Prof. Nikolay Kaufman’s Arrangements of Jewish Songs

For a period of more than fifty years, Prof. Kaufman has been collecting Jewish musical folklore – songs heard and written down in cities and synagogues, religious and secular, by known and unknown authors. A large volume of these songs exist unaltered, but also a large volume had been arranged by Prof. Kaufman – it is to be published soon. He has researched them as well (there is an article on the subject written by him, in the Bulgarian musicology press), but in his research he does not mention his arrangements.

Songs may be classified as follows:

I. Performance ensemble.
1. Mixed choir
2. Male or female choir, usually 2-3 voices.
3. Same choir ensemble as in numbers 1. and 2. with solo voices added, including solo child/children.
4. Voice and piano
5. Choir and other instruments. It is interesting, that Kaufman avoids using choir-and-piano combination, but there are some songs for choir and cello, also choir and flute/violin.

II. Culture: Ashkenazic and Sephardic. Ashkenazim are a Jewish subculture that has been historically located in Eastern Europe and Germany. This culture speaks (and consequently, sings) in Yiddish. Yiddish is a medieval language, partly based on German and Hebrew. It is written with Hebrew letters and read right-to-left. In Kaufman’s songs texts in Yiddish (and most of the Ladino) are written in Cyrillic script.
Sepharads are the other, partly European Jewish subculture, that lived in Medieval Spain and Morocco, and was banished from there in 1492. They speak a variant of archaic Spanish, that is called Ladino, Judeo-Espaтol, or Spaniolit, with its own slightly different set of pronunciation, grammar and spelling – mainly in Latin script. This language seems to be fading away – it is not spoken by the younger generation. The same appears to be partially true about Sephardic music as well.

For historical reasons, Bulgaria is considered a “Sephardic region.” When the country was a part of the Ottoman Empire, many Jewish refugees settled there. There were Jewish refugees from many other countries and cultures, but the majority was Sephardic. There even was a process of “Sepharadization” of Jews that came from other places. In the 40s and 50s of the 20th century, most Jews left Bulgaria, but the remainder remained mostly Sephardic. (Some Bulgarian Jews, however, have Ashkenazic origins – Alexis Weissenberg, Pancho Vladigerov, Vesselin Pantaleev-Eshkenazy, etc. Some Bulgarian Jews of partial or full Sephardic heritage are, for example, Valery Petrov, Jules Levy, Elias Canetti, Leon Daniel. Prof. Kaufman has Ashkenazic origins – his name, translated from Yiddish, means “trader”. Same family name/profession equivalent in Ladino would be “Tadjer”.) In Kaufman’s song collection there are also songs that are purportedly created in the Nazi concentration camps.

III. Function
1. Religious – for a synagogue/home use, they are related mostly to the different holidays – Purim, Pesach, Shabbat, etc.
2. Secular – they often have an indirect connection with religion, for example the traditional “counting” song for Pesach. Among these songs, the love and marriage ones stand out. There was a tradition for a song for absolutely every ritual, every act of life. A number of Holocaust songs also are included in Kaufman’s secular song collection.

IV. Authorship: known and unknown. Most of the songs do not have a known author (for some of them there is information from the distant past – for example, about the song Adio Kerida it is mentioned that it was popular in 11th century Spain.) Some known song authors are Lewandowski and Sulzer – such songs belong to the Ashkenazic music synagogue tradition of the 19th century up to the middle of the 20th century. This tradition, developed mainly in Western Europe, was heavily influenced from the music culture in this region – in the synagogue there is an organ, a choir sings, often a mixed one, various musical instruments are in use, sometimes it is possible to sing in the local language – French, German. This tradition is being preserved to some extent and developed further by the US Reformist congregations. It existed in the Bulgarian synagogues, but after the “communist” period and the subsequent massive emigration, it has disappeared completely in Bulgaria. A large portion of its musical material has been documented and preserved by Prof. Kaufman.

