There is a lot of old and new klezmer music to enjoy!
We have manuscripts and vintage recordings of many hundreds of tunes composed for eastern European Jewish weddings and other local events which we now draw on to entertain people from different communities around the world at parties, festivals, in nightclubs, dance halls and more.
Klezmer (with ‘z’ as in ‘zoo’) is a musical tradition that grew out of Yiddish-speaking communities in eastern Europe, where it was mainly played by professional Jewish folk musicians (klezmorim), with the playing tradition often running through many generations. We see klezmer as a musical language we seek to become fluent in, seeking to understand the vocabulary, accents and idioms. We follow the tradition of learning folk music from seasoned musicians, and are fortunate to have vintage recordings dating back to the early 1900s to learn from, as well as the klezmorim of today.
Nowadays people around the world from different communities enjoy playing, listening and dancing to the music, attracted by the elements that make up this unique language - including particular modes, ornaments and other stylistic features.
Although the majority of the klezmer repertoire is for dancing, quite a lot of other klezmer music exists – for example the old repertoire includes tunes to greet and serenade guests, street tunes, and melodies to finish a party. Newer music might include arrangements and suites.
Klezmorim would have spoken Yiddish, a European Jewish language that started around the 1100s and is mainly early German, with some Hebrew and, depending on the dialect, local words. It is written using Hebrew letters, and written/read from right to left.
Klezmer then and now
This music was played mainly by Jewish musicians
Lots of non-Jewish people play klezmer music
The music was pretty much in eastern Europe and immigrant Jewish communities in the USA
You can hear klezmer all over the world
Only men played this music in public
Anyone can play and perform in a klezmer band
The bandleader was a violinist
Various instrumentalists are bandleaders, including violinists, clarinettists, trombone players, drummers
It was just 'Jewish Music'
We call the repertoire 'klezmer music'
Almost all klezmer players would have spoken Yiddish
A minority of klezmer players speak Yiddish, although many are learning as it can help to understand the music better
Find out more on these pages about klezmer instruments, style, modes and dances.
You can also find here lots of useful resources all about klezmer, and click below to hear some klezmer music:
Listen & watch
Freilach de Papa played by Berel Stal's Orquesta
Berel Stal recorded klezmer tunes in Argentina in the 1950s.
Film Interview with Dave Tarras, klezmer clarinet player
Dave Tarras had an amazingly long career, starting in the 1920s and going through to the late 1970s. He wrote many tunes and recorded hundreds, including on radio shows.
Belf's Romanian Orchestra plays Nakhes Fun Kinder (Joy From your Children)
Vintage recordings from Europe are less common than ones made in America. V. Belf was (probably) a clarinet player, and in this recording you can also hear a violin and piano (c.1912). More Belf recordings