Golden age American klezmer copyright scores in the Library of Congress (1917-28)

Since the mid-2010s, the U.S. Library of Congress has become a recognized source of klezmer music scores, although primarily among a niche audience of researchers, professional musicians and teachers. This is because of their Yiddish American Popular Sheet Music collection, which (as of 2023) contains roughly 1300 public domain scores of klezmer, Yiddish theatre, and religious music. (See this see this 2017 blog post by Wendi Maloney, “Celebrating Yiddish American Popular Song” for a summary of that collection.) Among the published scores are many handwritten copyright scores mailed in to the LOC by klezmer recording artists during the brief period of 1918 to 1922. These simple lead sheets asserted copyright over klezmer melodies or Yiddish songs which the bandleaders in question were preparing to record for Columbia, Victor, Brunswick, or other record companies. Because of that intended function, the often-fanciful titles given to the pieces generally match those printed on the 78 rpm records.

While researching the cimbalom player Joseph Moskowitz last year, I came across hits on his name in searches of Google Books which were in old United States Patent Office publications. When I examined the entries, I realized they were for klezmer pieces he had copyrighted which were not yet posted to the LOC collection. (They only have a single Moskowitz piece posted.) By searching the names of his contemporary klezmer recording artists, I soon saw that many of them had pieces listed that had not been digitized yet. I identified a total of around 575 relevant entries, of which only 145 had been digitized and added to the LOC site. In this post, I’ll give an overview of what the pieces seem to be; I hope to eventually digitize the rest of them for research purposes, but so far I have only seen a small selection.

Roșen Shere copyright score submitted by Max Leibowitz in 1920. Source: Library of Congress.

Background

These handwritten klezmer copyright scores are the work of a small cohort of immigrant Jewish recording artists who were living and working in New York and Philadelphia in the late 1910s and early 1920s. These musicians led orchestras in recording sessions for 78 rpm discs of Eastern European Jewish dance music for Jewish and other audiences. These recordings were widely disseminated in the United States and many have survived the past century in various private and academic collections; many are now easily accessible via digital collections such as the Mayrent Collection, FAU’s Recorded Sound Archive, or the Internet Archive.

By the 1970s, with renewed interest in old Jewish music, surviving recordings formed an important source of research into the historical sounds of the genre. The melodies and arrangements, as heard decades later through faint and scratched discs, played a major role in the reconstruction of what we now call klezmer music. Just take a look at the liner notes to The Klezmorim’s 1977 album East Side Wedding: “To rediscover the unashamed passion and hysteria of authentic Yiddish music you have to journey to the limits of living memory […] Neglected manuscripts and forgotten 78 rpm recordings are your ticket to the union halls, cabarets and proletarian weddings of 1927 where the badchn’s (wedding jester) bawdy rhyme, the Talmud scholar’s chant, the Ukrainian peasant’s drinking song, and the Rumanian Gypsy’s lament were wedded in ways at once traditional and fresh” (written by Lev Liberman). 

By comparison, printed scores and tune collections have had a less important role in the American klezmer revival. A few exceptions are the ubiquitous Kammen International Dance Folio series, Henry Sapoznik’s 1987 book The Compleat Klezmer, and American translations of Moisei Beregovsky’s Old Jewish Folk Music and Jewish Instrumental Folk Music. The copyright scores I am looking at here, on the other hand, were not published or distributed, and so they would not be as easy to find as commercial discs or the aforementioned printed collections. This may be why the handwritten scores were mostly ignored, except by a few researchers, until they were digitized and made available within the last decade.

