The Politics of Listening Music
by Simon Carlyle
Presented at KlezNorth 2018 (Download as pdf)
In 2010 Zev Feldman gave a series of lectures at the Weimar Klezmer Summer School, and pointed out that the revival of interest in klezmer music, starting in the USA in the 1960s, had largely ignored an important category that he called the Non-Dance Repertoire, now often called “Listening Music”. He said that its existence was not recognised by scholars for some years, and he attributed this to the relative rarity of sound recordings of it and the extreme rarity of its preservation in notation (no-one now alive had heard it, and there was literally no record of it), together with its association with the traditional Ashkenazi wedding ceremony, which had completely fallen into disuse. He didn’t discuss the reasons for its disappearance beyond mentioning this association.
On closer inspection it turns out that the history of this category of klezmer music was influenced by a whole range of political circumstances in Eastern Europe, in particular through their effects on a specific individual, Moishe Beregovski: by far our most important source of information about klezmer music in the former Pale of Settlement – that portion of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth whose annexation by the Russian Empire was completed in 1795. Its Ashkenazi Jewish population was sequestered there, increasingly oppressed and persecuted, until its abolition, at least in theory, by the Soviet government.
Racialist, nationalist and economic persecution of Jews did not end with the abolition of imperial rule. In fact by many criteria it intensified under Stalin, although it was often merged with his more general animus against Poles, Ukrainians and all religions (to name but a few). This lecture is an exploration of the various ways in which this situation militated against the survival of Listening Music.
What is “Listening Music”?
The broadest definition of “listening” covers all music, of course – but that’s not very helpful, and in any case the term, as it relates to klezmer music, has a very particular meaning.
Moishe Beregovski coined the phrase for music not-for-dancing in part 1 of his “Jewish Instrumental Folk Music” (JIFM), to distinguish it from the music intended to accompany dancing in part 2. He apparently did not envisage the phenomenon of background music-to-be-ignored. He was the major (but not the only) ethnographical researcher and collector in Eastern Europe, working mainly around Kiev in the PoS between (approximately) 1930 and 1950. The music he thus distinguished turns out to be complicated and the language used to describe it was heavily influenced by national politics, as well as by its social and religious context. Other names for all or part of Listening Music (LM) or Non-Dance Repertoire include “Display Music”, Shpiln Tsum Tish, Moralishe Nigunim, Gedenken, (etc, see Feldman: Klezmer: Music, History & Memory (KMHM).
LM was an integral part the traditional Ashkenazi wedding celebration in several ways:
** in the street on the morning before the wedding:
Dobriden (“good day”), Gute Morgn, (“good morning”), Volekh (“from Wallachia”), etc;
** to accompany participants and important guests (a function probably derived from Polonaise/pavane – quasi-metrical processional): Gas-Nigunim were very similar to dobriden;
** to greet or announce important guests at ceremonial feasts, and playing during the feast at important guests’ tables (often on commission): Shpiln Tsum Tish (“table pieces”), Mazltov (“good luck”), Zayt Gezunt (“good health”), Gute Nakht (“good night”), are mostly pieces very similar to dobriden etc in structure and style;
** and at various other times during the ceremony.
NB the same tune(s) could be used for different parts of the ceremony, but any one kapelye always used the same set of tunes for one ceremonial function, according to Feldman.
But LM also had an important function apart from the wedding ceremony:
** to create a contemplative or heightened atmosphere, or to aid meditation (fartrakhtn).
(See Dobrushin’s remarks quoted on p.134 of KMHM, and reproduced below):
khtsos / ahavo rabo, taxim / doina, kale bazetsn, fantazye etc: These are usually non-metrical (or “flowing rhythm”) like nusakh; one would expect them to be the most archetypically Jewish and hence sought after by Jewish cultural researchers. Oddly, they were almost completely ignored by them, except for doina, which is much the least Jewish of them (being a 20th century (C20) import from Romanian Gypsy music), and sanitised virtuoso display recordings by classical musicians.
The piece published by Beregovski as “73. Mazltov” in his early collection (and which had become “9. Dobranotsh” in Section 1 of the later full version of JIFM) is surprisingly similar to these pieces, although it clearly is a Mazltov, because it says so in the recitative introduction!)
