Transcriptions of All the Tunes
Recorded by Belf's Romanian Orchestra
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These are transcriptions of all of known extant Belf recordings, originally posted at belfology.com and reposted here for eduational uses by permission from the authors. Transcriptions are copyright © 2007 Alan Fendler. Harmonies and editorial content are copyright © 2007-2008 Rivke L. Reid. The first forty tunes were transcribed from Kurt Bjorling’s Resource Recordings, see muziker.org/klezmer-resources-2/, and are listed in the same order as his recordings, using the same titles, alphabet, and spelling. Platch Yevreia (#41) is not available yet. Yevreiskaya (#42) was transcribed from the CD “Oytsres/Treasures: Klezmer Music 1908-1996,” Wergo, SM16212.
27 of these recordings are available online at archive.org/details/RumynskiOrkestrBelfa
A project like this means making decisions on intent and scope. The goal was to produce fairly accurate representation of the melody, harmony, rhythm, and form of each tune as performed on the source recordings. They are not intended as documentation of the recording. They are “the dots on the page” to help players who have heard the recordings.
These are lead sheets. Ornamentation, quick runs, and the like are not included. The recordings were made before recording became the “golden documentation” of a piece of music. These are instances of performance. Dotted eighths are simply shown, as is common, as triplets, assuming the player knows that they usually are not articulated evenly. (In the case of Turetskaya, a decision was made that the repeat of the first turn is a train-wreck on the record, and an ordinary repeat of the melody is in the transcription, not what is actually played, or not played).
Harmonies sheets attempt, with much success, to show the point where chord changes happen, and what the chord is. Especially with the lack of bass response in some recordings, it can be difficult sometimes to tell. Usually, little detail beyond the chord root and its major/minor quality are shown. In a few cases, where it seemed essential to the sound, there is indication of an unusual third (Simchas Toyre begins on a chord that has a third, which is neither major or minor in today’s common practice, nor in just intonation), or of an apparent extended harmony. But there may be places that a 7th could be added that isn’t noted.
Rhythm has not been analysed on a measure-by-measure basis. At most, a pattern that resembles the one played on the record is shown for each section, possibly with an alternative if it changes in the measure. Often, one pattern is sufficient for the whole piece. Again, this is an aid to a player who has heard the recording. The notation doesn’t show the smaller details where the rhythm pushes and pulls, although there is a little narrative at times to help point out the “feel.”
Feel free to have your own ideas – either about what was played, or what should be played. Programming these sheets into a sequencer will not produce the music. Whether you are trying to “play like Belf”, or making your own decisions, these are a great scaffolding to build the music on – but you have to provide the rest.
On Titles: Mysteries, Clues, and Misconceptions – by Rivke L. Reid
Titles and place names can be tricky.
This page uses tune names as they were rendered into English translit by our sources, which is at least one step removed from the original label.
The Russian and Yiddish are themselves translits from the English translit, except when the title seemed to have originated in that language (or in Ukrainian), in which case the original native word was used.
We can learn a fair amount about the time and place these tunes are from through the titles. However, we can also be thrown off track by not checking all modern assumptions (for example, the meaning of “Romanian”).
Generalities to keep in mind when considering the titles:
- Don’t assume titles have any real connection to the tune.
- Sometimes common tunes don’t have names until a recording or transcription is made, and names may be plucked out of thin air.
- Don’t confuse modern boundaries with place names referenced.
- Fixed boundaries for countries, based on the national identity of the people inside those boundaries, is a fairly new concept. Belf recorded on the eve of the Great War, which followed the decline of two major imperial forces in the area, simultaneously nationalist concepts were reaching a mature stage. “Nationality” is a concept with different meanings in different places and times.
- Transliteration without context can fool you.Don’t assume all Cyrillic is Russian and that Ukrainian is a degenerate dialect of Russian. This is no more true than the idea of Yiddish as broken German.
