Trying to give a extensive definition of the klezmer is quite a difficult task. Originally, this is the music of the Jewish communities who lived in Eastern Europe a few centuries ago.
It is a buoyant dance music meant to go along with the events of the Jewish social life like weddings and days of celebration. Klezmer is a music capable of expressing and embracing the human passions and feelings, from blessedness to unhappiness, from laugh to teardrops.
In truth the word klezmer is the juxtaposition of two Hebrew words, kli and zemer which mean respectively instrument and song, klezmer is therefore word for word the instrument of the song, the vessel of the voice.
Klezmer was played by traveling musicians strolling from Shtetl to Shtetl (the Shtetl is a yiddish word which means village), trying to earn a living performing their craft. There were many music genres which influenced klezmer, such as the Hazanut (synagogue chanting), reproducing the bending of the human voice, the hasidic nigunim (wordless tunes), popular dances, folk songs, or solemn hymns before prayers.
Now and then the klezmorim (plural of klezmer which means Klezmer musicians) were invited by non Jewish local nobles who asked them to play contemporary popular tunes. Therefore the klezmer musicians played the local repertoire such as Hungarian, Bulgarian, Bessarabian, Romanian, Moldavian, Ukrainian, Russian, German, Polish...
The klezmer music was thus inspired by the non Jewish traditions and cultures, but on the other hand the local musicians of each region and country were in their turn influenced by the klezmer.
There is a certain confusion about the general term of klezmer, first it was intended to designate the musical instruments themselves. At some point occured a semantic merging between the musician and his instrument, and klezmer began to mean the artist playing the instrument. It is only in the thirties of last century that Beregowsky, the musicologist, used the word klezmer to refer to the music.
The klezmer was brought to Western Europe and to North America by the immigrants who fled the persecutions and the pogroms at the end of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century there was a flourishing of the Yiddish culture and klezmer music thanks to such clarinet musicians as Dave Tarras and Naftule Brandwein. They were both virtuoso clarinet players, each in his own style and they were prominent contributors of the blossoming of Jewish life and klezmer music in America.
From the thirties till the seventies, the klezmer was out of the limelights. The reasons why klezmer sink into oblivion were multiple. Among them were the holocaust, six millions Jewish were murdered, the emergence of new styles of music, jazz, rock and roll, much more attractive for the young people in search of new ways of expression, and paradoxically when the new State of Israel was created in 1948, the klezmer was put aside because the people wanted to revoke anything evocative of the holocaust and the bad days.
It is only in the seventies that some precursor musicians like Andy Statman, Henry Sapoznik, Zev Feldman, Hankus Netsky and the klezmorim in the U.S.A. and Giora Feidman in the European continent, started what is called the klezmer rebirth .
Since then, the popularity of klezmer music is continually prospering and it is loved and appreciated by Jewish and non Jewish people in all part of our global world.