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The ‘Yidishe Paganini’: Sholem Aleichem's Stempenyu, the Music of Yiddish Theatre and the Character of the Shtetl Fiddler

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020


This article explores the music of Yiddish theatre in early twentieth-century New York by considering multiple adaptations of Russian Jewish author Sholem Aleichem's 1888 novel Stempenyu, about a klezmer violinist, which was transformed into two theatrical productions in 1907 and 1929, and finally inspired a three-movement recital work for accompanied violin by Joseph Achron. The multiple versions of Stempenyu present the eponymous musician as an allegory for the ambivalent role of the shtetl – the predominantly Jewish small town of Eastern Europe – in defining diasporic Jewish life in Europe and America, and as a medium for the sonic representation of shtetl culture as it was reformulated in the memories of the first generations of Jewish immigrants. The variations in the evocations of Eastern European klezmer in these renderings of Stempenyu indicate complex changes in the ways Jewish immigrants and their children conceived of their connection to Eastern Europe over four decades. The paper concludes by viewing changes in the symbolic character type of the shtetl fiddler in its most famous and recent manifestation, in the stage and screen musical Fiddler on the Roof.

Research Article
Copyright © 2014 The Royal Musical Association

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1 ‘Fidl, farshteystu mikh, iz aza keyle, vos iz elter fun ale keylim. Der ershter fidler af der velt iz geven Tubal-Keyn, tsu Metusela, ikh gedenk shoyn nisht akurat …. Der anderer fidler iz geven Dovid-Hameylekh, nokh eyner a driter iz geven, Paganini hot er geheysn, oykh a yid: ale beste fidler af der velt zaynen geven yidn, lemoshl, Stempeny …. Paganini, zogt men, hot farkoyft dem Ashmeday di neshome farn fidl. Paganini hot faynt gehat shpiln far groyse mentshn, malkhutim un poybsten, khotsh me flegt im opgildn. Er hot beser lib gehat shpiln far oremelayt in ale shenklekh, in ale derfer, oder gor in di velder far khayes un oyfes. Ot vos far a fidler Paganini iz geven.’ Ashmeday, the Yiddish name for Ashmodeus, is the king of the demons in Jewish lore. Sholem Aleichem, Afn fidl (Moscow, 1936), 16–17. All translations from Yiddish are the author's own, unless otherwise stated.

2 For definitions of the term shtetl, see Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, ‘Introduction’, Mark Zborowski and Elizabeth Herzog, Life is with People (New York, 1995), ix–xlvii, and John D. Klier, ‘What Exactly Was a Shtetl?’, The Shtetl: Image and Reality: Papers of the Second Mendel Friedman International Conference on Yiddish, ed. Gennady Estraikh and Mikhail Krutikov (Oxford, 2000), 23–35.

3 Rita Ottens and Joel Rubin, Klezmer-Musik (Kassel, 1999), 174–5. While Sholem Aleichem's character asserts boastfully that Paganini was Jewish like him, some nineteenth-century writers reported the same falsity from an anti-Semitic perspective, on the basis of his physical appearance and supposed collaboration with the Devil. Maiko Kawabata, ‘Virtuosity, the Violin, the Devil … What Really Made Paganini “Demonic”?’, Current Musicology, 83 (spring 2007), 85–108 (p. 89).

4 For a history and definition of the term klezmer, see Joel Rubin, ‘The Art of the Klezmer: Improvisation and Ornamentation in the Commercial Recordings of New York Clarinettists Naftule Brandwein and Dave Tarras, 1922–1929’ (Ph.D. dissertation, City University, London, 2001), 20–5.

5 Mark Slobin, Tenement Songs: The Popular Music of the Jewish Immigrants (Urbana, IL, 1996), 16. See also Robert A. Rothstein, ‘Klezmer-loshn: The Language of Jewish Folk Musicians’, American Klezmer: Its Roots and Offshoots, ed. Mark Slobin (Berkeley, CA, 2002), 24–34.

6 For a history of the widely held association between Jews and the violin, see David Schoenbaum, ‘Fiddlers on the Roof: Some Thoughts on a Special Relationship’, Liberalism, Anti-Semitism, and Democracy: Essays in Honour of Peter Pulzer, ed. Jonathan Wright and Henning Tewes (Oxford, 2001), 273–87. On the representation of Jewish violinists in literature, see David Schoenbaum, The Violin: A Social History of the World's Most Versatile Instrument (New York, 2013), 565–71.

7 James Loeffler, ‘A gilgul fun a nigun: Jewish Musicians in New York, 1881–1945’ (BA thesis, Harvard College, 1996), 10.