V. Arrangement: arranged and unarranged. Some melodies are written as heard. All Sephardic songs are one-voiced; there is no polyphonic tradition in this culture. Another characteristic feature is that it was heavily influenced by the musical culture of the Moslem countries. Such features are, for example, lack of any musical instruments in the synagogues; women do not sing. In addition to this, Ashkenazic tradition, which was influenced by the 19th century Western European musical culture, often harmonizes the original one-voiced melodies in a four-voiced en-bloc fashion (like a Christian hymn); also in form of a solo-against-ripieno structure.

Kaufman’s arrangements are rather more complex. Choir is often treated as an “orchestra” (often with an added onomatopoeic text, glissandos, etc.) – these arrangements are definitely for a professional choir ensemble. Additional musicological help for these songs’ performance may be needed, not just for the correct pronunciation – songs are in four languages – Bulgarian, Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino. Help may be needed in terms of correct interpretation – melodies are often notated fully or partially senza misura with many improvisational elements. In some rare examples, the music is written out, but the text is completely lacking – not unlike the Ashkenazic “niggun” tradition, i.e., a quasi-instrumental piece, performed by choir.

Here are some of the musical techniques employed by Kaufman in these songs’ arrangement:

“Multi-colored” harmony. Alterations abound, modulations, double-leading ton cadences. Modes observed in the horizontal are naturally employed in the vertical as well.
Polyphonically, there are some elements of imitation, but they are used discreetly – this type of music is not naturally polyphonic. Even transient voices, that appear and disappear (heterophonic principle) are extremely rare. There are numerous ostinati.

Multiple ornaments are present, some written with mordent marks, appoggiaturas, accicaccaturas, and other, longer and more complex types. Ornaments in the Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions are based on different principles, but there are plenty of ornaments in all Kaufman’s arrangements. Some of them (especially the Sephardic ones, having some “Mediterranean” voice performance characteristics, makam influences, microtons) require a certain preparation for the singer. Ornaments are often written out for an entire choir part (not solo), and performing them correctly may pose a challenge.

“Instrumental” approach. The text often is “da-ba-da-ba”, or “ride rai, ride rai, ride ride ride rai” and the choir directly imitates instrumental ensemble. There are also many jumps, tirratas, repeated tons. Instruments are used as well, as mentioned above, also triangle, hand clapping, shouting, also some effects as monkey braying, rooster crowing. Many glissandos are in use, also some more exotic performance instructions – “capriciously”, “elegantly”. Other features include solo child and children’s choir, solo contralto, narrator, parlando rubato. In some of the arrangements there is some music material that is sung by a tradition synagogue singer (hazzan).
Kaufman often writes what the song is about (for example “For Purim”), and sometimes explains what the holiday is all about, or what is the life event related to the song. He also sometimes states from whom, where and when he got the song, and some of the arrangements are dedicated to people that have worked with him. He strives to write down all verses of the text, which sometimes is also translated. It is interesting, that when the text is written in Cyrillic script, in order to ask for a “mellow” pronunciation, Kaufman often uses the letter “ь” (ер малък), for example: “О зайть, гезунтерхайть, майне либе ельтерн х’фор…”

Some songs exist in more than a single variant, with varying degrees of difference between them, sometimes in different keys. There are instructions about possible performance of other vocal ensembles – “A fourth down!” Kaufman often supports performance of Jewish songs by Bulgarian folk ensembles.

In the soon-to-be-published edition there will be a table displaying the following song parameters: name of song, (listed alphabetically), performance ensemble/number of voices, culture (Sephardic or Ashkenazic), holiday or occasion (religious or secular), and notes. One of the songs is a curious “hybrid” of two songs – Bulgarian and Jewish (Mira la Mar). There also are songs in Hebrew and Ladino, and Hebrew and English. In another one, the text is translated from Yiddish and rhythmicized by the important Bulgarian poet Valery Petrov.