Rothschild's Fiddle, by Ed Sanders, Music by Jay Ungar

by Ed Sanders

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1.

about

About Ed Sanders

Founder of The Fugs, a poetic/satiric/political group which has issued a number of albums and CDs during its
almost 50 year history. Also founder of the Investigative Poetry movement, Sanders has recently completed a 350 page poem
on the final years of Robert F. Kennedy. His book on the Manson group, The Family, is under option to be made into a movie. He lives
in Woodstock with his wife Miriam, an essayist and painter.

"Rothschild's Fiddle" is published
in Ed's book of poetry,
Let's Not Keep Fighting the Trojan War,
New and Selected Poems 1986-2009.

THE HISTORY OF "ROTHSCHILD'S FIDDLE,
based on a short story by Anton Chekhov
—words by Edward Sanders, music composed
and performed by Jay Ungar
recorded by Mike Merenda at Humble Abode Music

Anton Chekhov wrote the story, “Rothschild’s Fiddle” in 1884, when he was 24. I first saw it in the 1960s, when I stocked it in my Peace Eye Bookstore on Avenue A in the Lower East Side, and was greatly affected when reading it.

I watched Jay and Molly perform "Catskill Farewell" at the October 21, 2001 salute to historian Alf Evers at the Senate House in Kingston. I was very very impressed. I spoke to Jay that day and mentioned "Rothschild's Fiddle."

Years passed, and at a seder in April of 2006 I got the idea for a poem based on "Rothschild's Fiddle.” I wrote a draft a few days later. On April 21, I send a letter to Jay: "Dear Jay, Here's my poetic version of ‘Rothschild's Fiddle.’ You and I talked about it back in 2001. I think it needs two tunes, one on page one, which Yakov plays at night when he is a bit disconsolate. The second tune is the sad and elegiac one which Yakov plays for Rothschild after Yakov becomes ill.

“Maybe you have some sad, mournful Rothschild's Fiddle type of tunes in your mind? With good wishes, Ed”.

On May 5, 2006 Jay called, and we talked about a violin part for page 1, and then a real sad and anguished and sorrowful violin part for the ending, when Yakov plays and Rothschild listens. Jay said he’d work on melodies for the piece.

December 9, 2006, I ran into Jay at the Woodstock police station. He was picking up the key to the Community Center to do his and Molly’s fiddle and dance performance. On December 16, 2006, I sent the final Rothschild's Fiddle text to you. Years went past.

There was a benefit in March of 2013 to repair the hole caused by a storm in the roof of White Pines in Byrdcliffe in Woodstock. Jay and Molly were among the performers. In the Green Room before they went on, Jay played a sad, beautiful melody on his fiddle. On March 26 I sent an email to Jay: "I was moved by the sad melody you played in the Green Room at the Kleinert the other night,” and suggested that it would be perfect for “Rothschild's Fiddle.”' I wrote, “I have tweaked just a bit, and polished just a bit, the 2007 version I had sent you. I could send you a hard copy. And then, we could figure out when to record it. I think you said you knew of an affordable studio we could utilize.

During the summer of 2014 we agreed at last to record "Rothschild's Fiddle" in September.

Then September arrived, and I was beginning to feel as if the story line in the poem was too "heavy," so on September 14, I emailed: "Today, I was working on a volume of memoirs, and going through files for 1984, and lo! I found a flyer for the Unison Learning Center for 'Fiddle Fever' for December 14, 1984, featuring (in a photo) Evan Stover, Matt Glaser and Leader Jay Ungar 'three of the North's Top Fiddlers,' backed by guitarist Russ Barenberg and Molly Mason's "'fine bass.'

"Plus I've been coming across various issues of 'Fiddle and Dance News.'

"Anyway, from my early days I liked Chekhov's story, "Rothschild's Fiddle" for its tale of the transformational power of music and melody.

"And I kept thinking of you as a performer of a proper mournful, transformative melody. But maybe the piece is too heavy and even clunky to do, not to mention our overwhelming schedules. It was just a concept."

But you responded that same Day: "I'm looking forward to recording music for Chekhov's story with or for you, if you're up for it. This Monday or Tuesday morning are good for Mike, his studio and me,. Assuming we go ahead with this there are two clear options. One would be for me to record the music to a recording of your reading and the other would be for us to record together, a live duet. I think i have music that's so right for this and sincerely hope you want to go ahead with it.

