The first American talking film, The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson in the leading role, which, over a period of months, played in the great movie house Splendid on Senatorski Street in Warsaw, was a landmark in the development of musical life in Poland.
Talking films quickly displaced silent films, and the thousands of musicians who, until then were employed accompanying them in the movie houses, lost their livelihoods. Thus began a push towards material recompense, and large and small orchestral ensembles, which sprouted like toadstools after a rain, all exhausted themselves to become the most prevalent purveyors of jazz and dance music in Poland.
Among the pioneers of that music were the brothers Artur and Henryk Gold, the brothers Jerzy and Stanisław Petersburski, Zygmunt Karasinski and Szymon Kataszek, Kazimierz Englard, Julian Halicki, and a lot of others. Together they established a dance music industry which occupies a distinguished place in the cultural-entertainment life of Poland. At the top of the ladder, however, stood Henryk Gold, who earlier had been recognized as a zealot of Louis Armstrong's rhythmic jazz melodies.
He was born in Warsaw to a family of which both sides were pedigreed musicians. His mother Helena came from the famous Warsaw klezmer family Melodysta, and his father - Michael - a musician with an ancestral musical pedigree and a reputation of his own as one of the first flautists in the Warsaw Opera Orchestra.
When Henryk was two years old, his father died: sitting on stage during a performance of Carmen he began feeling poorly. The instrument slipped from his hands and he gave up his soul. At that time he was 48 years old only.
Young Henryk's life became very difficult. He was torn from his mother and sent to his uncle in distant Tambov, Russia, where all his relatives became engaged with his upbringing. At the age of five he began studying violin, and not before long he became a student at the conservatory named for Alexander Glazunov. Already at that time he distinguished himself with his unique tone and propensity for improvisation. Often he used to stand in the corner of a room, his thin fingers flying over the strings, playing out the sorrow in his soul through his violin.
He returned to Warsaw and matriculated at the music conservatory where his professors were Stanisław Barcewicz and Michalowicz. At the same time in any occasion he played professionally, although this only allowed him to earn a crust of bread. And so, at the age of 17, he became the youngest member of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra.
Meanwhile, the newly awakened musical life in Poland began a renaissance process which had already matured in the rest of Europe. The average music lovers became tired of hearing the traditional sounds of operatic-symphonic music. They were no longer impressed with bombastically bellowed operatic arias and artistically virtuosic violin cadences. They'd heard the sound of new melodies: from one side, the pleasant sounds of Viennese waltzes, and from the other - the rhythmically chiseled jazz tunes of African Americans in New Orleans.
Henryk Gold became enflamed with the new sounds, and regardless of his success as a conductor of military bands, he threw himself into the new kind of music and became one of its precursors and enthusiasts. He founded a small hand picked band which became the main representative of the new music movement in Poland.
He gave concerts with his ensemble at the famous Ziemiańska on Kredytowa Street, at the elegant Adria on Moniuszki Street, and at the revue theater Morskie-Oko on Sienkiewicz Street. Heard in his repertoire at that time were the waltzes, marches, and quadrilles of Johann Strauss the son (1899-1825), excerpts from Light Cavalry by Frantz Sufe (1895-1919), the waltzes of Émile Waldteufel (1837-1915), the Marta Overture of Frederick Ploto (1812-1883), and other creations of similar character.
However, Henryk Gold did not stop with this. He had obviously heard those tunes that came from afar. The New Orleans trumpet style of the noted Charles Buddy Bolden had already several years earlier fortuitously been accepted, and in those days, during the Roaring Twenties, enjoyed great success in that part of the world. This manifested itself in completely new instrumentation with repertoire. The string instruments gave way to the brass, and the gentle violins surrendered their leading role to raucous drums. Jazz, which already commanded America, set about occupying Europe.
