Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Louis Friedsell


Born in 1863 [1865?] in Yekaterinoslav, Ukraine.

About his origin and early youth, nothing is known. According to Heine-Chaimowitz, F. was a choral conductor for Cantor Sender in Yekaterinoslav when he took him out of there and excited him about the Yiddish theatre.

B. Gorin recalls that when Shomer-Sheykovitsh had assembled his troupe (1881) for the province, F. was a chorus conductor and actor with them.

In 1890 F. arrived in America and soon associated himself with Yiddish theatre as a conductor and composer.

According to Joseph Rumshinsky, F. performed together with Jacob Gordin in Gordin's "Siberia" [1891], and then in fact ended his career as an actor. [In "Siberia" Gordin didn't act, only in his second play "Der pogrom in rusland"; but in the personnel [listing] of that play, F.'s name is not mentioned. The first play in which F. performed as a professional musician was [Zeifert's] "Shumr yisrael" [1892]. Since then he has written music for around one hundred and fifty plays and operettas, at times by himself, at times with other music writers.


Prof. Horowitz's "Yehuda hagilili", oder, "Der prints fun beit-lkm" [also "Di ekdh, oder, prints fun beit-lkm], was advertised as a biblical opera [!] in 4 acts and 12 scenes, music by Mogulesko and Friedsell" (25 September 1893 in the Windsor Theatre).

About that type of music, M. Zeifert in his history of Yiddish theatre [writes]: "This historical (?) play, meaning, historical opera (!!)...on the poster is explicitly, 'Music composed by the great composer Mogulesko, or Friedsell, or Sandler, or Rusota', which appears when we come to see and hear the play? One of the two: 'Entveder [or] the genius composer', had taken the music from an earlier play and had it tshekes-tsugeshlogn to the play, the entire overture of 'Cavalleria rusticana', or from 'Zhirafle-zhirafla', or completely from 'Ernani', 'Aida", 'Troubadore', 'Rigoletto', et al."

In 1897 in Philadelphia, there was staged with F.'s music Y. Zolotarefsky's play "Der yidisher hamlet" by Boris Thomashefsky, under the name "Di shvarts khupe, oder, Der yidishe martirer", which later became popular in the Yiddish theatre world under the name "Der yeshiva bukher".

About F.'s music for the play, Joseph Rumshinsky writes:

"If Louis Friedsell wants to write nothing but only the prelude for Kiddush ['Kiddish'] for 'Yeshiva bukher', he earned the name that he had had. The eight texts, which were performed with viola and clarinet, had all the time -- and still to this day -- mikh -- introduced in an atmosphere of death, but without fear, without eternal peace (ruikeyt)."

And Sholem Perlmutter writes:

The Kadish' was the crown of his creations. Already in the introduction to this composition, one feels the fear of death....the troyer tener from "Baruch dayn amt" [from 'Yeshiva bukher'] was only until today considered for a Yiddish funeral march.

In the same year in the Windsor Theatre, there was staged with F.'s music Zolotarefsky's lebensbild "Der yidisher muzhik, oder, Di dorfs-yidn", and in the 1899-1900 season -- Lateiner's "400 Years" in the People's Theatre.

According to Boaz Young in his memoirs, the actors Berl Bernstein, Morris Finkel, Sophia Karp and the composer Friedsell had signed a contract with Harry Fishel, so that he may buy the Grand Street theatre -- the first theatre especially built for Yiddish productions. Each of them had put in three hundred dollars. Friedsell also had excited Young [to become[ a partner, with an investment of one hundred dollars, and a small percentage of the earnings, but according to to a legal decision from the Yiddish Actors Union, Young had to withdraw from the partnership.

In the 1902-03 season, there was staged with F.'s music Zolotarefsky's play "Der beit-hamikdah unter der erd, oder, Di yidishe shtrasnzingerin" [an adaptation of Hugo's "Der glokntsier fun notre dam (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)"; on 21 February 1907 -- Thomashefsky's "Di lebedike moyd, oder, Der neyer star, a folkshtik in 4 acts; on 25 December 1907, in the People's Theatre -- Goldfaden's national shtik in 4 acts, music by H' Friedsell, couplet music and text by Z. Mogulesko."

Sholem Perlmutter writes:

"Freidsell also was near to the Zionist thought. ...With the explanation of why his music to ..., Ben Ami' was considered for important works that he had created.