All the best
Jay"

I happily said yes. We agreed to record it at Mike & Ruthy's studio in West Hurley. And set up a date.

Then in the morning of September 16, 2014 we recorded "Rothschild's Fiddle," I reading the text, and Jay performing the music, with Mike Merenda as engineer. Jay and Mike prepared a mix, which I think it turned out very well, especially with the mournful beauty of Jay’s playing and excellent performance, bringing to life and strength this story-poem on the transformational power of music and melody.

—Ed Sanders
Woodstock, NY





Rothschild’s Fiddle

—adapted from a story by Anton Chekhov
Ed Sanders words, Jay Ungar music

It was a small town
filled with old people who rarely passed away
and Yakov the coffin maker
had not much business
He lived in a one room cabin
with Marfa his wife
a stove, a stack of coffins,
a carpenter’s bench, a bed plus cooking utensils.

Yakov was tall and stout and seventy
He made his well-joined coffins stout like he,
all of a size, modeled on himself.

He also made some extra money
playing fiddle at weddings
with a Jewish orchestra.
He was very skillful at Russian songs
(Russian
tune here) Over time Yakov had grown anti-Semitic
for no good reason
especially at the flute player Rothschild
who played the flute sadly
even on merry tunes
Yakov yelled at Rothschild
and shook his fist at him
and was rarely hired after that

The coffin business, as we have said, was scanty
& Yakov waited impatiently for sick people to worsen
Sometimes someone ill would pass away elsewhere
and he would tally up the money he had lost

Then he would pull out his fiddle late at night
to play a sad, mournful melody

(mournful tune)

Then his wife Marfa suddenly was ill

She had difficulty breathing
and in the morning slowly went on her daily walk
to fetch water
but in the late afternoon she lay down

“Yakov, I am dying,” Marfa said.

For fifty-two years they were married
yet Yakov had never rubbed her sore back
or given caresses during the long nights
sleeping by the stove

He’d never paid any attention to her
any more than if she were
a cat or dog by the house
nor given her any presents
and thought he might now get her one
but it was too late.

Never bought her a winter kerchief
never brought any cake home for Marfa
from any of the weddings
but oh so often rushed at her with fists
and when he lost a coffin-making job
he blamed her
and because he didn’t want to spend the money on tea
she drank hot water in the mornings

He took her in a neighbor’s cart to the hospital
where Yakov was glad they had only to wait
for three hours

The doctor would not see them
so the assistant looked at Marfa

“She seems to have influenza and some fever,” he said
“Typhus has also come to the town.

How old is your wife?”

“Sixty nine”

“She’s an old woman. Maybe it’s time.”

Yakov bowed and replied, “Thank you for your
remarks, but you know, every insect is fond of life”

The doorman said “I will tell you what to do.
Put a cold compress on her head, and have
her take these powders twice a day.
Now goodbye”

When they returned to the cabin
Marfa was unsteady and held onto the stove
She was afraid to lie down
lest Yakov shout she was lazy
and doing no work

Yakov knew he would soon have to
build a coffin
and so went to his wife and measured her

after which she lay down once again
Yakov made the sign of the cross
then began to saw and nail

When he was done, he put on his reading glasses
and entered into his book of losses
“Marfa Ivanovna’s coffin— two rubles and 40 kopecks”

Toward nightfall, she called out to him
“Do you remember, Yakov”

she had a face of joy as she looked over at her husband
“remember how fifty years ago great God
gave us a baby with yellow hair. You and I, o my Yakov,
used to go down to the river every day with the baby
and sit under the willow tree and sing songs.”

Then Marfa laughed with utmost bitterness.
She said, “the baby died.”

“That’s just your imagination,” was all that Yakov could
think of replying
in this most ultimate of talks

Later that night the priest came
and just before dawn Marfa Ivanovna
returned to starlight

The women of nearby houses
washed her and wrapped her in winding sheets
Four men carried the coffin to the graveyard
followed by a cortege of old women,
beggars and two cripples

He admired how well he had made the coffin
as he said goodbye to Marfa
for the final time

Yakov felt so weary walking back home.
He sat in the cabin
regretting his neglect and disrespect
of his wife
all the years of angry toil
the scrimping when yet
enough largess was there to help ease pain

Suddenly, the man named Rothschild
from the village band
came to the door,

“There’s a big wedding on the weekend”

Yakov spumed with hostility
“Get out of here! I have no peace with Jews!”
he shouted

Rothschild replied, “You’d better be more
polite, or I will toss you over the fence.”

