About the Music

Fathers and Sons

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    Many students of Jewish liturgy know of Abraham Dunajewski (1843-1911), the Russian cantor  who wrote the book Israelitische Tempel Compositionen for Sabbath and whose setting of Av Harachamim became popular throughout the world. Many individuals of Russian extraction know of Isaak Dunayevsky (1900-1955), the renowned Soviet composer and conductor who is considered one of the greatest Soviet-standard composers of all time and a favorite of Stalin. What many do not know, however, is that...


Immigration - The Early Years

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     The second set of songs on Crypto Jewish Melodies: Semitic Sounds of Russian Extraction starts with Papirosn. Sometimes colloquially referred to as "Cigaretten", the song was composed by Herman Yablokoff in 1922. Starting his Jewish journey as a young chorister from Grodno in the choir of Cantor Yoshe Slonimer and proceeding to make his home in the realm of Yiddish theater and radio, Yablokoff wrote this song after seeing children peddling cigarettes during the pogroms in Grodno after the First World War. The song narrates the plea of an orphaned cigarette peddler freezing in the rain on a street corner, and has since become a staple of Yiddish, Russian, and Jewish folk tradition. Renditions vary from vibrant tangos to sorrowful ballads. This version is meant to fall somewhere in between, capturing the energy of the cigarette peddler's streets while connecting with the inner yearnings of a displaced youth.

     The second set proceeds with a survey of the impact of Russian Jewish immigrants on the American Jewish songbook scene, charting their influence and struggles... 


Songs of War

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     A poignant part of both Jewish and Soviet history is the inexplicable hardship posed by WWII.

     While many know the Soviet standard Tyomnaya Noch (Dark is the Night) as a wartime ballad, composed by Nikita Bogoslovsky, few know the secret identity of the famous lyricist, Vladimir Agatov. Agatov was originally born "Velvel Isidarovich Gurevich" to a Jewish family in Kiev. A famous lyricist and poet with a significantly secularized identity, the poetic yearning revealed in his lyrics about home and country draw upon themes found in the story of Jewish diaspora - evidence of silent and subversive Yiddishkeit...

Younger Audiences and the Soviet Thaw

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     Oscar Feltsman (1921-2013), born in Odessa to a Lithuanian Jewish family, was a legendary composer of Russian standards. Connecting to his Jewish identity upon his evacuation to Novosibirsk during World War II, Feltsman composed music for the Jewish theater of Belarus, along with his secular and popular compositions. Kolybelnaya, written during his later years, is a reflective lullaby sung to a child – evoking nostalgia about the white nights, youth, and serenity.

     Vladimir Shainsky, (1925-present), was influenced by war and  Jewish struggles like many others...

Beyond Borders

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     The influence of Russian music on Jewish culture and Jewish culture on Russian music continues to transcend borders and social history. Just as Jewish composers changes the Russian musical landscape, Russian folk music continues to influence the songs of Israeli folk dance and Kibbutzim...

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Lara Traum, Ljova Zhurbin, Alex Greenleaf, Dmitri Zisl Slepovitch, Jordan Morton: Crypto Jewish Melodies: Semitic Sounds of Russian Extraction

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