F. also wrote music to Boris Thomashefsky's plays "Grine kinder" and "Der mames kind" (21 December 1908), and to Boris Thomashefsky's earlier adaptation of Jacob Terr's "Di yidishe neshome" (24 December 1908).

In the 1911-12 season, Boaz Young staged in Brooklyn's Lyric Theatre Hyman Meizel's drama "Mayn vaybs man".

About the writing, Boaz Young writes in his memoirs:

"The musician who made music for plays, of which Edelstein and Thomashefsky became rich; the first, who had conducted in Yiddish theatre in new York with baton (small stick), and not with a bow and violin (such as Kurantman, Yarichovsky, Hellman and Perlmutter), the conductor and composer Louis Friedsell then seen in the orchestra of the Lyric Theatre, and gerimplt on the second violin, although he has no violin that he can play. The Yiddish club of the musicians have him glat areyngeshtelt oyf der elter.....I have decided that my friend Friedsell should write the music for the play, and Broyde should help him. Friedsell and Broyde used to bring me each number that they had written. But the main numbers were created by Friedsell....Friedsell's duet 'Meydelkh, ikh zolt nit shtoltsirn', was sung by Clara [Young] and Kestin, had [received] exceptional acclaim".

In the 1915-16 season there was staged with F.'s music Zolotarefsky's "Zumer beym im" and "In dem hoyz vu men veynt un men lakht" (on the Roof Garden of the National Theatre).

With F.'s music there were also staged Z. Libin's "Di tsvey mames (The Two Mothers)" (18 September 1916, in the People's Theatre); Zolotarefsky's "Suzi bren (Winsome Susie)" (9 February 1917 in the People's Theatre); Y. Lateiner's "A yor nokh der khasene (A Year After Marriage)" (22 October 1917, in the Lenox Theatre); M. Goldberg's musical comedy "Sadie flat" (21 February 1918, in Bessie Thomashefsky's People's Theatre); Kalmanowitz and Siegel's "Tserisene keytn", a melodrama in 4 acts (8 October 1919, in the People's Theatre), Isidore Lillian's comedy "Mayn tatens vayb" [later called "Hello, Mama", "Mazel Tov, Mama" and "Hotel Lefkowitz"] (10 September 1920); Isidore Lash's musical comedy in 3 acts "Shloimke oyf brodvey" (7 April 1921 in Thomashefsky's National Theatre) and Lillian's "Yedes meydl" (3 November 1922, in the 116th Street Theatre).

F. also wrote the music to Lateiner's "Der komediant, oder, a shandflek in der mishpakha", to Sharkansky's "Kol Nidre", Kessler's "Der yetoym israelik, oder, Gzrs shmd", "Jacob Gordin's "Der vilder mentsh" and to Gabel's play "Tsufil glet" (an operetta), "Tsores fun liebe (Love's Troubles)" (a drama with music), "Shprintse oyf riverseyd dreyv (Shprintze on Riverside Drive)" (operetta), "Leydis garments (Ladies' Garments)" (a comedy with music), and "Benkende hertser" by Gabel and Steinberg -- according to Y. Rumshinsky -- F.'s last operetta (all in Mount Morris Theatre in Harlem, New York).

On 25 June 1923, F. passed away in New York and was brought to his gravesite at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Brooklyn (in Queens, not Brooklyn -- ed.), New York. "His funeral [arranged by the "Theatrical Musical Club"] was very impressive -- recalls Sholem Perlmutter -- a thousand [-kepiker] world, together with the members of the Actors Union, under the direction of Joseph Rumshinsky, had accompanied him in the funeral procession from "Barukh dayn amt" (From Freidsell's "Yeshiva bukher)".

In his necrology article , Joseph Rumshinsky writes about F.:

