Klezmers were Jewish folk musicians who performed music of various genres, and were skilled in the art of improvisation.
Music is an integral part of Jewish culture.
In the Russian Empire of the 19th century, synagogue music was solely vocal. The “hazzan” (cantor or singer) leading a public prayer in a synagogue had to have good vocal abilities, as he repeated prayers in a melodic recitative, and actually sang many prayers. From the late 19th century, choral singing in synagogues began to proliferate. Cantors with choirs of synagogues of Odessa, Warsaw, Berdichev, and Kishinev traveled cities and shtetls of the Pale of Settlement and performed concert-like divine services.
In everyday life, instrumental music and songs of Klezmers went hand in hand with festive open-air parties, fairs, family and community events (weddings, bar mitzvah ceremony etc.); sometimes, they were invited to high-society balls.
A “capella” (ensemble) of Klezmers consisted on three to five performers. The leading instrument, most often violin, was supported by clarinet, trumpet, or flute, sometimes cimbalom, double-bass, and drum.
The ensembles often consisted of members of one family, and the trade was passed down from generation to generation. Poltava had twenty-two families of Jewish musicians, Berdichev had about fifty, and they maintained their own synagogue.
Many famous musicians originated from Klezmer families, for instance composer and pedagogue Mikhail Gnessin, violinist and pedagogue Pyotr Stolyarovsky etc.Read more