Klezmer and East European Folk Music

Edmond Agopian


Edmond Agopian, First Violin
Adriana Lebedovich, Second Violin
Dean O’brien, Viola
Beth Root Sandvoss, Cello

Arranged and Composed By
Edmond Agopian



"...performed here with affectionate understanding... This is music of deep-seated humanity, at times incredibly vivacious, almost frenzied in its headlong dash through constantly accelerating tempos, or else floridly sentimental, sorrowful, or nostalgic. I was grinning from ear to ear with sheer pleasure by the end [of the disc].”
Fanfare - May / June 2009
Selected as a Nominee Finalists for the Canadian Folk Music Awards,
Instrumental Group of the Year
It is perhaps the inherent spiritual experience of all immigrants to a new country to have a deep felt, soul-stirring nostalgia for their native land. The country I left behind is Romania, and in particular, my native city, Constantza - a port city on the western shores of the Black Sea. An ancient city, it was founded by the Greeks, around 550 BC, for commercial exchanges with the local Daco-Getic populations. Perhaps its most famous and colourful citizen was one of the great Roman poets, Ovid. He was exiled to Constantza, then called Tomis, in 8 AD by the Emperor Augustus, for writing Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love), a set of erotic text books.

At the crossroads between West and East, Constantza and its surrounding region were traversed and settled by a myriad of nationalities including Tatars, Magyars, Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, Armenians, Greeks, Bulgarians, Gypsies and many others. For over four hundred years (1419-1877) the region was under Ottoman Turkish rule. As a port city, throughout its history Constantza has been a place of commerce, where merchants of different nationalities and religions lived and worked side by side. Old churches, synagogues, and mosques are a testament to the rich, multicultural history of the place.

The program on this recording is a reflection of the musical styles and musical languages of different ethnic origins, which have coexisted and have cross-fertilized over the course of history in Constantza, and throughout Eastern Europe. The musical vocabulary ranges from material based on Middle Eastern influenced scales, which incorporate quarter-tone altered pitches, to paraphrases from the Classical music repertoire, to improvisational sections. Klezmer is a Yiddish term which means musician in general, and more specifically, instrumentalists of folk music. Klezmer music denotes the folk musical traditions of Jews from Eastern Europe, in particular Romania, Ukraine, Poland and Russia.

With the exception of My Old Homeland, all selections on this recording are based on folk tunes. My Old Homeland is an original composition/improvisation, which incorporates folk like melodies and folk rhythms. The rough tone and dissonances in the introductory rhythm imitate the sound of an instrument found in Romania and other parts of Eastern Europe, called Buhai (bull). In Romania it is used to accompany carolers during New Year’s Eve celebrations. The instrument consists of a small bottomless barrel covered with skin. The gruff sound, like the roaring of a bull, is produced by pulling a tuft of hair through the middle of the cover.

My first violin teacher, Constantin Anghel, was a Romanian Gypsy who was able to walk comfortably in two musical cultures: the stringent, methodical, Classical violin school, and the "play by ear" folk tradition. It is these two schools of violin playing and musical vocabulary, always a part of my own violin playing, which have inspired these arrangements.

The title of this recording comes from the title of an old Hungarian song, sung by a Hungarian peasant and recorded by Bela Bartok in 1906, on a wax phonograph cylinder in the far reaches of the countryside. In 1940, because of the pro-Nazi takeover of the Hungarian government, Bartok decided to leave his country. At his last concert and public appearance at the Music Academy in Budapest, before he left the stage for the final time, in his farewell speech he declared: "I would rather break away from the soil that has nourished me, than remain a witness to its destruction." During the spontaneous applause that followed, someone in the audience started singing this old Hungarian song and soon, the whole audience joined in:

I set off from my homeland

From famous little Hungary,

I looked back when I reached half way

And the tears spilled from my eyes,

I looked back when I reached half way

And the tears spilled from my eyes.

*     *     *

The UCalgary String Quartet

Edmond Agopian, first violin, is a Professor at the University of Calgary, and is Music Director of the Calgary Youth Orchestra, Mount Royal College Conservatory.

Adriana Lebedovich, second violin, is a member of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and is in her final year of a Bachelor of Music degree in Violin at the University of Calgary.

Dean O’Brien, viola, is a viola and chamber music instructor at the University of Calgary and Mount Royal College Conservatory, and is Principal Viola of the Red Deer Symphony.

Beth Root Sandvoss, cello, is a cello and chamber music instructor at the University of Calgary and Mount Royal College Conservatory, and is a member of the award winning Land’s End Chamber Ensemble.

The University of Calgary’s resident string quartet was formed in 1994 with Edmond Agopian and Olga Kotova, violins, Christopher Sandvoss, viola and Amanda Forsyth, cello. Its repertoire covers a wide spectrum of music. Presently, the quartet is in the process of performing and recording the entire Beethoven string quartet cycle. It is only recently that the quartet has embarked on performing arrangements of Klezmer and East European folk music, and this disc constitutes its first recording of music of this type.

The quartet has performed nationally and internationally and has been recorded by CBC Radio for regional and national broadcasts. It has collaborated with many distinguished artists, and has commissioned and premiered works by University of Calgary Composition faculty, graduate students and alumni. The Quartet is currently supported by the John Peter Lee Roberts Distinguished Professorship in Fine Arts award, conferred upon Professor Agopian in 2005. The award is made possible by University of Calgary alumnus and donor, Mr. John Lefebvre.



Come, Let’s Rejoice (Klezmer)

Romanian Wedding

Introduction and Hassidic Dance

Ukrainian Dance

Romanian Rhapsody

The Old Gypsy (Hungarian Gypsy)

Romanian Hora

Dancing with the Rabbi

My Old Homeland

Introduction and Armenian Dance

First Hungarian Gypsy Romance

No More Gray-Haired Ladies for Me (Hungarian Gypsy)

Turkish Belly Dance

Second Hungarian Gypsy Romance

Far Behind I Left My Country (Hungarian)

MSR Classics