Sources of the music:
Commercial 78rpm Klezmer Records
Most of these were made in USA, and there were relatively few European klezmer recordings.
(Michael Aylward, in his Polin 16 article listed 1,753 78rpm records of “traditional Jewish music” most of which (>1,600) were pre-WWI. The large majority of Jewish music records sold were of cantorial performances (35%), Yiddish Theatre songs (31%), and other Yiddish songs (20%). Yiddish “folk songs” were almost absent, and klezmer accounted for only 3%.
There are thus in total only a few dozen commercial records of non-dance instrumental music.
Most are “processional” pieces, but there are a few “display” fantazyes.
Stupel’s ‘Wind Band of the Vilna Municipal Theatre’ (1911)
Kandels Orchestra (1917-18)
(a non-metrical rarity): Belf’s Romanian Orchestra (March 1913)
Ethnomusicologists’ Recordings and Transcriptions
Most of the authentic Listening Music that we have was collected, by academic folklorists and ethnomusicologists, from the PoS in the late C19 and early C20.
Engel and Kiselgof, with expeditions from St Petersburg led by Shlomo An-sky immediately before WWI, made important contributions, but the majority of the material that we still have was collected in the PoS during the 30s and 40s, principally by Moishe Beregovski and his team based in Kiev.
As I’ve pointed out in previous talks, the social structure which was served by Jewish cultural and artistic activity in the PoS had been virtually obliterated by the end of of WW1 and the immediately subsequent Russian civil war, so LM was largely redundant by then anyway (social restructuring had a similar effect in the USA), but there were special reasons why the after-effects were particularly devastating in the areas being studied by Beregovski and his colleagues. At that time the main centre of Jewish ethnographic scholarship was the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic’s Institute of Jewish Proletarian Culture in Kiev, and under Stalin’s rule, politics governed everything.
Historical Background: Ukrainian Politics
The Ukraine was the most powerful state in Europe in C10-11, but by the C16 it had been merged into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and most of it was then annexed by Russia. Throughout the C19 Ukrainian nationalism grew, and provoked reactive oppressive russification: the suppression of culture and language (NB: Ukrainian is as like Russian as Italian is like Spanish). After WWI Ukraine declared independence, but was promptly re-invaded by the Red army, and the Ukrainian SSR was formed in 1922. Soviet government proved vicious, corrupt and inept. Forced requisitioning of grain to bolster the failing Bolshevik economy had jeopardized the harvest and caused widespread famine by 1921 (~0.5M dead) and peasant revolts in the Ukraine. In 1923 Lenin reversed the enforcement of Marxist dogma. He instituted the New Economic Policy and korenisatsye (a multi-racial equal opportunities policy), which relieved the pressure, and led to a degree of explicit Ukrainisation with an upsurge in Ukrainian cultural activity. He was (in theory) not antisemitic, and he relaxed the persecution of religions, but his actions were dictated by expedience rather tha conviction, and he died in 1924. Under Stalin the USSR resumed government persecutions, interfering with the markets, trying to enforce low food prices, and resisting the growing ambition of Ukrainian nationalists.
By the late 1920s doctrinaire centralised control had been violently reinstated, and the process of russification accelerated. The CHEKA was in full pursuit of largely mythical anti-Bolshevik and Ukrainian-separatist agitators (an activity continued successively by the NKVD, MVD, KGB, and FSB). All of these factors help to explain why Stalin chose the Ukraine as the location for the introduction of agricultural collectivisation and dekulakisation, with the state-organized deliberate punitive mass starvation of 1931-34: the Holomodor, in which an estimated 4M Ukrainians died. He also carried out a wholesale liquidation of Ukrainian intelligentsia of the 1920s (“The Executed Renaissance”), in the years from 1934 to 1940. This was followed by the more generalised Great Terror (1936-38) in which approximately 1M people were executed, including party, government and army members, and most of the remaining minority national intelligentsias. Although it affected the whole USSR, it was particularly focused on the Ukraine, and on Jews.
Cultural History background
Ashkenazi Jewry (a cursory review!)
