Klezmer Musik book coverJoel Rubin / Rita Ottens
Klezmer-Musik (in German)
dtv 30748 / Bärenreiter 1990
with numerous illustrations and musical examples
An original publication of Bärenreiter-Verlag and dtv, 1999.

Currently out of print.

Klezmer-Musik is not about the current klezmer revival in America and its followers in Europe, but rather about the musical tradition of the klezmorim and their culture, which developed in eastern Europe as a way of life within a society governed by Jewish religious customs. The result is the collective biography of the klezmer musicians of eastern Europe and their immediate successors, told from the perspective of the musicians themselves. For the first time, the roots of klezmer music in the Jewish religion, its originally magical function and its place within the medieval folk beliefs of the Ashkenazic Jews of the Rhineland are described. With a multidisciplinary approach combining elements of ethnomusicology, historical musicology, Judaic studies, comparative religion and literature, history, sociology and cultural studies, it was possible to reconstruct the complex developments in traditional klezmer music and to show its path over generations and continents. Klezmer-Musik is the result of over ten years of interviews and research in the United States, eastern and western Europe and Israel. Joel Rubin’s scholarly research as an ethnomusicologist and his practical work as a performing musician – in particular with the Epstein Brothers and Pete Sokolow, and Israeli hasidic musicians – opened the doors to a world which enriched the authors’ research and made this book possible.

Review excerpts:

“This is one of the most serious publications about klezmer music published thus far in any language.”

(Professor Edwin Seroussi, The Jewish Music Research Centre, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem)

“Here at last is an authoritative and scholarly history of the subject… The authors … have produced a work that at one stroke dispels the fog of ignorance and false assumptions that has long surrounded this subject. The authors set forth in extraordinary detail the history of klezmer music from its roots in the Middle Ages up to the present day. We now have access for the first time to a wealth of detailed information concerning the life, musical training and repertoire and social milieu of the East European klezmorim. However, it is not only a history of the genre, but also a critical analysis of the development of klezmer music since its rediscovery in the mid-1970s and a consideration of what happens to a musical form once it has been divorced from the social circumstances that gave birth to it. “Klezmer-Musik” is based on documentary source material in Eastern Europe that until now has been overlooked (or never even sought) by music scholars. In addition, Ottens and Rubin have interviewed dozens of surviving klezmer musicians or their descendants in both Europe and in the USA. As a result, we need radically to revise our perception of what klezmer music is and where it came from. … It is one of the great virtues of this work that it not only provides an unbelievably detailed history of klezmer music (the bulk of the book), but also states clearly and honestly for the first time the problems that modern klezmer music faces in its present impase. I should also add that, unlike most other works of profound scholarship, this book is very elegantly written and a pleasure to read.”

(Michael Aylward, Jewish Quarterly, Spring 2000)

“so suspenseful that the reader can’t put it down. The clarity is astonishing, taking the reader by the hand and leading him through several centuries of musical history, without him being subjugated to a pedagogic-didactic tour and wandering astray – as is so often the case with such comprehensive depictions – in the jungle of a new music history.”

(Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 4/2000)

“unique … a groundbreaking work”

(Süddeutsche Zeitung)

“The characteristic features of klezmer music … are so vividly depicted that the the music immediately pops into the reader’s head.”

(Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung)

“very informative … carefully depicted.”

Die Zeit

“a successful piece of work.”

(Forverts / Jewish Daily Forward)

“an historically and musicologically sound, but also very lively and humane depiction of a serious and colourful musical tradition.”

(Fono Forum)

“… there is probably nobody more competent to write a history of klezmer music. … Rita Ottens and Joel Rubin have written an immensely exciting and fascinating book full of a wealth of information”

(Radio DRS 2, Switzerland)

“Both [Rubin and Ottens] belong to the most profound authorities on the subject … An extremely thoroughly researched publication”

(Der kleine Bund, Switzerland)

“… an extremely lively depiction, subtly constructed and vividly articulate, gleaned from published and unpublished materials, and from conversations with musicians and their descendents. … Thanks to a thorough reading of available sources and an always clear portrayal in the form of a klezmer biography, the extremely complex and diversly influenced path of this music becomes comprehensible. Statements [about klezmer music] are always tied to related socio-cultural, societal and, last but not least, political issues and, at the same time, they refer to the not inconsiderable importance of changing ways of interpretation with regard to conceptions of sound and rhythm. Here there is no one-way street from the Eastern European shtetl to the streets of New York, and no simple disintegration of traditional klezmer music takes place. The authors show through many practical musical examples on the one hand how complexly, and on the other hand how pragmatically the transformation of this music took place. … Their spiritual-emotional nearness to this subject can be felt on every page of this book – as an intellectual-scholarly exegesis as well as a deeply rooted feeling of being alive.”

(Cellesche Zeitung)