8 Alexander Mukdoni, ‘Sholom Aleichem as a Dramatic Writer’, Melech Grafstein's Sholom Aleichem Panorama, ed. Melech Grafstein (London, ON, 1948), 222–5 (p. 224). Mukdoni misidentifies Friedsel as ‘Freidel’.

9 Dan Miron, ‘The Literary Image of the Shtetl’, Jewish Social Studies, 1/3 (spring 1995), 1–43 (p. 4). See also David Roskies, The Jewish Search for a Usable Past (Bloomington, IN, 1999), 46; and The Shtetl, ed. Estraikh and Krutikov.

10 Jeffrey Veidlinger, Jewish Public Culture in the Late Russian Empire (Bloomington, IN, 2009), xv–xvi.

11 Anita Norich examines these three novels and the progression of Sholem Aleichem's characterization of the artist genius in her ‘Portraits of the Artist in Sholem Aleichem’, Prooftexts, 4 (1984), 237–51.

12 Jacob Weitzner, Sholem Aleichem in the Theater (Madison, NJ, 1994), 15.

13 ‘Di levone mit di shtern, di veykhe, frishe luft, di gantse natur mit ale ire bashefenishn hobn vi oyfgevakht fun zeyer drimlen, zikh oyfgeshtelt oyf a regele, bikhdey tsu hern, vos iz dos far a min gezang im halbe nakht.’ Sholem Aleichem, Stempenyu, in Ale verk fun Sholom-Aleykhem, 28 vols. (New York, 1917–23), xi (1918), 123–254 (p. 218).

14 ‘Dos harts verd fol […] un es shteln zikh trern in di oygn. Yidn ziftsn, Yidn krekhtsn, Yidn veynen.’ Sholem Aleichem, Stempenyu, 129. This romantic manner of describing the klezmer violinist's playing and its effect on listeners became a common trope in a variety of genres. In Yekhezkel Kotik's 1912 memoirs about life in a late nineteenth-century shtetl, for example, the author, who was heavily influenced by Sholem Aleichem, describes the violinist Shepsl: ‘Shepsl couldn't read a single note, but when he played his instrument entire audiences dissolved into tears. The sweetness of his music was simply indescribable.’ Journey to a Nineteenth-Century Shtetl: The Memoirs of Yekhezkel Kotik, ed. David Assaf (Detroit, MI, 2002), 131. The performances of Achron's father, a cantor and klezmer violinist, were described in a similar manner in an article published after his death: ‘When he let himself go on his fiddle, the whole town held its breath; when the fiddle rejoiced, they did, and when it wept, they wept with it too.’ Philip Moddel, Joseph Achron (Tel Aviv, 1966), 9.

15 For a history of this mythology, see Kawabata, ‘Virtuosity, the Violin, the Devil’. Paganini's talent was thought also to have relegated him to a life of emotional alienation that contributed to the subjective quality of his performances; his broad reputation was therefore built not only on his public performances, but on a rich mythology about his private life as well. See Jim Samson, Virtuosity and the Musical Work: The Transcendental Studies of Liszt (Cambridge, 2003), 76. Jed Wyrick argues that Stempenyu's character operates in the manner of a classical satyr; according to Wyrick, his role in the novel reflects Friedrich Nietzsche's description of the satyr as ‘man's true prototype, an expression of his highest and strongest aspirations […] a symbol of the sexual omnipotence of nature’ (‘Yiddish Canon Consciousness and the Dionysiac Spirit of Music’, Arguing the Modern Jewish Canon: Essays on Literature and Culture in Honor of Ruth R. Wisse, ed. Justin Cammy, Dara Horn, Alyssa Quint and Rachel Rubinstein (Cambridge, MA, 2008), 467–85 (p. 477)).

16 ‘Er flegt a khap ton dos fidele un a fir ton mitn smik … nisht mer, flegt dos shoyn onhoybn bay im tsu redn. Ober vi azoy, meynt ir, redn? Take mit verter, mit a tzing, vi, lehavdl, a lebediger mentsh. Redn, taynen, zingn mit a geveyn, afn Yidishn shteygn, mit a gevaldernish, mit ayn oysgeshray funem tifn hartsn, fun der neshome.’ Sholem Aleichem, Stempenyu, 129.

17 For a discussion of Sholem Aleichem's associations of Stempenyu's playing with the religious sermon, see Wyrick, ‘Yiddish Canon Consciousness’, 478.