- This can lead to odd tranlits. No matter how it was tranlitted into Cyrillic, no Jew looks for three stars on Saturday night to see if it’s time for “Gavdole” – whether your crowd says Hahv-doh-lah or Hiv-doi-lowh, it’s always a ‘ה’, not a ‘ג’. If Г was used instead of Х, clearly it’s a Ukrainian translit.
Glossary of Frequent Words and Word Formations
- -skaya / -ская (suffix)
- Suffix found at the end of several “place name” tunes, this ending changes a feminine noun into a feminine attributive adjective. The noun is left off, being clear from context that it applies to the song. Thus, “Amerikanskaya” simply means “American”, or rather, “An American Tune”.*
- -ski / -скый (suffix)
- See -skaya above; this is for masculine. Ruminski Zhok is “Romanian Zhok”.
- (Romanian) a dance and a rhythm, like the Yiddish or Romanian (but not Israeli) hora. By the way, “hora” means mountain in Russian, Ukrainian, and Bulgarian. Could that be a reference to that “hump” in the beat of a hora?
- Hora (Gora)
- (Ukrainian, Yiddish, Russian) See Zhok. Also Ukrainian for mountain.
- Havdole (Gavdole)
- (Yiddish and Hebrew) – literally,”seperation”. Usually refering to the time on Saturday night when Shabbos ends; right after Havdole is a good time to get out the instruments and play a few tunes, when we’re still feeling Shabbosdik but it’s too late to start the week’s work.
- (Yiddish and Hebrew) the wedding canopy (usually a tallis) for a Jewish couple, more generally, a marriage ceremony
- (Russian, Yiddish, German) a dance (not specific)
- (Yiddish) happy, joyful, celebratory
- Reb, Rebn, Rebns, Rebe, Rav, Rabbi
- (Hebrew, Yiddish) Not identical in meaning, and certainly not in nuance. “Rabbi/Rabi” is your learned community leader, who can make halakhic decisions for the community, conduct a wedding, and so forth – he is not imbued with mystical powers or special connections with the Almighty. “Reb” is just a term of mild respect for any adult Jewish male. Don’t call a Rabbi “Reb” unless he’s your best friend from childhood. Rebe/rebbe is the royal head of a hasidic dynasty, some thought to have special powers, others simply seen as embodying the best traits of Jewish knowledge, practice, and learning.
- Zakhidnia Ukraina
- Not in a tune title, but used in the descriptions. “Western Ukraine”, specifically that section of modern Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, and Hungary defined in the 1918 declaration of the Rada as including ‘Eastern Galicia bordered by the Sian River, but including the Lemko region; northern Bukovyna, including the towns of Chernivtsi, Storozhynets, and Seret; and the Ukrainian region of northeastern Hungary’. The area encloses the village and city names mentioned in tune titles.
* Note re: Russian Names
Russian roots and cases are particularly confusing if one isn’t used to a strongly cased language. English does in fact have some cases, such “I” vs “me,” but relies more on word order and predicates.
“Skaya” and “skii” are actually combinations of two suffixes to transform a noun into an attributive adjective. The “sk” part (not the only possibility, but the one we see here) transforms a noun into an adjective, as “-ish” changes transforms the noun “Turkey” into “Turkish”. However, that’s not sufficient, since adjectives need to agree with the gender of the noun.
Rumynski Tanets – Romanian Dance (dance being a masculine noun). Moldovanskaya Dudochka – Moldovian Shepards-Flute (Dudochka being feminine). Many of these tunes do not have nouns. If you are familiar with klezmer vocabulary, this is familiar in calling a tune a “Turkisher” without saying if it’s a tune, rhythm, melody, dance.
In the Belf tunes, adjectives without nouns are is always rendered feminine. This suggests the noun is the feminine “мелодия” (melody), taking the “skaya” ending, whether it’s a Beautiful Melody (красивейшая мелодия / krasiveishaya melodiya) or a Jewish Melody (еврейская мелодия / ivriskaya melodia) (ivri+sk+aya – Jew+ish+[singular feminine nomative adjective ending]).