Western (eg German) Jews were largely assimilated, rational, associated with the birth of “Reform Judaism” in early C19. compared with: Russian/Polish Ostjudn in the PoS by end of C19 who were seen as impoverished and superstitious. Their arrival as refugees in the West was viewed with barely concealed horror by the local Jews.
Within the PoS, there were “internal” divisions:
- southern/rural: mystical irrational hasidic: kabbalah-influenced and following individualist tsadiks
- northern/urban: misnagdim (“opponents”): traditional, strictly following Torah and Talmud.
(See Dubnov: History of the Jews, vol 2., chapter XVI)
There were even divisions within the misnagdim:
- conservative: all knowledge is found in scripture, everything modern is evil, bad things happen because of sin, and self-help is opposing God’s will.
- maskilic (a term derived from Moses Mendelssohn’s Haskalah – enlightenment):
- open to secular learning, science and logic; they called themselves “intelligentsia”. They were blamed by many conservative Rabbis for the rising tide of antisemitic persecution.
Jewish Folk music in Imperial Russian
The Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia (OPE) was founded in St Petersburg in 1863, and set up the Jewish Historical-Ethnographical Commission in 1889. Ethnographers made expeditions into the PoS: the “dark continent” (Simon Dubnov’s term). An-sky’s expeditions to the PoS (1908-1919) documented and preserved Jewish folk-culture. At first, An-sky had a conflicted agenda, studying industrial workers and proselytising haskalah; his position then moved from reform to recording and preserving Jewish folklore. He was part of the general upsurge in romantic cultural nationalism, and described Jewish Folk customs as a sort of “People’s Torah” embodying the Volkgeist or People’s soul. He collected all aspects of Jewish culture, including artefacts, photographs, stories, proverbs, and (with Engel & Kiselgof) songs and instrumental pieces, most of these last in 1912 -1914: He wrote “With every old man who dies, and with every fire that breaks out, with every exile we endure, we lose a piece of our past.” and “Something like folklore must be gathered in the place where it was created. Once removed from its place it loses its bouquet, its flavour and meaning.” Engel, in a 1915 lecture to the Moscow Jewish Folklore Society, said: “The Jewish folk music is the Jewish national music” (but he also warned that “revolutionary and socialist songs are not ‘folk’”). He was in conflict with Saminsky and Idelsohn who sought an original and unchanging religious essence of Jewish music and dismissed folk (together with revolutionary and socialist) music as foreign with no relationship to religious music, and hence not Jewish. (See Loeffler, especially p.182.)
Jewish Folk Music in the Soviet Union
After the revolution, Beregovski & Magid were direct inheritors of this movement, but, by the time Beregovski started research (1929), korenisatsye was largely over, and Stalin was enforcing the Bolshevik emphasis on class struggle (eliminating any kind of nationalist or religious activity, “replacing vertical divisions with horizontal ones”), and imposing the tenets of Socialist Realism on all artistic activities (mostly aiming at the creation of a unified Soviet art: “national in form, socialist in content”).
Research into actual folk music was seriously distorted by these agendas (see Slotnick, Mlotek and Veidlinger references). Soviet Jewish folklorists showed much more enthusiasm for collecting and composing “folk songs” with correct social messages (eg Az me fort keyn Sevastopol, Yidishe Folks-lider p.452-3, which celebrates the joys of collective farming in Dzhankoy), and lyrics containing fawning eulogies to Stalin.
Organization of Jewish cultural research
(see YIVO Encyclopedia entries)
The Institute of Jewish Proletarian Culture (IEPK) was founded by Josif Liberberg in Kiev in 1929, expressly to conduct a “struggle with bourgeois Jewish nationalist ideology and science.” Liberberg expropriated the OPE archives from Leningrad, including the An-sky archive, and engineered the closing down of rival organizations such as OPE and the Jewish Historical and Archeological Commission. IEPK thus became the main centre for Soviet Jewish cultural activity. In the early 1930s, Liberberg was the chairman of the Birobidzhan organising committee, and planning IEPK’s move there.