However, here the path was not an easy one. A fierce debate flared up concerning the fundamental essence of jazz. There were some who saw in the rhythmic beat and broken melody lines a manifestation of cheap taste combined with untamed bawdiness, and others found in them the expression of the dawning dynamic-atomic epoch. They all, however, had to concede a vote of thanks that the fascinating workings of jazz had certainly broadened their artistic-aesthetic horizons and merited its insertion into the world of serious symphonic music. It actually happened that some composers, such as Maurice Ravel (1875-1935), Igor Stravinsky (b. 1882 - 1971), Kurt Weil (1900-1950), Arthur Honegger (1892-1955), George Gershwin (1898-1937) and a lot of other avant-garde advocates of the new modern music introduced into their compositions elements which are typical of popular jazz.
However, at that time when there was uncommonly deep socio-political discussion and plane divisions over jazz and its future, Henryk Gold kept his own counsel and traveled his own path regarding light popular music in Poland. A lone aficionado of European music from the nineteenth century, he initially used sentimental melodies, familiar to the ears of Polish music lovers, at the same time adopting the new rhythm which had emigrated from over the sea and symbolized the new era.
His literally hundreds of compositions of tangos, polkas, fox trots, waltzes, and regular hit songs were fusions of sweet melodies with dynamic syncopated rhythm.
He was also generous with Jewish motifs, intertwined with augmented intervals and chromatic glissandos, which had a lot of adherents in Poland, even among the Poles. In addition he was a master of improvisation. He was in command of intuition and spontaneity, through his contact with the enthusiasts around the world, like the mythical Shalom Aleichem hero: Stempeniu.
Among his most recognized hits were Tesknota (Nostalgia) (Yiddish: Benkshaft), Jaśminy (Jasmine), Jak ja sig driś Yiddish: Az 'Khvel Mikh Haynt Anshikurn (I Will Get Drunk Today), Nie odchodź odemnie Yiddish: Gey Nisht Avek Fun Mir (Don't Leave Me), Moja pierswsza I ostatnia Yiddish: Mayn Ershte Un Letste (My First and Last), Szkoda Twoich tez Yiddish: A Shod Dayne Trern (Pity on Your Tears), and others.
The Second World War carried him to Russia where, together with another popular hit tune composer, Jerzy Petersburski, he founded a large theatrical jazz orchestra with which he toured the large cities of the Soviet Union. Such a concert in Moscow, performed outdoors, once drew an audience of 35,000. In 1942 with the army of the general Anders he came to Eretz Isroel, where he also became popular with songs such as Artseynu Ha'ktantont (Our Tiny Country), Ruakh (Spirit) and Shalom (Peace), songs, which, in a more secure time would not have left the lips of Jewish youth in the Jewish country. His last years found him in New York.
Widely branched jazz and dance music in Poland, the vast majority of which lay in Jewish hands, drew its musical and spiritual inspiration from its vehement and most principal proponent, Henryk Gold. He was the architect of its style, which is permeated with Jewish sentimentality, the European aesthetic, and the modern dynamic. And precisely as in America during the time of the Second World War, where Irving Berlin (the son of a cantor) was the one whose songs carried the essence of every American, and whose songs were sung by the American army on all fronts where they fought, so, too, was Henryk Gold in Poland during the interval between the world wars, the one whose popular songs brought joy and light to all the homes of war torn Poland.
Everyone who has become interested in the Holocaust Period of Polish Jewry is familiar with the picture of pedagogue and writer Dr. Janus Korczak with his hundred children who were led to Warsaw's Umschlagplatz on their last journey towards death. This picture became the symbolic expression of the Martyrology Period, exactly as the well known picture of Hirshenberg's Spanish Exile became the symbol of Jewish exile in general.
A similar impression is made on every person by the picture of Jakob Glatstein and his Children's Choir of the Warsaw Ghetto, which looks down on us from the walls of the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and from the museum of Kibbutz Lochamei Ha'Ghetta'ot (Ghettos Fighter's Museum).
|Jakob Glatstein with the Children's Choir in the Warsaw Ghetto
The children's hair was shaved because of lice
The same picture bears witness to the entire tragedy of Polish Jewry in the time of the Nazi occupation. Pale, shrunken faces, eyes filled with fear of death and hollowed cheeks-- so appear the thin and sick children choir singers, the participants in Jakob Glatstein's Children's Choir of the Warsaw Ghetto. And he alone, thin and pale, with burning black eyes, filled with pain and helpless anger, hungry and weary, stands in the middle surrounded by his children, children whose parents had died and who had received a refuge in the orphanages. These children together with their conductor and teacher waited to be rescued. In the meantime, their singing filled in their miserable existence.
