Olshanetsky, Alexander (1892-1946)

Alexander Olshanetsky is one of the most prominent composer and conductor on the Second avenue and one of the most sophisticated music examples of the Yiddish theatre.

Born in Odessa, in Ukraine, he received both a traditional Jewish education, and a modern Western education. As a boy, he sang in synagogue’s choirs, and started to learn the violon at the age of 6. He also learned other instruments.

A confirmed musician, he played in the orchestra of Odessa’s opera, and participated in tours through Russia and Siberia. Afterwards, he became conductor of a Russian operetta. During his military service, where he was a music conductor in his regiment, he travelled to Kharbin, in Manchuria, in the North East of China, where he met a Yiddish theatre troupe of which the conductor was Peretz Sandler. When the latter emigrated to USA, Olshanetsky took his position in Kharbin. He started writing Yiddish songs and the music of Yitzhak Kaplan’s play, Tsurik aheym kayn tsien (Le Retour à Sion).
After travelling through Siberia, Japan, China and India with a new Russian operetta troupe, he went back to Kharbin in 1921, where he noticed that all Yiddish theatres had disappeared.

In 1922, he emigrated to USA, where his uncle Hyman Meisel was already settled. Meisel became then his step-father, when he married his cousin, the Yiddish singer and actress Bella Meisel (Mysell) who, later, will remarry with Herman Yablokoff. He then became involved in the art of Yiddish Theatre. Later, he left for Cuba to lead a theatre troupe. Back in New-York, he worked successively for two Yiddish theatres, (the « Lenox » in Harlem and the « Liberty » in Brooklyn) before getting « promoted » to the National Theatre, the prestigious theatre of the city center. Then, in 1929, after writing several successful operettas, he rewrote parts of the music of Glodfaden’s classical opera, Bar khokhba, as he started performing on the radio.

From 1925, and until his death, the name Olshanetsky became omnipresent on all Second Avenue, and his operettas were performed in almost all big theatres. He then became the first music director of the Concord Hotel. Some of the most reknowned cantors of that time considered him, by far, as the best conductor due to his understanding to the sensitivity of the cantorial language and its rhythmic liberty. He also wrote several liturgical pieces, of which most of them were never published.

Olshanetsky had a particular gift to write elegant melodic lines with a very developed dramatic meaning. He was able to combine these elements and create a music for a wide audience. Joseph Rumshinsky, his older colleague, but also rival, wrote in his memoirs that Olshanetsky intuitively understood the musical desires of Jewish immigrants, that he brought to the Yiddish Theatre « dream romances », and a « Gypsy Russian » type of language. His last operetta was called Ale viln khasene hobn (Everyone wants to get married).
Among his most knowned songs, let’s mention Ikh hob dikh tsufil lib, Ikh bin fakhlib, Glik, Unter beymer

By Neil W. LEVIN
Translation by Patrick BERMAN
Learn more

Yiddishe hora und sarba maracinei


HTML - 93.4 kb
Alexander Olshanetsky - Ein kik af dir, eyn kik oyf dir, One glance at you - YouTube
HTML - 117.1 kb
1929, Mazel in Liebe, Alexander Olshanetsky Orch, Klezmer Fox Trot, Hi Def - YouTube
HTML - 105.3 kb
Jan Peerce Sings "Shiroh" Alexander Olshanetsky 1961 - YouTube

Listen to

In case the music player doesn't open, you must allow the opening of pop-ups for the website iemj.org in your browser settings.

  • Yiddishe hora und sarba maracinei

Lire tout

You may also like

Training of Music Teachers of Paris - 2011

The CFMJ continues its educational action by organising another training day for music teachers in Paris. In the program : a large overview on (…)

The CFMJ at the Festival of Jewish Culture in Paris

Conferences, round table and concerts : find all the events co-organized by the CFMJ at the Festival of Jewish Culture in Paris, on June 29 and (…)

Second summer university of Judeo-Spanish in Paris

7 - 12 JULY 2013 in the Centre Edmond Safra - 6 bis rue Michel-Ange - Paris 16e In July 2012, the first university of Judeo-Spanish, organized (…)

Symposium and concerts Vox Aurea-Via Sacra 2014 - Sacred Jewish music

Sunday September 7th, 2014, 18200 Saint-Armand Montrond Sacred music holds an essential place in Jewish music history. All day long, conferences (…)

The night of theology - 4th edition

Thursday January 30th, 2020 from 7 pm to 11h30 pm. An evening dedicated to relations between music and religion, and then to the ecological (…)