In 1936 IEPK was closed and Liberberg was executed for “leaderism” and “militant nationalism”. (The accompanying purge of his “henchmen” severely damaged the Birobidzhan project.) Several staff members of IEPK were arrested for “Trotskyism” and were disappeared. The IEPK was replaced by the Cabinet for Jewish Language, Literature, and Culture (CJLLC): This was a much smaller body (the term “Cabinet” was apt: it consisted of 2 rooms and 3 staff!), which limped on in its place, specifically tasked with collecting folk-songs.
Beregovski had recently been involved in setting up a klezmer orchestra: the Ukrainian State Ensemble for Jewish Folk Music & Song, under M I Rabinovich, and supplying its repertoire (including, according to Wollock, 20 pieces collected from B Sakhnovskii by him). This was disbanded and reformed into a more classically orthodox ensemble under Solomon Fayntukh.
The Cabinet was liquidated completely in 1949. Almost all the staff were arrested and imprisoned, and its director was killed during interrogation. Beregovski himself was sentenced to 10 years in the Gulag in 1950, for “bourgeois nationalism” and “cosmopolitanism”. He was released in 1955, and died in 1961, with the majority of his collection and writings unpublished.
Beregovski’s Situation and Stance: Ideological Constraints
There is little doubt that the period between the activities of Kiselgof and Beregovski ushered in political changes that had a significant effect on their views. Kiselgof was a school teacher with a lifelong rôle popularising folk music in theatres and schools. Beregovski was a researcher and civil servant in a highly directive ideological system. Influenced by his teacher and research supervisor Kvitka, he had a decided bias towards the study of the interrelatedness of ethnic folk musics. He was a correct socialist, dismissing Saminsky and Idelsohn as bourgeois clerical-zionist, and Engel and Kiselgof as bourgeois liberal-populist. (He felt that the latter were not quite so bad, because they were only ‘shaky’ rather than ‘combative’). Stalin’s major ideological crackdown occurred in 1932-36 according to Eleanor Gordon Mlotek. In early essays (1929), Beregovski saw liturgical music as major contributor to klezmer music. By 1936-37 he had “retreated from this view, evidently for political reasons.” (KMHM p.17) Instead he found similarities with German minor mode and Ukrainian freygish mode folk music, and “during Stalin’s rule … [he] emphasised the joyous dance-like quality of nigunim rather than the ponderous quasi-recitative tish nigunim” (KMHM p.237)
In an essay reprinted in Jewish Instrumental Folk Music (JIFM, p.10) Beregovski asserts that “Dance music makes up the lion’s share of the klezmer repertoire.” Simply in terms of numbers of items collected and published, this might be true, but judged by their importance, this is a serious distortion, as he must have known. Apart from his personal experience, his own Doctorate examiners in 1944 emphasised the importance of listening music, and criticised his lack of attention to it (Dobrushin, see below).
Was this a matter of aesthetics or politics? We cannot know if this was a genuine personal antipathy to moralishe nigunim, or a survival tactic in an increasingly hostile and dangerous political environment (and this question also applies to his almost complete failure to make audio-recordings of klezmer music; see below). His background and training perhaps predisposed him to look outside the closed orthodox Jewish world, and he may have adopted Bolshevism’s goal of a universal socialist music using “folk elements”:
“We can use traditional musical folklore through socialist re-working and dialectic resolution. … Revolutionary folklore … is … the beginning of the period of proletarian musical art” (Essay on Jewish Folk Music (1934), reprinted in Old Jewish Folk Music (OJFM), p.36).
Or he may have noticed that his previous institutes had been summarily closed down, and at least 6 of his colleagues had been imprisoned, disappeared, or executed; while outside his academic bubble, in rural Ukraine (to which he had made several expeditions) over 1M people had been killed in state-organized oppressive actions. But the end result is clearly a major distortion of the reality of Ashkenazi Jewish ethnic music.
Lost in the Shuffle…
Most of Beregovski’s “Listening Music” pieces were processional (Dobriden, gas-nign, etc), concert entertainment (Skotshne, fantazye), or khasidic nigunim. An important but missing category was the solo “ga’aguyim” pieces, composed specifically to express or evoke the most intense meditation. These were widely recognised by klezmorim as the most important part of their music (they were often the only pieces played by the leader of the Kapelye, mere dances being delegated to underlings). There are very few recordings, but descriptions and impressions exist.