18 Ken Frieden, Classic Yiddish Fiction: Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, and Peretz (Albany, NY, 1995), 147.

19 Joel Berkowitz, ‘Writing the History of the Yiddish Theatre’, Yiddish Theatre: New Approaches, ed. Berkowitz (Oxford, 2003), 1–25 (p. 2).

20 Joel Berkowitz, ‘Writing the History of the Yiddish Theatre’, Yiddish Theatre: New Approaches, ed. Berkowitz (Oxford, 2003), 2–3.

21 The history of the Yiddish theatre can be found in Nahma Sandrow, Vagabond Stars: A World History of Yiddish Theater (New York, 1977; repr. New York, 1986, and Syracuse, NY, 1996), and Landmark Yiddish Plays: A Critical Anthology, ed. and trans. Joel Berkowitz and Jeremy Dauber (Albany, NY, 2006), 1–71.

22 Nina Warnke, ‘Going East: The Impact of the American Yiddish Plays and Players on the Yiddish Stage in Tsarist Russia, 1890–1914’, American Jewish History, 92 (2004), 1–29 (pp. 1–5). On the 1883 ban and its impact on Yiddish theatre, see Barbara Henry, ‘Jewish Plays on the Russian Stage: St. Petersburg 1905–1917’, and John D. Klier, ‘“Exit, Pursued by a Bear”: Russian Administrators and the Ban on Theatre in Imperial Russia’, Yiddish Theatre, ed. Berkowitz, 61–75 and 159–74.

23 Nina Warnke, ‘Immigrant Popular Culture as Contested Sphere: Yiddish Music Halls, the Yiddish Press, and the Processes of Americanization, 1900–1910’, Theatre Journal, 48 (1996), 321–35 (p. 322).

24 Warnke, ‘Going East’, 6.

25 Warnke, ‘Going East’, 1.

26 Warnke, ‘Going East’, 8. Some Jewish American actors in Yiddish entertainment, such as stage and screen star Molly Picon, initially travelled to Europe because they found it easier to start their careers there before returning to build audience followings in America. See ibid., 28, and Joshua S. Walden, ‘Leaving Kazimierz: Comedy and Realism in the Yiddish Film Musical Yidl mitn fidl’, Journal of Music, Sound, and the Moving Image, 3 (2009), 159–93 (p. 171).

27 Joel Berkowitz, Shakespeare on the American Yiddish Stage (Iowa City, IA, 2002), 10 and 12. The Broder singers were named after the city of Brody, in Galicia, where the tradition originated.

28 Isaac Leib Peretz, ‘Migrations of a Melody/A gilgul fun a nign’, Peretz, trans. and ed. Sol Liptzin (New York, 1947), 234–65 (p. 252). The Yiddish theatre amassed its detractors in the Jewish community as well. Among high-profile critics of the art form was the writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, who disdained what he viewed as the genre's base melodrama; he called Maurice Schwartz a ‘kitsch director’. See Nathan Cohen, ‘Isaac Bashevis-Singer's Attitude to the Yiddish Theater as Shown in his Works’, Jewish Theatre: A Global View, ed. Edna Nahshon (Leiden, 2009), 49–61 (p. 58).

29 On nationalism in Yiddish theatre, see Matthew Frye Jacobson, Special Sorrows: The Diasporic Imagination of Irish, Polish, and Jewish Immigrants in the United States (Cambridge, MA, 1995), 91–2.

30 Steven E. Wilmer explains that theatre plays an important role in the suggestion of imagined communities and the construction of national identities, because ‘the theatre goer is part of a community of spectators who can express their approval or disapproval to the performers and to each other […]. Theatre is, moreover, a place for interaction between performers and audience […]. The theatre can serve as a microcosm of the national community, passing judgment of images of itself’ (Theatre, Society, and the Nation: Staging American Identities, Cambridge Studies in American Theatre and Drama, 15 (Cambridge, 2004), 1–2).

31 Sandrow, Vagabond Stars, 92.

32 Sandrow, Vagabond Stars, 94.

33 Sandrow, Vagabond Stars, 94, 101.

34 Jeremy Dauber, The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem (New York, 2013), 165. See also Marie Waife-Goldberg, My Father, Sholom Aleichem (New York, 1968), 165.

35 Waife-Goldberg, My Father, 165.

36 Zalmen Zylbercweig, ‘Sholem-Aleykhem’, Leksikon fun yidishn teater, 6 vols. (New York, Warsaw and Mexico City, 1931–69), iv (New York, 1963), 3309–578 (p. 3346). See also Dauber, The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem, 165–6.