Then Yakov made fists and rushed at Rothschild
and Rothschild
ran for his life

As he hastened away
boys in nearby houses
ran after him, chanting “Jew, Jew, Jew....”

Later that day Yakov walked the path by the river’s edge
He looked to the other shore
and noticed that the big birch forest had been chopped down
and he saw the thick ancient willow tree
with a huge hollow and a raven’s nest
when suddenly he remembered the child with the
yellow hair Marfa had mentioned

Ahh, it was the same willow. How old it now was!
Ahh, why had they cut down the beautiful birches
from 50 years ago?
He wondered why he had rushed at Rothschild
as if to beat him up
And why had fate brought him to the making of coffins
And why did not people
ease each other’s suffering in peace?

That night Yakov’s sleep was full of dreams
He saw Marfa, the willow tree, the river,
the cut down birches, and the sad face of Rothschild.
He arose several times in the night to play the violin

(short violin melody)

Yakov awakened ill and trembling
then walked to the hospital
where they gave him useless compresses
He knew his life was almost done

He was not sad to die
but wondered what would happen to his beautiful fiddle

Everything was doomed
just like the birch and pine forest
everything would ooze into decay

Back at home he sat on the door sill
then lifted up his fiddle and
began to play
with the tears rolling down from his eyes
a sad rolling music of final times

While Yakov was playing Rothschild approached
opened the gate latch
spotted Yakov in the doorway,
and turned as if to run away

“Come on in, don’t be afraid,” said Yakov
with a friendly voice

Rothschild said, “I apologize for bothering
you, but the band leader has sent me
There’s a big wedding coming up in town
and he begs you to join us”

“I cannot go,” said Yakov. “I am ill, brother.”

Then he began playing again
Rothschild listened closely
and became engrossed in the suffering and grief
in Yakov’s melody.

He rolled his eye, and exclaimed “wacchchch,”
and Rothschild’s tears made dark splotches
on his green frock coat

“Give the fiddle to Rothschild,” Yakov
told the priest
just before his final sleep.

Later those in the town wondered with marvel
how Rothschild acquired such a treasure

He no longer played the flute
and when he performed the violin tune he’d learned
from Yakov, the audience always wept.

This new song was so well liked in the town
the wealthy merchants and public officials always
hired Rothschild for their parties and events,
and sometimes he was forced to play
the melody ten times or more.

(melody)

credits

released September 25, 2014

Rothschild's Fiddle: words by Ed Sanders
Music by Jay Ungar

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Track Name: Rothschild's Fiddle
Rothschild’s Fiddle

—adapted from a story by Anton Chekhov
Ed Sanders words, Jay Ungar music

It was a small town
filled with old people who rarely passed away
and Yakov the coffin maker
had not much business
He lived in a one room cabin
with Marfa his wife
a stove, a stack of coffins,
a carpenter’s bench, a bed plus cooking utensils.

Yakov was tall and stout and seventy
He made his well-joined coffins stout like he,
all of a size, modeled on himself.

He also made some extra money
playing fiddle at weddings
with a Jewish orchestra.
He was very skillful at Russian songs
(Russian
tune here) Over time Yakov had grown anti-Semitic
for no good reason
especially at the flute player Rothschild
who played the flute sadly
even on merry tunes
Yakov yelled at Rothschild
and shook his fist at him
and was rarely hired after that

The coffin business, as we have said, was scanty
& Yakov waited impatiently for sick people to worsen
Sometimes someone ill would pass away elsewhere
and he would tally up the money he had lost

Then he would pull out his fiddle late at night
to play a sad, mournful melody

(mournful tune)

Then his wife Marfa suddenly was ill

She had difficulty breathing
and in the morning slowly went on her daily walk
to fetch water
but in the late afternoon she lay down

“Yakov, I am dying,” Marfa said.

For fifty-two years they were married
yet Yakov had never rubbed her sore back
or given caresses during the long nights
sleeping by the stove

He’d never paid any attention to her
any more than if she were
a cat or dog by the house
nor given her any presents
and thought he might now get her one
but it was too late.

Never bought her a winter kerchief
never brought any cake home for Marfa
from any of the weddings
but oh so often rushed at her with fists
and when he lost a coffin-making job
he blamed her
and because he didn’t want to spend the money on tea
she drank hot water in the mornings

He took her in a neighbor’s cart to the hospital
where Yakov was glad they had only to wait
for three hours

The doctor would not see them
so the assistant looked at Marfa

“She seems to have influenza and some fever,” he said
“Typhus has also come to the town.