He was with them, together with them he suffered and with them he perished. And just as the legendary leader of prayer collapsed at the prayer stand at the hour of the Yom Kippur service, so Jakob Glatstein raised his last breath in the Warsaw Ghetto not stepping down from his work and not ceasing to bring joy and courage to the enslaved of the Nazi Ghetto. (From the Memorial Book for the Perished CJSO - The Central Organization of Yiddish Schools - Teachers in Poland.)
Jakob Glatstein was born in 1895 in the city of Lublin with a pedigree from an aristocratic family. His father Moshe was the main cantor in the city. His nephew was the famous poet Jakob Glatstein. Both Jakobs studied with the best scholars and both absorbed the tradition's wisdom.
The city of Lublin, in which the Torah lineage stretched from the times of the great Poskim, REMA (Rabbi Moshe Isserles 1525-1572) and from MHRSHL (Rabbi Shlomo Luria 1510-1573), was still in the twentieth century a city of Torah and wisdom. The famous Yeshivat Hahkhmey Lublin (The Sages Lublin Yeshiva) had exercised its influence over the Jewish community, and the majority of Jewish households kept the Jewish tradition.
It is true, already new winds had begun to blow-- National Zionism, Proletarian Bund, bourgeois values . and still others. But the Yiddish street was remained frozen. That is why no wonder that Jakob Glatstein felt his father's house was too narrow and restricted and he could no longer be satisfied with singing in his father's choir and being the first soloist. He began to seek new melodies, new chords and new worlds.
He knew he would not find this in Lublin, so he went the way of his older brother Joseph Shlomo, who had already managed to get away from father's home and studied general studies and music at the Warsaw Conservatory. He permitted himself to taste everything that was available, and, specifically, he showed an interest in literature. He felt that music and literature were twins to one another, just as voice and word are paired, therefore one needed to unite both elements.
It was not enough for him to know the elements of sound; he was also driven to learn the problems of literature. So he did not miss a single literary evening, lecture or an article, from which it was possible to learn something. The works of Y.L. Peretz, Sholem Aleichem, Naumberg and Weissenberg, and also the songs of Abraham Rajzen, Abraham Liessin. M. Rosenfeld, and David Einhorn were near and dear to him. He became at home in Yiddish literature. He had, indeed, tied a bond with the literature and those who had participated in its development. He became the music representative for the Socialist Workers Party, Bund, which had put forward a slogan of fight for the Yiddish language and Yiddish Proletariat Culture. He became a music teacher for the CJSZO Schools (The Central Organization of Yiddish Schools in Poland between the two World Wars). He was also the founder and conductor of the grand choir of the youth organization of the Bund: Tsukunft (the Future) and he became a lecturer in its cultural events. We read about him in the Yizkor book for teachers which was published in New York in the years of 1952-1954 and was dedicated to the teachers of CJSZO (The Central Organization of Yiddish Schools ) who perished in World War II, New York 1952-1954:.
There was never a young person that did not know the name of the dark-haired, charming, modest, pleasant conductor from the grand choir of the Tsukunft. There was not a single student from the CJSZO school who did not adore the name of this same gifted music teacher.
His blessed musical activities became a light and uplifting phenomenon to the simple and poor children. This was musical culture and cultural music. His music became a life passion and source of joy and happiness.
Jakob Glatstein's normal work day began at eight in the morning at the girls' gymnasia, Yehudiah on Dluga Street in Warsaw. This same high school which enjoyed national standing and its graduates were accepted in all the universities of Poland, was famous as the most Nationalistic among all the middle schools in Jewish Warsaw. And, indeed, all the Zionist leaders sent their daughters to learn at Yehudiah. There Jakob Glatstein worked as a teacher of music; there he led the school choir and there he also prepared the musical artistic programs for the different celebrations, conferences and shows, which used to often take place in the framework of the national and traditional Yiddish holidays.
