Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Henry Russotto
(Chaim Nesvizhski)

Born on 28 March 1869 [according to Zalmen Reyzen it was falsely reported that Lodz was his city of birth] in Ruzhany, son of the local cantor, Zisel Nesvizhski who, under the name Zisel Ruzhaner, was known among the former cantors as a fine musician, author of a cantorial prayer order(?) under the name "Hmtpll," which appeared with the approvals of the well-known cantors A. M. Bernstein and A. B. Birnbaum, but the strong critique by Pinchas Minkovsky had such an affect on the author, that he fell into black bile and took his life.

As Joseph Rumshinsky tells it in his memoirs, R. was a conductor in Vilna's choral school, where Rumshinsky was a choir boy. R. married a student from the Vilna conservatory, Russotto and took her name, and Rumshinsky remembered that the chorus of the Vilna great synagogue and the chorus of the choral school sang at his wedding.

According to Zalmen Reisen, one of R.'s first musical offerings was, as far as he knew, to instrument the music for Goldfaden's "Ahasuerus," and then Goldfaden had him, with the help of Jacob P. Adler, brought to America. Here R. composed music for many Yiddish songs that had become very popular in America. Also R. adapted the music for "Hatikvah." As to his music, which was permeated with popular and warmth, it was issued in two volumes which went in ten thousand copies.

In 1896 we found him as a conductor in New York's "Liberty Theatre" under the direction of Shomer, where he composed the music to Shomer's "Shoshanah."


Rumshinsky writes that "when he, in the twentieth y"h arrived in America, R. was one of the popular musicians on the East Side. He used to give piano lessons and arranged all the Yiddish songs for piano, which the "Hebrew Publishing Company" used to publish. He also was the first who wrote the "Hatikvah" in notes, which the composer Naftali Imber had sang for him."

According to Zalmen Reisen, R. in the last years was a cantor in New York and director of the large chorus with the Cantors Association, and R.'s brother (not from one mother) was the famous pianist Nisvizhski, one of the activists from the "Society for Jewish Folk Music" in Peterburg.

According to his son Leo, R. arrived in America in 1891 and was associated with the Yiddish theatre until 1899, when he was the musical conductor for the first Russian opera company in the former "Thalia" Theatre on the Bowery in New York. When the Cantors Association was founded, R. became there the musical director there. From 1908 until 1917, R. was the cantor in Temple "Israel" in Far Rockaway, New York.

In 1919 R. returned, in a short time, to Yiddish theatre, [and] through the recommendation of Jan Peerce, had the "R. C. A. Victor Company," issue R.'s arrangement of "Kol Nidre."

R. -- according to Zalmen Reisen -- may have passed away around 1922, vos shtimt nit, because truly he passed away on 14 February 1925.

Of R.'s musical works, there was published:

  • 15 numbers from Goldfaden's "Ahasuerus," arranged by H.A. Russotto, "The Hebrew Publishing Company," New York, 1899.

  • 10 numbers from Goldfaden's "Di tsoyberin," arranged by H.A. Russotto, "The Hebrew Publishing Company," New York, 1900.

  • 25 numbers from Goldfaden's "Bar Kochba," arranged by H.A. Russotto, "The Hebrew Publishing Company," New York, 1909.

  • 25 numbers from Goldfaden's "Shulamis," arranged by H.A. Russotto, "The Hebrew Publishing Company," New York, 1911.

  • 4 numbers from Goldfaden's "Melitz yoysher," arranged by Russotto and Fridsell, "The Hebrew Publishing Company," New York, 1921.

  • "Hell in the Garden of Eden" [the quartet of Goldfaden's "La tkhmud"], arranged by H.A. Russotto, published by Y. Katzenelson, New York.

  • "Farmyomert farklogt" [from Goldfaden's "Doctor Almasada"], arranged by H.A. Russotto, Hebrew Publishing Company, New York.

  • "Ytsr hre" [from Goldfaden's "La tkhmud"], arranged by H.A. Russotto and Y.Y. Kammen, "The Hebrew Publishing Company, New York.

  • "Shtey oyf mayn folk" [from Goldfaden's "Doctor Almasada"], arranged by H' Russotto, "Hebrew Publishing Company," New York.

  • "Nikolai's mplh" by Sol Small (Smulewitz), music by A. Goldfaden [motif by "Rozhinkes mit mandlen (Raisins with Almonds)"], arranged by H.A. Russotto, "Hebrew Publishing Company," New York.

  • 4 numbers from Jacob Gordin's "Der yidisher kenig lir (The Jewish King Lear)," arranged by H.A. Russotto, "Hebrew Publishing Company," New York.

According to Reisen, there were also published his arrangements to the songs: "Khurbin titanik," "Yom hakhpurim," "Joseph and his Brothers," "Kol Nidre," "Likht bentsn," "Shabat haltn," "Sheyne miriam," "Tkhit hmtim," to Morris Rozenfeld's songs and to Mogulesko's songs.

Sh.E. from his son Leo.

  • Z. Reisen -- "Lexicon of Yiddish Literature," Vol. IV, pp. 307-309.

  • Joseph Rumshinsky -- "Klangen fun mayn lebn," New York, 1944, pp. 268-271.

  • Joseph Frankel -- The Birthday of Hatikva, "The London Jewish Chronicle," London, Jan. 23, 1948.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 4, page 2542.

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