Members of the Bene Tsiyon (Sons of Zion) society with visiting writer Sholem Aleichem (second row from front, fifth from left) and composer Mark Varshavski (third from left), Berdichev (now Berdychiv, Ukr.), 1900. (YIVO)

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Varshavski, Mark

(1848–1907), Yiddish folk poet and composer. Mark Varshavski (Warshawski) was born in Odessa and as a child moved to Zhitomir, where he attended the state rabbinical school for four years and then studied jurisprudence for a year at Odessa University. He completed his studies in Kiev in 1875 and practiced law for many years, eking out a meager income. In 1903, he was engaged by a Belgian firm to serve as legal adviser but fell sick in 1905 and had to return to Kiev, where he died two years later.

"Auf’n Pripetchok" (Afn pripetshik). Words and music: Mark Warshawsky (Varshavski). Performed by Meyer Kanewsky, with piano. Columbia E2363 mx. 45528-1, New York, 1915. (YIVO)

Varshavski wrote the melodies and lyrics of pieces that resembled folk songs and were popular throughout the Pale. At the end of the 1890s he was discovered by writer Sholem Aleichem, who persuaded him to dictate his songs to him. Sholem Aleichem later oversaw the publication of 25 of Varshavski’s songs, titled Yidishe folkslider mit notn (Yiddish Folk Songs with Music Notes), with Sholem Aleichem’s introduction in 1901. Subsequently, Varshavski was invited to appear at Zionist meetings with Sholem Aleichem, where the latter read his stories and Varshavski sang his songs and accompanied himself on the piano. His most famous songs include “Der alef-beyz” or “Afn pripetshik” (The Alphabet or On the Hearth [listen to a recording]), “Der bekher” or “Tayere Malke” (The Goblet or Dear Queen [listen to a recording]), “Di rod” or “Di mizinke oysgegebn” (The Circle or The Youngest Daughter Is Married [listen to a recording]), “Di mekhutonim geyen” (The In-Laws Are Arriving), “Dem milners trern” (The Miller’s Tears [listen to a recording]), “Der zeyde mit der bobe” or “Akhtsik er un zibetsik zi” (The Grandfather and Grandmother or Eighty—He, and Seventy—She), “Dos lid fun broyt” or “Groyser got, mir zingen lider” (The Song of Bread or Great God, We Sing Songs), “Di yomtevdike teg” or “Dos freylekhe shnayderl” (The Holidays or The Merry Tailor), and “Kinder, mir hobn simkhas toyre” (Children, It’s Simkhas Toyre [Simḥat Torah]). A second edition with 21 additional songs appeared posthumously in Odessa in 1914, and a third in New York in 1918.

In 1958 a volume of 45 of Varshavski’s songs appeared in Buenos Aires, edited by Shmuel Rozhanski, and in 2002 the Hebrew University of Jerusalem issued an enlarged edition of Varshavski’s songs as volume six of its Anthology of Yiddish Folksongs, edited by Sinai Leichter, with four newly found melodies and 15 newly composed melodies by Meyer Noy. In his introduction, Rozhanski wrote, “Mark Varshavski[’s work], appearing at the right time, is important not only as a document of his period, not only for the history of Yiddish literature and culture. The value of his songs has not completely diminished through the years. On the contrary, the folk tone and lyrical grace of a number of Varshavski’s songs are effective to this day as an intimate greeting of Jewish life, which still warms and resonates” (Rozhanski, 1958, p. 14).

A number of Varshavski’s songs were folklorized, like “Dos lid fun broyt,” “Der fodem” (The Thread), “Nebn klayzl” (Near the House of Study), and “Di yomtevdike teg.” The popularity of Varshavski’s songs has endured through the ages and they are included in most anthologies of Yiddish song.

Suggested Reading

Sinai Leichter, Anthology of Yiddish Folksongs, vol. 6, The Mark Warshavsky Volume (Jerusalem, 2002); Itzik Manger, Noente geshtaltn (Warsaw, 1938), pp. 163–169; Shmuel Rozhanski (Samuel Rollansky), ed., Yidishe folkslider (Buenos Aires, 1958).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 1140, Leo Low, Papers, 1895-1971.