37 Waife-Goldberg, My Father, 165.

38 Waife-Goldberg, My Father, 169. The theatre directors did not send any money. The Tageblat, a paper that already owed Sholem Aleichem 2,000 rubles for stories of his that it had printed in the past, announced that it had sent 1,200 rubles to bring him to America, though in fact its editors sent only 300. Fishberg, believing the Tageblat had arranged Sholem Aleichem's travel, turned his attention elsewhere (ibid., 170).

39 In 1905, Sholem Aleichem also met with the Yiddish theatre directors Sam Adler and Jacob Spivakovsky in Warsaw, and the three signed a contract arranging to collaborate on a number of plays, a copy of which is pasted into Sholem Aleichem's manuscript of Stempenyu; however, Adler and Spivakovsky never produced the play. For information about this contract, see Zylbercweig, ‘Sholem-Aleykhem’, 3344.

40 Text variants of ‘Vos mir zaynen, zaynen mir’ are discussed in Ruth Rubin, Voices of a People: The Story of Yiddish Folksong (Urbana, IL, 2000), 149. A version of ‘Khatskele, Khatskele’ is included in Rubin's A Treasury of Jewish Folksong (New York, 1967), 106–7.

41 This song also appears in Sholem Aleichem's 1900 short story Khanike-gelt (Hanukkah Money).

42 Nachman Meisel, ‘Sholom Aleichem and his “Find”’, Melech Grafstein's Sholom Aleichem Panorama, ed. Grafstein, 46–50 (p. 47). Sholem Aleichem wrote the introduction to the published anthology of Warshawski's songs and the two men were sometimes hired to entertain at events, at which Sholem Aleichem would read from his literature and Warshawski would sing his songs.

43 Sholem Aleichem also sent Fishberg a third play, Der letster khorben (The Last Sacrifice), about the revolution and pogroms in Russia.

44 ‘Ikh shik aykh dem 5-tn akt tsu “Stempenyu”. A nayer akt, anshtot dem prierdikn. Mit a toyt, loyt amerike fodert. A yidishe heldin, loyt mayn meynung, samt zikh zeltn oys libe. Nor vos zol men ton, az amerike heyst? Veyzn dem 5-tn akt dem H’ Adler. Loz er di gantse pyese gut durkhkukn. Loz er zi eynmol oyffirn mit ale pitshevkes, mit ale detaln, vet er zeen vos dos iz!’ Zylbercweig, ‘Sholem-Aleykhem’, 3347.

45 Weitzner, Sholem Aleichem in the Theater, 16. It was common in maskilic Yiddish plays to characterize Hasidic characters as ridiculous, insensitive and ignorant, as well as to depict the follies of arranged marriage. See Joel Berkowitz, ‘This is Not Europe, You Know: The Counter-Maskilic Impulse of American Yiddish Drama’, Yiddish in America: Essays on Yiddish Culture in the Golden Land, ed. Edward S. Schapiro (Scranton, PA, and London, 2008), 135–65 (p. 139).

46 See Norich, ‘Portraits of the Artist’, 248. A similar growing sense of Sholem Aleichem's cynicism about the sustainability of Jewish tradition in the face of modern influences and pressures can be found developing over time in his stories of Tevye the Dairyman (1895–1916). See Seth L. Wolitz, ‘The Americanization of Tevye or Boarding the Jewish Mayflower’, American Quarterly, 40 (1988), 514–36 (p. 519).

47 ‘Oy, zayn shpiln! … Akh, zayn shpiln! Nisht er shpilt, nor er zingt nor er ret, ret, un ikh her vi er ret, ikh farshtey yedes yedes vort …. Dos ret er tsu mir!’ ‘Stempenyu’ manuscript (undated), New York, Center for Jewish History, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Molly Picon Papers, Box 20/Folder 286, p. 38.

48 ‘Geven azelkhe oyf der velt, a fidler vos hot gehat tsu a hoykhe neshome, tsu a braytes harts, im hobn mentshen shlekht behandelt, hot er zikh avek gelozt in vald, un hot geshpilt far vilde khayes […] un az di vilde khayes hobn gehert shpiln Paganinin oyfn fidl, zaynen zey mer shoyn nisht geven vild.’ Ibid., p. 19.

49 ‘Ikh veys aleyn az ikh bin an artist, mit an artistisher neshome.’ ‘Stempenyu, shlimazel darf ligen do in Poyln, in der doziger grob, in den dozigen engen, finsteren keler! Aleyn genumen in begrobn zikh in dererd arayn lebedigerheyd.’ ‘Stempenyu’ manuscript, p. 43.