The school choir which had sung Polish and Hebrew songs, had three voices and by far defied the boundaries of school choirs. The three pure voices rang out like gold bells and the mouths of the singers moved as the tongue of a wall clock, and spanned and swayed in a moderate rhythm. So the work of Jakob Glatstein was held in high esteem by his colleagues- teachers, by the parents and actually by the young pupils. He was encircled with love and friendship.
In the afternoon hours Jakob Glatstein did the same work in the Warsaw school of the famous pedagogue, who composed teaching books for the bible and grammar, Chaim Kaplan. To work in the Kaplan school on Dzielna Street was not so easy. But it was an honor. Kaplan was very strict in his demands from the teachers that worked for him, and very often conflicts between him and his employees broke out in earnest.
But it was a known thing that only first rate, strong pedagogues could be employed by him, and Jakob Glatstein belonged to the few teachers that were the foundation of the Kaplan school. Though he had only been a teacher of music, his educational standing had a great influence over the atmosphere in the institution, and the children, as the entire faculty felt in him spiritual strength. Kaplan valued him as an important spiritual force very much and everyone treated him with respect and appreciation.
He carried out his major work in the late evening hours in the youth organization for the Bund movement Tsukunft (The Future). Among the diverse realms of the culture/political activity there, music took up a distinguished corner, and Jakob Glatstein was the one who organized the work, stretched wide and delivered the zest and colossal achievement. All he encountered there at the beginning was insignificant, - it was only a vestige of a tradition - and he with his own hands began to build a great musical structure. He began with a masses choir, then selected choir of young boys and girls and afterwards formed a soloist's group. They all were at the service to their movement and strived to develop the proletariat culture among Jews. Their spiritual nourishment came from the first worker's choir in Warsaw, which years earlier was lead by Leo Liow and was known as the first Bundist Choir, the so called Groyser Choir (Large choir).
Jakob Glatstein threw himself into his work with heart and soul. He found for himself three ideals which had from his youngest years glowed in his heart: to unveil the beauty of music generally among Jews; to spread the Yiddish music among the Jewish masses, and to awaken the Jewish worker to proletariat Jewish culture. And there was not a single appropriate place to realize these tasks better than the Jewish youth movement Tsukunft. There he obtained a free hand and there he eagerly began to realize his plans. First he established a well disciplined mixed choir with four voices and from the most able singers he created a soloist group, to the end he secured the greatest division of choirs to learn solfege. Rehearsals occurred 3 times a week according to a schedule that was set in advance.
For example, I present here a printed announcement in the Neye Folks-Zeitung (New Folks newspaper) from Sunday, October 28th, 1938:
|Today 9:30 in the Evening||-- Soloists Groups;|
|10:00 ||-- Solfege Lecture|
|10:30 ||-- The Whole Choir|
After a hard day of work at the workshop and in the factory, young boys and girls would come together to be engaged with their earnest music study. They all were of a workers' element, with love for music, and, besides, their political party's consciousness requested discipline and responsibility. And their conductor and teacher was for them an example of dedication, punctuality and responsibility. He was also a friend to all and a loyal advisor. His word, consequently, was holy for each and every one of them.
In the period between the two world wars Jakob Glatstein lived in Warsaw in the environs of the organized Jewish proletariat. He shared their pain and their struggle celebrated their achievements. Day in and day out he was one with the Jewish toiling masses and in his musical work he expressed ideologically their hopes and aspirations. The socialist and revolutionary values followed him anywhere.
In the nineteen twenties he derived musical material and repertoire from Jewish folklore. He then searched, found and cherished tunes of Jewish poverty and suffering, helplessness and compassion. Such songs were: Hemerl (Small Hammer), Di Dray Neyterns (The Three Seamstresses), Oyfen Boydem Shloft Der Dach (On the Attic Sleeps the Roof), Mi Ko Mashme Lan and others. Songs that mirrored Jewish poverty: about the overworked cobbler, that has not any bread in the house; and about the dark fate of the seamstress, who sews day and night and has made herself no dress for her khupa; about the mother, rife with grief, whose child lies naked without diapers; and about the anguished yeshiva boy who has no hope but waiting for the world to come, eating days, swallowing tears, and sleeping on his own hard fist.
