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date: 15 December 2019


  • Henry Sapoznik


From the Hebrew-Aramaic words kley (“instrument”) and zemer (“song”), the Yiddishized contraction refers to a musician while the Americanized usage (“klezmer music”) refers to a genre of Jewish music with roots in Yiddish folk traditions.

Like the Yiddish language, klezmer music was a key cultural component of the Ashkenazi civilization dating from its inception in the 9th century. Its musical dynamics reflect the Jewish soundscape, featuring the modes, scales, and articulations of cantorial (synagogue) music as a foundation upon which other forms (gypsy, peasant, and art music) were joined. With weddings making up the core outlet for the music, the instrumentation reflected local and regional availability, including fiddles, cello, bass, flute, baraban (bass drum), and tats (cymbal). Certain instruments, such as the tsimbl (hammered dulcimer), were most closely identified with Jews, and it was Jews who were most responsible for their wide European dissemination. By the end of the 19th century, string-based ensembles had been joined (and often surpassed) by louder brass and reed instruments such as clarinet, trumpet, trombone, and tuba....

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