Public Domain Day 2024 in American Klezmerland

Today is January 1st 2024, and I was inspired by all the Mickey Mouse memes I was seeing online to take a look at which classic American klezmer works have newly entered the public domain. I don’t think copyright has been as much of a concern for the klezmer world as some other parts of the music industry, partly because the musical material consist of folk dances and partly because it’s not a very lucrative genre to perform or record nowadays. There was also a period of several decades when these recordings were out of print and neglected, apparently even by the artists who created them. But I still think it’s worthwhile to examine which pieces have just become officially fair game for reuse or adaptation in the United States. I’m not American or a copyright expert, but based on my understanding, sound recordings made in 1923 have now entered the public domain, as have copyrighted compositions published or submitted in 1928. Even though we are talking about recordings from a century ago, the date at which the 78 rpm discs become public domain was changed fairly recently with the passage of the CLASSICS Act in 2018.

Klezmer sound recordings from 1923

1923 was a very active year for golden age American klezmer sound recordings, although perhaps not as active as 1920-2. It was also a boom year for Yiddish theatre and novelty recordings, often arranged by the same klezmer band leaders. Because the industry declined steeply in the following years, we probably only have another 5 years or so of well-known 1920s American klezmer recordings entering the public domain; then we will have to wait until the 2040s for the wartime klezmer recordings of Brandwein, Tarras et al. to gain the same status.

Richard Spottswood already made a very complete listing of Jewish 78rpm discs by date in Ethnic Music on Records Vol. 3: Eastern Europe, so I will quote his entries with added links to where they can be streamed online. He lists the tracks based on when they were recorded, not when they were released, so I had to exclude ones recorded in ’23 but released in ’24. In other cases, I’m sure I missed musical material which would be recognizable as klezmer because it appeared as part of a Yiddish comedy disc or was marketed under other ethnic genres. Still, this is a decent list to start with.

Naftule Brandwein, famous klezmer soloist of the era, released some of his best known discs in 1923. Among these, I would include Fihren Die Mechutonim Aheim, Kolomeika, Terkisher-Bulgarish, and Heiser Bulgar. I included some from Spottswood which were recorded at the end of ’22 but only released in ’23:


88906-1 Freit Aich, Yiddelach Co E7874
Hora Crismùlesolor Co 31020-F
88907-2 Ukrainskyj Kazachok Co E7838
88908 ”Krasota”-Kazachok Co E7838
88909-1 Terkish-Bulgarish Co E7874

Sârba Co 31020-F
as before NY December 1922


89005 Ukrainskyj Tanietz Co E7931

89006-2 Kolomeika Co E7931

89008- Fihren Die Mechutonim Aheim-Tanz Co E9012. FW FSS 34021(33), GV 104(C)

Sam Spielman-tb, unk p, dm NY February 1923


42439-1-2 Der Ziser Bulgar (Naftule Brandwine) Em 13236

42440-1-2 Vie Tsvie Is Naftule Der Driter (Naftule Brandwine) Em 13236

42441-1-2 Naftule Shpielt Far Dem Rebin (Naftule Brandwine) Em 13237

42442-1-2 Dem Rebin’s Chusid (Naftule Brandwine) Em 13237, GV 101(33,C)

Sam Spielman-tb, unk p NY ca April 1923

Naftule Brandwein’s Orchestra

B 27889-2 Heiser Bulgar {Spirited Bulgar} (Brandwein) Vi 73895, HMV K3306

B 27890-3 Doina-Pt. 1 Vi 73940

B 27891-1 Doina-Pt. 2: Nachspiel Vi 73940

B 27892-2 Turkishe Yalle Vey Uve {Turkish Dance} (Brandwein) Vi 73895, HMV K3306, FL 9034(33)

B 27893 Lebedig Naftule Vi rej

own cl, Sam Spielman-tb, unk vln, p, traps NY May 10, 1923

From Richard K. Spottswood, Ethnic Music on Records: A Discography of Ethnic Recordings Produced in the United States, 1893-1942. Vol. 3: Eastern Europe. University of Illinois Press, 1990, p. 1302-3.

I found another Brandwein disc from 1923 on the Mayrent Collection: Popurri iz russkich piesen, czast 1 (side 2).

Abe Schwartz, the violinist and bandleader who had Brandwein as a soloist in his recordings, was also quite active in ’23, in klezmer and a variety of genres.

