Mayn yingele 03:30
Mayn rue platz 03:15
Frayhat gezang: Mayn tsavoe / Makhnes geyen 03:47

Liner Notes

The selections contained herein were adapted from Chana Mlotek’s 1972 collection Mir trogn a gezang: The New Book of Yiddish Songs. For more on that and other important song collections, see the Musical Evidence section of the Introduction to Volume 12.

Mayn yingele (My Little Boy), to a poem by Morris Rosenfeld written in 1887, is considered a typical “sweatshop song” and is one of the most famous. It is an immigrant father’s lament at seldom seeing his young son awake—because of the long hours he is forced to work for basic subsistence. When he leaves for work at dawn, the child is still asleep; and when he returns late at night, it is already well past his bedtime (“I hardly know my own child’s looks”). His wife tells him poignantly how the boy asks repeatedly but in vain for his father (“Where is my papa?”), who, becoming depressed and embittered over his apparently permanent situation, despairs over living long enough to enjoy and interact with his child: “One day, when you wake, my child, you will not find me anymore.” 

Hirsch Liwschitz set a German translation (Mein Jüngele) of the same poem to a different, unrelated tune. It was published in a four-part choral arrangement by LEO WINZ—Der Kunst-Verlag “Phoenix” in Berlin in the 1920s. The same tune and text but in the original Yiddish was made into a four-part SATB choral arrangement by Samuel H. Lewin and published in 1923 by the United Hebrew Choral Societies of the United States and Canada. 

Mayn rue platz (My Grave); lit., resting place, is another of the “sweatshop songs” to a poem by Rosenfeld, in which the singer pours out his heart at the harshness of his life, “withering at machines” of the shop where he works “as a slave, where chains clang.” He will have no rest in life; his beloved will have to visit his grave someday to lighten his heart. Until then, his only “resting place” is the workplace and its brutal conditions that he cannot escape. 

An entirely different, independent melody to this same text was composed and published in Berlin by Janot Roskin in the early years of the 20th century. The melodic version in this volume became relatively well known in the United States as an anonymous folk tune, but Roskin’s composition—which remains obscure and virtually unknown—is a Schubertian lied for voice and piano. 

Mayn yingele and Mayn rue-plats are without overt militant allusions; but both would be (and generally were) considered protest songs under the definition proposed by the British music critic and journalist Dorian Lynskey, which holds that a protest song is simply one that “addresses a political issue in a way which aligns itself with the underdog.” In these two Yiddish songs, the political dimension may be understood, from knowledge of Rosenfeld’s wider oeuvre, to follow logically from the economic and social issues addressed by the poems. Ethnologists, political historians, and cultural critics have traced the birth of the American protest song tradition—including its radical side—to the Popular Front of the extreme left in the late 1930s and 1940s, which was affiliated with the Communist Party. If the assessment is accurate, that tradition was obviously preceded—and perhaps encouraged and fertilized—by its generic Yiddish analogue that was already more than forty years old by that time. 

The text of Mayn tsavoe (My Testament) is a poem by David Edelstadt, which, unlike his Pyramidn, has obvious militant revolutionary overtones. His even better-known poem, In kamf (In Struggle)—which was written in America—became attached to an anonymous tune and was a quasi-international anthem of workers’ movements (Rosenfeld dubbed it the “[Jewish] Marseillaise”). In Mayn tsavoe, the ubiquitous red flag of revolutionaries (which became the symbol of Communism and then the banner and the background for the flag of the Soviet Union), is, Edelstadt proposes, stained that color from the splatter of workingmen’s blood during the course of their “struggle.” In the succeeding stanzas of the poem, which form the additional strophes of the song, he implores his comrades—the “good friends” of the cause—to bring that red banner to his grave and to sing beneath it his already famous In kamf. Even in his grave he will hear his “freedom song,” which rings like the chains of all enslaved people—Christians and Jews alike. With its faith in the “final victory” that will come, even if not in his lifetime, and with his reference to swords resounding with bloodshed and pain, this is no mere passive lament or expression of disillusionment. 

