Judith Frigyesi

(Princeton University, New Jersey, USA)



Jews in Hungary had been, for centuries, engaged in music as professional musicians. A number of written documents witness the existence, even excellence of Jewish instrumental musicians, the so called klezmorim,   yet so far nothing had been discovered of their repertoire. No recording, notation, not even verbal description of specific Jewish genres of music or dances survived from the Hungarian speaking Jewish communitites. How could such hiatus be interpreted? Did Hungarian Jews played exclusively Hungarian music, perhaps in a Jewish style, that did not need to be notated? Or every trace of this tradition disappeared during the Holocaust?

Contrarily to the Hungarian situation, some recordings and numerous notatios of Jewish music came down to us from the Russian, Litvanian, Ukranian, Moldavian, etc. territories, that is form the Jewish communites located East of Hungary. Since there was no trace, in Hungary, of any specifically Jewish instrumental tradition whatsoever, it was reasonable to suppose that Hungarian Jewish musicians shared a common Hungarian repertoire rather than creating their own. But in the light of the material that the research of the Muzsikás ensemble brought to the surface this supposition is not tenable any longer.

To be sure, we are far from being able to drow a picture of Hungarian klezmer music or even to reconstruct its most significant genres. It is clear, however, that Jewish orchestras with a specific jewish repertoire and performing style existed in the Jewish Hungarian communities. According to Gheorghe Covaci, in Maramaros, where 5000 families lived before the war, there were several musicians and a large orchestra. In addition, the Jewish community often hired Gypsy musicians as well. The Jewish music of Máramaros was entirely wiped out by the Holocaust: not one Jewish musician returned from deportation.

Thus all our informations about Transylvanian klezmer music come from secondary sources: not from Jewish musicians but from Gypsies who played for Jews some 40 years ago. These musicians, Covaci and Toni, were invited and paid by the Jews for their performances  an indication that their playing was accepted by the Jewish community. In this sense their music is entirely authentic. It is unlikely, however, that their performing style is identical with what had been characteristic of the Máramaros Jewish ensemble or that they ever knew the entire repertoire. They had little contact with either the Jewish community or with the Jewish musicians, hence could not have a true understanding of the function of their own playing. This is clear from Covaci's description of the Jewish wedding ("they broke the plates," etc.) or his misunderstanding of the titles of the songs (see the case of "Ane maamini"). Simon believed that the syle of the Jewish orchestras was no different from the Hungarian instrumental style of the same territory. But it is significant that when during an interview, Covaci was played to an unidentified recording of Jewish music, he immediately recognized it as Jewish. He remembered so clearly the style of Jewish orchestras that even after not having heard any for more than fourty years, he identified their style instantly. "Where did you get this from?," he asked, "I am certain...I'm hundred...thousand percent sure that this is Jewish music." But when he played Jewish pieces, he performed them in a style different from what he himself recorgnized as Jewish.

Clearly, Covaci and Toni can transmit to us only a small fragment of the Jewish repertoire and through a channel not entirely authentic. Yet the importance of this record and the filedwork behind it cannot be overestimated: this material alone makes us reconsider entirely the issue of Hungrian klezmer music. We can say now with all certainty that there existed a specific Hungarian Jewish instrumental repertoire. This repertoire was related to the klezmer music of the further Eastern Jewish territories in its melodic and performing types, forming in this way part of a larger Jewish instrumental tradition. Yet it did not only produce a local variant of this  better known and perhaps more central  Jewish music but had its own genres and performing styles which are not identical with either the main Jewish or the Hungarian instrumental styles.

(1) Melodic types

In Eastern European folk music, we cannot always drow a clear cut line between instrumental and vocal repertoire. Particularly, the style of certain genres of Hassidic "niggun" and Yiddish songs show great similarity with some instrumental genres. It would be wrong to suppose, however, that these pieces are simply instrumental renditions of Jewish songs. Rather on the contrary: the form and the variability of these vocal melodies suggest that many of them are in fact sung versions of instrumental tunes. Whatever the origin of these two repertoires could have been, it is clear that they share not only melodic types but structural features. For instance, in the case of the niggunim, we find the kind of free combination of melodic phrases that is typical of instrumental music. The fact that several of the pieces of this record were referred to by the musicians as "songs" and identified by text, does not contradict to the fact that they are essentially instrumental in nature. Nor should we be surprised by the fact that the same tunes are used for dance as well as for prayer  such interchange between sacred and secular domains is not uncommon in Jewish culture.