Meanings of Specific Titles
- Rumynski Zhok
- Romanian Zhok
- literally, “origins.” A person with yikhes would be from a good family, perhaps the grandson of a rabbi and the son of a successful merchant. Hopefully you marry someone with it, if you don’t have it yourself.
- Moldovanskaya Dudochka
- A dudochka is a small fipple flute. This probably refers to a traditional sheperds pipe. Toy flutes are also called dudochkas. Thus, this refers to a tune that would be played on a small flute by a Moldovian sheperd.
- The Ukrainian word for sheperd. As this is a word of Turkic origin not found in Russian or Polish, it lends further credence to the theory that Belf’s music is from Zakhidnia Ukraina.
- Rumynski Zhok & Tanets
- Romanian Zhok and Dance
- Simkhas Toyre
- “Rejoicing in Torah” – The last major holiday of the autumn season, after Rosh Hashana, Yom Kipper, Sukkes, and Simini Azeret. It marks the completion of the yearly cycle of Torah reading. “Hakafos” are circuits made around the shul, parade fashion, with those at the head of the line carrying the scrolls, as the rest of the community follows, singing and dancing. The title suggests this might be a tune to use as a Hakafos.
- Bulgarish Melody. No one seems to know why we call them that, since they don’t seem to be related to Bulgarian music. A bulgar usually is played in 8, with a 3/3/2 rhythm pattern that is associated with Balkan dancing.
- Bolgarski Zhok
- Bulgarish Zhok. Ditto. All the more so since, in Jewish music, the bulgar is a particular rhythm, and so can’t be a Zhok. Perhaps for now we should simply think “Balkan” for “Bolgarski/Bolgarskaya”, as close enough.
- Moldovanskaya Hanga
- Moldovian Hanga
- U Rabina
- Nokh Havdole
- After Havole
- Fun Der Khupe
- From the Khupe, suggesting it is a song to play right after the smashing of the glass.
- Na Rasvete
- “At Daybreak”. The tune was later used as incidental music in Ansky’s play “דער דיבוק”, “The Dybuk.”
- Bessarabski Freilikhs
- Bessarabian Frelakhs
- Rumynski Motiv
- Romanian tune
- Dem Rebns Havdole
- The Rebbes’ Havdola
- Bessarabski Zhok
- Bessarabian Zhok
- Lomir Beyten Got
- Let Us Beseech God
- Zayt Lustik
- “Be Happy!”
- “How Beautiful” – this is considered by some to be a song of oppression, as it was the song the klezmers would be forced to play for the goyim, minstrel style
- Tsu Der Hakofes
- For the Hakofs – suggesting a tune to be used for the Simkhas Torah processions
- A dance for a chassid
- Melody of Khotyn/Хотин/Hotin/Chocim. Khotyn is about 30 miles/60 km northeast of Chernivtsi – more of the evidence for a Zakhidno-Ukrayinska origin for Belf. Khotyn was a fortified town, thus becoming through centuries of war and power shifts, a major point for cultural contact. Here the Poles and the Ottomans pushed thier empires back and forth, with Kotin – nominally part of the principality of Moldovia under the control of one or the other for centuries. Here the Poles stopped the Ottoman advance in the 1600’s, with the help of the Ukrainian Cossacks. In the 1700’s the Russian Empire began challanging the Ottomans for Khotin, and in the 1800’s it was pulled into the Russian Empire. The largest population segment was Romanian. Jews lived there in significant numbers since the 1500s. Ukrainians arrived in large numbers in the 1800s – setting the stage for a Jewish Romanian Orchestra. Following the Great War and the Russian Revolution (which persued a land for peace policy in the early years), it passed to Romania, and a tremendous massacre of Ukrainians was carried out. Jews left the area in great numbers in the late 1800s and early 1900s, going to America or to major Russian cities in the Pale. Of the 15000 Jews living there in 1941 (when Romania seized it from the Soviets), almost all were killed within a week’s time.
