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Society for Jewish Folk Music

SOCIETY FOR JEWISH FOLK MUSIC, society founded in St. Petersburg in November 1908 by a group of Jewish students at the conservatory there and their friends, among them Solomon *Rosowsky, Lazare *Saminsky, A. Zhitomirsky, and A. Niezwicski (Abileah). It was originally intended to be a "Society for Jewish Music," but the commanding general of the district refused to license it under this title because he doubted whether true Jewish music existed, although he conceded that there must be Jewish folk music. The word folk was therefore inserted in the name and constitution. An important circle of Jewish musicians with similar interests had already formed in Moscow c. 1894 around Joel *Engel, and the first concert of the material they had collected and arranged was held there in 1900. This and similar groups now coalesced with the society in St. Petersburg. Joseph *Achron, Moses *Milner, Mikhail *Gnesin, Joseph *Yasser, Alexander *Veprik, and Alexander *Krein soon joined its ranks. In 1912 the Society already had 389 members with chapters in Moscow, Kiev, Kharkov, and Odessa. In 1918 it was disbanded by the Soviet government as "not conforming to the spirit of the time," but the influence of its ideology and actions persisted both among the members who remained in Russia and among those who left to settle in Western Europe, the United States, and Palestine. The Society's constitution did not fully reflect its unwritten ideology, and its provisions were never carried out in full. These are quoted here because all subsequent organizations for the promotion of Jewish music followed the same basic pattern. The aim of the society was "to promote the research and development of Jewish folk music – religious and secular – by the collection of folk songs and their harmonization, and to aid Jewish composers.…" For this purpose the Society was to issue publications of music and musical research; to organize meetings, concerts, operatic performances, and lectures; to form a choir and orchestra of its own; to found a library; to publish a periodical; and to organize competitions and award prizes for "musical works of Jewish character." An ensemble of singers and instrumentalists was founded which undertook many concert tours. Expeditions went to the Vitebsk and Kherson regions, and the melodies they collected were given to various composers for harmonization. Dozens of these works were published. Kisselgoff, Zhitomirsky, and Lvow also published the Lider Zamlbukh with arrangements of folk and art material "for school and home use." In 1915 the society was stirred up by the controversy between Saminsky and Engel, in which Saminsky questioned whether the indiscriminate gathering and propagation of any and every tune taken from the "folk" really represented Jewish music, and pressed for a more discerning search as well as for the recognition of the greater authenticity of the liturgical traditions. Saminsky's visits to the Jewish communities in the Caucasus and Turkey confronted him with the reality of a Jewish musical tradition outside the Ashkenazi culture which he had already surmised was neither less and perhaps even more authentic than that of Eastern Europe. Another controversy arose between Engel and *Shalom Aleichem – Engel denying and Shalom Aleichem advocating the recognition of the songs of Mark *Warshawski as true folk songs. Discussions of what constituted Jewish music were also frequent and there was an intense nationalistic spirit (although most of the society's leading members, with the exception of Engel, did not identify directly with the Zionist movement). Engel's foundation of the Juwal-Verlag in Berlin was the last (actually posthumous) direct result of the society's endeavors. Its ideals were carried to the United States, where they were propagated by Saminsky, Yasser, Rosowsky, and Achron, and to Palestine where this was done by Engel himself. After his death in 1927, they continued to exert a strong influence on musical developments in the yishuv through Menashe Ravina and Joachim *Stutschewsky.


L. Saminsky, Music of the Ghetto and the Bible (1934), 227–54; Idelsohn, Music, 461–8; M. Ravina (ed. and tr.), Mikhtavim al ha-Musikah ha-Yehudit me'et Yo'el Engel, M.M. Warshawksi, Shalom Aleichem (1942); A. Soltes, in: I. Heskes and A. Wolfson (eds.), The Historic Contribution of Russian Jewry to Jewish Music (1967), 13–27; J. Yasser, in: ibid., 31–42; B. Bayer, in: HaḤinnukh haMusikali, 17 (1931), 39–43.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.