Mikhl Gelbart was born in a small town near Łódź, Poland. Between 1909 and 1911 he toured with a theater group for which he wrote music, and in 1912 he immigrated to the United States. He became intimately involved with the Arbeter Ring (Workmen’s Circle) in New York, directing the music for many of its Third Seders and at its children’s summer camps, and he taught in its afternoon schools. Although he made some attempts at larger forms, Gelbart is best known for his more than 120 Yiddish songs, many of which are settings of verse by well-known Yiddish poets. The songs have a simple folk quality and are firmly rooted in eastern European folk culture and its American extension—factors that sometimes lead to their assumed but erroneous identification as folksongs. To the contrary, many of them are properly considered art songs owing to their astute expression of serious poetry, their inventive lines, and their subtle taste.
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