Realizing that records of these copyright scores were easily available online nowadays, I tried to get a wider picture of klezmer copyright scores held by the Library of Congress by searching the copyright listings for musical compositions, which were catalogued and published in multiple volumes annually. These copyright records are available as a single collection on the Internet Archive; reproductions can also be found in many collections on HathiTrust. It seems that, in the klezmer milieu of New York City, the practice of submitting manuscripts before recording sessions began with the violinist and bandleader Max Leibowitz in 1917. He was soon followed by bandleaders Abe Schwartz, Israel J. Hochman, and Joseph Frankel. (Before 1917, some instrumental Jewish tunes were copyrighted, but apparently for print publication and not for the purposes of sound recordings.) A handful of musicians from Philadelphia also sent in copyright scores, including Harry Kandel and Louis Dubrow; this seems to have been a practice limited to those two cities, which were also the main sources of bandleaders in the klezmer recording industry.

Because the copyrights were made for commercial sound recordings, the total number of copyright scores follows the rise and fall of the boom in klezmer recordings and ethnic recordings more generally, which declined by the late 1920s. For more on that era, see Joel Rubin’s recent book New York Klezmer in the Early Twentieth Century. Irene Heskes, whose work on Yiddish music scores and copyright was essential to this project, also notes in Passport to Jewish Music that there was a peak from 1921 to 1925 followed by a steep decline. After examining specifically instrumental pieces among these copyrights, I decided to limit my scope to the period between 1917 and 1928. For the most part, that is the time period during which handwritten klezmer scores were being sent in for copyright, although some did occasionally appear in the 1930s and 1940s.

After searching the names of well-known klezmers in the listings, as well as dance types, place names, and various other keywords, I have settled on roughly 575 individual klezmer pieces. Of these, roughly 145 are already available digitally on the LOC collection. The pieces I identified include a wide variety of dances, including bulgars, sirbas, shers, polkas, mazurkas, marches, khosidls, and waltzes, with a strong emphasis on the ‘southern’ klezmer repertoire of Romania and Ukraine. There is significant overlap with the list published by Heskes in Yiddish American Popular Songs; she lists 210 of my 575. Meanwhile, I excluded a large number of songs with words as well as other ethnic music copyrighted by these klezmer bandleaders. Among the instrumental pieces I decided to keep, some have evocative names that make it difficult to guess at the genre without seeing the score, such as I. J. Hochman’s “Jolly Students,” Sam Young’s “Lozt Grisen (Send Regards),” or Joseph Frankel’s “Swiss Mountain Idylle” (!). The title on each score usually matches that of the commercial sound recording, which makes them easier to identify, although in other cases they are given generic titles (“Polish Polka No. 2”).

The bandleaders and recording artists who submitted these pieces were generally born in the 1870s and 1880s and most emigrated from Eastern Europe to New York in the first decade of the twentieth century. Most worked in obscurity as bandleaders at weddings and simchas in New York or Philadelphia, or in non-Jewish vaudeville or marching bands, before being recruited into the recording studio. Abe Schwartz copyrighted the largest number of pieces at 40% of the total; Max Leibowitz and Joseph Frankel each submitted around 10%. Israel J. Hochman, Harry Kandel, Joseph Moskowitz, and Joseph Cherniavsky make up most of the remainder with a few percent each. Romanian-born klezmers are highly overrepresented in the list as well, with around 58% of the total pieces submitted by Romanians, 30% from the Russian Empire and only 9% from Austria-Hungary. Only a handful were submitted by American-born arrangers. A significant minority of the copyrighted titles do not correspond to known recordings; while they may have been recorded under different titles or by different orchestras, at least some of the melodies may be unknown to us. Next I will take a closer look at the main contributors.

