Anthology of Jewish Art Songs Volume IV, The Lazar Weiner Collection, Book 1: Yiddish Art Songs, 1918-1970. Yehudi Wyner, ed. Philadelphia: Transcontinental Music Publications. 2011.

Reviewed by Judith Tischler

The Emergence of the Yiddish Art Song is a fairly recent phenomenon. The full flowering took place in the United States in the twentieth century although the seeds were generously planted in Europe toward the end of the nineteenth century. One of the most prolific composers of Yiddish Art Songs in the United States was Lazar Weiner (1897-1982). He wrote one hundred and fifteen Art Songs for voice with piano accompaniment or with instrumental accompaniment other than keyboard.

A study of his songs will reveal a tension between his need to experiment with twentieth century idioms and his wish to reflect the folk heritage of his own past. The results are a number of “folk-like” songs which, because of their simplicity and tunefulness, were sung in almost every Yiddish speaking household in the Eastern United States and later in Israel. There is a much larger number of songs that are through-composed and that use a variety of compositional devices that could be adapted to any language. There are some outstanding examples, however, where the past and present meet; where “traditional” melodic patterns, modal scales, and cantillation-like phrases combine with complex harmonic structure and advanced piano techniques.

The reprints of the Art Songs of Lazar Weiner are long overdue. All of the works in this volume are reprints from earlier publications which have been out of print and inaccessible for many years. Many of the early songs were first printed by Yibneh, Schirmer, Metro Music and others, and transferred to Transcontinental Music Publications which reprinted them.

They are transliterated according to the YIVO (Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut/Yiddish Scientific Institute) transliteration guide with one exception, which is the use of “Ich” replacing “Ikh” which is used by YIVO and appeared in earlier publications of Weiner’s songs. The 37 songs in the Volume are presented in approximate chronological order which allows the performer and student of Weiner’s works a window into his development as a composer.

The volume opens with an introduction by Yehudi Wyner. It adds a special personal dimension to an understanding of the composer. Wyner himself, a recipient of the Pulitzer prize and a member and president of the American Society of Arts and Letters, often gave critical commentary to his father about his work, which was not always heeded but surely appreciated. I thank Yehudi for his reference to my doctoral dissertation (which was completed at the Jewish Theological Seminary and not the Union Theological Seminary).

The biography by Neil W. Levin is important to the understanding and study of these works. The biography itself is available in other earlier sources (Tischler, Bryan, Harbater) and the historical background to the development of Jewish Music in Eastern Europe is found in the definitive monograph by Albert Weiser, “The Modern Renaissance of Jewish Music” as well as other more recent studies. Dr. Levin’s superior skill in integrating the background material with the biographical provides an invaluable guide to the student and performer.  

The 37 songs are arranged mostly in chronological order from 1918 to 1970. Both the Yiddish and English translations are found at the end of each song. The titles are likewise translated. The year of composition is not included in the Table of Contents or on each title page. As an aide to the reader of this article and to performers, I indicate below the title of each song and the date of its composition. 

  1. In Feld (O’er the Fields) 1918
  2. Melaley! (Melealei!) 1922
  3. Di Zun (The Sun) 1922
  4. Tarantela-Tans(Tarantella Dance) 1922
  5. Tsela Tseldi (Light Footed Nymph) 1922
  6. Monoton (Monotone) 1923
  7. Das Gold fun Dayne Oygn (The Gold of Your Eyes) 1923
  8. A Gebed (#1) (A Prayer) 1923
  9. A Maysele (A Little Story) 1923
  10. Der Sholem Zokher (The Shining Amulet) 1937
  11. Der Held (the Hero) 1936
  12. Yosl Klezmer (Yosl the Fidler) 1939
  13. A Nigun (Tshiri-bim) (A Melody) 1937
  14. El Khanun (Merciful God) 1941
  15. Bret, Mayn Eyntsik Bret (Oh, Dear Slab of Wood) 1947
  16. Di Veyen (The Sorrows) 1942
  17. El Mole Rachamim (Oh God, Who Art full of Compassion) 1967 (?)
  18. Avodim Hayinu (We Were Slaves) 1945
  19. A Bord (A Beard) 1945
  20. Ich Hob far Dir a Sod (I Have the Sweetest Secret for You) 1945
  21. Es Brent Briderlech Es Brent (It’s Burning Brothers, It’s Aflame) 1945
  22. Ani Maamin (#1) (I Believe) 1947
  23. Tsu Eyn, Tsvay Dray (To One, Two, Three) 1946
  24. Yidish (Yiddish) 1946
  25. Zog Nit Keynmol (Song of the Partisans) 1946
  26. Unter Dayne Vayse Shtern (Beneath Your White Stars) 1950
  27. Shtile Licht (Quiet Light) 1956
  28. Gramen Geshribn In Zamd (Rhymes Traced in Sand) 1965
  29. A Papir Vil Bageyn Zelbsmord (A Paper Bent On Suicide) 1965
  30. Bald Vet Zayn a Regn (Soon It Will Be Raining) (1965
  31. Ich Bin der Vaynrib (I Am the Obstinate Vine) 1965
  32. Broyges (In Anger) 1968
  33. Der Helfer (The Assistant) 1968
  34. Ovnt-Lid (Evening Song) 1968
  35. Di Balade (the Ballad Concerning a Cobbler) 1970
  36. Mit Mayne Zeydn (With My Grandfather) 1970
  37. Vu Zenen di Yidn (Where Are They?) 1970

This review is not for the purpose of describing or analyzing the individual songs. Analyses of many of them can be found in the theses that have been written and can be accessed at the institutions where they were written. It would be most beneficial to the study and performance of Lazar Weiner’s songs if the series would continue with his later songs as well as some that were not previously published. The manuscripts of the unpublished works are in the Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts Special Collections in New York City and are available for perusal.

Works cited:

[1] Bryan, Marsha. 1973. Lazar Weiner and the Yiddish Art Song. Master’s Thesis, Jewish Theological Seminary of America. New York City.

[2] Harbater, Laya. 1983. Yiddish Art Song: A Comparative Study and Analysis of Selected Works of Three Composers Representing Russia, America, and Israel. Doctoral Thesis, Columbia University Teachers College. New York City.

[3] Tischler, Judith B. 1989. The Life and Work of Lazar Weiner, Master of the Yiddish Art Song (1897-1982). Doctoral Thesis, Jewish Theological Seminary of America. New York City.

[4] Albert Weisser, Albert. 1954. The Modern Renaissance of Jewish Music: Events and Figures, Eastern Europe and America. New York: Bloch Publishing.

Judith Tischler, Jewish Theological Seminary (Emeritus)