Traditional Musics of Eastern European Jewry (YIVO)

By the later sixteenth to early seventeenth centuries in Bohemia and then in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Jewish musicians began to form their own guilds. The formation of guilds raised the social status of Jewish musicians, and led to the abandonment of the older termleyts (scoffer, clown), applied in Central Europe to singers, instrumentalists, clowns, and dancers, in favor of the new, more respectable term klezmer (from kele zemer, musical instruments or vessels of song; pl., klezmorim), designating exclusively an instrumentalist. The term klezmer made its way to Germany only in the eighteenth century, with the influx of Jewish musicians from Bohemia and Poland. Klezmerwas a more favorable term for a Jewish musician, in contrast to the derogatory muzikant. This distinction persisted until the later nineteenth century, when Jews gained admission to conservatories in Russia and Austria-Hungary in significant numbers.

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