50 ‘Di tsveyter Paganini’. Ibid.

51 ‘Fun der velt di greste muziker, Mozart, Stempenyu, Rubinstein, Mekhtshi, Paganini … Yidishe tekhter!’ Ibid., p. 50.

52 On the construction of the figure of the artist as suffering and eccentric genius, see for example Rudolf Wittkower and Margot Wittkower, Born under Saturn: The Character and Conduct of Artists: A Documented History from Antiquity to the French Revolution (New York, 2006).

53 Slobin, Tenement Songs, 87.

54 Mark Slobin, ‘Unintentional History: Musical Moments in 1930s Yiddish Films’, Yuval Vol. VII: Studies in Honour of Israel Adler, ed. Eliyahu Schleifer and Edwin Seroussi (Jerusalem, 2002), 468–80 (p. 469). See also Mark Slobin, Yiddish Theater in America: David's Violin (1897) and Shloyme Gorgl (189–), (New York, 1994).

55 See James Hoberman, Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film between Two Worlds (New York, 1991), 54.

56 Nina Warnke shows that while music was always regarded as an important element of Yiddish theatre, the musicians involved in productions during the late nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth tended to receive little recognition for their contributions (‘Yiddish Theater History, its Composers and Operettas: A Narrative without Music’, Muzykalia VII – Judaica 2 (2009), 1–11 (pp. 2–3)). A beloved performer as well as a composer, Mogulesco was generally awarded more attention than others when attached to a production (ibid., 2). The instrumental ensemble during these early years was typically small, often a quartet; in the 1910s ensembles began to grow and conductors were hired to direct the music (ibid.).

57 Warnke, ‘Yiddish Theater History’, 4–5.

58 A version of ‘Di gilderne pave’ is transcribed in Rubin, A Treasury of Jewish Folksong, 114–15.

59 Quoted in Meisel, ‘Sholem Aleichem and his “Find”’, 49.

60 Slobin, Tenement Songs, 184, 187.

61 ‘Di melodie mit di verter, azoy vi er hot es far mir forgezungen, hot gehat toyznter kheynen, ober in teater oyf der bine iz es aroysgekumen a bilik kupletl. Es hot farloyrn dem gantsn Sholem Aleichem-kheyn, di folkstimlekhkayt. Men hot tsugemakht nokh verter, di azoy-gerufene liriks, un Friedsel hot tsugetshepet nigunim un es hot fartrunken dos folkstimlekhe fun Sholem Aleichemen, nit nor dem nigun, nor di gantse pyese iz fartrunken gevorn in bilike teater-efektn. Nokh der forleyenung fun der pyese, vos Sholem Aleichem hot aleyn geton far der gantser kompanye, velkhe hot im aplodirt far zayn forleyenen nokh mer vi far der pyese, hot mir Mogulesko gezogt, az ven di aktyorn zoln shpiln fiftsik protsent bloyz vi Sholem Aleichem hot es geleyent, vet di pyese hobn dem grestn bayfal, tsugebndik ober, az er hot moyre, az es vet nit hobn dem gevintshtn sukses, vayl es feln di tener, di atmosfere fun a Sholem Aleichem.’ Joseph Rumshinsky, Klangen fun mayn lebn (New York, 1944), 310.

62 See Weitzner, Sholem Aleichem and the Theater, 15–16.

63 Waife-Goldberg, My Father, 216.

64 Waife-Goldberg, My Father, 214.

65 Delphine Bechtel, ‘America and the Shtetl in Sholem Aleichem's Di goldgreber [The Golddiggers]’, MELUS, 17/3 (autumn 1991–autumn 1992), 69–84 (pp. 69–70).

66 Schwartz's was one of several Yiddish art theatres founded internationally after the end of the First World War, including the Moscow State Yiddish Theatre (known as GOSET) and the Warsaw Yiddish Art Theatre (VYKT). These ensembles performed in a modernist style, with productions whose sets, costumes, music and movement drew upon avant-garde stylistic languages such as expressionism and constructivism. The art theatres often revived older plays and well-known stories, as Schwartz did in putting on a new version of Stempenyu. Joel Berkowitz, ‘The Tallis or the Cross? Reviving Goldfaden at the Yiddish Art Theatre, 1924–26’, Journal of Jewish Studies, 50 (1999), 120–38 (p. 120). The repertoire of the Yiddish art theatres in New York is discussed in Jacob Mestel, 70 yor yidisher teater-repertoar (tsu der geshikhte fun yidishn teater in amerike) (New York, 1954), chapter 4. On the prominent role Schwartz played as a producer of Sholem Aleichem's works on stage and screen, as well as the mixed critical response to his productions, see Dauber, The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem, 333–9.

