Abi gezunt; Mazl; and Ikh zing—three of the songs featured on this collection—were written for the popular 1938 Yiddish film Mamele (Little Mama, also subtitled in English, “Kid Mother”). Made in Poland, as were a number of American-produced Yiddish films during the 1930s (this one less than a year before the German invasion), it starred the inimitable Molly Picon (1898–1992), probably Second Avenue’s longest-reigning queen and the best-known Yiddish actress/singer later on Broadway. The first American-born Yiddish performer to rise to the highest levels of Second Avenue fame and box-office attraction, Picon starred in countless plays, operettas, revues, and musicals over several decades, enchanting audiences with her unique, direct, almost childlike voice and her idiomatic humor and emblematic stage mannerisms. She also appeared in memorable films and wrote plays and lyrics. All three of the songs here are her words with Ellstein’s music.
Mamele costarred Edmund Zayenda, with a full cast under the artistic direction of Molly Picon’s actor-singer husband, Jacob (Yankel) Kalich. Eight years earlier there was a staged operetta on the same story, with music by Joseph Rumshinsky. In the film, Picon played the heroine, Khavshe—the youngest of three sisters in a family of six siblings in a prewar Polish town—whose mother has died. To her falls the role of substitute “little mother”—one for which, despite her young age, she seems naturally suited, taking care of the entire household and all her siblings. When she feels she must avert her older sister Berta’s path toward marriage with an undesirable man, Khavshe is willing to sacrifice her own happiness by trying to convince her sweetheart, a musician named Mr. Schlessinger, to pursue Berta instead and thus win the girl away from her current involvement. Initially, Schlessinger had been interested in Berta, but she had rebuffed him. Now, suddenly jealous that her younger sister is closer to marriage than she is, Berta is not only amenable but asks Khavshe to persuade Schlessinger to give her a second chance. But when the sacrifice plan backfires and the family quarrels with Khavshe for interfering in Berta’s romantic affairs, Khavshe decides to leave the family to its own devices and exit the home. She revises her appearance to the attractive young maiden she really is and goes to Schlessinger—for herself. She finds him singing a love song, which becomes a love song for her. They become engaged. Meanwhile, her family pleads for her return. She does so, now with her fiancé. They marry, and she accepts a dual role as wife and, once again, as “little mother” to the siblings.
When Khavshe goes back to Schlessinger to try to salvage the chance for happiness, she finds him at his piano, singing Ikh zing (I Sing)—a love song recalling King Solomon’s love song to Shulamit in the biblical Song of Songs.
By: Neil W. Levin
Lyrics by Molly Picon
King Solomon sang to his Shulamit
a love song.
And just like Solomon then, my love,
I bring my song now to you.
I sing my Song of Songs for you.
With love I adorn it,
only for you, soul of mine, do
I sing my dreams—
My love for you is like a dream—
Only for you, my comfort,
when I’m about to die from longing
for you, my beloved.
And when I still think
that you will once again be mine,
I sing my song from the heart,
my Song of Songs again.
Beloved, for you I sing.
Lyrics by Molly Picon
shloyme hameylekh hot tsu zayn shulamis
gezungen a libes-shir,
un punkt vi shloyme dangelibte mayne,
breng ikh mayn lid itst tsu dir.
ikh zing far dir mayn shir hashirim,
mit libe ikh batsir im,
far dir nor neshome mayn
ikh zing, far dir mayne khaloymes—
mayn libe vi a troym iz
fun dir nor nekhome mayn,
ven ikh gey oys fun benken,
nokh dir, gelibte mayn.
un ven ikh halt in eyn denken,
az du vest nokh a mol mayne zayn,
ikh zing fun hartsn mayne lider,
mayn shir hashirim vider.
gelibte, far dir ikh zing.
Composer: Abraham Ellstein
Genre: Yiddish Theater
Robert Bloch, Tenor;
Elli Jaffe, Conductor;
Vienna Chamber Orchestra
Date Recorded: 10/01/2001
Venue: Baumgartner Casino (A), Vienna, Austria
Engineer: Hughes, Campbell
Assistant Engineer: Hamza, Andreas
Assistant Engineer: Weir, Simon
Project Manager: Schwendener, Paul
Publisher: Music Sales Corp.
Arrangers: Patrick Russ & Warren Sherk/Zalmen Mlotek
Orchestrators: Patrick Russ & Warren Sherk
Yiddish Translations/Transliterations: Eliyahu Mishulovin & Adam J. Levitin
Arrangement © Milken Family Foundation