The setting of “Rothschild’s Fiddle” is a squalid little village where Yakov Ivanov, a Russian coffin maker, and Rothschild, an equally poor Jewish musician, both live. Yakov lives in a one-room hut, which contains his gloomy wares as well as his humble domestic possessions. Childless, the dour Yakov barely notices Martha, his downtrodden wife of fifty years. Yakov has an unexpected side to his character, for he is a gifted, if rude, violinist who is sometimes invited to join the local Jewish orchestra to play for weddings. Although the coffin maker needs the occasional money, he dislikes the Jewish musicians—especially the flutist Rothschild, who turns even the merriest songs into lugubrious plaints. Yakov abuses Rothschild and is once on the point of beating him. The quarrel ends Yakov’s association with the orchestra, apart from rare occasions when one of the Jews cannot perform.