It wasn't long before new tunes were heard in the songs of Jakob Glatstein's Tsukunft (The Future) choir. Vigil and perseverance, progress and struggle there was a new content and a new form. a Loyb der Arbet (in Praise of Labor), Zum Arbeter (To the Worker), Ershter May-Lid (The Song for May 1st) songs which awoke the proletarian conscience of the working man and called him to the struggle; sounds which planted a belief in a better, more beautiful tomorrow.
His choir's expression of the revolutionary spirit became even clearer in the nineteen thirties when the Jewish youth of Poland worshipped the ideology of labor and socialism. Jewish boys and girls in Warsaw and in Łódź, in Vilna and in Lemberg believed with Chasidic fervor in the power of the organized working and fighting man. There came to be new musical works which expressed the enraged spirit of the time with even greater pathos. Jakob Glatstein focused strongly, ideologically and artistically, on these new songs, and began searching for new ways and means of expressing the fresh tendencies.
He searched and he found. Thanks to his creative inventiveness he began to realize a new form of bringing forth the artistic word. That was the method of braiding song with spoken word, sound and language, song and narration, one time a separate choir and separate recitation, and another time the two together and with addition of body movements, and all matching the content of the work and directed by the conductor. A new style was a synthesis of high praises of God in their mouth (Psalms 149;6) and speak with all one's bones (act with all one's heart and soul).
Here the choir begins to sing lightly and quietly, sweet accords touch the soul as a gentle balm. Suddenly a speaking voice is heard in the midst of the mild singing. This is one of the participants reciting a part of the text while the rest accompany him with a well processed and prepared murmurando. But the recitative becomes stronger, the vocals echo in the air like a shofar and in a particular moment the voices of men join in. In a little while the sopranos with the altos say their word. A real competition begins: individual and collective, accord and dissonance, contrapuntal voices and rushing fugues a real war. The audience gets carries away and experiences the music as if there was no separation between the singers on the stage and the people in the hall. All of them appear as one fighting mass.
I remember one of Jakob Glatstein's choir concerts, in which they staged Yaten (The Chaps) by Itzik Fefer, Der Heller Wonder (The Yellow Wonder) by Dawid Hofshtein and Steppes (The Steppe) by B. Wajnerman all composed by Michael Gelbard. Particularly Steppes was carved into my memory. It was like a hymn for the optimism of the growing up generation:
The young sun filled us / injected powers into us /And I will never forget the enthusiasm of the audience, when the choir with faith and confidence sang the words:
and we are like young ears growing in the steppe
Every lifting of our handsThis was singing of a young society that actually smelled of rye and effort; after all, in reality, all the singers were still children, children of Jewish poverty, who were yearning for a little light and sun.
Expresses power and might
In the prime period of his musical work Jakob Glatstein sang no more about Jewish pain and suffering; all those songs that brought forth doubts or ended in sarcastic neutrality no longer were present in his repertoire. Jakob Glatstein saw a clear road, the road of fighting socialism. In the artistic sense he far exceeded the limits of popular music. The choir Tsukunft, led by him, was a musical institution of high artistic and educational value. It was the most vivid expression of the Jewish proletarian musical culture of the Jewish masses.
Even as Jakob Glatstein was, in his main musical work, actually bound to one particular part of the Jewish Poland the organized working class, he was also recognized by the Jewish and non Jewish musical world in Warsaw as a talented conductor and a musician. He was highly professional in the daily rehearsals of his choir and besides he possessed and demonstrated strength and enthusiasm, with which he infected the choir singers. And if the task of a conductor is not only to move his hands in rhythm with the composer's instruction, but also to pass his musical feeling onto the performers then Jakob Glatstein was one of the uncrowned kings among the conductors. He was a master of expressing his feelings and enforcing them to the choir and the orchestra.
