Page 156 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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Sholem Aleichem had done as much in his own way to “re-
center” Jewish culture on the marvels of everyday life. His per­
sonal folksong favorites were hilarious panegyrics to the
(hostess, landlady) which covered the gamut of her gastronom-
ical charms.9 But as the great reinventor of Yiddish folklore,
Sholem Aleichem could hardly accept the romantic and narrow-
academic notion of anonymous authorship. And so it was that
he launched the publication of Mark Warshawski’s
Yiddish Folk
in 1900 with an ecstatic endorsement and thereby pro­
voked the first serious debate between the purists and the prag­
Sholem Aleichem saw “all of Jewish life, with all its joys and
sorrows” reflected in Warshawski’s songs.10 He lavished special
praise on the song of the pious Jew who proclaimed God’sjustice
even as he spit blood (“By the Synagogue”), and on
Warshawski’s drinking song
Tayere malke
(“Queenie Dear”) that
ended with a toast to one’s enemies. Sholem Aleichem credited
Warshawski with turning Jewish sorrows into a source of joy
and hope by means of upbeat melodies and unadorned Yiddish.
This was altogether too much for noted music critic Joel
Engel, fresh from his epoch-making lecture on Jewish folk mu­
sic held in November 1900 at the Moscow Polytechnic Muse­
um .11 There Engel had demonstrated that authentic Jewish folk
music was “oriental,” its truest expression preserved in hasidic
and liturgical melodies. Engel now poured out his wrath on
Warshawski for having the chutzpah to label his writing “folk
songs” though they were neither old nor (as yet) sufficiently
widespread to be sung by the folk at large. Worse yet, the tunes
were mostly lifted — from the dance hall! “Listening to
Warshawski’s songs,” Engel protested, “one would think that
9. See M. Kipnis,
Hundert folks-lider
(Buenos Aires: Tsentral-farband fun
poylishe yidn, 1949), pp. 239-40.
10. “A por verter tsu Varshavskis lider fun Sholem-Aleykhem,” reprinted in
M.M. Warshawski,
Yidishe folks-lider,
2nd ed. (New York: Max Meisel, 1918),
pp. v-xvii.
11. For a brief biography o f Engel and a discussion o f his role in the Jewish
music revival, see Albert Weisser,
The Modern Renaissance o fJewish Music: Events
and Figures [in] Eastern Europe and America
(New York: Bloch, 1954), pp. 31-32,