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The art of the klezmer: improvisation and ornamentation in the commercial recordings of New York clarinettists Naftule Brandwein and Dave Tarras 1922-1929

Rubin, J.E. (2001). The art of the klezmer: improvisation and ornamentation in the commercial recordings of New York clarinettists Naftule Brandwein and Dave Tarras 1922-1929. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London)


This thesis is an investigation into the instrumental social music of the Eastern European Jewish immigrant community in New York during the early decades of the twentieth century. A professional tradition with roots in medieval Germany, klezmer music had developed in the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe during the course of several centuries and was brought to North America by immigrants beginning in the late nineteenth century. European klezmorim had formed a socio-economic group which fulfilled a ritual function within traditional Jewish society at weddings and other celebrations. like Yiddish culture in general, the Jewish instrumentalists adapted to the New York environment, creating a synthesis during the period 1880-1950which contained both Eastern European and American attributes. This study begins with the hypothesis that there is a unique style and repertoire created and interpreted by the klezmorim, of which key stylistic aspects can be identified. Utilising a three-prong approach - historical, ethnographic and musicological - it provides a focused study based on the recordings of the clarinettists Naftu1e Brandwein (1884-1963)and Dave Tarras (1895-1989)made during the years 1922-1929and, at the same time, places their music within a larger socio-cultural context. Drawing on musical parallels to Harshav's theory of polylingualism in Yiddish, the study treats the various genres within the overall category of metric dance tunes as a single field, investigaqng key _stylistic elements at the syntactical and improvisational ~eve1s.It focuses in particular on issues of modality, compositional process, unprovisation and omamentataion. A dynamic approach to modality presents a new way of looking at oral musical traditions which contain elements of both modal systems and Western tonality. The study both confirms the importance of ornamentation as being crucial in defining style in oral traditions and sugg~ts ~t ~rtain categories of ornaments may also serve a structural function. Building upon Nettl's concept of a "point of departure" upon which musicians base their improvisations, those of Brandwein and Tarras may be regarded as being based on a myriad of points of departure at every level of detail which, when aggregated, made up the performance. Finally, through investigating the interface between syntactical and improvisational elements, a new way of looking at improvisation is suggested. - one which blurs the boundary between the compositional and the performative.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Performing Arts > Music
Doctoral Theses
School of Communication & Creativity > School of Communication & Creativity Doctoral Theses
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