"...The person was constantly filled with humor, with a natural, healthy humor, in life as well as in his music, and he was the "natural child" without imitation, without filter.... His sincere modesty was reflected in this way, as he would act in the manner as he would speak with people. Even in his dress, this was also observed. .... Friedsell had created music for 150 operettas. In them one finds great ensembles, light novels and many folk melodies. Yiddish theatre Friedsell was the first musician who wrote music for texts, and also the first who wrote the music for an entire play. For Friedsell habitually used to take cantorial 'shtiklekh', select certain compositions, and then adjust the words to the music. Friedsell was the first one who used to write music for the play. ... the first time Friedsell had to write together with Sigmund Mogulesko (also with J. Brody),and later he had by himself created music for operas, comedies and dramas. ... Louis Freidsell was not only an independent composer, but also a great showman. He used to take a play, a comedy or a drama, and used to make from this, both in text and in music, a complete operetta. ...Louis Friedsell was a natural musician, because besides being able to read scores that he had learned as a youth with a cantor, he hadn't knowledge of the first [elementary] theoretical rules of music. He almost had not learned music, but his practice, good ear and showman's sense had made him, such as an American would call him, a 'showman.' ...In his music he may miss the modern scheme, the modern harmony, the current art, but this has not hindered [him]. ... for in his music that he has created for Yiddish theatre, one feels the natural, the fresh melody, the juicy, healthy and kind tone that always comes out of the deepest depths of a truly, healthy heart. .....From Friedsell's music, there beats his character, his love. Louis Friedsell was a faithful, family-father, and was very given over to his children, and it was entirely natural that he may not, per se, have any equal [in Yiddish theatre] in the music to a "crib song.". ....Among his numerous crib songs one finds the well known sleep song ("Shlof, mayn beybele, [kindele], makh tsu dayn eygele, ey-lyu-loy-lyu"), which became popular. ...the great artist Shaliapin was so excited about Friedsell's melody to, "Kava' [a couplet in Lateiner's "Shlomo gorgel"], that he had it taken into repertoire, and it was sung in Russian. ...Friedsell had a remarkable sense and also a remarkable production craft. In his life he was never in a cabaret, but nevertheless when he had to write music for a cabaret scene, he used to be the get himself in the mood and produce the necessary atmosphere."

Sholem Perlmutter characterizes F.'s as such:

"...He was a very wise person, a khokhem, but without wisdom. He was modest in all of what he was about, in private as well as in his public life. He was even a little prouder about his theatrical compositions. He never had any ambition to show the other composers of his time that he was a great connoisseur, that he was refined..... It had no place when it was advertised 'Music by Broyde and Freidsell,' or 'From Mogulesko and Friedsell.' He did not run after more respect. ...He came to the theatre because his musical ambition was great, so as to remain only as a conductor of a synagogue, or a kapellmeister of an orchestra. ...he had love for the original Yiddish melodies. he never had wanted to help out with a melody of an opera, but rather with other musical creations, because he had held that it was foreign (to him).... He kept to the traditional religious music in which one had felt the Yiddish groans. He was the first to introduce to the stage the Kaddish, a confession, a chapter of Psalms, a Kaddish and other traditional melodies. In each time that we had Yiddish theatre, biblical plays were performed very often, and Friedsell also had excelled in biblical [oriental] motifs. ..He had written a large number of his songs for historical operettas and even for comedies. He deliberately challenged songs of Zion and Jerusalem, adapted to them light melodies and had helped a great deal, that they should be circulated among the masses, and people should sing them. Also professional singers loved to sing them. ...His light, arching, folksy melodies induced a good cry, and they are passed from mouth to mouth." A certain part of F.'s individual compositions have been printed. There were also printed by the New York "Hebrew Publishing Company": 4 musical numbers from Goldfaden's "Mlits yushr" ["Rabbi zudelman"], arranged by Rusota and Friedsell.

According to Louis Kramer, F.'s wife, Frieda, performed with him in "Dos poylishe yungl", and had performed for several years in dramatic roles. Afterwards, she withdrew from the stage.

M. E. from Louis Kramer.

  • B. Gorin -- "History of Yiddish Theatre", New York, 1923, Vol. I, p. 234.

  • M Zeifert -- Geshikhte fun idishen theater, "Di idishe bine", New York, 1897.

  • Joseph Rumshinsky -- Louis friezel hot geshriben muzik far 150 idishe operetn, "Forward", N. Y., 26 June 1923.

  • B. Y. Goldstein -- Di idishe operete in di "zenger", "Tog", N. Y., 29 June 1923.

  • Joseph Rumshinsky -- Louis Fridzel, "Rumshinski-bukh", New York, 9 April 1931, pp. 65-66.

  • Joseph Rumshinsky -- "Klangen fun meyn lebn", New York, 1944, pp. 810-811.

  • Boaz Young -- "Mayn lebn in teater", N. Y., 1950, pp. 147, 149, 192-95.

  • Sholem Perlmutter -- "Yidishe dramaturgn un teater-kompozitort", New York, 1952, pp. 346-9.

  • Sholem Perlmutter -- Yosef rumshinsky iz geven der shafer fun idisher moderne operete, "Forward", N. Y., 11 February 1956.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 3, page 2146.

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