67 Although Schwartz commenced work on the movie, he never completed it. Hoberman, Bridge of Light, 40, 304.

68 The Yiddish stage actor Abraham Teitelbaum recalled that the production was in fact adapted by Schwartz's wife, Anna. The script is no longer extant. Abraham Teitelbaum, ‘Dramatic Ore in Sholom Aleichem’, Melech Grafstein's Sholom Aleichem Panorama, ed. Grafstein, 269–71 (p. 269). A devotee of Sholem Aleichem, Schwartz would go on to create theatrical adaptations of the author's Blondzhende shtern, Ven ikh bin Roytshild (If I Were a Rothschild), Sender Blank and Yosele Solevey, as well as a cinematic version of Tevye der milkhiker (Tevye the Dairyman) in 1939. Zalmen Zylbercweig, ‘Dramatizations of Sholom Aleichem’, Melech Grafstein's Sholom Aleichem Panorama, ed. Grafstein, 404–5 (p. 405).

69 Maximilian Hurwitz, ‘Synopsis of Sholom Aleichem's “Stempenyu the Fiddler”’ (New York, 1929). New York, Center for Jewish History, YIVO Collection, Celia Adler Collection, RG 399, Box 2.

70 On the peak period of Jewish immigration, see Lloyd P. Gartner, ‘Jewish Migrants en Route from Europe to North America: Traditions and Realities’, The Jews of North America, ed. Moses Rischin (Detroit, MI, 1987), 25–43.

71 On the accommodation of changing audience expectations in the field of Yiddish entertainment, see Mark Slobin, ‘How the Fiddler Got on the Roof’, Folk Music and Modern Sound, ed. William Ferris and Mary L. Hart (Jackson, MS, 1982), 21–31 (p. 26).

72 Jeffrey Veidlinger, The Moscow State Yiddish Theater: Jewish Culture on the Soviet Stage (Bloomington, IN, 2000); idem, ‘Yiddish Constructivism: The Art of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater’, Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theater, ed. Susan Tumarkin Goodman (New York and New Haven, CT, 2008), 49–67.

73 In 1923 Aronson emigrated to New York, where he worked in Yiddish theatre, in opera and on Broadway. He considered his designs for Stempenyu ‘the best thing I did for Schwartz’, and believed his sets were united stylistically with the play's writing and direction. David F. Lifson, The Yiddish Theatre in America (New York, 1965), 532.

74 ‘Audience Enjoys “Stempenyu” Hugely’, New York Times, 9 March 1929, 24.

75 Zylbercweig, ‘Sholem-Aleykhem’, 3353. For a study of the influence of Abraham Cahan's theatre criticism on Yiddish theatre in the first decade of the twentieth century, see Warnke, ‘Immigrant Popular Culture’. On approaches to Yiddish theatre in the Yiddish press in the early twentieth century, see also Nina Warnke, ‘The Child Who Wouldn't Grow Up: Yiddish Theatre and its Critics’, Yiddish Theatre, ed. Berkowitz, 201–16.

76 On Cahan's critique of Schwartz's revivals of Goldfadn's works, see Berkowitz, ‘The Tallis or the Cross?’, 130–1, 135–6.

77 ‘Tsu der altmodisher yente past zikh der shleyer absolut nisht.’ Zylbercweig, ‘Sholem-Aleykhem’, 3353.

78 ‘Stempenyu hot a nomen un men tsolt “shver gelt” far zayn shpiln, ober a klezmer iz er: zayn kunst iz kosher, ober er aleyn iz treyf.’ Ibid., 3358.

79 On the Society for Jewish Folk Music, see James Loeffler, The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire (New Haven, CT, 2010), chapter 3; Jascha Nemtsov, Die Neue Jüdische Schule in der Musik (Wiesbaden, 2004); and Klára Móricz, Jewish Identities: Nationalism, Racism, and Utopianism in Twentieth-Century Music (Berkeley, CA, 2008), chapters 1–2.

