Nigunim Laad
Jewish Tunes Forever


Moisei Beregovsky (1892–1961)

Moshe (Moisei) Beregovskii was born in Ukraine into the family of a melamed. He received a traditional education in Jewish elementary school (heder). In 1905 he went to Kiev, where he received an external degree for high school studies (1912), learned music theory, and took cello lessons; from 1915 to 1920, he studied at the Kiev Conservatory (cello with Friedrich von Müllert, composition theory with Boleslav Yavorski). From 1916 to 1922, Beregovskii taught music at various Jewish schools and conducted the chorus at the Kiev Society for Jewish Music.

Beregovskii’s association with the Jewish Kulturlige in Kiev began in 1918; in 1920, he founded its music school, serving as its director until 1922. Beregovskii studied composition theory at the Petrograd conservatory under Maksimilyan Shteynberg, and from 1924 to 1926 he taught at the Jewish orphans’ colony in Malakhovka, near Moscow.

In 1927, Beregovskii founded the Commission for Jewish Folk Music Research at the Department of Jewish Culture of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. From 1929 to 1949, he headed the Cabinet for Jewish Musical Folklore in the ethnographic section of the Institute of Jewish Proletarian Culture in Kiev (reorganized in 1936 into the Cabinet for Research on Jewish Literature, Language, and Folklore), at which he founded the Archives for Jewish Folk Music. From 1929 to 1947, Beregovskii collected Jewish folklore in Ukraine, making 2,000 field recordings on 700 phonograph cylinders during his expeditions to the regions of Kiev, Odessa, Nikolaev (Ukr., Mikolayiv), Dnepropetrovsk (Dnipropetrovs’k), Zaporozh’e (Zaporizhzhya), and Vinnitsa (Vinnytsya) as well as to Galicia. He also cataloged phonocylinders from the archives of the An-ski expedition and the Engel and Kisselgof collections, making music and text transcriptions for many of them.

Between 1937 and 1941 and again from 1944 to 1948, Beregovskii headed the Cabinet for Music Ethnography and Audio Recording at the Kiev Conservatory. From 1941 to 1943, he was in Ufa, Bashkiria, where he had been evacuated with the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. There he also collected and researched Bashkirian and Ukrainian folklore. In 1944, Beregovskii received his Ph.D. from the Moscow Conservatory, writing his dissertation on the topic of Jewish instrumental folk music. He then returned to Kiev, where he made expeditions to the former Jewish ghettos in the Chernivtsi (Yid., Tshernovits; Ger., Czernowitz) and Vinnitsa regions.

After the department was closed in 1949, Beregovskii was arrested and sent to Tayshet, in the Irkutsk region, where he remained from 1951 to 1955. In 1956, he was “rehabilitated” and returned to Kiev, where until his death on 12 August 1961 he arranged his private archive, preparing his collections of Yiddish folk songs and purim-shpiln for publication.

From the 1930s to the 1950s, Beregovskii prepared for publication a five-volume anthology of Jewish folklore based on his fieldwork (vol. 1, Jewish Workers’ and Revolutionary Songs [published in 1934]; vol. 2, Jewish Lyrical and Family Songs [not yet published]; vol. 3, Jewish Instrumental Folk Music [1987; Eng. ed., 2001]; vol. 4, Jewish Tunes without Words [1999]; vol. 5, Jewish Folk Theater Performances and Purim-shpiln [incomplete version, 2001]). His theoretical works, which grew out of his unique practical experience, served as introductions to his anthology and also constituted separate articles; they mostly dealt with the genre structure of Jewish folk music and its modal organization along with the semantic features of the Jewish modes and their melodic and rhythmic characteristics. Although in his works Beregovskii used religious terminology sparingly, he understood its importance and tried hard to negotiate an appropriate balance between the classification of liturgical music and the dictates of Soviet ideology. Beregovskii’s work raised the level of Jewish ethnomusicology to the highest standards of scholarship. His contributions constitute the cornerstone of all serious study of East European vernacular musical traditions. Moisei Beregovskii died in Kiev (Ukraine, USSR), in 1961.