Jonina Duker provided information for a recent posting about the Yiddish Book Center (YBC), recognizing it as a
major source for those seeking genealogical information for family >from the Yiddish theater world. Her message
included material provided by the YBC's Bibliographer and Editorial Director, David Mazower.
For completeness, the following additional posting helps to highlight the benefits
of the kinds of material residing at the YBC.
It includes Rare Yiddish sheet music, with translation by a revered Yiddish poet
"`... This extraordinary find is a rare piece of sheet music that emerged as we sorted
through thousands of Yiddish music sheets over the past few months.
Amid a huge trove of Yiddish theater, cantorial, and folk-song sheets, one
in particular stood out. It had a banner of Yiddish letters at the top:
“Schubert’s Famous Serenade.” One of Franz Schubert's best-known songs,
“Serenade” (1826) is a hauntingly beautiful melody performed by every great lieder singer.
What caught my eye on this sheet was a small line of type way down the cover.
It read "Idish iberzetsung fun m. l. halpern" ("Yiddish translation by M. L. Halpern").
Moyshe-Leyb Halpern was a virtuoso Yiddish poet whose early death in 1932 stunned
the Yiddish literary world.
As you would expect, Halpern’s translation >from the German is a masterclass in
Yiddish lyricism. In this version, the original opening line—"Leise flehen meine lider"
("Softly my songs plead with you")—is transformed by Halpern to "Shtile shvebn mayne tfiles"
("Softly my prayers float to you").
It’s a glorious reworking, every bit as tender and even more sensuously alliterative than the original.
This translation also has an added transgressive twist: the choice of the Hebrew word tfiles (prayers)
in place of lider (songs). That switch makes Halpern’s version instantly and authentically Jewish.
You can feel (and hear) Moyshe-Leyb relishing the challenge of pitting his wits against the German
original and claiming this classic song for modern Yiddish culture.
Halpern’s lyrics and Schubert’s music are a magical combination. They deserve to be heard in concert
halls all over the world. And yet, this obscure piece of sheet music languished forgotten for decades.
I checked with some friends of mine—Jewish singers and musicologists—and none knew anything about it,
but all wanted to know more. Now, thanks to our generous donors, this music will gain a new lease on
life and be enjoyed by audiences around the world.
Many more Yiddish treasures in our collection are waiting to be revealed. Right now, rare books
and sheet music need to be sorted, cataloged, preserved, researched, and translated ...
Bibliographer and Editorial Director
Yiddish Book Center