The song was known to Yiddish-speaking adherents of the far left in America dating to the early years of the 20th century, as were others of Edelstadt’s poetry with revolutionary expectations; and it was cited in a later poem by the poet H. Leivick [Levick Halpern, 1888–1962], Balad fun denver sanatorium. It was also current among proletarian elements in the Soviet Union. The preeminent Soviet Jewish folk music scholar Moshe Beregovski (1892–1961) cited two variants in the initial volume of his Evreiiski muzykal’nyi fol’klor (Jewish Folk Music), which was published in Moscow in 1934. One of his informants (in Kiev in the early 1930s?) had heard the song in Vilna as early as 1905; the other variant had been heard by his informant at workers’ clubs in Minsk (Belarus) in 1917. Both Soviet variants are musically more intricate than the one known in America and published by Chana Mlotek, but the melody in all variants is clearly derived from the third movement of Beethoven’s piano sonata in C minor Op. 13, Pathétique. The two Soviet variants cited by Beregovski contain a text variation in the incipit: Mayn liber fraynd [fraynt] az ikh vel shtarbn (My dear friend, if/when I die …) in place of O gute fraynd ven … (O good friend, when I die) in the variant apparently better known in America. 

In the succeeding stanzas of the poem (Beregovski included only the first), which form the succeeding strophes of the song, the poet swears that he will sing to “the people” from his grave, cheering them on. 

The tune and text of Makhnes Geyen (Forward, Let Us Move!) are by the popular composer of folk-type (and even a few quasi-art) songs, Mikhl Gelbart (1889–1962). “Forward, brothers, in the ranks,” it urges:

Hold high your banners!
The masses are marching in the struggle for victory….
Whoever hesitates and will not join us
in the fight should stay home,
for he was born to be a slave.
Our road to victory is assured
when we remain united and continue to march. 

Gelbart may not have conceived this song as an actual ode to militant clashes, since that was not his tendency, but more for protest and solidarity parades and demonstrations—a role it played both in the United States and abroad. But he dedicated it in 1934 to the Republican fighters in the Spanish Civil War, who included among their ranks a contingent of idealistic American Yiddish-speaking Jews in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. 

Makhnes geyen and Mayn tsavoe are woven into a medley in the Milken Archive’s choral arrangement, which was aimed at retrospective concert performance rather than political function.

By: Neil W. Levin



MAYN YINGELE (My Little Boy)
Poem: Morris Rosenfeld
Sung in Yiddish

I have a little boy,
A real fine son,
Whenever I notice him, it seems to me
That the whole world is mine.

But only rarely, rarely do I see him,
My handsome little one, when he is awake;
Whenever we meet he’s asleep,
I see him only at night.

Work drives me out from home early,
And allows me to return only late;
O, my own flesh and blood is a stranger to me,
O, my own child’s glance is foreign!

I come home depressed,
Shrouded in darkness.
My pale wife immediately tells me
How nicely our child plays.

How sweetly he speaks, how cleverly he asks,
“O, Mama, Ma dearest,
When will he come and bring me a penny
My dear, dear Pa.”

I stand at his bedside
And see and hear, hush!
A dream moves his little lips:
—O, where is, where is Pa?

I kiss his little blue eyes;
They give a peek—o, my son!
They see me, they see me
And they quickly close.

I remain pained, depressed
And embittered, and I ponder:
When you awake again, my child,
You will not find me anymore.

MAYN RUE PLATS (My Resting Place)
Poem: Morris Rosenfeld
Sung in Yiddish

Don’t look for me where myrtles grow!
You will not find me there, my love;
Where lives wither at machines,
That is my resting place.

Don’t look for me where the birds sing!
You will not find me there, my love;
I am a slave, where chains clang;
That is my resting place.

Don’t look for me where fountains splash!
You will not find me there, my love;
Where tears flow and teeth gnash,
That is my resting place.

And if you truly love me,
Then come to me, my dear love;
And lighten the gloom on my heart,
And sweeten my resting place, my grave.

FRAYHAYT GEZANG (Song of Freedom)

MAYN TSAVOE (My Will and Testament)
Words: David Edelstadt

MAKHNES GEYEN (Forward, Brothers)
Words: Mich Gelbart
Sung in Yiddish

O good friends, when I die,
Bring our banner to my grave,
The banner of freedom colored red,
Splattered with the blood of the workingman.

And there, under the red banner,
Sing my song to me, my freedom song,
My song, “In Kamf,”1 which rings like the chains
Of the enslaved Christian and Jew.

Forward, brothers, in the ranks,
Raise your banners.
The masses are marching, onwards, onwards,
Ahead in the struggle towards victory.

