The title for Fiddler on the Roof was inspired by Marc Chagall’s painting, “Le violoniste” (“The Fiddler,” 1913, oil on canvas, pictured left). That this painting eventually became Chagall’s “most famous image” due to its association with Fiddler ─ and that his “celebrity in America had been assured by the 1964 Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof, which he had nothing to do with, but was associated with him because the designer, Boris Aronson, used his imagery from the great Moscow mural Music” ─ is the source of a supreme irony: Chagall actually “loathed” the musical (Chagall by Jackie Wullschlager, 2008, pgs. 170 & 500).
In his article “Whatever Happened to Marc Chagall?,” Michael J. Lewis writes that “As cosmopolitan an artist as [Chagall] would later become, his storehouse of visual imagery would never expand beyond the landscape of his childhood, with its snowy streets, wooden houses, and ubiquitous fiddlers… [with] scenes of childhood so indelibly in one’s mind and to invest them with an emotional charge so intense that it could only be discharged obliquely through an obsessive repetition of the same cryptic symbols and ideograms…” (Commentary, October 2008, pgs. 36-37). It comes as no surprise, then, that “A reoccurring element in [Chagall’s] work is music and musicians. Chagall felt them to be an important part of the tapestry of his culture” (Books and Art). Indeed, amongst his many works that involve music and musicians, the image of a fiddler perched precariously upon a roof appeared more than once in Chagall’s work (click on each image to see it larger):
(images sourced from WikiPaintings)
Fittingly, a critic once observed that Chagall’s work was “Hebrew jazz in paint” (Chagall by Jackie Wullschlager, 2008, pg. 266).
.Indeed, a critic once observed that Chagall’s work was “Hebrew jazz in paint.”