Academic journal article Shofar

Leo Zeitlin's Musical Works on Jewish Themes for New York's Capitol Theatre, 1927-1930

Academic journal article Shofar

Leo Zeitlin's Musical Works on Jewish Themes for New York's Capitol Theatre, 1927-1930

Article excerpt

Leo Zeitlin's Musical Works on Jewish Themes for New York's Capitol Theatre, 1927-1930

Little attention has been paid to the music for the stage shows that accompanied the movies at the "picture palaces" during the 1920s, or to the works played on radio broadcasts from the theatres (which began at the Capitol, in 1923), or to the music performed at the light classical concerts produced by the theatres (which the Capitol introduced, in 1927).

Some of this music was drawn from the standard Western repertory, but much of it was composed or arranged each week. Among the extant examples of this ad hoc music are works -- several of them on Jewish themes -- by Leo Zeitlin (1884-1930), a member of the Society for Jewish Folk Music. It is the career of this St. Petersburg Conservatory-trained "child of the Pale" at the Capitol that is the subject of this article.

Leo Zeitlin, of the Society for Jewish Folk Music in St. Petersburg, is best known -when his name is recognized at all -- as the composer of "Eli Zion" [O Zion], his chef d'oeuvre for violoncello and piano.(1) When he died in New York, on July 8, 1930, newspaper obituaries the following day reported that he had been a member of the orchestra at the Capitol Theatre, one of the huge "picture palaces."(2) But he was more than that: he was one of the theatre's musical arrangers and the composer of a monumental overture on Jewish themes that was played at the Capitol the week before Selichot in 1929.

Background music for silent films and film scores that were composed after the introduction of the talkies have been extensively treated by musicologists and historians. But little attention has been paid to several other categories of music at the picture palaces: the music for the stage shows that accompanied the movies during the 1920s; the works played during the radio broadcasts from the theatres (which began at the Capitol, in 1923)(3); and the music performed at the light classical concerts produced by the theatres (which the Capitol introduced, in 1927).(4)

Some of this music was drawn from the standard Western repertory, but much of it was composed and/or arranged each week, as needed. Among the few extant examples of this ad hoc music are works -- some of them on Jewish themes -- by Zeitlin. It is the music on Jewish themes composed for the Capitol by this St. Petersburg Conservatory-trained "child of the Pale" that is the primary focus of this article.(5)

Leo Zeitlin Arrives in New York

In 1923, the year before the United States Congress passed the National Origins (or Reed-Johnson) Act, which further restricted emigration from Eastern Europe, 49,306 Jewish immigrants entered the United States.(6) Two of them, Leo Zeitlin and his wife, Esther, arrived on the S. S. Lituania of the Baltic-American Line, sailing to New York from the free port of Danzig (Gdansk) on July 18, 1923.(7) Beginning in 1920, United States policy required a twelve-day quarantine period for emigrants arriving from Danzig,(8) and Leo's inscription on the back of a photograph of the couple gives the exact dates of their stay: "Zappat bei Dancig 23/VI-18/VII 1923 g."(9)

Danzig was the last stop in Zeitlin's peripatetic European existence. Born in Pinsk (Belarus) in 1884, he studied in Odessa and St. Petersburg,(10) where he also began his professional career, and subsequently conducted and taught in Ekaterinoslav (now Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine) and Vilna. In St. Petersburg he became active in the Society for Jewish Folk Music.(11) This early-20th-century group was the catalyst for a brief but golden age of art music on Jewish themes drawn from trop, nusach, and folk song, and between 1909 and 1917 it published at least 80 original compositions and arrangements by its member composers, four of them by Zeitlin.

Probably Zeitlin's most important contribution to the society -- and to music on Jewish themes -- was his orchestral and chamber arrangements of works by fellow members of the society, which represent the majority of his extant compositions. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.