Violin

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Ilana Cravitz by Tammy Kazhdan

Ilana Cravitz by Tammy Kazhdan

The violin was the leading klezmer instrument for at least two hundred years. Violinists were revered for imitating the human voice - capturing the range of emotions. "He could make his laugh and cry." Artist Marc Chagall's iconic images capture the spirit of Jewish violinists (fiddler on the roof!). A few fiddlers became celebrities, toured and gave concerts, but most would have been known locally or in their region as bandleaders, playing mainly for weddings and other community events.


Klezmer bands were led by the violinist (primash = first/leader) and the larger bands might have had several fiddlers. Other roles for fiddles were non-lead melody and rhythm. Names for fiddlers not leading the band were tsveyter and sekund.


To get an idea of the range of klezmer violin players performing today, visit the Beregovski Tish-Nigunim (Klezmer Fidl) Project 2020, where 35 fiddlers from around the world recorded tunes from a collection of worldless melodies.


Yiddish: fidl, geige, werfl, warpli or warfli


Klezmer violinists in the late 19th and earlier 20th centuries included:


  • Eastern Europe Dolko Kleinman Brandwein, H. Steiner, Pedotser, 'Stempenyu' (Yosele Druker), Wolf Cherniavsky, Y.M. Rabinovitsh 

  • USA Abe Schwartz, Berish Katz (also viola and clarinet), Hersh Gross, Leon Ahl, Max Leibowitz


Klezmer violinists in the later 20th century and today include:


  • Australia Ernie Gruner, Vanessa Vromans

  • Belgium  Ariane Cohen-Adad

  • Canada Abigale Reisman

  • Finland Antti Korhola

  • France Amit Weisberger, David Brossier

  • Germany Alina Bauer, Craig Judelman, Johannes Paul Gräßer, Mark Kovnatsky, Samuel Seifert, Stas Rayko

  • Israel Daniel Hoffman, Elie Rosenblatt

  • Netherlands Jiska Ter-Bals, Madelien Verheij

  • Russia Aleksei Rozov, Mitia Khramtsov

  • Sweden Semmy Stahlhammer

  • UK Anna Lowenstein, Flora Curzon, Gica Loening, Ilana Cravitz, Meg Hamilton, Michael Alpert (also accordion), Olga Baron, Ray Kohn, Sophie Solomon, Sue Shortland Webb

  • USA Alex Koffman, Alicia Svigals, Amy Zakar, Cookie Segelstein (also viola), Deborah Strauss, Eléonore Biezunski, Ilana Sherer, Jake Shulman-Ment, Keryn Kleiman, Lisa Gutkin, Sandra Layman, Steven Greenman, Zoë Aqua

Behusher Khosid played by Max Leibowitz with an anonymous tsimbl accompanying

Behusher Khosid played by Max Leibowitz with an anonymous tsimbl accompanying

Tsapfnshtraykh played by Art Shryer's Modern Orchestra (1928)

Tsapfnshtraykh played by Art Shryer's Modern Orchestra (1928)

The violin strings are retuned so the fiddler can play octaves easily. The music is a violin showpiece combining slow and faster parts

A version of S'iz Nito Keyn Nekhtn (No More Yesterdays) performed by Deborah Strauss (violin) and Jeff Warschauer (guitar)

A version of S'iz Nito Keyn Nekhtn (No More Yesterdays) performed by Deborah Strauss (violin) and Jeff Warschauer (guitar)

Krakow Jewish Culture Festival, 2014