the phrase, by repeating the cadence used at the end of the A section.  This variation also involves a significant change in the harmony, with the Beckerman version going to the Fm cadence chord in the penultimate measure of the tune, while Tarras moves to Fm at the beginning of this section of the melody.

While I'm very happy to have heard the Tarras version of this tune and thrilled finally to know what it is called, the Beckerman version, heard at so many KlezKamps, is the one that I will always think of as the "original."  I have, however, provided charts for both versions, along with the sound files, in the Resources section.

TUNE OF THE MONTH: Taniec Rabina/Der Chosid Tantzt/Flaskadriga/Dem Rebens Tanz

This series begins with what I consider one of the most interesting tunes in the klezmer repertoire.  The earliest recording of it that I have heard is “Taniec Rabina” (Rabbi’s Dance) by the Belf Orchestra, recorded in Roumenia in 1912.  

In this iteration it is a simple, two section tune in which the second section is essentially the first section raised up a third:

The Belf performance is of particular note because they take this very simple tune and play it entirely over the root chord – in the version notated here, that would be D major.  There is no cadence chord, which is extremely unusual.  Instead, the piano player employs a huge vocabulary of rhythmic variation to keep things interesting.  The net effect is to conjure up the hypnotic, almost mystical image of a Chassidic rebbe dancing.

In 1920. Lt. Joseph Frankel recorded an intriguing version of this tune on Emerson under the title, "Der Chosid Tantzt part 1."  Unlike the main body of his commercial recordings, which feature a large band, both sides of this disc feature Frankel himself on clarinet and an unknown accordion player.  In Frankel's version, the A and B sections are virtually identical to those of "Taniec Rabina," with a few small rhythmic variations.  The accordionist does change chords, but his choices appear to be a bit random, as was often the case during these early years of recording. Then there is an added C section:

chosid tantzt C.png

Alert readers will perhaps recognize this melody.  The first four bars are virtually identical to the first four bars of the C section of another Belf tune, "Nakhes fun Kinder,"  

while the last four bars are absolutely identical to the end of the C section of a tune Frankel had recorded with his band the previous year, "Dem Rebin's Nigun, Oj Tate."

While it might seem that this is a random mish-mosh that proves the claim that all klezmer tunes sound alike, the connections among these melodic segments are actually strong.  The rhythmic change in the first four bars alters the Belf melody to reflect the thematic rhythm pattern of the A and B sections, the recurring four sixteenths followed by an eight note.  The part of the melody borrowed from "Oj Tate" shares that same recurring pattern.  The net result is a cohesive, organic tune.

In 1921, Harry Kandel recorded another version of this melody for the Victor label under the title “Flaskadriga”.  In this rendition the A and B sections are identical to the previous two versions, and like the Frankel, there is an added C section:

After the shout chorus, which is deceptive in that unlike the usual shout chorus, it neither establishes a new tonal center for the time (Gm would be what you might expect, based on the first four bars of the section) nor modulates into a new mode (F major, as indicated by the second four bars).  Instead, the shout chorus is just an interesting interlude that snaps immediately back to the starting tonality, while the melody itself echoes the very distinctive rhythmic figures of the first two sections of the tune.

The last iteration of this tune, "Dem Reben's Tanz," was recorded by Art Shryer in 1929. This recording is particularly interesting because of the spoken introduction, which sets the stage for the joyous spectacle of the Rebbe dancing.  In addition, every time it comes around, the A section includes a large chorus of voices singing the tune in the style of a Chassidic nign, which references the title in a much more literal way than the hypnotic playing of the Belf orchestra.

 The first half of the A section is identical to that of the previous three versions, but then, although it maintains the same rhythmic figure, the tune goes off in a completely different direction: 

 The next section of the tune, while evolving organically from the A section, bears much less resemblance to the original.  The only hint is a rhythmic echo in the sixth measure:

The C section returns to the rhythmic figures of the A section (and of the original tune) but resolves into very new territory:

 The final section of “Dem Rebens Tanz” slows the rhythm to eighth notes but builds dramatically to a fitting resolution:

Lead sheets for these four tunes can be found here:

Taniec Rabina

Der Chosid Tantzt pt 1


Dem Rebens Tants

They are also accessible from the Resources section of this web site, as are downloadable versions of the complete audio for each.

Barukh Habo (Welcome)!

Welcome to the new Klezmer Academy blog. This will be a place for sharing information, opinions and experiences about all aspects of klezmer music. I hope that in addition to being a platform for me to express my views and knowledge, it can also serve as a forum for discussion among other performers, educators and interested audience members.

One very special feature of the blog will be “Tune of the Month” posts. On the 15th of each month, I’ll publish a post about a tune I find particularly interesting. These might be unusual, rarely heard tunes from the Mayrent Collection, tunes that have been recorded by several groups in various geographic locations or at different time periods, or tunes with interesting modal, harmonic or structural elements. Each such post will include sound files of the recording(s) being discussed as well as a downloadable chart of the basic tune.

I am very interested in including reviews of recordings as well as descriptions/discussions of projects involving klezmer. If anyone would like to send me recordings to consider or would like to share information about current activities that might be of interest, please contact me at sherry@klezmeracademy.com. I would also welcome suggestions for guest posts by my colleagues.

Klezmer is the richest, most complex musical world that I know, and I look forward to exploring it in the months to come.