Singing from a gramophone

Josele Rozenblatt’s singing can be heard from a gramophone, and a poor man is collecting coins which people are throwing from the windows.

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Kipnis, a person very sensitive to music, could not walk indifferently past such a scene. The poor man earning a living by pushing a pram with a gramophone playing recorded voice of Josele Rozenblatt, a famous singer, regarded as „the king of cantors”.The photographer captured an indeed bizarre sight. There are two characters in the scene. Doubtlessly, the main character is not the poor man, but the pram with the gramophone attached to its head. Contrary to Kipnis’ caption, the poor man is not collecting coins at that particular moment. The bearded man in a bright coat and a hut is standing up straight, en face, in front of the camera. Is he perhaps abandoning himself to the pleasure of listening to Rozenblatt’s voice? Or maybe was it the act of photographing that made him stop for a moment, and stand almost at attention? Warsaw’s backyard whose fragments we can see is deserted. None of the six visible windows are open. Therefore, we do not know if anybody else, apart from Kipnis and the poor man, was listening to the voice of the cantor.

Josef Josele Rozenblatt (born in Bila Tserkva in 1882, died in Jerusalem 51 years later) was an eminent cantor, whose voice has not stopped fascinating people. We can see it for ourselves by listening to extant and remastered recordings of his voice. Looking at Kipnis’ photograph, it is impossible not to connect these two realities: music and picture. This is, however, what the photograph is about. The exhibition in the Jewish Historical Institute follows this idea: apart from Kipnis’ photographs visitors can watch a 1930’s movie of Rozenblatt singing on the Jordan River.

This is not the only example of musical iconography on the exhibition „City and Eyes”. You have also a chance to see there photographic pictures of Warsaw’s main cantor of the synagogue in Tłomackie: Moshe Koussevitzky, who could be a locomotive’s rival in a competition for the highest note; and also a street harpist, who played in one of Warsaw’s backyards, earning a few cents that way.

Bearing in mind Kipnis’ engagement in music (vide Marian Fuks’ article available in the exhibition catalogue), the presence of such a theme in his works is not surprising. We even yearn for more depictions of that type, capturing such an important aspect of Jewish culture which is music.

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