Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Arnold (Ahrl'e) Perlmutter


Born on 24 December 1859 in Zlotshev, Eastern Galicia. As a child of five, he moved over with his family to Grudek, a town near Lemberg. Here he learned in a cheder, later he received a secular education in Polish, German and Ukrainian, sang soprano with a cantor and became so renown as a choir boy, that the then famous cantor Boruch Schorr took him with his chorus to Lemberg, where he sang for several years until his voice changed. Then he returned to Grudek, where he became a musician in a band, playing bass at first, then violin.

With the band he later came to Lemberg, where he entered into the Polish musical union "Harmonia", and there he soon became an assistant conductor and began composing music. Then there was staged on 14 April 1889, in the Lemberg city casino, P.'s composition "Mazurka".

When Y. B. Gimpel opened (1889) the first stable Yiddish theatre in Lemberg, and there was taken in the orchestra of "Harmonia", P. became the conductor of the orchestra. Shortly thereafter he wrote music for the operetta "Rebe akiva mit zeyne talmudim (Rabbi Akiva with his Students)", and for the play "Der shpanisher tsigeyner (The Spanish Gypsy)", which was staged there.

When Abraham Goldfaden came (1891) to Lemberg, and there he directed his plays "Moshiakh's tsaytn (Time of the Messiah)" (15 December 1891) and "Dos tsente gebot (The Tenth Commandment)", P. orchestrated many of the early collected musical numbers for the plays, and he composed new musical numbers for them.


About this work, P. told to Zalmen Zylbercweig:

"Goldfaden's nature was such that when he used to take an actor or a chorister into a troupe, he used to ask him to sing to him what musical numbers he could. When that number would please him, and he had the privilege(?) at times use it for his play, G. used to leave to write this music in a special book. When Goldfaden came to Lemberg and wanted to stage the previously mentioned plays, he gave us this book with the beautiful melodies, and I had to fit them into such musical numbers that might correspond with the character of the operetta. Some melodies I combined from several different (ones), others I created and performed, and other melodies I wrote alone."

Joseph Rumshinsky writes about that epoch:

"Abraham Goldfaden...had encircled himself with choir boys, cantors, musicians, but he mostly edited his plays with (only) two musicians -- Michal Finkelstein and Arnold Perlmutter....they both were, in their very early years, choir boys for cantors and later violinists in orchestras. This gave them the possibility to know the synagogue melodies and secular music, and even the German and French operettas.

Michal Finkelstein and Arnold Perlmutter had incorporated the marches and waltzes from the German and French operettas into the historical plays of Goldfaden, Horowitz and Lateiner, and in fact those historical operettas were put together from cantorial prayers and melodies, with marches and waltzes from secular operettas, with several numbers of original music by Abraham Goldfaden, whose melodies captured the entire Yiddish and even non-Yiddish world."

Afterwards P. entered into the troupe of Treitler and Yuvelir (Juvelier), with whom he toured as a conductor and composed across Galicia, Romania (1893-1895), where on 21 January 1895 there was staged in "Jignitsa" in Bucharest, Isaac Khayat's operetta "Eliyahu hanovi", and across Russia (1899). From Czernowitz, Bukovina (1900), Professor Horowitz took the entire troupe to America.

In New York, in the "Windsor Theatre", P. became associated with composer Herman Wohl, with whom he worked together with for a span of many years. So here their compositions were staged for: "Der nayer moshiakh", or "David alray" by Jacob Terr (8 February 1901), then to Prof. Horowitz's operetta "Ben hador" and "Di muzinke, oder di talisim-veber" (1901), "Di tsvey tnim" (1902), "Bnai Yisrael" (1904), "Itsias mtsrim", "Jacob and Esau", and to tens of other of Hurwitz's plays, as well as "Di almone" and "A mentsh zol men zayn" by Anshel Schorr.

On 19 December 1906 in New York's "Academy of Music", there was staged by Wright Larimer in English "Der pastuch-kenig (The Shepherd King)", a romantic drama in four acts and five scenes, music by P. and Wohl.

Engaged at the "People's Theatre", he both wrote and composed the music to Thomashefsky's "Dos pintele yid (The Dotted Jew)" (29 September 1909), "Di sheyne amerikanerin" (17 January 1910), "Der poylisher yid" (13 October 1910), and "Dos dorfs-meydl", subject of Rakov (13 April 1911), to Thomashefsky's "Di neshome fun mayn falk, oder Der ungarisher zinger" (6 October 1911), "Di rayze keyn amerike", subject of Dr. Shnitzer (31 March 1912), and later in the "National Theatre", where on 25 September 1912, there was staged Thomashefsky's "Di yidishe fan, oder "Mayn natsion" by I. Solotorefsky, and "Di yidishe kroyn" (22 April 1913), subject of Rakov.

In the 1913-1914 season, here there was staged Thomashefsky's "Dos farblandzshete shefele (The Lost Sheep)", which previously was staged in Europe during his guest appearance, and "Himel, erd un shvindl".

