A Brief History of Klezmer

The word "klezmer" comes from two Hebrew words that refer to musical instruments. Over time, they have come to signify the musicians and the type of music that these musicians play. It now refers to the musical genre that is a type of secular Jewish music with roots dating back as far as the 16th century.

Yiddish Theater and Beyond

In the 1870's, a man named Abraham Goldfaden founded the first Yiddish theater in Romania. The Yiddish theater popularized Jewish music and had a large influence on the Jews of the time. Klezmer was popular at this time in Europe as an expression of Jewish culture. When the first recording technologies were invented in the first decade of the 20th century, klezmer music was recorded and made available to the masses. This early recorded material has been a major source for the current revival of this type of music. Klezmer instruments during this time consisted mostly of violin, cimbalom and bass. At the end of the 19th century, the clarinet, brass instruments and drums became part of many of these ensembles.

The Downturn for Klezmer

After the large immigration of Jews to the United States from 1880-1920, klezmer started to lose favor with these European Jews. While they had enjoyed this music and had heard it at their bar mitzvahs, weddings, and other affairs, they now wanted to assimilate. This desire for mainstream American culture, combined with the decimation of Jewish people and culture during the Holocaust, rendered klezmer music almost obsolete.

The Upturn for Klezmer

In the 1970's, klezmer started to find a revival as an extension of the folk music revival that was popular at the time. One band, called The Klezmorim, brought new energy and interest to the world of klezmer music. They toured Europe, played at Carnegie Hall and exposed the new generation of Jews to this traditional Jewish music. With this revival, people become interested in klezmer music again and started to search for old examples to emulate.

Klezmer Today

Today, Klezmer is a very popular type of music with people in both America and Israel requesting it for the family events, Jewish get-togethers and more. Each summer in Israel there is a three day Klezmer festival in Safed, where some of the best Klezmer bands in the world come to entertain and to enjoy playing their music. Klezmer has found its revival today and will, undoubtedly, be here to stay for quite awhile.