Cantorial Compositions and Yiddish Folk Songs
from the An-Ski Expeditions (1912-1914)

By Lyudmila Sholokhova, PhD, Curator of the Dorot Jewish Collection,
The New York Public Library

Audio recordings selected for these CD-Roms are a continuation of the vols. 4-5 of the same series (Hasidic and Klezmer Music from the An-ski Expeditions (1912-1914). Together, vols. 4-5 and 10-11 represent the entire universe of Jewish musical tradition of the Pale of Settlement of the Russian Empire, with a focus on Podolia and Volyn provinces. These sounds, along with the spoken Yiddish word, filled vibrant streets, markets, synagogues, stores, schools, workshops and homes of the Jewish people in the end of the 19th-beginning of the 20th centuries.

The carefully selected recordings are thought to reflect the Jewish musical tradition in all possible ways. Marvelous examples of the cantorial compositions and cantillations performed during the daily and Shabbat synagogue service, and on High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) are found side by side with the uniquely bright sounds of children’s counting rhymes, songs about unhappy love, military draft, marriage, badchen’s recitatives and heartbreaking ballads and paraliturgical songs in Russian and Ukrainian about values of Judaism and Jewish traditional way of life.

The CD-Roms also contain some fragments of the rare purimshpil “Birkas Yakov” (“The blessing of Yakov”) presumably recorded later, in 1927, in the town of Narovlya in nowadays Belarus, by unknown collectors.

Another remarkable component of this selection is the entire group of spoken greetings of different artists and intellectuals recorded directly in the building of the Jewish Ethnographic Museum in St. Petersburg in 1914. Among them are sculptors and painters Boris Anisfeld, Ilya Gintsburg, Semyon Abugov, literary critic Bal-Makhshoves and a Jewish deputy of the Russian State Duma Meir Bomash.

Additionally, Solomon Yudovin, a famous artist and photographer engaged in the ethnographic expeditions’ work, performed a Yiddish folk song, and a prominent Jewish composer Mikhail (Moyshe) Milner contributed a cantorial work from Nissi Belzer’s repertoire.