Contributors

Max Leibowitz

Max Leibowitz (c.1884-1942), a violinist born in Iași, Romania who emigrated to New York City in 1905, submitted around 55 instrumental pieces for copyright, of which 18 are among the Leibowitz scores in the LOC collection. He seems to have been the first klezmer bandleader or composer to submit pieces to the Library of Congress in reference to an instrumental sound recording; he sent in six pieces with Romanian titles in 1917, some of which match pieces recorded by the Orchestra Românească in New York in 1916. He continued to submit new instrumental pieces for copyright until around 1922; the majority of these were sirbas, horas, bulgars, and khosidls, except in 1920 when he submitted a series of 13 Polish polkas and obereks. After 1922 his copyright submissions seem to have been repeats, collaborations, or non-instrumental music. I am curious to know why he decided to start submitting these pieces for copyright in 1917, as there had been a few years of a bustling wartime klezmer recording industry in New York without any written copyrights being claimed. His own recording career began the year before with a test pressing at Victor Records in 1916, and continued until around 1920. However, recordings under his own name were not numerous; Richard Spottswood only counts 16 in Ethnic Music on Records. Others may have been recorded by generic ‘ethnic’ orchestras he led.

In 1923-4, he filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against Columbia Gramophone Co. and the clarinetist Naftule Brandwein. He claimed they had infringed on his piece Turkish Bulgarish, which he copyrighted in September 1922, by recording and releasing it. He lost the suit, mainly because he was a Romanian citizen at the time he had submitted it and because he had never published or recorded it, and therefore had limited rights. In addition, the Columbia lawyers successfully argued that the melody had been widely known in Eastern Europe for at least half a century:

“…the music of the musical composition alleged to have been devised, created and composed as a new and original composition by [Leibowitz] is an old work the music of which is known to have been printed, published and performed in Turkey, Bulgaria, Roumania, Greece, Servia, Russia, and other countries of Europe at least fifty (50) years heretofore and known in the said and other countries as old music and in the Public Domain”. (From a communication by Arthur E. Garmaize, Columbia’s lawyer, November 20, 1923. Source: National Archive and Records Administration.)

The Columbia lawyers also noted that Abe Schwartz had copyrighted the same piece in 1923; this makes me wonder how many of the pieces in the overall copyrighted klezmer list are 1) actually known melodies from Europe and 2) were copyrighted by multiple contributors.

Abe Schwartz

Abe Schwartz (1881-1963), a violinist born near Bucharest, Romania who emigrated to New York in around 1900, was the by far the most prolific submitter of klezmer and related copyrights during the period in question. Starting in April 1920, he submitted more than 230 relevant instrumental pieces, including bulgars and freylekhs, khosidls and shers, quadrilles, waltzes, as well as Romanian, Polish, and Ukrainian dances. At present, roughly fifty of these have been digitized in the Schwartz scores in the LOC collection, along with a many vocal pieces. Many of them correspond to his recorded output during this period, although there are too many to compare within the scope of this project.

Schwartz’s specifically Jewish instrumental pieces (ones with Yiddish titles) tapered off after 1923, with a few exceptions. He continued to submit large numbers of non-Jewish dance pieces until the 1940s. The large number of pieces he submitted, far in excess of the titles he is known to have recorded during this period, is very curious. A receipt produced as evidence during the Leibowitz vs. Columbia Gramophone Co. case documented a payment of $120 to Schwartz for the rights to three dance pieces (see image). Since the case alleges that this “Turkish Bulgarian” piece (entered as Terkish Bulgarish in the copyright catalogue) is the same as the one Leibowitz copyrighted, one can assume Schwartz was getting paid to sign away the rights to other traditional melodies, or new ones he was composing. In cases of non-Jewish pieces he may have been registering them on behalf of other ‘ethnic’ recording artists as a part of his business dealings or A&R work. After all, as early as 1917 he had been hired at Columbia Records to find new ethnic artists and help organize their recording sessions. (For more on this, see Henry Sapoznik’s Klezmer! book.) I certainly find Schwartz’s claim to have composed 100% of the pieces to be suspect, but without evidence it is hard to know which pieces actually were his original works.

A document from December 1923 showing payment to Abe Schwartz for selling the rights to folk dance melodies.
Source: National Archive and Records Administration.