80 Zalmen Zylbercweig, ‘Akhron, Yosef’, Leksikon fun yidishn teater, vi (Mexico City, 1969), 4878–80 (pp. 4878–9). According to Albert Weisser, Achron had begun his music for Stempenyu in 1918 for a version of the play that Alexander Granovsky planned to produce for the Moscow State Yiddish Theatre, presumably using Sholem Aleichem's stage adaptation. Whether or not the production was ever brought to fruition is unclear, and it is not known to what degree Achron completed the music at this time. No records of GOSET's production or its music appear to survive. Achron signed and dated the extant manuscript scores in New York in 1929, indicating that they are associated with Schwartz's production. Albert Weisser, The Modern Renaissance of Jewish Music (New York, 1954), 83. In addition to Stempenyu, Achron composed scores for Goldfadn's Dos tsente gebot (The Tenth Commandment) in 1926 and Sholem Asch's Kiddush hashem (literally, Sanctification of the Name) in 1928.

81 In Western music since the eighteenth century, the augmented second was a melodic trope commonly used to signify non-Western cultures; the interval was used particularly often to depict the music of Hungarian Rom bands, as in the music of Franz Liszt. In Stempenyu, the Yiddish story about a klezmer ensemble provides a context within which Achron's augmented seconds appear clearly as a reference to the melodic types found in Eastern European Jewish music.

82 On Eastern European dance genres, see Walter Zev Feldman, ‘Dance: Traditional Dance’ (20 August 2010), The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe (<>, accessed 18 November 2013).

83 In his compositions, Achron had previously used melodies in these genres that were collected by the society's ethnographers, for example adapting one that had been transcribed by Hirsch Kopït in Hebrew Dance (1914), and another that had been found by Susman Kiselgof as the basis for Scher (1923). On the impact of the society's ethnographers on Achron's compositions, see Joshua S. Walden, ‘Music of the “Folks-Neshome”: “Hebrew Melody” and Changing Musical Representations of Jewish Culture in the Early Twentieth Century Ashkenazi Diaspora’, Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, 8 (2009), 151–71.

84 On ornamentation and slides in klezmer performance, see Mark Slobin, Fiddler on the Move: Exploring the Klezmer World (Oxford and New York, 2000), chapter 5, esp. pp. 103–7.

85 ‘Zits ikh mir aleyn / eyne aleyn / Tumed aleyn / Elend vi a shteyn / Kh'ob tsu keynem tsu redn / Nor tsu zikh aleyn / Tumed aleyn / Elend vi a shteyn.’

86 Slobin, Tenement Songs, 126–8. The phrase can be found in folksongs such as ‘Finster, glitshik’ (‘Dark, slippery’), about a mother forced to abandon her child, which was included in Shaul Ginsburg and Pesach Marek's 1901 Yidishe Folkslider in Rusland, repr. as Yiddish Folksongs in Russia, ed. Dov Noy (Ramat Gan, 1991), 189. Another song, ‘Oy, eyne tsvey verter’ (‘Oh, only one or two words’), employs the phrase to describe the singer's feelings at having been jilted by a young man seduced by her best friend. Chana Mlotek and Mark Slobin, Yiddish Folksongs from the Ruth Rubin Archive (Detroit, MI, 2007), 49. In the lyrics to ‘Papirosn’ (‘Cigarettes’), written a few years after Achron's Stempenyu by the Russian-born Yiddish entertainer Herman Yablakoff, a boy is ‘lonely as a stone’, as he has lost his beloved sister and is forced into selling cigarettes on the street.

87 Mark Slobin addresses the use of the lowered second in Fiddler on the Roof, in which it appears in the song ‘Tradition’ and elsewhere, in Tenement Songs, 196.

88 See Walden, ‘Music of the Folks-Neshome’, 152–4. Similarly, in Romanian Folk Dances and elsewhere, the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók famously incorporated folk music he had collected during his ethnographic fieldwork research. For a discussion of early recordings of Romanian Folk Dances by the violinists Joseph Szigeti and Zoltán Székely and the representation of folk performance styles on the concert stage, see Joshua S. Walden, Sounding Authentic: The Rural Miniature and Musical Modernism (Oxford and New York, 2014), 196–202.

89 ‘Music Notes’, New York Times, 27 September 1931, 30; ‘Programs of the Week’, ibid., 22 November 1931, 138.

