Klezmer Music: As Resilient as the People who Make It

SusanWritesPrecise By SusanWritesPrecise, 14th Oct 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/25v-_ac5/
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Music>Genres

This is an essay illustrating the effect of the Holocaust on Klezmer Music, and how it survived and reinvented itself.

Klezmer Music Defined

“The inner history of a people is contained in its songs”—Rabbi Adolf Jellinek.

As a defining characteristic of the Jewish culture, klezmer music can be described as a fusion of blues, jazz, polka and ancient liturgical chants. The Yiddish street musicians or klezmorim--supremely adept at their craft--duplicated the human voice as if by magic: “…schizophrenic dulcimers, wailing and laughing violins, and the mournful soul of a clarinet…” (Beres, 2008). Rich in history and distinct in its ability to evoke a plethora of emotion, the unique sound and spirit of klezmer music is as diverse and adaptable as ever—despite its near annihilation.

Innovative Anthropomorphism

Klezmer music is distinctive in that the melodies replicate the human voice and encompass its scope of expression: pleading, praying, sighing, laughing, and crying. The anthropomorphic quality of klezmer is certainly no accident—a conscious effort is made to imitate the range and sound of Cantorial music. The klezmorim accomplish this not only through technique, but by their selection of musical instruments. It is the violin and the clarinet that can weep, plead and actually laugh. These expressions of emotion give klezmer music its unique sound.

Hitler v. the Klezmorim

Having to live under perpetually changing and enigmatic restrictions in Europe placed limitations on the klezmorim, such as to when and where they were allowed to practice their craft. Restrictions were even made on which instruments a Jew could play, and how loud he could play them. Eventually, during WWII under Hitler’s reign of insanity and horror, klezmer music was again banned— not out of mourning as in 70 AD, but due to Hitler’s hatred and disgust of all things Jewish. And then, sadly, as the klezmorim were sent to their deaths along with millions of other victims in Nazi concentration camps, the music they made died with them. Klezmer is an auditory tradition, like most folk music. In other words, the art was handed down verbally.

Klezmer Lives!

What saved the klezmer sound was the handful of Holocaust survivors who, with the help of musicologists, were able to give the genre a new lease on life.

Today, popular klezmer bands include The Klezmatics, The Flying Karamazov Brothers, and Klezmorim. As well, bluegrass (Margot Leverett and the Bluegrass Mountain Boys), jazz, rock & roll, and even “ethnic” genres such as Celtic and Indian folk styles (Pharoah’s Daughters) have infiltrated and fused with the new klezmer sound.


Holocaust, Jewish History, Judaism, Klezmatics, Klezmer Music, Rabbi Adolf Jellinek

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author avatar SusanWritesPrecise
I am a freelance writer who lives in Ellington, CT. Specialties include web content, Academic research & writing, travel guides, and articles.

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author avatar Jack Goblin
14th Oct 2013 (#)

VERY interesting! Thank you!

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author avatar SusanWritesPrecise
14th Oct 2013 (#)

Thank you for stopping by. So glad you enjoyed!

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
15th Oct 2013 (#)

I wouldn't say I knew this music if I heard it, probably would call it Jazz or Blues or a variation, but you've taught me something today. Thanks!

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author avatar SusanWritesPrecise
17th Oct 2013 (#)

Thank you, Phyl. I am glad you got something out of the article Here's a link to a sample!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrjpaoT6bfw&list=ALBTKoXRg38BB9ICAIa8JiHC6rtMc--Wzh

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