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Cravitz Review

Book Review: Ilana Cravitz, "Klezmer Fiddle, a how-to guide" (Oxford University Press 2008)

reviewed by Tony Phillips

This fills a big gap in the klezmer music book spectrum. It is a major addition to the essential books such as Henry Sapoznik's "The Compleat Klezmer" (1987) (basic versions of the tunes that became the canon of the klezmer revival), Stacy Phillips' "Mel Bay's Klezmer Collection" (detailed transcriptions of many notable recordings), and Josh Horowitz's "The Ultimate Klezmer" (edited edition of a voluminous 1916 fakebook). What makes this book special is that Cravitz devotes much more specific attention to teaching the stylistic details that characterize klezmer.

After a good introduction to the history and defining musical characteristics of klezmer, the book presents 16 pieces, representing each of the common types of tune (e.g., the freylekh, chosidl, zhok, sher, sirba, etc.), and increasing in difficulty. Although this is not primarily a repertoire book, the tunes themselves are nice choices, well worth learning. Each tune has clear sheet music (with bowings, suggested tempo, and chords), detailed explanation of how to approach the piece, and suggestions for how to develop a performance version. Physically, the book comprises 38 large pages and is signature-bound with two staples, so it lies flat on a music stand.

For an intermediate or better player -- such as a classical student of, say, bar/bat mitzvah age or higher, who wants either to try out some klezmer or to pursue it in depth -- this might be THE best resource available. It does assume a foundation of musical knowledge and technique, and focuses on nuances of style that would be beyond a beginning player. While the book is clearly oriented to violin-players, with attention to bowings and articulation, it would be greatly useful to players of any melody instrument. (Clarinetists and other wind players would need to transpose.)

As the author makes very clear, one must learn klezmer from listening, not from dots on paper, and the 74-minute accompanying CD has a recording of each piece by the author. In addition, for each piece, the CD provides a play-along track of the accompaniment parts without the lead. Four tunes also are heard in rare original source versions, produced by Kurt Bjorling. These materials together provide a complete course of study.

A notable and unusual bonus is separate booklets for the Sekund (i.e., second or rhythm) violin part, and for Bass. The Sekund accompaniment booklet seems most valuable for violinists (it's written in treble clef, so violists and cellists would need to transpose), but accordion, mandolin, and other rhythm players could certainly use it. The Bass accompaniment booklet features arrangements by Stu Brotman, the preeminent bassist of the klezmer world, and probably is in-and-of-itself the best available guide to klezmer for bass players.

Ms. Cravitz has studied with the leading klezmer-revival violinists (Deborah Strauss, Alicia Svigals and Michael Alpert), teaches at the Jewish Music Institute in London, and is an organizer of the London Klezmer Sessions. For more information, and some sheetmusic and music downloads, see ilanacravitz.com

At a list price of $22 (including CD, and two accompaniment booklets), it's a total steal.  For ordering info, see ilanacravitz.com/klezfiddlebook.htm