I too, in my grave, will hear
My freedom song, my battle song.

Whoever is trembling and frightened,
And does not want to advance into battle with us,
He was born a slave,
And should remain at home.

Be more resolute, be stronger, close the ranks!
Chins up! Chests out!
The masses are advancing, onwards, onwards,
Ahead in the battle towards victory.

There too I will gush tears
For the enslaved Christian and Jew.

Our road to victory is secure,
When united we advance;
Those who were born  slaves,
Should remain at home.

1.Edelstadt’s famous Yiddish labor movement song.


ikh hob a kleynem yingele,
a zunele gor fayn,
ven ikh derze im, dakht zikh mir
di gantse velt iz mayn.

nor zeltn, zeltn ze ikh im,
mayn sheynem, ven er vakht,
ikh tref im imer shlofndik,
ikh ze im nor bay nakht.

di arbet traybt mikh fri aroys
un lozt mikh shpet tsurik.
o, fremd iz mir mayn eygn layb,
o, fremd iz mayn kinds a blik!

ikh kum tseklemter hayt aheym
in fintsternish gehilt—
mayn bleykhe froy dertseylt mir bald,
vi fayn dos kind zikh shpilt.

vi zis es redt, vi klug es fregt:
—o ma-me, gute ma,
ven kumt un brengt a peni mir,
mayn guter, guter pa?

ikh shtey bay zayn gelegerl
un ze, un her, un sha!
a troym bavegt di lipelekh:
—o, vu iz, vu iz pa?

ikh kush di bloye eygelekh;
zey efenen zikh—o, kind!
zey zeen mikh, zey zeen mikh,
un shlisn zikh geshvind.

ikh  blayb tseveytikt un tseklemt,
farbitert un ikh kler:
ven du dervakst a mol, mayn kind
gefin’stu mikh nit mer…


nit zukh mikh, vu di mirtn grinen!
gefinst mikh dortn nit, mayn shats;
vu lebns velkn bay mashinen,
dortn iz mayn rue-plats.

nit zukh mikh, vu di feygl zingen!
gefinst mikh dortn nit, mayn shats;
a shklaf bin ikh, vu keytn klingen,
dortn iz mayn rue-plats.

nit zukh mikh, vu fontanen shpritsn!
gefinst mikh dortn nit, mayn shats;
vu trern rinen, tseyner kritsn,
dortn iz mayn rue-plats.

un libstu mir mit varer libe,
to kum tsu mir, mayn guter shats;
un hayter af mayn harts dos tribe,
un makh mir zis mayn rue-plats.




o gute fraynd, ven ikh vel shtarbn
trogt tsu mayn keyver undzer fon,
di fraye fon mit royte farbn,
bashpritst mit blut fun arbetsman.
un dort unter dem fon dem roytn,
zingt mir mayn lid, mayn fraye lid,
mayn lid “in kamf,” vos klingt vi keytn
far dem farshklaftn krist un yid.

forverts, brider, in di reyen,
di plakatn trogt foroys,
makhnes geyen, geyen, geyen
in dem kamf tsum zig foroys.
oykh in mayn keyver vel ikh hern
mayn fraye lid, mayn shturemlid.

ver es shrekt zikh un hot moyre,
vil mit undz in kamf nit geyn,
yener iz a shklaf geboyrn
un zol blaybn in der heym.
oykh dort vel ikh fargisn trern
far dem farshklaftn krist un yid.

fester, shtarker shlist di reyen,
kop aroyf un brust foroys,
makhnes geyen, geyen, geyen
in dem kamf tsum zig foroys.

undzer veg tsum zig iz zikher
ven fareynikte mir gey’n;
yener iz a shklaf geboyrn,
un zol blaybn in der heym.

makhnes geyen, geyen, geyen
in dem kamf tsum zig foroys.




Composer: Anonymous
Length: 10:32
Genre: Choral

Performers: Coro HebraeicoRaphael Frieder, Baritone;  Amy Goldstein, Soprano;  Neil Levin, Conductor

Date Recorded: 07/01/2001
Venue: Blackheath Concert Hall, London, UK
Engineer: and Morgan Roberts, Campbell Hughes
Assistant Engineer: Hamza, Andreas
Assistant Engineer: Weir, Simon
Project Manager: Levin, Neil


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