Nigunim Laad
Jewish Tunes Forever



Ephraim Shklyar (1871-1943)

The name of Ephraim (Efraim) Shklyar (Shkliar, Schkljar) - composer, choir conductor and teacher, one of the founding fathers of the Petersburg Society of Jewish Folk Music (OENM), is now known only to few specialists in Jewish music in Russia and Latvia. But once N.A. Rimsky-Korsakov addressed to Shklyar as to as “future Jewish Glinka"!

Shklyar was born in 1871, in small town Timkovich (Beloruss). In 1895 M. A. Balakirev helped him to enroll to the St. Petersburg Conservatory (with financial support of Baron Gunzburg).

In 1902 Shklyar brought his romance "Before Farewell" (the Russian text of LB Yaffe) in N. Rimsky-Korsakov's composition class. Rimsky-Korsakov devoted to the analysis of romance a whole lesson, having finished with an unprecedented and unimaginable words: "Well, write thirty more such works, and you will become the founder of a new school ...".

Lazare Saminsky recalled: " We, his students, have an exceptional feeling to the bright memory of Nikolai Andreevich. We will never forget his words to E. Shklyar: "I am very glad to see that you write works in the Jewish spirit. Why do you imitate European and Russian composers? The Jews possess tremendous folk treasures. I myself have heard your religious songs, and they have made a deep impression on me. Think about it. Yes, Jewish music awaits her Jewish Glinka."

Since 1903 Shklyar has been working as choirmaster in the St. Petersburg Choral Synagogue, and in 1904 he graduated from the Conservatory. In 1907 he accepted the invitation of the Jewish Hazomir Choir of Lodz. From the summer of 1910 Shklyar lives and works in Riga. Despite the move, he continues to visit St. Petersburg to participate in the activities of the OENM. The first historical concert of the Society on January 21, 1909 was opened by his Cantata (to the text of M. S. Rivesman) in honor of the 25th anniversary of the literary activity of Sholom Aleichem. The first series of publications of the Society also began in 1910 with his choral arrangements of Jewish folk songs.

Since 1912 Shklyar lives in Riga, conducts, creates at least 180 arrangements for Jewish folk songs, chamber and choral music, teaches, works for a while as a director of the Riga Music College. During the World War and until the middle of 1922 - after evacuation of the Musical College of the Russian Musical Society - Shklyar works in the Yuryev (now the Estonian city of Tartu). Among the compositions of this period - the choral arrangement of A. Ansky's song "Di Shvue" ("Oath"), which became the official anthem of the Bund (Union of Jewish Workers of Lithuania, Poland and Russia). Shklyar deeply appreciated the work of Ansky, the organizer of the famous Jewish Ethnographic Expedition and the creator of the drama "Dibuk", for hes efforts in the preservation of endangered Yiddish culture.

Among the other choral works of Shklyar, such songs as "Golden Pava", "Old Question", "Hope" ("Hatikva", which later became the anthem of the State of Israel) and "Arise, My People". Shklyar also collaborates with the famous Jewish Encyclopedia during these years. In the last, 16th volume of the Encyclopedia, there is an article about Shklyar himself.

In 1924 Shklyar was elected as a director of the Jewish National Conservatory in Riga, replacing S. B. Rozovsky (1878-1962), the other founding father of the OENM, after his move to Palestine. Among his students at the Riga Music School was conductor, composer Dawid Ajzensztadt choir (1889, Nasielsk – after 09 August 1942, Treblinka). Despite the creativity and extraordinary talent, Shklyar, being a very modest person, devoid of any gift of self-promotion, constantly experienced financial problems and remained in the shadow of the contemporary musical scene. Life in Latvia for a long time disconnected him from his colleagues in St. Petersburg.

Ephraim Shklyar was not destined to become the "Jewish Glinka" - the prophecy of NA Rimsky-Korsakov was shattered by the terrible realities of Russian and world history. He died, as is supposed, in the Riga ghetto in 1943. Might his destiny be different - if Shklyar would stay in St. Petersburg or if there were no revolution of 1917, it’s now a moot question. This equally applies to the fate of his colleagues from the Petersburg Society of Jewish Folk Music.