Melodically, all the pieces of the record are part of the core repertoire of the Jewish tradition. The third melody of No. 11. (Hosid) of our record is known in its entirety from another Jewish source: it is almost identical with No. 176. Sher in Beregovski's collection, except that in this letter the a Coda like phrase is missing.

What is more important, however, the melodic style of our material as a whole is similar to the style known from other Jewish instrumental sources. The tonal content of all the pieces recorded here are based on two scale types, both consisting of 3 4 tonal segments. (Example 1.) The first can be derived from the "Seliha" and the "Mogen Ovos" modes of the liturgy, the second is a combination of the "Ahavo Rabbo" and the "Mi sheberah" modes. But rather than scales, it is better to conceive of these melodies as the combination of small tonal segments (on the example marked with arabic numerals). In the melody, these tonal segments may be combined in various ways; for instance, a pieces may contain motives 3 and 4 of both scales alternately.

When we try to understand the melodic types of this music, we should not consider entire pieces, but rather musical phrases as independent units. In instrumental music, and especially in dance music, the length and form of the piece depends largely on the occasion. If the occasion requires it, the musician can elongate the piece by adding another phrase or section. Of course, certain musical phrases are more appropriate for middle section, others are used typically for something like a Coda, and, in general, there is some kind of expection regarding the large scale form. It is also not unusual that a piece becomes popular as it is and, then, is transmitted without much variation. In most cases, however, melodic types of this repertoire could be conceived less as prototypes of pieces but rather as a sort of structurally neutral melodic idea which may serve as the basis for a motive, pair of motives, phrase or an entire piece.

For instance, one can consider as a melodic type the ascending fourth intervall on the notes D   G. (Example 2.) This idea is most typical as an opening gesture but sometimes the entire piece or section of a piece is based on it. (See, for instance, No. 7.) In some cases, the emphasis is on the open fourth intervall, in other instances it is filled in with notes, forming an augmented second scale fragment: (C)   D   Eb   F#   G.

Another common melodic formula is built around the notes Bb   C   D, using all possible combinations within these three notes. (Example 3.) In this type we can feel a trace of the recitative style of Jewish music: motives are formed by repetitions of notes and note groups (See, for instance, No.2., 8.)

A third idea, typical as extension or middle section is the elongation of the fifth of the scale  in effect, nothing but a melodic emphasis on the note D which is repeated again and again circled around with other notes. (Example 3.)

These three melodic types are not the only ones shared among the pieces. Virtually all the motives and phrases that can be heard on the record could be analyzed similarly having their parallels among the other pieces as well as in other categhories of Jewish music. None of these melodic ideas could be linked to one mode or genre only: they are typical in several musical modes of the liturgy, occur in Jewish metric songs in liturgical, para liturgical and secular context as well, and are especially common among Hassidic "niggunim", Yiddish songs and klezmer pieces.

(2) Style, genre and function: the relationship of the

Transylvanian Jewish repertoire to core repertoire

of klezmer music.

As mentioned before, written and recorded sources of the Jewish instrumental repertoire survived mainly from the former Russian territories. This musical material indicate a flourishing instrumental folk tradition which appears to be relatively unified as for its styles and genres and known by all Jewish communites within this area. The core repertoire of klezmer music consisted of (1) dances in double meter such as the "frejlax", "sher", "hosid", (2) various wedding musics the majority of which was similar to a triple meter dance type ("zok" or "hora") (3) improvisative pieces in free rhythm used at wedding or in other paraliturgical contexts (as the "taksim" or the "doina").

How can we relate our material to this, central repertoire?

The first difference appears in the social function of klezmer music. While in Russia, according to Beregovski, the most important occasion for instrumental music was the wedding, in Transylvania we find two other events that called for instrumental music: dance parties and Purim. Apparently, Purim was a primary context to play rubato melodies for listening, somewhat as an entertainment: Covaci remembered going from house to house with his father, playing "Keserves" pieces at Purim. Both Covaci and Toni recalls Jewish gatherings with no apparent festive function, where people got together only to sing and dance. I have heard of similar occasions from Karpathia (although more typically singing than dancing). Dance parties (sometimes called dance houses) are common among the Hungarians of Transylvania.

We find two major instrumental genres represented on the record. The first large group is those of the dances in double meter, they are called either "csárdás" or "hosid" or by the title of a song associated with the melody. These pieces are similar to the the largest group of dance pieces of the klezmer repertoire: the group of "freilaxs", "shers" and "hosids". It is not clear whether "freilaxs" and "shers" were danced in Transylvania, but apparently, Hungrian dances or versions of them were danced by Jews. Our pieces on the record have tempos similar to those of the "sher"  moderate tempo followed by fast  and somewhat but not entirely similar accompanying rhythms.

