Page 164 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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The secret of success was not to flaunt the theater’s “moder­
nity,” but to maintain strong links to the folk’s musical, theat­
rical, and ideological habits. Goldfaden’s most popular numbers
followed the melody types already familiar to the audience, es­
pecially the Phrygian mode that pervaded the Sabbath and hol­
iday prayers.27 To bring the Bible closer to home, his most ex­
alted biblical melodramas, like
Shulamith or the Daughter of Je­
(1880), included a farcical
character named
Tsingitang who parodied the high-flown aspirations and arias
of the romantic leads. Later in the play (Act III, Scene 6:c-d),
Joab the Gideonite’s boasting song (set to a Ukrainian melody)
came straight from the
Goliath Play
of old. Since anachronism
was the order of the Purim day, Goldfaden rounded off
Shulamith’s famous aria “Sabbath, Holiday, and New Moon”
with a reference to the revered Kaddish prayer, a late-rabbinic
invention (Act III, Scene 1). Most astonishing was Absalom’s
solo in Act I, Scene 3, Episode 4. If his longing for the Temple
in Jerusalem was hardly reason enough for this Judean warrior
(scion of the Maccabees) to break into a lullaby about
the “little Jewish boy” lying under his pure white cradle, how
much less so the clairvoyant vision of Yidele’s future career as
a capitalist banker made rich by building railroads throughout
the realm! The audience loved it and made
Rozhinkes mit mandlen
(“Almonds and Raisins”) a synonym for the Yiddish folksong
as a whole.
Goldfaden’s formula and that of his future imitators was to
play up to the innate sentimentality and conservatism of the
folk. To be sure, there was a programmatic message to every
play, but never one that had not been tried countless times be­
Di kishef-makherin
(The Witch,
1879) was a fairytale spoof
on popular superstition and featured the well-spoken, rational
young hero who still went by the name of Marcus, the maskilic
counterweight to Mordecai-Mondrish of
and Joseph Rumshinsky, “Der liber plagyator: vegn der opshtamung fun Avrom
Goldfadns muzik” (1933), rpt. in Avrom Goldfaden,
Oysgeklibene shriftn,
Shmuel Rozhansky (Buenos Aires: Literartur-gezelshaft baym YIVO, 1963),
pp. 270-76.
27. See Mark Slobin,
Tenement Songs: The Popular Music o f the Jewish Immigrants
(Urbana: University o f Illinois Press, 1982), pp. 184-90.
28. Rhone Shmeruk, “Ha-shem ha-mashma‘uti Mordecai-Marcus: gilgulo ha-
sifruti shel ide’al hevrati,”
29 (1959): 76-98.