Joseph Frankel

Lt. Joseph Frankel (1882-1956) was a clarinetist born in Kyiv who decided to stay in New York in 1904 while on a tour with a Russian military band. He mainly led military and municipal orchestras, although he did enjoy a period of success as a klezmer recording artist. He submitted roughly 35 klezmer pieces for copyright, of which 21 are currently available among the Frankel scores in the LOC collection. Many of the pieces are bulgars, freylekhs, polkas, marches and mazurkas, as well as ones titled with American names like shimmy or jazz. An unusual set he submitted in June 1920 were 14 Czech polkas, pochods, etc.; it is unclear if the Ukrainian-born Frankel did indeed compose them or whether he was collaborating with an unnamed Czech musician. Like Schwartz, Frankel claimed to have composed all of the pieces he submitted. He never indicates a different composer or that it was an anonymous or traditional piece. Overall, however, the list of Jewish pieces he submitted corresponds fairly closely to his known recorded output, or in a few cases recordings made by other artists where he was recognized as the composer.

Harry Kandel

Chaim “Harry” Kandel (c. 1885-1943) of Philadelphia was a clarinetist born in Galicia (or possibly Volyn Oblast, Russia) who emigrated to the United States in 1904. He recorded prolifically between 1917 and the late 1920s. He submitted around 35 instrumental pieces for copyright, of which 15 are currently available in the Kandel scores in the LOC collection. Some of the pieces are titled as bulgars, but most have fanciful marketing titles which evoke scenes of Hasidic courts or traditional Eastern European weddings. Among these titles are “Dus Zekele gelt (The sack of gold),” “Es is schon lechtig (at dawn),” “Far dem rebbins koovid,” and “Die Lustige Chsideem.” Because of their unique titles, it is easy enough to connect many of these copyright scores with recordings he made under the same names. Kandel did not claim to have composed many of the pieces, noting “music anon.” in many submissions; this was unusual among these bandleaders.

Yasser Bulgar copyright score submitted by Harry Kandel in 1921. Source: Library of Congress

Israel J. Hochman

Israel J. Hochman (1872-1940) was a violinist born in Kamianets-Podilskyi who emigrated to New York in around 1906. Little is known about his background or musical education, but he started making klezmer recordings during World War I, both in Max Leibowitz’s orchestra and his own. He submitted around 33 instrumental pieces for copyright, of which only 9 are currently available in the Hochman scores in the LOC collection. The majority are ‘Jewish’ pieces, including bulgars, freylekhs, and khosidls, but also polkas, polonaises and quadrilles. One unique aspect of his submissions is that he often credited specific musicians for composing the pieces he was copyrighting. 11 of the pieces (one third of the total) name other people as a composer: Solomon Burli (of U. S.), M. Kostatin (of U. S.), N. Michail (of Roumania), and so on. It is difficult to know his motivations for doing so when none of the other bandleaders did, except in cases of clear collaboration.

Joseph Moskowitz

Joseph “Yossele” Moskowitz (1879-1954), was a cimbalom player born in Galați, Romania who emigrated to New York in 1907. He submitted only 11 instrumental pieces during this time period, of which only one is currently available in the LOC collection. This number seems small when we consider his reputation for composing numerous pieces (as noted in his 1954 obituary). This may be because he did not record much during the decade in question; he made roughly thirty recordings in 1916 and 1917, before klezmers were copyrighting their own tunes in New York. The eight instrumental scores he submitted in 1928, on the other hand, correspond to recordings he made with Alexander Olshanetsky’s orchestra that same year.

Isidore Moscovitz

At present nothing is known about Isidore Moscovitz, who submitted twenty pieces for copyright between 1925 and 1927. He is an interesting exception to the majority of pieces which were submitted by known recording artists. (There was a Galician-born classical violinist in New York of the same name who recorded for Edison records during the First World War; however, nothing about that violinist’s public profile suggests a connection to Romanian and klezmer dance music.) The majority of Moscovitz’s copyrighted pieces are sirbas, bulgars and husids, with a handful of waltzes and tangos as well; none are available yet on the LOC collection. The place names in his pieces (“Sirba de Jassey,” “Buhuser husid,” Bassarabien bulgar” etc.) would suggest he was born in Moldavia or familiar with its music. Since they do not seem to have been recorded or published anywhere, his motivation for copyrighting them is unclear. Irene Heskes, who included some of his unpublished pieces in her catalogue of Yiddish music entries, noted that Moscovitz arranged many other bulgars and Hasidic tunes which he did not copyright or publish.

