klezmer (klĕzˈmər) [key], form of instrumental folk music developed in the Eastern European Jewish community. The style had its beginnings in the Middle Ages; its name is a Yiddishized version of the Hebrew klei zemir [instruments of song] that until the mid-20th cent. referred to the musicians rather than, as it does today, to the music. Largely based on cantorial singing and the folk music of Eastern Europe, it was played by an ensemble of violin, flute, bass, drum, cymbal, and sometimes other popular instruments that performed at various family occasions and religious festivals. In the 19th cent. wind and brass instruments (principally the clarinet, trumpet, and tuba) were added to the group. Basically a joyous, highly ornamented dance music, klezmer is often accompanied by a solo singer. Klezmer remained a popular entertainment at weddings and other events, but in the late 20th cent. there was an enthusiastic popular revival of the style. This was particularly true in the United States, where it has sometimes been mingled with jazz, rock, and experimental music to create a more free-form style.
S. Rogovoy, The Essential Klezmer (2000); H. Sapoznik, Klezmer: Jewish Music, from Old World to Our World (2000).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.