Abe Schwartz’s Orchestra

021 Fon Der Chupe Tanz Strong 5006
022-1 Russian Sher Tanz Strong 5006
NY ca January 1923

42293-2 Die Fralach Yidalach (Abe Schwartz) Em 13223
42294-1-2 Die Fralach Nacht In Adess (Abe Schwartz) Em 13222
42295-1-2 Lebedig Briderlach Em 13222
42296-2 Russian Sherr No. 5 Em 13223
c, tb, vln, cl, p, bbs, dm NY ca April 1923

Polska Orkiestra Columbia

89283-1 Nova Polka Co E905i, 18394-F
89286-1 Szabasówka Polka Co E9051, 18394-F
NY June 1923

Abe Schwartz Dance Orchestra

N 70390- Trinkt Briderlach Lechayim Pat 03660
N 70392- Tantz-A-Freilichs Pat 03660
with Shloimke Beckerman-cl NY ca October 1923

From Richard K. Spottswood, Ethnic Music on Records: A Discography of Ethnic Recordings Produced in the United States, 1893-1942. Vol. 3: Eastern Europe. University of Illinois Press, 1990, p. 1500.

I found another Schwartz disc from ’23 on the Mayrent Collection: Russkaya Pliaska / Russky Kozak (recorded in 1918 and 1919).

Israel J. Hochman, a mysterious bandleader I’m fond of and devoted a whole post to, also released some discs in ’23.

I.J. Hochman’s Jewish Orchestra

Galicianer Wolich’l (I.J. Hochman) Vo 14742
Hungarishe Chosid’l (I.J. Hochman) Vo 14742
Kamenetza Bulgar (I.J. Hochman) Vo 14762
Bessarabier Chosid’l (I.J. Hochman) Vo 14762
NY 1923

From Richard K. Spottswood, Ethnic Music on Records: A Discography of Ethnic Recordings Produced in the United States, 1893-1942. Vol. 3: Eastern Europe. University of Illinois Press, 1990, p. 1373.

I found others on the Mayrent Collection that Spottswood didn’t list. This includes repeat recordings of Kamenetzer Bulgar, Rusishe Sher, Mazel tov shvehr un shvieger, Bessarabier Chosid’l made for OKeh Records in December 1922 and presumably released in early 1923.

Another clarinetist who is not nearly as well known, Philip Greenberg, recorded a disc with Abe Schwartz’s orchestra in ’23 as well. They seem to have been issued again with Romanian titles:

89284-2 Biz In Weisen Tog Arayn (A. Schwartz) Co E9037
Sarba Plugarului Co 31016-F
89285-2 Gelebt Und Gelacht (A. Schwartz) Co E9037
Hora Plugarului Co 31016-F
orch d Abe Schwartz NY June 1923

From Richard K. Spottswood, Ethnic Music on Records: A Discography of Ethnic Recordings Produced in the United States, 1893-1942. Vol. 3: Eastern Europe. University of Illinois Press, 1990, p. 1364.

Harry Kandel, a bandleader from Philadelphia who was one of the only recording artists from outside New York to make a large number of recordings in this era, was quite active in ’23. Spottswood lists a dozen tracks plus a handful of trial recordings which were never released.

Kandel’s Orchestra

B 27394-1 Auf Der Mohldivanka {On The Great White Way Of Odessa} (arr Kandel) Vi 73900
B 27395-2 Mamaliga-Roumanian Dance (arr Kandel) Vi 77018, GV 101(33,C)
B 27396-2 Buccaviner Bulgar (arr Kandel) Vi rej
B 27397-2 Freylacher Choosid {Happy Student} (arr Kandel) Vi 73900
B 27398-2 Der Zaide Mit Die Babba {The Grandfather And The Grandmother} (arr Kandel) Vi 73729, HMV K3262
B 27399-2 Die Goldene Chassina {The Golden Wedding} (arr Kandel) Vi 73729, HMV K3262
B 27500-2 Yasser Bulgar (arr H. Kandel) Vi 77355
B 27501-2 Bucharester Bulgar {The Bulgar Of Yassi} (arr H. Kandel) Vi 77355
B 27502-2 Der Gassen Nigen {The Street Melody} (arr Kandel)*1 Vi 77018, GV 101(33,C)
own cl, unk 2 c, 2 1st vln, 2d vln, fl, tb, p, tuba, traps, *1Jacob
Hoffman-xyl Camden, NJ January 24, 1923

B 27565-2 Serba Popilor {The Serbian Priest} (arr B. Freeman) Vi 73762
B 27566-1 Bolter Bulgar {The Bulgar Of Balta} (M. Kandel) Vi 73762

B 27567-2 Simchas Toirah In Der Alter Haim
{The Rejoicing Of The Torah In The Old Country} (arr Kandel)
Vi 77163
as before Camden, NJ February 22, 1923

Badem Rabbins Suda Vi trial
Samuel Alexander-cl, unk 2 vln, p, traps
Camden, NJ February 22, 1923

Doina Vi trial
Israel Chazin-pic, unk 2 vln, org Camden, NJ February 22, 1923

From Richard K. Spottswood, Ethnic Music on Records: A Discography of Ethnic Recordings Produced in the United States, 1893-1942. Vol. 3: Eastern Europe. University of Illinois Press, 1990, p. 1393-4.