- American Melody
- Der Arbaytsman
- The Workingman
- Freylikhs Bruder
- Happy Brother
- Melody of Skvir
- Melody of Lipovets
- Der Farzorgter Yid
- The Confused Jew
- Hop Lyalya, Rumynski Piesnya
- Hop Lyalya, Romanian Song
- Gora Holya, Rumnyski Tanets
- Mountain Girl, Romanian Dance
- Tanets Rabina(Belf 33)
- The Rabbi’s Dance
- Nakhes fun Kinder
- Joy/Pride/Pleasure from your Children
- Khasid U Rabina
- The Chussid and the Rabbi
- Odesa Melody
- Oy sa falshe velt
- Oh, It’s a False World!
- Polish Melody
- Surra U Ravvina
- Surra and the Rabbi
- Baym Rebns Tish
- At My Rebbe’s Table
The Sirena-Rekord Story – by Rivke L. Reid
The story of Sirena – the label of Belf – begins as most Russian recording companies does, with a pirate label. As Intona Records, prior to 1908, it issued unlicensed copies of other companies’ records. This gave them three years to accumulate capital, prior to the enactment of a copyright law for sound recordings in Russia, was adopted in March 1911. Much profit was made from the huge hit «На сопках Маньчжурии» (Na Sopkakh Manzhurii – On The Hills of Manchuria).[This tune is once again being used as a cash cow, now by Andre Rieu who presents it as “Waltz №2”.] [There was an ASCAP like organization meant to protect author’s rights – Агентство музыкальных прав русских авторов (АМПРА). In 1911 Sirena was sued in Moscow over royalties, and was forced to pay 15 kopecks on each disk. But most could not sue…
So here begins the legal Sirena-Rekord. In a few short years, they would dominate the recording industry in the Russian Empire – only to come crashing down with the war. Although the label would survive until 1939, its period of dominance matches exactly the years of the Belf issues, 1911-1914.
Our cast of characters starts with the flamboyant Julius Feigenbaum, Executive Director, who established the first pressing plant at 33 Piękna Street in Warsaw.
His cohort was Fabian Tempel. Feigenbaum worked the office and schmoozed the artists and financiers, but Tempel as Managing Director did the leg work. This included A&R, finding talents worth recording and pressing, arranging to hire musicians, organizing the recordings. If Belf’s Rumanian Orchestra existed as a real entity – either under the stated name or as an alter-ego of another “national” kapelye of some kind, it was most likely Tempel who made the arrangements for these limited market “ethnic” recordings.
However, if Tempel invented Belf on his own, it perhaps would have fallen to Music Director J Hirschfeld to create Belf’s Orchestra. Just as in the US (see for example Hankus Netsky’s PhD thesis which outlines the day to day work of Jewish musicians in Philadelphia), a working musician could play in various national and popular styles as needed. It would have been a simple matter to poll his staff musicians for abilities for various “national musics”, and as an officer in the Warsaw Philharmonic Society, there would have been plenty of other session musicians to be found as needed.
The other member of the upper management was Gershuni, who was the Technical Director. Gershuni set up the studios, arranged for the presses, arranged for the technical details of recording.
In the first year of open production, Sirena pressed an astounding 2.5 million discs. They opened a modern, new facility at 66 Chmielna Street, with the most advanced recording and pressing equipment available.
Sirena had a reputation for paying exorbitant fees to the artists, and Feigenbaum was famous for wining and dining the classical and popular stars of the day. One reason was to get the top musicians – who still didn’t trust the recording process to do them justice – to take time to do as many takes as needed to get a perfect recording.
This seems starkly at odds with the quality of the Belf records, where obvious train wrecks appear from time to time. They were obviously done in a single take. The piano player going to the head instead of taking the repeat was no reason to shave a wax.
However, as in America, the “ethnic” market was smaller and more fragmented. Thankfully it wasn’t as small as America’s, where there probably would not have been ethnic recordings if they weren’t needed to sell the phonographs and gramophones in the ethnic neighborhoods. For Sirena, it was no doubt part of the strategy to take over the industry – to fill the niche as well as the mainstream demand.