In the 1914-1915 season, P. wrote, and Wohl the music to Thomashefsky's "Di poylisher khasene" (2 October 1914), and in the 1915-1916 -- to Thomashefsky's "Das toirele (The Holy Scrolls)", and to Rakov's "Hello nyuyork (Hello, New York)".

About P.'s and Wohl's collaboration, Joseph Rumshinsky writes:

"Perlmutter and Wohl are a recognized musical label. Their music to Professor Horowitz's plays, later with Boris Thomashefsky, captured the Jewish street. They have introduced beautiful lyrics, Yiddish, Chasidic, Chorusled, and even the religious, and instructional lesson-like songs(?), such as 'Dos tlis'l', 'A mentsh zol men zayn'.

What is remarkable is that from what we have of them, we could never escape the 'who is who', i.e., which of them had composed the Chasidic melody and which -- the modern waltz.

We used to try to find the Yiddish melodies that were Herman Wohl's, and the secular -- Arnold Perlmutter's. We once highlighted precisely that the packages that were very popular Yiddish melodies were Arnold Perlmutter's, and a modern waltz from a younger Chasidic Herman Wohl. And in fact therefore, the combination was a very successful one for many years."

Later the "Perlmutter and Wohl" team disbanded, and P. became an independent composer, conductor and initially a violinist in Gabel's theatre, where he wrote and in the span of two years music to many plays, including to Rakov and Gabel's "Farlozt zikh oyf keydi" (10 January 1919).

September 1920 through Maurice Schwartz, there was staged in his "Art Theatre", Y. L. Peretz's "Goldene keyt", with P.'s famous melodies to "Shabbas kodesh".

In 1922 P. was associated with the "Lenox Theatre" in the Bronx (Director: Nathan Goldberg and Jacob Jacobs), for which he wrote many numbers to lebensbilds, and also for entire operettas, which were performed at the same time in Lillian's "Lyric Theatre" -- among the others to: "Reyzele fun tsheynatown (Reizele from Chinatown)" by William Siegel (27 October 1922), also performed under the name "Rukhl mekart" in the "Lyric Theatre" (31 August 1923), "Di amerikaner grinhorns" by Siegel (9 November 1923), also performed under the name "A gast tsum seder" (30 March 1926) in the "Lyric Theatre", "A kale on a khasen" by Isidore Lillian (13 April 1923) in the "Lyric Theatre", "Falshe geter" by Lillian (29 September 1924) in the "Lyric Theatre", which was staged under the name of "Leydeis fun der nakht (Ladies of the Night)" on 1 May 1925 in the "Lenox Theatre", "Palestiner liebe (Palestine Love)" by Lillian (26 December 1924) in the "Lyric Theatre", "Mitn rbins khukh" by Lillian (8 December 1925) in the "Lyric Theatre", "Khlumus fun libe" by Lillian (14 January 1927) in the "Lyric Theatre", which also under the name "Dos lid fun yungt" was performed in the "Lenox Theatre".

From the "Lenox Theatre", P. went over to Goldberg and Jacobs' "Prospect Theatre", where there was staged with his music on 9 September 1927 N. Stutchkoff's operetta "Farges mikh nit (Forget Me Not)" and Moshe Richter's "Hoykhe fenster (High Society[?])".

In the 1929-1930 season, P. wrote music for the "Hopkinson Theatre", where there was staged Isidore Lash's "Nit-gezetslekhe kinder" (28 January 1930), and S. H. Cohen's "Di libe fun a ganev" (21 February 1930).

After that season, P. withdrew from the theatre, although he also continued to write music.

On 16 June 1940, the "Society of Jewish Composers" honored P. with a banquet.

M. E.

  • B. Gorin -- "History of Yiddish Theatre", Vol. II, p. 251.

  • (ms) -- Z sali koncertowej, Kurjer Lwowski, 15/4 1889.

  • M. Kipnus -- Tsvey tnim, "Teater-velt", Warsaw, 11, 1908.

  • Jacob Mestel -- Galitsianer beym amerikaner yudishen teater, "Togenblat", Lemberg, 29 March 1926.

  • L. Fogelman -- "Farges mikh nit", a muzikalishe piese, in prospekt theater, "Forward", N. Y., 15 September 1927.

  • A. Frumkin -- Vegen muzik un suzheten far operetes amol un haynt, "Morning Journal", N. Y., 9 March 1928.

  • A. Frumkin -- Kemft mit'n "vilen fun der tseyt", "Morning Journal", N. Y., 23 March 1928.

  • J. Kirschenbaum -- Arnold perlmuter hot geshafen di muzik far goldfaden's opereten, "Morning Journal", N. Y., 8 December 1939.

  • Sholem Perlmutter -- Arnld perlmuter, veteran fun idishen teater, morgen geert fun idishe kompozitoren, "Der tog", N. Y., 15 June 1940.

  • J. Kirschenbaum -- 80-yohriger yubl fun ershten teater-muziker gefeyert haynt, "Morning Journal", N. Y., 16 June 1940.

  • Joseph Rumshinsky -- "Klangen fun mayn lebn", N. Y., 1944, pp. 809-813.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 3, page 1838.

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