A significant genre of the wedding repertoire is conspiciously missing from the Transylvanian tradition: we found so far no example of "zok" type, triple meter pieces. Such pieces were used less for dancig than as an accompaniment to specific events of the wedding ritual such as the greeting of the bride and of the parents, or processional music accompanying the young couple. We do not know whether this genre was known in in Hungary, perhaps it was only missing from the Gypsy musicians' repertoire. It is interesting, however, that, according to Covaci, a rubato piece was played while the young couple proceeeded to the place of the wedding. So it may be  although not at all certain  that the place of the "zok" type was taken by rubato pieces.

The rubato pieces form the second important genre of Transylvanian klezmer music. We do not know how these pieces were called by the Jews, whether Covaci's usage of the word "Keserves" indicates an accepted or even a possible Jewish term for this genre. In the main klezmer repertoire, instrumental improvisations were modelled partly on the recitative style of the liturgy and partly on the instrumental improvisations of co territorial folk music. We know, for instance, that Jewish musicians in the 19th century played an imporvisatory genre that was probably borrowed from Turkish music, for it was called "taksim", the name of the improvisatory introduction known all over the Middle East. Around the turn of the century, in the jewish repertoire, the "taksim" was replaced by "doina", an improvisative genre of Rumanian folk msic that Jews played in a manner undistinguishable from that of the Rumanian Gypsy violinists. The Transylvanian Hungarian Jews were probably familiar with the Hungarian improvisative "Keserves" as well as the Rumanian doina. (The doina could have been transmitted to them directly by Rumanian as well as by Jewish musicians.)

The origin of the rubato pieces of this record is difficult to determine. They share certain melodic turns with the "doina", while some ornametal figures may have come from Hungarian improvisative violin style. Moreover, most of these motives and figures are familiar also from the improvisations of "hazzanim" and fit well in the framework of liturgical modes.

In a sense, these pieces might have been developed as a result of all of these influences. At the same time, they represent also an individual style different form those found in the rubato pieces in any of the above mentioned cultures. They are less ornamental or, at least, the ornaments are slower than in most Jewish doinas. In general, they are closer to liturgical music: the slow tempo and the emphasis on note repetition appears to derive from the style of liturgical recitative. The vocal quality of the violin is also different from what is typical in Jewish music; it is a stronger, richer sound (which, however, may be the result of Gypsy playing). Most unusal is the No. 4. "Keserves" where free rhythm improvisation is accompanied by drum  a style that so far has not been known in either the Rumanian, Hungarian or Jewish music of the area.

Two pieces of the record suggest the existence of possible Jewish genres which, according to my knowledge, have not been known previously from any other Jewish source. The cimbalom dance from Szászrégen (No. 8.) tranforms a most traditional Jewish rubato melody into a Tango by changing the rhythm of the melody and adding a rhythmic accompaniment (both realized on the solo cimbalom). The combination is so successful that it makes one suspect that more pieces might have existed in this style. I have previously heard from Orthodox Jews from Karpathia that they danced Tango at weddings but no specific music was ever recorded. It may be that this piece is one example of the genre of "Jewish Tango."

The piece called "Ane maamini" (No. 5.) is also unique. The melody and the slow tempo relates this piece to the most noble "niggunim", those which were sung at festive moments at the table of the "Tsaddik" or those which were used to reach the state of "devekut" (called "Tish niggun" and "devekut niggun", respectively). Although these "niggunim" are performed in para liturgical context, their spiritual importance approximates that of the religious serice. By singing the "devekut niggun", a Hassid transports his soul into the higher spheres, he reaches the sate of "devekut", that is, union with God. In this case, the structure of the melody, the tempo, the reference to liturgical text together with the fact that Jews were weeping when singing this melody suggest that "ane maamini" might have been a kind of instrumental devotional piece. The sensitive, relatively unornamented, slow melody on the one hand and the two voice drum accompaniment on the other provides us with a unique performing style. We have no example of devotional instrumental pieces performed in this manner.

In spite of the questions and problems we are left with, the research of the Muzsikás ensemble allows us to suggest that Hungarian Jewish village music, at least in Transylvania, was an indegenious, relatively independent Jewish tradition, one that had its own characteristics and genres, different both from the other Jewish and from the surrounding Hungarian traditions. It shared the basic Jewish melodic repertoire but used it somewhat differently creating individual performing styles, context and genres.