How old is your wife?”

“Sixty nine”

“She’s an old woman. Maybe it’s time.”

Yakov bowed and replied, “Thank you for your
remarks, but you know, every insect is fond of life”

The doorman said “I will tell you what to do.
Put a cold compress on her head, and have
her take these powders twice a day.
Now goodbye”

When they returned to the cabin
Marfa was unsteady and held onto the stove
She was afraid to lie down
lest Yakov shout she was lazy
and doing no work

Yakov knew he would soon have to
build a coffin
and so went to his wife and measured her

after which she lay down once again
Yakov made the sign of the cross
then began to saw and nail

When he was done, he put on his reading glasses
and entered into his book of losses
“Marfa Ivanovna’s coffin— two rubles and 40 kopecks”

Toward nightfall, she called out to him
“Do you remember, Yakov”

she had a face of joy as she looked over at her husband
“remember how fifty years ago great God
gave us a baby with yellow hair. You and I, o my Yakov,
used to go down to the river every day with the baby
and sit under the willow tree and sing songs.”

Then Marfa laughed with utmost bitterness.
She said, “the baby died.”

“That’s just your imagination,” was all that Yakov could
think of replying
in this most ultimate of talks

Later that night the priest came
and just before dawn Marfa Ivanovna
returned to starlight

The women of nearby houses
washed her and wrapped her in winding sheets
Four men carried the coffin to the graveyard
followed by a cortege of old women,
beggars and two cripples

He admired how well he had made the coffin
as he said goodbye to Marfa
for the final time

Yakov felt so weary walking back home.
He sat in the cabin
regretting his neglect and disrespect
of his wife
all the years of angry toil
the scrimping when yet
enough largess was there to help ease pain

Suddenly, the man named Rothschild
from the village band
came to the door,

“There’s a big wedding on the weekend”

Yakov spumed with hostility
“Get out of here! I have no peace with Jews!”
he shouted

Rothschild replied, “You’d better be more
polite, or I will toss you over the fence.”

Then Yakov made fists and rushed at Rothschild
and Rothschild
ran for his life

As he hastened away
boys in nearby houses
ran after him, chanting “Jew, Jew, Jew....”

Later that day Yakov walked the path by the river’s edge
He looked to the other shore
and noticed that the big birch forest had been chopped down
and he saw the thick ancient willow tree
with a huge hollow and a raven’s nest
when suddenly he remembered the child with the
yellow hair Marfa had mentioned

Ahh, it was the same willow. How old it now was!
Ahh, why had they cut down the beautiful birches
from 50 years ago?
He wondered why he had rushed at Rothschild
as if to beat him up
And why had fate brought him to the making of coffins
And why did not people
ease each other’s suffering in peace?

That night Yakov’s sleep was full of dreams
He saw Marfa, the willow tree, the river,
the cut down birches, and the sad face of Rothschild.
He arose several times in the night to play the violin

(short violin melody)

Yakov awakened ill and trembling
then walked to the hospital
where they gave him useless compresses
He knew his life was almost done

He was not sad to die
but wondered what would happen to his beautiful fiddle

Everything was doomed
just like the birch and pine forest
everything would ooze into decay

Back at home he sat on the door sill
then lifted up his fiddle and
began to play
with the tears rolling down from his eyes
a sad rolling music of final times

While Yakov was playing Rothschild approached
opened the gate latch
spotted Yakov in the doorway,
and turned as if to run away

“Come on in, don’t be afraid,” said Yakov
with a friendly voice

Rothschild said, “I apologize for bothering
you, but the band leader has sent me
There’s a big wedding coming up in town
and he begs you to join us”

“I cannot go,” said Yakov. “I am ill, brother.”

Then he began playing again
Rothschild listened closely
and became engrossed in the suffering and grief
in Yakov’s melody.

He rolled his eye, and exclaimed “wacchchch,”
and Rothschild’s tears made dark splotches
on his green frock coat

“Give the fiddle to Rothschild,” Yakov
told the priest
just before his final sleep.

Later those in the town wondered with marvel
how Rothschild acquired such a treasure

He no longer played the flute
and when he performed the violin tune he’d learned
from Yakov, the audience always wept.

This new song was so well liked in the town
the wealthy merchants and public officials always
hired Rothschild for their parties and events,
and sometimes he was forced to play
the melody ten times or more.

(melody)