Page 163 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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Zbarzher-Ehrenkrantz before him, Goldfaden originally dou­
bled as a Hebrew and Yiddish poet — and soon discovered
the difference.
Tsitsim uferahim (Buds and Flowers,
1865), his in­
augural Hebrew volume, was not reissued for another century,
Dos yidele (The Little Jew,
1867) went through more than
twelve editions and some of its songs are still popular today.
He also discovered, the hard way, at Shimen Mark’s Pomul
Verde — the Green Tree — in Jassy, Rumania, that what the
simple folk wanted was not allegorical poems declaimed in
tophat and tails, but sight gags and satire and song. Goldfaden
was hooted off the stage. Still remaining true to his maskilic
past but responding to the present state of Yiddish popular
culture, Goldfaden brought Hebrew and Yiddish, Purim play
and melodrama, cantorial and opera music together — to chart
the future course of Yiddish song.
Simply and dramatically, Goldfaden put male and female so­
los together and pioneered the Yiddish duet. Where only the
Song of Disputation existed before — between the Moldavian
and Polish Jew (Zbarzher) or the Village and Urban Jew
(Zunser) — the Yiddish theater featured duets as sung by a
male and (real-live) female singer. Once the taboo of hearing
a woman’s voice was finally broken, it was open season for love
songs and (mild) displays of eroticism on stage: between Mirele
the Orphan and Marcus the Maskil or between the biblical lovers
Shulamith and Absalom. Indeed, there was no more exalted
setting for love (as Hebrew novelist Abraham Mapu had proved
so many years before) than the biblical landscape. Goldfaden
had merely to dispense with the standard division of labor, in
which biblical romance was the preserve of Hebrew and topical
satire the specialty of Yiddish. With melodies adapted from Ital­
ian, French, and German operas and speaking a high literary
Yiddish, his biblical lovers swore eternal fealty taking a well and
a weasel as their witness — exactly as described in a Hebrew
epic poem by his late lamented father-in-law. The audience,
unperturbed by the echoes of Verdi’s lovers in
La Traviata,
went away humming “The Oath” of Shulamith and Absalom.26
Goldberg’s introduction to Avraham Goldfaden,
Shirim umahazot
[Poems and
Plays] (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1970). The latter reprints Goldfaden’s He­
brew poems o f 1865.
26. On the sources o f Goldfaden’s music, see A.Z. Idelsohn,
Jewish Music in
its Historical Development
(New York: Tudor Publishing Co., 1948), pp. 452-53,