Dearest lovers of all things klezmer!

I’ve received a grant to help support my research of klezmer tunes!  I’m hoping that all of you can help me with this.  As part of the project I will be collecting any and all notated Freylekhs (or khosidls, shers, skočnes, etc), Bulgars, and Horas/Zhoks/Gas Nigns, all for the purpose of analyzing them and creating a master database that will be available to world music scholars everywhere.  This will also contribute to the book I plan to write that will attempt to explain the ever-changing functionality of klezmer music.  And!  I need your help!  If you have tunes that are already notated but not available in major collections (most of which I have already in my possession), whether in PDF form or as Finale files, and would be willing to send them my way, I would be appreciative.  Simply fill out the contact form on my contact page and I will send you instructions on how to get them to me.  Below is the proposal that outlines my research.  Thank you so much and please feel free to pass the word around!

Reaching a Complete Understanding of Klezmer Music

            Klezmer music has long been an integral component of Ashkenazi Jewish life. There was hardly a wedding in nineteenth-century Eastern Europe and early-twentieth-century America without at least a few klezmorim in attendance to bring joy to the bride and groom. In present day, the function of the music has evolved into a source of entertainment for a broad audience and holds a high degree of value at festivals and gatherings of Yiddishists around the world as a means of expressing Jewish identity. While there exists a broad canon of ethnomusicological research on the background and development of klezmer music (Feldman, 2002; Idelsohn, 1992; Sapoznik, 2006; Slobin, 2000; Slobin, 2002; Rogovoy, 2000; Strom, 2002), what is still missing is a thorough discussion of the technical aspects of the music from a music theory perspective.

As klezmer music has evolved along side, and often in conjunction with, other musics of Eastern Europe, there is a great deal of crossover between the genres. What makes it unique is not the technical traits that set it apart, rather it is the music’s ability to combine characteristics of multiple sources with the Jewish tradition and still maintain its yiddishkayt. As such, my work is not to state what distinguishes klezmer music from other musics; instead, it is to catalogue how the music functions on a technical level in order to preserve its integral components for future generations of musicians and scholars. I began this work as part of my monograph for my doctoral degree in composition. Recently, I have been preparing an article for a scholarly journal, in which I provide an overview of how the music functions on a harmonic level and establish that it is a hybrid system of modal and chordal functionality. [A short excerpt of the article available on my website at:

For the next step of my research, which this fellowship would help fund, I will conduct a large-scale qualitative analytical survey of approximately 300-400 tunes across the canon of klezmer music. This process will involve collecting all available notated tunes within the tune groups of freylekhs, bulgars, and hora/zhoks/gas nign, and then organizing them by sub-categories of mode(s), motives, harmonic progressions, and cadences. I have provided a sample of this process as well as a description of the tune groups below in the Technical Overview section.

Such an endeavor will provide a significant understanding of how the tunes function. The questions I hope to answer include: Are there common motives within given modes as one would expect to find in a music that has ties to the modal systems of Middle Eastern music? What harmonic progressions and modal variations exist between tune groups, each of which have roots in varying geographical/cultural backgrounds; in other words, how does the harmonic language of a hora vary from that of a freylekh or bulgar? What cadential motives are common to each mode? These are questions that are commonly asked by those who study world music from a technical standpoint and the ability to answer them will lead to a far richer understanding of the evolution and current state music than what is currently available.

In simple terms, this research will result in a resource for scholars within Jewish music that draws connections between different genres of klezmer music and also will be useful to outside scholars, as it will demonstrate how the music coincides with other world musics that have developed alongside it. The wide range of ties that the music has to other styles of Eastern European, Andalusian, and Middle Eastern musics grant it a significant place within the world music tradition and demand deeper understanding. The end goal of this research is to publish a book that summarizes how tunes within klezmer music have functioned thus far. The genre of klezmer music is one that is constantly evolving, and while it does not have a set of rules to be followed, there are many tendencies within the music that contribute to its unique sound and style. The achievement of identifying these tendencies will be a significant resource for scholars and musicians, both in the understanding of existing standard repertoire and in the creation of new material.

Technical Overview

As mentioned above, this project will involve collecting all available tunes within the tune groups of freylekhs, bulgars, and hora/zhoks/gas nign. I will then create an organizational chart that will show sub-categories of mode(s), motives, harmonic progressions, cadences, form and variations between similar tunes. Once completed, I will have a master dataset that will be hosted online and available to future scholars.

Each of these tune groupings has a distinctive lineage that will highlight the evolution of klezmer music. Freylekhs are tunes that are played for dances that are native to the Jewish people and are often also labeled khosidl, sher, skočne, and occasionally bulgar. This practice of multiple labels for tunes results from the fact that there are varying styles of dances, yet the same style tune may be played for each. As such, I will treat any tune that falls under this style as part of the generic label of freylekh. The bulgar is a tune/dance that originated in Bessarabia/Moldova as the bulgărească and is native to the Moldavian lăutari (professional musicians). It was adapted by the klezmorim to fit the Jewish style and overtook the freylekh as the popular dance style in the early twentieth-century. There is often some crossover in the labeling of these two tune styles, however the bulgar is often characterized by the presence of triplets and a lack of long-running sixteenth note passages. The hora, also known as the zhok and gas nign (street-tunes), is a moderately slow dance with roots in Romania. It is characterized by an off-kilter 3/8 meter and often contains adventurous harmonic motion.

As klezmer music was primarily an oral tradition and tunes are often replicated in various manuscripts with small variations, the primary categorizing method will be by each tune’s incipit [defined here as the opening two-measure motif], followed by sub-letters and will include source information. In order to demonstrate how I will handle potential conflicting issues as well as illustrate the organizational structure, I have analyzed two versions of the same tune, which are in two different manuscripts of the same time period. Both versions can be found in Appendix A.

Version #1 shows the tune as it appears in the Kostakowsky Manuscript, which Nat Kostakowsky originally published as International Hebrew Wedding Music in Brooklyn, NY in 1916. It was then republished as The Ultimate Klezmer, edited and arranged by Joshua Horowitz, Tara Publications, 2001. Version #2 is the tune as it appears in the Hoffman Manuscript, which is an unpublished manuscript from Philadelphia, assembled by Joseph Hoffman in 1927.

This tune demonstrates several potential issues including the labeling of the tune, the subtle variations in motives, and highly similar cadences. Appendix B is a sample of the organizational chart that I will use for all of the tunes and uses the variations of the tune to illustrate the overall process. Once completed, this chart will provide a comprehensive view of motives, modes, cadences, harmonic progressions, and forms used throughout klezmer tunes. It will also provide much needed information regarding how modes and motives are treated throughout the canon of klezmer music and how they vary between genres.

APPENDIX A: Tune Variations 1 & 2

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Variation #1: Bulgar No. 14 (Yurke Furt Avek). Kostakowsky/Horowitz, p. 30.

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Variation #2: Freilech No. 10 (Yankel Furt Aveck). Hoffman Manuscript, p. 38a.

APPENDIX B: Organizational Chart Sample

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