Volekh (LKT)

This entry is part of the Lexicon of Klezmer Terminology (LKT). The LKT compiles a wide array of source materials that shed light on the historical and contemporary state of knowledge about klezmer music. Each entry includes a number of citations from primary and secondary sources that include or refers to the term in question. It also indicates whether musical notation or sound recordings are included in the source. By clicking on the bibliographic hyperlink at the end of each citation, you get the full reference.


“Doina: A free-meter but structured melody for listening, from the Romanian-Jewish repertoire. Often performed for guests at the banquet table during a wedding or other celebration, doinas allow a musician to display virtuosity and expressiveness through highly embellished elaborations within a variety of related modes. Also known as vulekhl.” Alpert 1996a, p. 58. (Recording references included). 

“Vulekhl: Literally, ‘a Wallachian one,’ i.e., a dance or tune in Romanian-Jewish style.” Alpert 1996b, p. 59.

“Wulach, Woloch’l. A tune expressing an elegiac mood, in the manner of Wallachian folk music. The hazanim used to sing a Wulach, for example, for the verse Ana haShem in the Halel prayer, in contrast to the gay melodies that preceded.” Avenary 1960, p. 195

Volekh.Beregovski/Goldin 1987, #236-38. (Musical notation included). 

“Some southern hassidic songs show the influence of the Romanians; these songs are therefore known under the name ‘Wolochl’ [i.e., Wallachian] [sic]” [quoted in translation in Goldin 1989 p. 22 from Evreiskaia entsikklopediia, 1-16, 1908-1913 St. Petersburg, Brockhaus-Efron]. EvreEnts1908-1913, 13: 151

“The transitional or ‘Orientalized’ repertoire consisted of the dance genres named volekh, hora, sirba, ange, and bulgarish. In the non-dance cateogry the most important genre was the doyne (doina). In addition, therewere a number of non-dance genres (such as mazltov far di makhetonim) which were related to the zhok--the latter having either a dance or non-dance genre function.” Feldman 1994, pp. 7-8.            

“The fact that a number of [Jewish] instrumental pieces and songs are called ‘Volekhl’ or ‘Volekh’ does not prove that the music was borrowed [from Moldavian folk music]. In fact just the name was borrowed, perhaps indicating the place of composition (Wallachia).” Goldin 1989, p. 25

“Volekh. Wallachian;.Wallachian dance; Wallachian tune. Harkavi 1928, p. 201.

“In the ‘volekhl’ or ‘tekhiat ha-metim,’ that usually follows the the ‘beroyges’ dance, the first dancer attempts to revive with his movements and chants the one who is dead, until they dance together the final hora...’Volekhl’ (Wallachian) name given to a Romanian melody of the form doyne-hora to which the tekhiat ha-metim is danced (resurrection of the dead).” [Lag B’Omer, Meron, Israel, 1960s-70s]. Hadju 1971, p. 83. (Musical notation included). 

“A type of vocal niggunim named after Walachia, a region of Rumania. These niggunim are characterized by slow tempi, free rhythm, recitative elements generally appearing at the end of phrases, and rich ornamentation. These characteristics are somtiems common to the niggun devekut. The Rumanian doina seems to be its instrumental counterpart.” Mazor and Seroussi 1990/91, pp. 124-25. (Recording references included). 

“Vollech (also vollechel, with the endearing diminuitive el). Style of folk song, either in recitative or rhythmical manner, that originated in Walachia, in Romania. Its scale is characterized by an augmented fourth degree in the lower tetrachord D E F G # A B C D ... Carl Engel maintains that this scale emanated from Asia and appears in folk songs of countries such as Turkey and Hungary, as well as in Transylvania, Moldavia, and Walachia in Romania [The Music of the Most Ancient Nations (London, 1864, p. 361)].

The character of the vollech has often been described as free fantasy. The singer or instrumentalist adds all sorts of embellishments and coloratura ad libitum to the main tune in pastoral fashion. Numerous Hassidic dance melodies and weddings tunes are in Walachish style: the melody is left to the fancy of the instrumentalist; the musical accompaniment keeps time. The Walachian tune found its way into almost every religious service of the yearly cycle. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1700-1760) explains that the reason for chanting the Ya’aleh hymn on Yom Kippur Eve to a Walachian melody (beniggun valuchu) was because in Walachia the Jews suffered the greatest cruelties of the tyrants (1456-1462)...” Nulman 1975, p. 256.

“...the entire shtetl would leave everything and come to listen to his ‘dobridzshens’ with his volekhlekh and the other ‘moralishe’ nigunim... [America is] a strange land with strange weddings. Everything is hit up and rattled off, without a ‘dobridzshen,’ without a kale-bazetsenish; a wedding-feast without a ‘volekhl,’ or a ‘pastukhel’... He was no longer called at a wedding up to play his ‘volekhlekh’ at the head table.” [Byten, Grodno province, Russia, c. 1905-1911]. Rabinovitch 1940, pp. 203-04

“Pieces entitled volekhl are normally in the form of a Moldavian zhok or hora. They are played in an uneven 3/8 meter in which only the first and third beats are accented. Among Jews, the volekhl is most often played in conjunction with non-metric improvisations like the doina, or as a gas nign. Sometimes such melodies were also dances. These two volekhl , published by Beregovski in 1938, contain a mixture of both Yiddish and Moldavian elements. As Beregovski wrote, in the course of time the zhok became an organic part of the Jewish ‘klezmer’ repertoire, such that works bearing this title were composed by Jewish musicians themselves and often lost their original (specifically Moldavian) characteristics.” Rubin 1997, p. 19. (Recording references included). 

“When in a good humor, he [the town khazn] would render enjoy rendering for us boys the Wallachian, the sweetness of which filled every fiber.” [Zager or Zhagare, Lithuania, late nineteenth-century]. Sachs 1928, p. 126

“Wallachian: a folk tune borrowed and adapted to the music by cantors for the synagogue (derived from the province of Wallachia, Bessarabia).” [Zager or Zhagare, Lithuania, late nineteenth-century]. Sachs 1928, p. 289

“Many other dances were popular at weddings, such as the ‘Simele,’ ‘Karerod,’ ‘Freilakh,’ ‘Bulgar,’ and ‘Valakhs.” [New York, 1970s]. Seid 1975, p. 15

“The Doina, or Voloch, is a Rumanian form, out of tempo and largely improvised. Accompanying a doina isimilar to accompanying a hazzan (cantor) in an ad lib liturgical piece. The pianist plays tremolando in both hands, occasionally echoing a phrase that the soloist plays. The soloist leads the accompanists into harmonic changes usually quite obvious, following standard melodic modes. In America, the doina is usually part of a three part suite: Doina, Zhok, Bulgar. The soloist leads into each new section by setting a vamp in the next tempo.” Sokolow 1991, p. 5. (Musical notation included). 

“The guests would order their prefered dances, such as freylekhs, volekhls, shers, kozakl, polke... Eastern European Jews were accustomed to invite each guest to an especially favorite dance: one prefers the ‘freylakhs,’ another the ‘volekhl,’...” Stutschewsky 1959, pp. 164, 169

Volekhl (-ekh) lively Jewish folk tune and dance.” Weinreich 1977, p. 630.

See Doyne, Hora, Pastukhel and Taksim.