Arnold Perlmutter, best known for his collaborations with Herman Wohl, composed many of Yiddish music’s most popular songs and operas, blending folk tunes and cantorial hymns with opera, marches, and waltzes to create the modern yet familiar melodies of U.S. Yiddish theater.
Perlmutter was born in Zlotshev, Eastern Galicia (now Ukraine), and began his formal musical education as a child in the choir of cantor Boruch Schorr in Lemberg. He spent his late teens and twenties performing in various bands and orchestras before joining Yankev Ber Gimpel’s troupe in 1889 as conductor. Abraham Goldfaden hired him two years later in 1891, using his talents to adapt traditional Yiddish music to Goldfaden’s theatrical projects. Their method for collecting source material was simple: as singers auditioned for roles, Goldfaden asked them to perform a favorite or familiar song while Perlmutter furiously transcribed the music. Perlmutter then took these melodies, shaping and combining them with new material to create the full score.
By 1893 he was working alongside Kalman Juvelier in Professor Moshe Horowitz’s troupe, touring Galicia and Romania before ultimately immigrating to the U.S. in 1900. It was at Horowitz’s Windsor Theater on Bowery Street that he met Wohl, with whom he would collaborate for nearly 20 years. After Horowitz’s theater folded in 1905, Perlmutter and Wohl moved to Boris Thomashefsky’s People’s Theater, where they remained until 1915. Together, they composed some of the most popular Yiddish operettas of the era, including Ben Hador (1901), Yetzias Mitzrayim (1903), A mensh zol men zayn (1908), and Dos Pintele Yid (1909).
By 1919 Perlmutter and Wohl had gone their separate ways, with Perlmutter eventually settling in Max Gabel’s theater before moving to Maurice Schwartz’s Yiddish Art Theater. He continued composing regularly throughout the 1920s at the Lenox and Lyric theaters, writing songs for Isidore Lillian and others. He retired in 1930.
Image of Arnold Perlmutter from Wohl, Herman, Arnold Perlmutter, and A Shor. DasZiegele. Theodore Lohr, New York, New York, 1904. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200185795/>.