When he chose a creation, he first of all became deeply absorbed in the content, analyzed every word, and with his whole soul penetrated the depth of its sounds. And when everything became clear for him and comprehensible, he searched for methods to interpret his understanding, in order to bring it in compliance with his inner consciousness. After all that process, he would start using his fingers, which literally performed miracles. They were the dominant factor in his conducting. Now they are elastic-flexible and express good nature and submission, and now they become sharp-prickly and stab like darts; now they are again light and soft, bent as if they would like to give away everything and now they are spread as if they wanted to grab the whole world; soft fingers that are pleading and hard fingers that demand and threaten. So with the power of his magic fingers he interpreted every song and brought out every nuance, even the finest and most delicate.
Glatstein became a well known composer. Already in 1918 he published a collection of labour and folks-songs under the name Fraye Muse (The Liberated Muse). Most of the songs were the ones sung by the Jewish workmen during their work and rest. But among them were also his songs based on the poems of Jewish poets. His large work for choir and symphonic orchestra, Iz Gefalen a Damb (An Oak Fell), earned great esteem. This composition was written in a classic style, melodic but by far not just popular. His song for children, Berl Iz a Voyl Yingl (Berl Was a Good Boy), which was sung in all the CJSZO schools and youth organizations in Poland, became very popular.
At the same time he published many articles and reports about music and singing, beginning with Grininke Boymelekh (The Green Small Trees) in Vilna, and later in the FolksZeitung (New Folks-Gazette) in Warsaw. This helped him find a way to awaken love and aesthetic appreciation of music in thousands of Jews.
Jakob Glatstein was in the prime of his creative work, when the Nazi beasts conquered Poland and locked the gates of the Warsaw ghetto for any flow of life. Grief and sorrow filled his heart. He became completely distraught when his wife died of typhus. He then had to take care of his little daughter, and had to get used to the terrible thought, that his son, a talented pianist, who was expecting a career of a virtuoso pianist, would be unable to escape and was going to die together with him.
The only escape from his predicament Jakob Glatstein found in his work. Specifically he dedicated himself to musical activity with the children - refuges in the Jewish orphanages. He organized a children's choir. Often had he participated in various cultural events and with great punctuality demanded high level of achievement in every performance, in spite of the horrible conditions which prevailed in the ghetto.
He was able to summon all his strength to support and improve the choir of the Tsukunft, and, when in 1941 the Bund celebrated its yearly jubilee, Jakob Glatstein prepared the whole artistic part of the congress. This event was his swan song. Everything, that was always so dear for him, sounded for the last time, under his supervision, in the hall of the Judaic Library in Warsaw. His last musical composition was to the words by Itzhak Katzenelson: Aroys iz Gegangen a Yid in Gas (A Jew Walked Out into the Street).
But no more did he walk into the street. Jakob Glatstein was taken to Treblinka where he was murdered, as was his son. His name is mentioned in the list of the perished cultural leaders, which are acknowledged in the famous report by Dr. Emanuel Ringlblum for the Institute of Jewish Research in New York (YIVO).
[Pages 95- 100]
Not many of our Jewish music-lovers and music researchers know that the very popular song Klingen Gleker (The Bells Ring) is one of his numerous songs. The simple text by Moshe Broderzon is in this case so fused and melted with the melody that nobody had any doubts: this is a result of folk imagination.
Everyone was sure that some old pious grandmother together with the grandfather made up the melody at twilight during the third supper of the Sabbath, and when children and grandchildren showed up for Havdalah, they picked up the melody full of hope and optimism, and sang so loudly that they were heard in every Jewish house. Klingen Gleker resonated in the Jewish homes.
And not only Klingen Gleker. All songs by Israel Glatstein had such luck. The whole Jewish Poland sang Di Zun Fargeyt in Flamen (The sun goes down in flames). This song, written by Itzhak Katzenelson and given life when dressed in Israel Glatstein's melodic music, almost turned into a hymn. And songs like Eyns un Tsvey un Dray un Fir, Vos Mir Zanen, Zanen Mirt (One, and two, and three, and four, what we are, we are ) or Felder Grinen, Felder Royshn, Kumen Mir Mit Fule Koyshn (Fields are Green, Fields are Noisy, We are Coming With Full Baskets ).