Jacob Hoffman, xylophone player and grandfather of current-day klezmer trumpeter Susan Watts, appeared some Kandel recordings but also made one under his own name in ’23:

Jacob Hoffman xylophone

B 28671-1 Doina And Hora Vi 77163, FL 9034(33)
orch d Harry Kandel Camden, NJ January 25, 1923

From Richard K. Spottswood, Ethnic Music on Records: A Discography of Ethnic Recordings Produced in the United States, 1893-1942. Vol. 3: Eastern Europe. University of Illinois Press, 1990, p. 1381.

Klezmer compositions copyrighted in 1928

The other relevant year for golden age American klezmer and the public domain is 1928. Compositions which were published or copyrighted in that year have now entered the public domain, even if the recordings that were made of them will still be under copyright until January 1st, 2029. Based on my research into the extent of klezmer copyrights during the 1920s, ’28 was the last year in which any significant number of Jewish instrumental pieces were being copyrighted by New York klezmers until Tarras and Brandwein started recording again in the 1940s. And the number of pieces in ’28 was quite small compared to five years earlier, and none are what we would consider typical Jewish dances (freylekhs, khosidls, bulgars, etc.). Nonetheless, there are some interesting ones.

The largest set of copyrights by a recognizable klezmer in 1928 are dozens of Slavic (non-Jewish) pieces submitted by Abe Schwartz. I won’t list them all here but the titles are all in Polish, Russian, and other languages. These types of pieces made up part of the recording output of klezmers since WWI, and it’s known that Schwartz and others recorded other kinds of ethnic music from Eastern Europe. Schwartz would continue in this direction for the next decade, copyrighting a large number of Slavic dance tunes and songs. I haven’t seen these scores or tried to connect them to sound recordings, but they’re there in the LOC archives to be requested and scanned.

One klezmer-adjacent piece I found that year was from Morris Rund, a baker and occasional lyricist, who copyrighted a Kale Bazetsn (a kind of improvised Yiddish couplet form sung by Badkhonim and accompanied by klezmers).

A kaleh bazetzen ; words and melody by M. Rund.E 690425Morris RundMay 7, 1928New York
Morris Rund copyright score from 1928. Source: Library of Congress collection, scanned by David Zakalik.

There was a 1928 Kale Bazetsn recording by Peisachke Burstein, which lists Rund as the composer and has accompaniment by an anonymous klezmer orchestra. However, listening to it and trying to compare it to the words in the manuscript, I couldn’t make any connection. Maybe I’m misreading it or maybe Rund was interested in the Kale Bazetsn form and composed a few that year.

Joseph Moskowitz, the cimbalom player and restaurateur, copyrighted a very interesting batch of Romanian-style pieces in 1928 which he recorded with Alexander Olshanetsky’s orchestra. I don’t know what led to this collaboration, but those tracks are among my favourite klezmer cimbalom pieces, since we very rarely get to hear the instrument accompanied by an orchestra. I’ll link to the audio recordings (which are still under copyright), although in some cases the final arrangements depart a little or a lot from what was written down. Best known among these pieces is the medley Nu ma calca pe picior which Dave Tarras would later record as Dos Tsigayner.

Hora in batuta; melody by J. Moskowitz.E 690557Joseph MoskowitzMay 12, 1928New York
New (The) Sirba ; melody by J. Moskowitz.E 690558Joseph MoskowitzMay 12, 1928New York
Nu ma calca pe picior ; hora, melody by J. Moskowitz.E 690559Joseph MoskowitzMay 12, 1928New York
Sirba Prince Carol; melody by J. Moskowitz.E 690560Joseph MoskowitzMay 12, 1928New York
He then submitted another batch in August:
Jewish; hora and Sirba maracine; by J. Moskowitz. [Melody only]E 704042Joseph MoskowitzAugust 21, 1928New York
Sirba slanic; by J. Moskowitz;. [Melody only]E704043Joseph MoskowitzAugust 21, 1928New York
Batuta tziganeasca ; by J. MoskowitzE 704044Joseph MoskowitzAugust 21, 1928New York
Unirea romanilor; by J. Moskowitz.E 704045Joseph MoskowitzAugust 21, 1928New York

I had 7 of these scores scanned by the LOC staff a while ago, among others by him:

One other piece recorded by Moskowitz and Olshanetsky’s orchestra, Kishenev, wasn’t copyrighted, probably because the title song wasn’t a Moskowitz composition (Abe Schwartz had copyrighted it earlier in the decade and a version with lyrics was recorded elsewhere). It’s possible Moskowitz composed the short dance at the end of the track.

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