Another ethnic line from Sirena was Polish music, which were shipped to Galacia for sale to feed the nostalgia of the ethnic Poles, just as Romanian-Jewish sound of BRO fed the memories (real or imagined) of the Southern Jews living in Warsaw or other parts of Russia.
Within the year, Sirena was the largest record company in the Russian Empire, surpassing Zonophone by 50%. At the same time, Zonophone moved their Russian warehouse from Moscow to Riga. Sirena swooped in and filled the warehouse, and soon dominated record sales in Moscow, St Petersburg, and even Siberia. A warehouse was also opened in the heart of Kiev on Kreschiatic Street, to further expand sales in the Ukrainian areas of European Russia.
In 1913 the firm went public as “Sirena Record Joint-Stock Company”, and expanded sales into England, Ireland, and Scotland, and sent staff to Liverpool to record English sea-chanties to begin offering more folk recordings in English. In early 1914 they struck a deal with a Baltimore wholesaler and were ready to begin shipping to the US.
In August 1914, Germany declared war on Russia. Russian Warsaw was attacked. At the time, Feigenbaum and Tempel were in Germany on business. They were arrested there and held as prisoners for nearly two years.
Warsaw was one of the front cities of the war, a place where the Austrian and Russian empires met. Chmielna Street was zeppelin-bombed. Gershuni was injured, and the factory and offices damaged. Record sales remained strong because of the strong catalog of nationalist offerings.
In Aprelevka, near Moscow, the Metropol Record plant had been confiscated from German owners. Gershuni and remaining staff relocated their matrices there. I have no information as to whether the Belf matrices were relocated. Whatever was left in Warsaw was seized by the Germans, and any copper found was recycled.
I also have no information as to Belf, should he or his orchestra existed as anything other than a brand name for the studio band. The name Belf – which anglicizes as “Wolff” – wasn’t uncommon in the Western Ukrainian areas that the music is associated with. Belf was also the name of a major publisher and seller of Jewish and other books in Vienna for at least a century before World War II. None of this is terribly conclusive.
Another point to research is the fate of the matrices that were moved to Aprelevka. It seems very unlikely they would have survived the second world war, assuming they lasted that long. But lets get back to Sirena.
Control of distribution had always been part of Sirena’s success, but now in distress they turned to Isserling Brothers in Vilna for distribution. This made Sirena “just another company”. The top two men were imprisoned in Germany. Much of their market was now in hostile territory, and much of the Russian market was now more concerned with survival than buying records. The Warsaw artistic circles were totally disrupted. The label survive but no longer as the Russian Columbia or Victor. Now they were just another label. Production declined, and eventually they returned to their roots – printing other companies’ matrices on the Sirena label.
Feigenbaum was released in 1916 and attempted a resuscitation. He paid wartime prices for materials and recorded some new music. But the market belonged to others by then, and although the name survived until 1939, the great Sirena-Rekord was finally just another casualty of the Great War.
I have no facts to back my feeling that the Belf matrices are long gone, but with the two world wars and the Russian revolution intervening, I have my doubts. Its unlikely they were a priority for rescue from Warsaw in 1914. I’m still looking into the fate of the company after the Revolution, which occurred within a year of Feigenbaum and Tempel’s return to Russian territory. Assuming the local cadre did not destroy the matrices while reforming property notions, we also would need to hope that Stalin didn’t have them destroyed – although if they are preserved it would perhaps be Stalin who did so! We then have World War II in which the Soviet Union’s people and material assets were suffered so greatly. There are additional resources I’m following up on.
Much of this material is from my translation from the Russian of Alexander Tikhonov’s articles Рекорд “Сирены” (‘Sirena’ Record) in «Звукорежиссер» 2003 №3 and Столетняя война – Из истории музыкального пиратства в России (History of Musical Piracy in Russia) serialized in «Звукорежиссер» 2002 №s 2,4, and 5.