Have the teachers and students in Warsaw and in Łódź, in Lublin and in Vilna ever known that the songs they sung were the product of Israel Glatstein's musical creativity?
Tens of Israel Glatstein's song penetrated the Jewish homes and a large part of the Polish Jewry before the war was singing his melodies considering them folk songs. Tsipele (Tzippi), Feld Arbet (Field work), Blumen (Flowers), Dray Balmelokhes (Three craftsmen), - these were songs that the children were singing daily in school and during gatherings in the youth organizations and were planted in the Jewish street.
Can a poet or a composer have a better reward for his efforts and his creation, than it being accepted as a part of the spiritual treasure of his people? Is this not the best proof of immortality?!
He was born in a little town Gostynin, near P³ock. He could not expect much of a future in his poor shtetl, so since childhood he took his fate in his own hands. He had only one idea: how to become a Jewish musician, how to enter the kingdom of music and to become a part of the kingdom of sounds. He was privileged that the town's cantor Jakob Miler took him into his choir and was especially warm to him. One heart felt the other, and the provincial cantor passed to his student all he himself knew. He also took the diligent Israel into his home with much love and care.
When Israel grew older, he tried his luck in other little towns. But when he understood that his way will not be as a cantor, he went to Łódź to find for himself new opportunities. To read and to sing from sheet music he has learned already, and a good voice he had too- actually not strong enough for a career of a singer, but strong enough to sing in a choir, so he was looking for work in a theater as a choir singer. After starving for a few weeks he found such work. This was at the famous Zandberg's Jewish theater in Łódź.
In those times, beginning of the 20th century, the Yiddish theatres did not realize that they have to master all those artistic and technical means that help to bring the theater on a higher level. The mentioned above theater was the only Yiddish theater that grasp the significance of this. Its director Zandberg was one of the few who understood that to stage a play does not mean just to act on the stage, but it means to try to achieve all the elements that affect the eye and ear and help the director. He especially emphasized the musical side of his theater. He always engaged a good orchestra and made sure to have a good and large choir. So the Zanberg Theater became a kind of a music school for singers and musicians, and many future singers-soloists and conductors originated from that theater.
Israel Glatstein also began his musical career in Łódź. The friend of his youth, the famous composer and writer, Michael Gelbard from the United States tells us about his first steps:
It happened in 1908, when I was accepted into the great Zandberg's theater as a choir singer. That same day Israel Glatstein was admitted as another choir singer. We walked into the street together, got acquainted, started talking and found out that we both came to Łódź to learn music. We were both young lads, both with the same aspiration: to become Jewish composers, to create Jewish music for the Jewish masses. So we decided that together will be easier to starve
And we went every morning to rehearsals and every evening to the performances in the theater, avoiding on our way all the puddles because of the worn-out shoes that we wore. This way we learned fast, studied and improved ourselves in musical composition.
Every night in bed we lay for a long time and suppressed our hunger with fantasies about the happier times, when we will become Jewish composers, will create Jewish music, conduct Jewish choirs and teach to them Jewish songs.
After several years of this very difficult life Michael Gelbard went to America, and Israel Glatstein stayed in Poland, where he became active in the field of theatrical music. He made an effort to eliminate from the theater the cheap street-song and provided for the play a musical frame. In his serious approach he thought that every play should be given a suitable musical illustration. Music for him became an inseparable part of the whole theatric performance. Because of this approach he often had conflicts with theatre directors and also with the actors. With the directors because his requests did not serve their material interests, with the actors because they did not have the desire to learn every time a new song and to do their best to properly perform them. Israel almost lost the theater because of that and dedicated himself primarily to composition. He threw himself into the new direction with his whole impetus seeing in it his mission. Thanks to Israel Glatstein the young blossoming Yiddish poetry made a pact with the new music. He composed for the choir, for soloists and also instrumental music on Jewish topics.