Lipaev, a Russian musicologist, in an article on Jewish orchestras (1905):
the violinist extracts from his instrument a necklace of hundreds of little notes which become a stream of fading moans. But throughout these, the melodies must maintain their sad feeling; more so, he must begin to strongly affect the listeners – that is the art of the violinist.
An English tourist, visiting Constantinople in 1838, must have encountered something similar in one of the city’s pleasure parks:
“Wallachian and Jewish musicians are common; and the extraordinary length of time during which they will dwell on a single note, with their heads thrown back, their mouths open, and their eyes fixed, and then follow it up with a whole sentence, rapidly and energetically uttered, is most singular.” (Beauties of the Bosphorus by Miss Julia Pardoe:, p.56)
Golda Buchman-Kremer in a memoir of her childhood (Mayn Shtetl Yedenits, 1930s):
Stingatsh, whom they had brought to play at the wedding supper, … closed his dark eyes and the sounds of weeping, hatred and bitterness, of pleading and humility, and pain and assurance, bewitched the hall in a deep silence… When he opened his closed dewy eyes they were greeted by teary Jewish faces.
Naftaly Gokhberg (55 year old clarinettist, quoted by Engel in a 1915 lecture – see Upward Flight CD notes):
‘a real Jewish musician pulls out your soul, pulls out your life. The playing goes to the end of the earth.” … “A song loves it when you make it cry…”.
played by Gokhberg and recorded by Engel in Skvira, 1912
An-sky (~1919-20) in Khurbn Galitsye (Neugroschel, p. 247):
“I suddenly heard a quiet doleful violin emitting an ancient and deeply plaintive melody. In the doorway, I saw a famished, tattered, embittered Jew in his fifties, playing an old poor violin. And both were weeping, both were shedding silent heartrending tears. … There were no weddings, no celebrations. Who needed a klezmer? But he had heard that a “Committee Officer” had come. So he had dug up a violin somewhere to welcome me with.”
And (most pertinently of all) Beregovski’s PhD examiner, Yekhezekl Dobrushin, in 1944:
“[music for listening] was serious music, which was played not only at weddings, but also for the tsadik, it was played for people who involved themselves with philosophical problems, and this serious music expressed their thoughts. It would be interesting to clarify this form of Jewish music” (quoted by Feldman, KMHM p.134).
As Dobrushin observed, some of this music was associated with parts of the the Ashkenazi wedding ceremony as well as with religious leaders. This was dangerously reminiscent of Jewish religious observance and Jewish cultural particularism, and when M I Rabinovich played it in public concerts with the Ukr.SSR Jewish Folk Music Ensemble it became very apparent why Beregovski might have chosen to steer clear of it. Der Emes (the official Soviet Yiddish-language newspaper) gave it a damning review as a “bungled patchwork job”:
“Instead of the sound of the violin, all of a sudden we hear a sound-parodying instrument.
The violin scatters here a hiccup, there a moan, a feminine whine, a choked-back cry of delight.
This evokes genuine repugnance. This musical joke, which is offered with deep meditation, is absolutely unsuited to this ordinary-folks’ kapelye” (Wollock: The Soviet Orchestra p.23)
Miss Pardoe seems, on the whole, to have been a more appreciative listener.
In his 1936-39 expeditions to Southern Ukraine, Beregovski apparently only recorded vocal pieces (and mostly socialist propaganda pieces in Jewish agricultural collectives, at that).
He recorded more vocal pieces in 1939-41, mostly around Kiev, with very sketchy documentation, which ended up in Potsdam University. They have been catalogued (Potsdamer Ordnungsnummer: PON), transcribed and published in Unser Rebbe, Unser Stalin… (2008) (URUS), together with the original recordings. It is not clear how they got to Potsdam – the foreword of Unser Rebbe tentatively suggests that they were confiscated in 1949 by Soviet Censors as part of the liquidation of Yiddish culture, which is at best only a very partial explanation.
