|Ikh hob dikh tsufil lib
The heartrending lament Ikh hob dikh tsufil lib(I Love You Too Much), one of Second Avenue’s most enduring and familiar love songs, is the best remembered number from Olshanetsky’s musical comedy Der katerinshtshik (The Organ-grinder). The show, with lyrics by Chaim Tauber (1901–72) and a book by Louis Freiman, opened at David Kessler’s Second Avenue Theater in the 1933–34 season, which had proved to be a particularly difficult one economically. Some theater managers who had gambled earlier on more artistic ventures seemed to be scrambling to save the day by reverting, in the words of one critic, to “the good old hokum its [the Second Avenue] public used to cry for”—providing safe crowd pleasers that would avoid the financial risk of more serious Yiddish drama.
Der katerinshtshik opened with a stellar cast that included Julius Nathanson in his first “downtown” role; Annie Thomashefsky, sister of Boris Thomashevsky; and Luba Kadison, who introduced this song in that production. Kadison was known for her acting in literary and classical Yiddish plays, and this was her first involvement in a popular musical vehicle.
The story concerns Tsirele, the daughter of a Jewish widow and innkeeper in a small Polish town, and Abrasha, a presumed Gypsy organ-grinder (street beggar and entertainer) and pickpocket, to whose mystique many women are nonetheless attracted, and whose parents—also organ-grinders from a Gypsy camp—are perceived by the townspeople as “thieves from gutter society.” Tsirele and Abrasha are truly in love and intent on marriage despite her family’s vigorous objections. Her mother, Rivke, has selected a different match for her, Pinye, who consults Masha, a Gypsy fortune-teller and card reader, for a prediction about his future with Tsirele. It happens that Masha is deeply in love with Abrasha, who apparently once had some romantic relationship with her. Masha reads her own fortune, and learning that Abrasha expects to marry Tsirele, she pours out her heart in this lament—or “torch song” as it was referenced then—Ikh hob dikh tsufil lib. In the song, Masha articulates her grief while simultaneously and unselfishly wishing Abrasha happiness: “I love you too much to be at all angry with you.” In an additional strophe she tearfully promises her blessing, rather than a stereotypical Gypsy curse.
Luba Kadison, who became identified with the song for years, later claimed credit for having inspired the songwriters to give it its present shape and its role in the play. She referred to the song that she was originally given for her principal solo as a “hearts and flowers tune,” which, she protested, neither provided exploration of Masha’s character nor furthered the plot—a weakness of many songs in Second Avenue productions. According to Kadison’s account, it was she who insisted that the song be rewritten so that it would arise naturally out of her onstage fortune-telling activity. And she maintained that it was also she who suggested both the card-reading scenario and the song’s specific human expressions of painful acceptance and lifelong heartache.
Just as Tsirele and Abrasha are about to go to the wedding canopy without her mother’s consent, agents from another town arrive to reveal that the Katerinshtshiks are not Abrasha’s real parents, and that Abrasha is no Gypsy, but a Jew who was kidnapped as a baby by them and reared as their own son in a Gypsy camp. In fact, Abrasha has an enviable Jewish pedigree as the grandson of a prestigious living tzaddik and rebbe (pious charismatic rabbinical-type leader), the Makarover Rebbe, whose own deceased daughter—Abrasha’s mother—married a doctor against his wishes and incurred his condemnation.
Abrasha is forced to comply with the rebbe’s demand that he be returned to him and his court, where another religiously appropriate match for him is attempted. Ultimately Rivke relents—as does the Makarover Rebbe, in time to appear uninvited at the wedding, this time to bless rather than curse the union he had opposed, and even to acknowledge its divine preordination.
As was frequently the case, the music was enthusiastically received by the critics, while the play was dismissed for, among other things, its holes and implausibilities: “And don’t ask, I plead with you, why and how.” The music was called “a classic that would have been appropriate for the best Viennese operetta ... a jewel of the Yiddish stage.” Ikh hob dikh tsufil lib was praised for its fresh invention and form, and Kadison’s rendition won accolades for “taste and restraint conspicuously absent from too much of the [Second Avenue] entertainment.” Over the next few years, the song, in vocal and instrumental versions, was a favorite of Jewish wedding bands and popular entertainers, for whom it became completely divorced from its original theatrical context. In 1940 it was recorded in an English version, I Love You Much Too Much, by Bob Zurke and his Delta Rhythm Band, and it achieved recognition in the non-Jewish world. Subsequent recordings included renditions in a host of styles by Gene Krupa, Ella Fitzgerald, Jan Peerce (in the original Yiddish version), Connie Francis, Dean Martin, and Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians—in a choral arrangement. At a memorial tribute at the Concord Hotel following Olshanetsky’s sudden and early death, a large banner poignantly expressed the feelings of so many there who had known him: “Olshy, we loved you too much!”
By: Neil W. Levin
Lyrics by Chaim Tauber
Now I am left alone
with my longings, with my pain.
I have picked the cards,
and I seek my good fortune in them.
He has replaced me with another.
He cannot understand my great love.
He’s going off to marry the other one,
while I remain forlorn and alone.
Oh, who needs these cards.
For naught have I waited and yearned.
My youth is already buried.
Fortune has made a fool of me.
I love you too much.
I do not bear any hatred for you.
I love you too much
To be angry at you.
I love you too much
To be at all angry with you.
They say I’m a fool,
I know. I love you.
I gave my life away to you,
My heart and my soul.
I am sick, but my thoughts
Turn not to revenge.
I love you too much…
Lyrics by Chaim Tauber
kh’bin atzind aleyn geblibn
mit mayn benkshaft, mit mayn vey.
kh’hob di kortn opgeklibn
un ikh zukh mayn glik in zey.
er hot mikh farbitn af a tsveyter,
mayn groyse libe ken er nit farshteyn.
mit yener tsu der khupe geyt er,
un ikh blayb elnd un aleyn
nu ver zshe darf di kortn hobn,
umzist hob ikh gevart, gegart,
mayn yungt iz dokh shoyn bagrobn,
mayn mazl hot mikh opgenart.
ikh hob dikh tsufil lib.
ikh trog af dir keyn has.
ikh hob dikh tsufil lib
tsu zayn af dir in kaas.
ikh hob dikh tsufil lib
tsu zayn af dir gor beyz,
a nar ikh heys,
ikh veys. ikh hob dikh lib.
kh’hob dir mayn lebn avekgegebn,
mayn harts un mayn neshome,
ikh bin krank, nor mayn gedank
trakht nit fun nekome.
ikh hob dikh tsufil lib...
Composer: Alexander Olshanetsky
Genre: Yiddish Theater
Amy Goldstein, Soprano;
Elli Jaffe, Conductor;
Vienna Chamber Orchestra
Date Recorded: 10/01/2001
Venue: Baumgartner Casino (B), Vienna, Austria
Engineer: Hughes, Campbell
Assistant Engineer: Weir, Simon
Project Manager: Schwendener, Paul
Publisher: Universal MCA
Arranger/Orchestrator: Paul Henning
Yiddish Translations/Transliterations: Eliyahu Mishulovin & Adam J. Levitin
Arrangement © Milken Family Foundation