Groups playing traditional Jewish music date
back to the mid-eighteenth century. The word "klezmer" (klezmorim, pl.)
comes from the Hebrew word kley zemer, which means "holy instruments".
The very concept of kley zemer is associated with the temple cult,
meaning the set of musical instruments played when sacrifices were laid
at the temple altar. At that time, they were primarily wind and
percussion instruments, such as trumpets of various kinds, drums, bells,
metal dishes, as well as stringed instruments, such as the harps and
lyres mentioned so often in the Bible.
In modern times, klezmorim have used contemporary instruments.
Depending on where they were playing, they adopted the kinds of
instruments typical for the folklore of that region. For this reason, it
is difficult to identify what kinds of specific instruments are
"typical" for Jewish bands. Without doubt, most often violins, bass
fiddles and clarinets are played, but the cimbalom was also adopted,
under the influence of village bands, in southeastern Poland and the
territories of present-day Belarus and Ukraine, as well as accordions
(in Mazovia), trumpets, tubas and flutes.
The profession of klezmer was often passed down from generation to
generation, thus creating whole dynasties of famous musicians, whose
renown sometimes even reached the courts of the nobles. The literary
figure of Jankiel the cimbalom player, who played at the court of the
Soplica family, was not just the product of a poetic imagination.
Klezmorim often played at court ceremonies and celebrations.
From surviving documents, we know that the
klezmer repertoire represented a great variety of styles. They played
almost everything�from traditional Polish noble dances such as the
mazurka and polonaise to folk works, such as kujawkiaki, krakowiaki and
ko�omyjki, to fantasies based on vaudevillian and operetta melodies. An
important factor influencing the melodic and harmonic lines in klezmer
music was the development of Chasidic music. Each of the courts had its
own typical and recognizable musical style�from the lyrical and
sentimental music of the Chasidim of Bobowa to the lively, march-like
rhythms of the Chasidim of Lubavich. The klezmorim wandering throughout
the country would clearly incorporate melodic and stylistic novelties
they would meet along the way, transforming them and creating their own
Musical inspiration was not unidirectional, however. Many other
composers also made use of elements of traditional Jewish music. The
typical Jewish harmonies can be found in Chopin's "Mazurka in A minor,
Op. 17", in works by Sergei Prokofiev, and even in the first bars of
"Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin.
After the Holocaust, the center of klezmer
music moved to the United States, where it has survived both as a
traditional music form, as well as in more modern, jazz-like varieties.
In Poland, the renaissance in klezmer music took place in the early
1990's. New groups are constantly being formed, which both record albums
and give live concerts that are very popular. This renaissance has been
fostered by an increased interest in Jewish culture in general, the
popularity of ethnic music and the yearly Festivals of Jewish Culture,
which provide an overview of the trends in klezmer music from all over