Much more interesting are the recordings in the same Potsdam archive made by Sofia Magid. She was educated in St Petersburg (now Leningrad), and studied Ethnomusicology there, in the State Institute for the History of the Arts, during the brief illusory liberal period of New Economic Policy and Korenisatsye. She worked as an honorary research fellow from 1926, right through the period of oppression and terror, and was in Leningrad for 18 months during the German siege. She was repeatedly balked by Anti-semitic authorities, and was finally dismissed in 1950, for “work of a low theoretical level”, and on grounds of ill health. She died in around 1955. Little of her work was published. Some is said to be in Russian archives (possibly the Putschinky Institute at St Petersburg), but her anthology of Ukrainian Jewish music is apparently lost. She was actively collecting in Volyn and Kiev provinces in 1928 – 1931, mostly from local singers and instrumentalists (including some groups), and made very high quality musical finds. She kept good notes on the recordings, but we have no background information on her protocols and methods, and the surviving recordings are now in poor condition. (All of the Russian ethnomusicologists used wax cylinder recording machines, and the cylinders are easily damaged.) 148 of her songs (liturgical, folk, khasidic) were catalogued and transcribed in URUS. None of her her instrumental recordings were were catalogued (hence designated ohne PON) or transcribed, but 98 of them were included in the CD accompanying URUS.
The khasidic nigunim included yet another variant on U Rabina (06 PON178_1845_01.mp3)
and a melody that clearly was the inspiration for Hava Nagila (07 PON191_1864_02.mp3)
but her instrumental pieces are especially important because Beregovski seems to have recorded very few instrumentalists, and no ensemble performances (see above, and note below).
Some examples of her instrumental recordings
Dem Rebns Viduy, by Khaim Tsheretenko, Shepetovskyi, Khmelnitskaya, Aug. 1928. Viduim are sung by congregations as collective confession on Yom Kippur, but in this context a viduy/vidui (ווידוי – pron. “vid-e”, plural ווידוים – “viduim”) is a last confessional prayer before dying.
Shepetovskyi (now Shepetivka) is in the heart of Khasidic South Ukraine, along with several towns mentioned in titles of pieces by Belf’s Romanian Orchestra: Berditshev, Skvira, Khotin, Mogilev-Podolski, Monastritsh, and Lipovets.
Dobriden by Gertsl Levin, Propoyski, Mogilevskaya (Belorus), Aug. 1931 (This is very similar to Belf’s Na Rasvete, and Abe Schwartz’s Beim Rebns Sideh)
Volakh by Peysakh M Miltshin, Bobruyski, Mogilevskaya, Aug. 1938. Bobruyski (modern Babruysk) is in Belarus. The first 3 sections are very like the piece published by Beregovski in JIFM: #4 Dobriden. Beregovski notes: “MS notation of B Sakhnovskii, born in Makarov … where he learned to play the violin from local klezmorim in the 1890s.” Makarov (now Makariv), Kiev Province, is ~ 350 km South of Bobruyski; some, at least, of these tunes clearly had quite a wide distribution.
Bazetsn by Peysakh M Miltshin (same date and place). This is a Kale bazetsn (seating of bride), an important part of the Ashkenazi wedding ceremony.
In closing, I would reiterate the remarks attributed to Yekhezekl Dobrushin in 1934:
“[music for listening] was serious music … it was played for people who involved themselves with philosophical problems, and this serious music expressed their thoughts. It would be interesting to clarify this form of Jewish music.”
Yes, it would have been. But even then a century of increasing persecution, a revolutionary civil war, and an ideological cleansing had taken their toll. And the Holocaust was still to come.
by Zusman Kiselgof, concertina, recorded in St Petersburg, 1922)
An-sky 1925. Khurbn Galitsye (transl. as The Enemy at his Pleasure by J Neugroschel, 2002).
Aylward 2003. Early Recordings of Jewish Music in Poland. Polin 16, pp.59-69.
Applebaum 2017. Red Famine: Stalin’s war on Ukraine.
Beregovski & Fefer 1938. Yidishe Folks-lider (https://archive.org/details/nybc210708)
Dubnov 1916. A History of the Jews in Russia and Poland.
