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Non Traditional Unit 1: Early ViolinUnit 2: Baroque Musical Period Unit 3: Classical Musical Period Unit 4: Romantic Musical Period Unit 5: 20th Century Musical PeriodUnit 6: Non Traditional

KLEZMER MUSIC: ODESSA BULGARISH

SECTION 6.2

Odessa Bulgarish
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klezmer musicians
Fig. 6.3 Klezmer Musicians, 19th c.

Odessa Bulgarish is a traditional klezmer piece. The term klezmer is a Yiddish name that can either be applied to the type of music or the musician playing the music. It is derived from two Jewish words: kle (vessel or instrument) and zemer (song), literally meaning "instrument or vessel of song." Klezmer was first used to describe the traditional instrumental music of Yiddish speaking Jews in Eastern Europe. The roots of klezmer music stem from vocal styles of cantorial chanting, wordless melodies called nigunim (sung by Hasidic Jews), and local popular songs and dances. Klezmer music also reflects folk and cultural elements from the countries klezmer musicians lived in such as Russia, the Ukraine, Romania, and Poland (including the cross-influence of gypsy music—klezmer and gypsy musicians often played together and influenced each other's styles). When Eastern European immigrants began to emigrate to America in the 1880s, they brought their klezmer music traditions with them. Although there was a resurgence of interest in klezmer music in the 1920s in New York, it wasn't until the 1970s and 1980s that a revival of interest in klezmer music took place in the United States and then spread to other countries around the world. [9] [10]

Instruments originally used in klezmer bands were a lead violin, second violin (or viola), bass or cello, and a cimbalom. A cimbalom is a hammered dulcimer, and klezmer musicians often used small, portable versions of the cimbalom (it is played with two wooden or metal mallets which are padded on the striking end). Flutes and a small drum were occasionally used, and beginning in the early 19th century, the clarinet became a prominent part of the klezmer band. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, additional instruments were added such as brass instruments, the accordion, bass guitar and percussion. [11]

Musicologists have noted similarities between klezmer and other improvisational styles such as gypsy music and jazz. Klezmer music originally began as an oral tradition (passed down from one musician to another orally, instead of through music notation), and although the basic harmonic and melodic structure of a piece may remain the same, the improvisatory capabilities of each musician often result in the interpretation and sound of the music varying each time a piece is played. Since klezmer music is based on cantorial singing from synagogues, many ornamental effects are used to try to imitate the sound of the human voice. For example, krekhts (Yiddish for moan), means the instrumentalist should try to create a wailing sound; kneytsch refers to imitating the sound of a sob or catch; and tshok refers to a laugh-like sound. [12] Additional characteristics of klezmer music include ornamentation such as trills, mordents (meaning alternate between the written note, one note above, then back to the written note), and vibrato. In klezmer music, vibrato is regarded as an ornament, and should be used selectively. When vibrato is used as a form of ornamentation in klezmer music, a fast, tight vibrato is used to ornament specific notes or sections. [13]

Klezmer music frequently uses minor keys and exotic sounding scales such as the klezmer Ahava Rabboh or freygish scale with its augmented second between the 2nd and 3rd degree of the scale. Augmented means raised, and when the term augmented is combined with a specific interval between notes, it means to raise the interval by a half-step. For example, an augmented second is a half-step larger than the interval of a perfect second. Some klezmer musicians assert that the Western system of scales does not adequately represent klezmer music, and point to a specific system of prayer modes used in synagogues as the basis for klezmer music. The names of these modes are derived from the sung prayers in which they are used, and the modes affect more than the scale used in the piece. Each mode represents a mood, and implies a certain way in which the notes in the scale should be used. Using the Western system of scales, the piece Odessa Bulgarish seems to be in the following harmonic minor key beginning on the note D.

harmonic minor
Harmonic minor scale used in Odessa Bulgarish

Some Klezmer musicians assert that the tonality of Odessa Bulgarish is not based on the harmonic minor scale, but is instead based on a prayer mode used in klezmer music called Mi Sheberach ("He who blessed"). This prayer mode features an augmented fourth.

klezmer mode
Mi Sheberach klezmer mode used in Odessa Bulgarish

When comparing the Mi Sheberach mode with the harmonic minor scale, the intervals between the notes are identical. Using the harmonic minor scale to analyze the piece, Odessa Bulgarish begins on the fourth degree of the harmonic minor scale, and when using the Mi Sheberach prayer mode, the piece begins on the first note of the Mi Sheberach mode. Although the differences between these two scales may seem insignificant, as mentioned above, klezmer purists assert that since prayer modes are used to shape the mood and affect the structure of klezmer music, the most accurate way to analyze and understand klezmer music such as Odessa Bulgur, is through the use of the appropriate prayer mode, the Mi Sheberach mode. [14]

TECHNIQUE TIPS: Odessa Bulgarish is a traditional klezmer piece originating in the Ukraine. Bulgarish refers to a popular klezmer dance form, and some music scholars have asserted that the bulgarish originated in Bessarabia as the bulgareasca (Bessarabia was later known as Moldavia and Moldova), and then spread as the klezmer bulgarish to the Eastern Ukraine (the name was later shortened to bulgar in America). [15] As noted above, this piece uses the klezmer mode Mi Sheberach with an augmented fourth. The bulgarish is a lively dance, and generally begins with an up-beat of three notes. Play this piece using an energetic dance tempo, and experiment with adding ornamental flourishes. You also may want to listen to different recordings or view video clips of Odessa Bulgarish and try to imitate some of the ornamentation and improvisational techniques that other musicians use in performing this lively klezmer piece.