The first result of his work was a collection of songs under the name: Gezang un Shpil (Singing and playing), published in Warsaw in the 1920s. Those were fifty songs, for the children and adults, for teachers and conductors, simple and more complicated, each of which and all of them together were an expression of the specific Jewish melos. For an educator this was a lifeline. The Jewish school was in a state of a rise. The modern teacher was looking for means that would help him to reach the heart of the child. So Israel Glatstein's songs were like gift from heaven; they were not just serving as a material for teaching singing, but also were a didactic method for involving the child in the complete learning process. Besides they had another value: they brought in the good and beautiful literary word. The texts to his songs were written by such talented poets like Moshe Broderzon and Itzhak Katzenelson. So the warm words with the sweet sounds took roots in the hearts of the Jewish masses.
Songs by Israel Glatstein excelled with their light rhythm and sweeping melodies. Tone followed a tone so naturally, as if otherwise was impossible. The melody idiom had always Jewish origin. Even the songs for children were real poetry bound with music, so that both together created a special mood in children as well as adults. They also helped to awoke love to the developing young Yiddish language, which was blossoming at that time and taking its firm place in the Jewish life. At that period the educators discovered in the songs rich material for various adaptations and performances and drew from them material and inspiration for organizing celebrations and cultural events. Israel Glatstein's book Gezang un Shpil (Singing and playing), Singing and Playing became in the 1920s a helping instrument in the hands of every person involved in the Jewish cultural work and education.
The following stage in his musical work became a Yiddish opera Fatima. Itzhak Katzenelson wrote the libretto and Israel Glatstein the music. Some years later Morris Shwartz staged it in New York with his Kunst Theater (Art-theater). Later Israel Glatstein wrote other serious works, of which two more important ones - Khorbn (Destruction) and Shulamit - were also staged in America.
Israel Glatstein still strived to taste the western world, and, as luck had it, he was invited to Berlin, where he with the full flame of his ever young soul entered a whirl of a new creative era. He became in Berlin the address of the Jewish music. He led choirs, organized concerts and with his turbulent activity he involved the assimilated German Jews into listening to the melodies of the Oust Juden (the Eastern Europe Jewry). He created in Berlin an oasis of Jewish original music. And this went on until the summer of 1939. One bright and light day he, as a Polish citizen, was thrown out of Hitler's Germany and stayed in Warsaw, where he was caught up in the World War II, upon the Nazi invasion to Poland.
The fate of the Warsaw Jews became the fate of Israel Glatstein: bombardments, fires, homelessness, hunger and ghetto. But he did not surrendered to the oppressed situation and threw himself with ardor into musical work to reassure and encourage his tortured brothers. He became active in several areas of the musical life in the ghetto.
When the Scala-Theater in the Djelna Street was established and began regular work, he became its musical leader and conductor of the orchestra. The new theater, which was named Eldorado, tried to keep up the artistic level and to act in spirit of the tradition of the best Jewish theater in Poland. In that theater were working well known actors: Maks Brin, Simcha Pastel, Abraham Kurcz, Regina Czuker and others. Israel Glatstein, taking active part in the ensemble, brought much prestige to the whole group.
At the same time he founded a Jewish entertainment choir, whose performances enlivened the cultural social events. He was good at it and served as an example for other musicians, who imitated him. Simultaneously he published articles and revues on musical topics and was one of the participants in the periodical Hamadrikh (The Guide), which was published by the movement of young Zionists Hechalutz (Pioneer) and Frayhayt (Freedom, Yiddish), which during the war were named Dror (Freedom, Hebrew). Co-workers in the Hamadrikh were his friends and activists, with whom he kept close contacts in various social matters: Itzhak Katzenelson, Yechiel Lerer and Menachem Linder.
His social status burdened him with many duties, but he did everything with self-sacrifice and love to the people. He was valued, and his word was accepted with much interest and respect.
When, where and how he perished is unknown. He is mentioned in the list of people involved in the arts in the Warsaw ghetto, about which wrote Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum in his historic documental letter to the Jewish organizations of the world.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Jewish Music in Poland between the World Wars Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2016 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 19 Mar 2013 by LA