Feldman 2016. Klezmer: music, history & memory.
Grözinger & Hudak-Lazić (eds.) 2008. Unser Rebbe, unser Stalin… (includes CD).
Loeffler 2010. The most musical nation.
Mlotek 1977-78. Soviet-Yiddish folklore scholarship. Musica Judaica 2 (No. 1), pp.73-89.
Safran & Zipperstein (eds.) 2006. The Worlds of S. An-sky (includes CD).
Slobin (ed.) 1982 & 2000. Old Jewish Folk Music.
Slobin et al. (eds.) 2001. Jewish Instrumental Folk Music.
Slotnick 1976. The contributions of the Soviet Yiddish folklorists. Working papers in Yiddish and East European Jewish studies No. 20.
Veidlinger, 2000. Klezmer and the Kremlin: Soviet Yiddish folk songs of the 1930s. Jews in Eastern Europe (Spring 2000), pp.5-39.
Wollock 2000. The Soviet Klezmer Orchestra. East European Jewish Affairs 30 (No. 2), pp.1-36.
See also recordings and insert notes in the series Historical Collection of Jewish Musical Folklore 1912-1947 published by the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (9 volumes so far), and the CD set of Beregovski’s 5 volumes in facsimile published by Dukh and Litera, Kiev (2013).
Ancilliary and discussion notes on Beregovski and Instrumental Performances
Beregovski is rightly revered as the major figure in the preservation of European klezmer music, but it is not always clear how committed he was to it and what he chose to preserve.
Most obvious is the absence of actual performances. The majority of his published pieces were acquired as manuscript notation from (probably long-retired) klezmer musicians; he claimed to have recorded and transcribed relatively few examples and many of the cylinders’ documentation cards have a “K” prefix to the reference number, which suggests that they were made by Kiselgof.
The recording that was made of the Mazltov/Dobranotsh piece (OJFM #73/JIFM #9) by I Triplik sounds (to me) very much as if he was sight-reading from the notation (which is attributed elsewhere to Pedotser, aka A M Kholodenko, the great C19 klezmer).
Kvitka drew attention to this deficiency, in Beregovski’s doctoral examination:
“One must note as a criticism that there are no tempo markings for all of the notated examples, which is most important in clarifying the characteristics of the piece. Further, one must lament the lack of examples of the performance of ensembles because we are speaking always about ensembles.” (KMHM p.134, my emphasis)
Then there’s the question of possible censorship: several writers have noted that although he castigated others for selecting published examples, he himself only included about 400 instrumental pieces out of a claimed total of over 2000.
His descriptions of klezmer music sometimes seem unnecessarily denigratory: “The khosidl is a grotesque solo-dance imitating a dancing hasid” (cf Stutschewsky: “its controlled movements and the grief of the soul expressed by the dancer”.)
Feldman (KMHM p.336) says: “Beregovski includes no tune called either makhetonim tants or kosher tants, possibly because these ritual customs were no longer practised in the Soviet Union … he did not want to place much emphasis on this mixture of Hasidic, religious and patriarchal folk customs in the context of the klezmer, who was supposed to be the representative of healthy proletarian cultural ideals.”
Earlier Beregovski is quoted representing the klezmer as: “a representative of the toiling Jewish masses rather than a ‘parasite’ working for the Jewish oligarchy and Hasidic courts” (KMHM p.92). Feldman (KMHM, p.332) describes this as “[Beregovski] keeping himself in line with the derogatory descriptions of klezmer solo performances that veered too close to synagogue modality and intonatsia”.
In summary: “While these omissions are quite understandable, given the political conditions of his time, it cannot be said that Beregovski’s research added much to our understanding of the musical aspect of the wedding … he did not even treat politically innocent subjects like the sequence of performance of certain pieces…” (KMHM p.139)
Beregovski frequently used politically loaded Soviet language in his writings, and often depreciated the value of pre-revolutionary studies. This was a general fault of Soviet scholars, who tended to lay unjustified claim to all sorts of high moral and academic ground (much as the Soviet military did to their neighbours’ territory). See the essay by Susan Slotnick (1976) and its critical demolition by Eleanor Gordon Mlotek (1977-78).