90 A survey of New York Times concert advertisements and reviews demonstrates the regularity of appearances of Stempenyu Suite on concert programmes in New York City throughout the 1930s. For instance, Szigeti performed the work again on 28 February 1933, as part of the Festival of Jewish Music at Carnegie Hall (a portion of the concert was broadcast on WEVD) in ‘support of the Palestine Institute of Musical Sciences and the advancement of music in Palestine’ (‘Festival of Jewish Music’, New York Times, 1 March 1933, 13). Max Pollikoff performed the work at a concert hosted by the Society for the Advancement of Judaism on 30 November 1936 (‘Programs of the Current Week’, New York Times, 29 November 1936, X6). Toscha Seidel played Stempenyu Suite at Carnegie Hall on 26 February 1938 (‘“Rheingold” Opens the Evening Cycle’, New York Times, 27 February 1938, 36). And Louis Kaufman performed it at Town Hall on 23 March 1938 (Olin Downes, ‘Louis Kaufman in Recital’, New York Times, 24 March 1938, 20). The work continued to be performed in the early 1940s, for instance by Mischa Mischakoff in the Festival of Jewish Arts at New York's Town Hall in February 1944 (‘Jewish Arts Festival’, New York Times, 7 February 1944, 16). Stempenyu Suite also appeared in concerts of various Eastern European organizations devoted to music by Jewish composers, such as the Warsaw Society for Jewish Music, which featured the work in a 1934 concert. Jascha Nemtsov, ‘Neue jüdische Musik in Polen in den 1920er–30er Jahren’, Jüdische Kunstmusik im 20. Jahrhundert: Quellenlage, Entstehungsgeschichte, Stilanalysen, ed. Nemtsov (Wiesbaden, 2006), 91–106 (p. 99).

91 Lazare Saminsky, Music of the Ghetto and the Bible (New York, 1934), 66.

92 Joseph Szigeti, ‘Ideas for Program Making’, New York Times, 7 December 1941, X11.

93 Although both uniforms might have been visible in the theatrical versions – the concert black worn by the violinist in the orchestra pit and the klezmer's costume worn by the actor on stage – the former has occluded the latter in the performance of this work.

94 On the differences between Sholem Aleichem's Tevye stories and Fiddler on the Roof, see Wolitz, ‘The Americanization of Tevye’. The early stages of the writing of Fiddler on the Roof are described in Richard Altman and Mervyn Kaufman, The Making of a Musical: Fiddler on the Roof (New York, 1971), 1–68, and Philip Lambert, To Broadway, To Life!: The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick (Oxford and New York, 2011), 138–81.

95 Jan Lisa Huttner, ‘Everybody's Fiddler’, Forward, 5 September 2003, n.p.

96 Benjamin Harshav, ‘Chagall: Postmodernism and Fictional Worlds in Painting’, Marc Chagall and the Jewish Theater (New York, 1992), 35. This image became a frequent feature of Chagall's works, appearing in a number of paintings, including his 1923–4 The Green Violinist. It is based on similar earlier representations of a fiddler on a roof, in The Dead Man (1908) and The Fiddler (1912–13).

97 Alisa Solomon, ‘Balancing Act: Fiddler's Bottle Dance and the Transformation of “Tradition”’, TDR: The Drama Review, 55/3 (autumn 2011), 21–30 (pp. 23–4).

98 See Dauber, The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem, 359–60.

99 See Slobin, Tenement Songs, 196; idem, ‘How the Fiddler’, 29; and Steven J. Zipperstein, Imagining Russian Jewry: Memory, History, Identity (Seattle, WA, 1999), 20.

100 Altman and Kaufman, The Making of a Musical, 31.

101 Wolitz, ‘The Americanization of Tevye’, 530.

102 Lambert, To Broadway, To Life!, 165. The creators of Fiddler on the Roof did conduct some research into Jewish life in the Eastern European shtetl during early stages. For example, Jerome Robbins and his assistant Richard Altman witnessed Hasidic wedding ceremonies in their search for ideas for Tzeitel and Motel's wedding in the musical; Altman prepared a dossier of research that he conducted for Robbins at New York second-hand bookshops and at the library of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research; and Bock and Harnick loosely based their idea for ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ on the performance of a Hasidic mother and daughter that they saw at a Hebrew Actors Union benefit concert. Altman and Kaufman, The Making of a Musical, 64–8, 89–90, 100.

103 Lambert, To Broadway, To Life!, 43.

104 It is probably the musical's depiction of the balance between tradition and adaptation, summed up in this iconography, that made the work so enduringly popular worldwide. It would have a longer first run on Broadway than any musical before it, and played to acclaim internationally; its producer in Japan reportedly asked Bock: ‘Tell me, do they understand this show in America? … It's so Japanese!’ Stephen J. Whitfield, ‘Fiddling with Sholem Aleichem: A History of Fiddler on the Roof’, Key Texts in American Jewish Culture, ed. Jack Kugelmass (New Brunswick and London, 2003), 105–25 (pp. 107–8).