Joseph Cherniavsky

Joseph Cherniavsky (c. 1890-1959) was a Russian-born cellist and bandleader. He was descended from a Ukrainian klezmer family and studied at the Saint Petersberg Conservatory and was influenced by the Society for Jewish Folk Music. He arrived in New York in 1920 and soon became a popular arranger and composer for the Yiddish Theatre and vaudeville. He copyrighted around twenty klezmer pieces, of which two are in the LOC collection; other handwritten scores by him which are digitized there, such as songs from Tanz, gesang und wine, do not have much resemblance to klezmer music. Although almost all of the klezmer pieces correspond to ones recorded by his kitschy vaudeville group the Hasidic American Jazz Band, the copyrights were mostly made for the versions released as published scores which are still available through YIVO and other institutions. Some of the pieces are known klezmer melodies with more developed arrangements. After 1928 Cherniavsky left the Yiddish music world for English-language film and theatre as well as orchestral music.

Other figures

The rest of the list of copyrighted klezmer pieces—less than a quarter of the total—consists of a much longer list of names who submitted under ten pieces each, and often as few as two. Some of these names are minor recording artists with a small output; others are known mostly as side musicians in other groups

Chaim “Hymie” Millrad (c. 1882-1971) was a bassist born in Mohyliv-Podilskyi who emigrated to New York in 1901. He submitted eight pieces between 1917 and 1924, of which four are already available in the LOC’s digital collection. He is not well known today, although he collaborated with bandleaders such as Leibowitz and Cherniavsky. (For more on that, see Jeffrey Wollock’s “Historic Records as Historical Records.“)

Louis Dubrow (c. 1874-1950) a Russian-born Philadelphia music store owner submitted seven pieces in 1920, of which four are in the Dubrow pieces in the LOC collection. The copyrights seem to have been intended to protect not sound recordings but piano rolls; an advertisement in a 1920 issue of Talking Machine World lists his name above a series of Hebrew piano rolls with the same titles as the copyrights.

Simcha “Sam” Young (c. 1876-1941) from Ustye, Galicia submitted seven pieces in 1921, none of which are digitized on the LOC collection yet. Some of these correspond to recordings he made for Cardinal Records in 1921.

Abrum “Art” Schrier (c. 1885-19??) was a cornetist and bandleader born in Teofipol, Volhynian Governorate, or possibly in Galicia. He only submitted four pieces for copyright in 1924, none of which have been digitized in the LOC collection yet. Because he recorded 20 or so tracks for Brunswick and Victor in 1928-9, we can see that he mostly did not copyright what he was going to record.

For the rest of the list, individuals submitted very few pieces, often only one or two. Among these are the very few women arrangers who appear on this list, of which I could only identify three. The first was one out of a set of 1921 published arrangements by the Kammen company, of which one piece is listed “4. Der Schuster und schneider tanz; arr. by Sarah and Betty Kammen (of U. S.).” The other two were submitted by a Sarah Eissner in 1920, “Ciocarlia” and “Roumania Serba.” I was not able to find much information about Eissner and it is not clear to me of those copyrights were made for recording or score publication.

Another of the minor names from the list which interests me are the scores for the Boiberiker Kapelye submitted by Herman (Hirsch) Gross in 1927. This radio orchestra which played Galician klezmer music recorded condensed versions of these performances for Columbia in 1927. Gross sent in a copyright score for The Bojbriker chasene in March 1927, the same month the first recording was made. But Abe Schwartz submitted another copyright score for the same piece in April, which according to Wollock’s article (linked above) seems to be a somewhat incomplete copy. In June Gross submitted his only other copyright, this time for Chassidische nigunim without the involvement of Schwartz.

Most of the remaining names from the list seem to be professional arrangers who mostly published non-klezmer music, but also made commercially published arrangements Jewish dance tunes. I expect these to be less interesting, but included them for the sake of completeness.

Absences

Anyone familiar with the available recordings of interwar American klezmer will notice some absences from the above list of contributors. Some of the best known klezmer bandleaders or soloists are missing. Abraham “Abe” Elenkrig (c.1878-1965), the first American klezmer bandleader to record, never submitted copyrights on any of his recordings or compositions. Joseph Moskowitz’s wartime pieces are missing as well. Dave Tarras (c.1898-1989), who would later be the top klezmer bandleader in New York, was very active during this time as a soloist making recordings in Abe Schwartz’s and Joseph Cherniavsky’s orchestras and only made a handful of discs under his own name in the 1920s. Probably for this reason, he did not copyright any pieces until later; the first seems to be a doina he submitted in 1932. Naftule Brandwein (1884-1963), another leading clarinetist, also did not submit any pieces for copyright, despite the fact that he recorded dozens of pieces for Victor and other companies. Only in 1941 did Colonial Music submit some copyrights for his pieces on his behalf. Klezmer recording artists with a smaller body of work, including clarinet soloists Itzikl “Isadore” Krantweiss (c.1878-1958) and Shloimke “Samuel” Beckerman (c.1884-1974), are likewise absent, as are the accordionists Mishka Ziganoff (1889-1967) and Max Yankowitz (1875-1945) and the violinist Abe Katzman (1868-1940).

There is another kind of near-absence from these copyright submissions when compared to the recorded output of New York klezmer during this time period. These are the dozens of discs which recreated Eastern European wedding scenes in various ways, combining Yiddish-language dialogue, instrumental klezmer dances and virtuosic solos, and Yiddish-language songs. A few years earlier, New York singers like Efraim “Frank” Seiden (1860-1931) and Solomon Smulewitz (1868-1943) had recorded some of these types of tracks with simple piano accompaniment; by the early 1920s it was mainly Gustave “Gus” Goldstein (c.1882-1946) who was recording these kinds of scenes with actual klezmer orchestras. These discs were released with various titles referring to kale-bazetsns, badkhones, droshe geshanks, Jewish weddings, etc. While the singer takes centre stage on these disks, recreating the performance of the badkhn (wedding jester), they also contain a lot of klezmer material that would still be of interest to present-day musicians, recorded by many of the above bandleaders. I was only able to identify a handful of these recordings in the copyright listings: “Acale Bazetzen” [sic] and “Der Mesader Kedushen” by Gus Goldstein in 1923, “A Yiddisha chasena” by Harry Kandel in 1924, and “The Bojbriker chasene” by Herman Gross in 1927. (A Joseph Cherniavsky piece from 1927, “Kale Bezetzens un a Fralachs” was also copyrighted and published, although it did not contain words.) My guess is that these pieces were not copyrighted because of their semi-improvised and theatrical nature.

Conclusion

As we can see from the variety of contributors and titles, the instrumental Jewish copyright submissions in the Library of Congress’s physical archives contain a broad range of musical material from the golden age of American klezmer recordings. Of special interest are those pieces which are not yet on the digitized LOC collection, as well as those which do not correspond to any known recording and which may be new to current day klezmer musicians. It is difficult to say for certain which melodies are unknown until we can see the scores and assess them. At present I have only seen roughly 30 of the 430 or so klezmer copyright scores that I identified. Over the coming months I hope to have more digitized by local contacts and to make more posts discussing their contents.

Thanks to Joel Rubin, Christina Crowder, David Zakalik, Clara Byom, Jordan Hirsch, Pete Rushefsky, Judy Barlas, Kurt Bjorling, Jeffrey Wollock, and others who have helped me along with this project.

Dan Carkner, August 2023.

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