Enlightenment and scholarly societies
The founding of the Jewish Historical and Ethnographic Society (JHES) in 1908 was an important event in Jewish social life. According to its charter, the Society intended to "study and explore all fields of Jewish history and ethnography" as well as elaborating "theoretical matters of historical and ethnographic science". In the beginning, 65 people took part in the work of the Society. Many members of the new society had earlier participated in the work of the Historical Ethnographic Commission of the OPE: Dubnov, Kulisher, Vinaver. The work of the society during its first decade branched out in five directions: lectures, publishing, editing, archival and ethnographic.
The ethnographic aspect of the work was soon subsumed under the Department of Ethnography and Folklore. In the summer of 1911, upon the initiative of S. An-sky, the ongoing ethnographic-folklore expedition began its work (after 1913 it was called the Horace Gunzburg Jewish Ethnographic Expedition). It was agreed that Byalik, Sholom Ash, and Leonid Pasternak would take part in an expedition to explore 250 settlements inside the Pale. For four summers before the beginning of the First World War the expedition explored 70 settlements of the South-West area, with the permanent participation of Jewish Folk Music Society members Engel and Kissel'gof, An-sky's nephew, painter and curator of the Jewish Museum in Petrograd Yudovin, and students of Oriental Studies Courses.
The Ethnography and Folklore Department wanted to set up an ethnographic museum. The original plan was to update and enlarge the exposition opened in the Choral synagogue in 1904, but later the exposition was relocated to the almshouse building on the 5th line of Vassilyevsky Island, where premises for the archive and museum of the Jewish Historical and Ethnographic Society were provided. The 1914 exhibition, which became permanent in 1916, included 800 articles, books on ethnography, ancient printed and handwritten books, documents from different archives, photographs and about 500 musical phonograph records. The Society's publishing commission prepared an edition of documents on the history of East-European Jews. These were "Excerpts and Inscriptions", and the 4th and 5th volumes of the "Russian-Jewish Archive" collected by Bershadsky, and a historical reader.
The Society published the historical journal "Yevreyskaya Starina", or "Jewish Antiquity", which was initially a quarterly, but soon became a once yearly edition. More than 200 authors contributed works on the history and ethnography of Russian and Polish Jews to the "Yevreyskaya Starina", including such Jewish historians as Dubnov, Garkavy, and Yu. Gessen. The Archive Commission of the Jewish Historical and Ethnographic Society was in charge of organizing a central scientific archive on the history of Jews in Russia and Poland. The archive expanded as it received documents discovered during expeditions and donated by individuals and public organizations. The Society helped maintain contacts among persons interested in history by holding twice monthly public conferences at which papers were read and discussed. The Society's membership increased tenfold in its first decade. Of 800 members of the Society, more than one third were Petersburg residents.
As early as 1900 an attempt was made in St. Petersburg to unite lovers of Jewish music. After the choir "Hatikvah", or "The Hope", had worked for two years it was decided to create a public musical organization, and the Society for Jewish Folk Music had its charter registered on March 4, 1908. The Society aimed to study Jewish spiritual and secular music, promote and publish works of Jewish composers, popularize Jewish music and develop Jewish musical theory. For this purpose it collected musical folklore, held lectures, concerts, presented theoretical papers, and published collections of Jewish songs and works of Jewish composers. Half of the Society's leadership were pupils of Rimsky-Korsakov, who encouraged their interest in folk music.
The Society for Jewish Folk Music met with a response in both Jewish and Russian musical circles. Its delegation took part in the celebrations of the 5th anniversary of the Conservatory. The membership rose from 100 to 1000 in 6 years. Branches were opened in Moscow, Kharkov, and Kiev. Concerts were held in the Assembly of Nobles, Large and Small Halls of the Conservatory, and the Musical Drama Theater in Petersburg. From 1908 to 1917, sixteen concerts were held in Petersburg, with five concert tours - to the North-West and South-West regions, Vilnius, Rostov-on-Don, and Siberia. In 1912, concerts were performed in Germany and Austro-Hungary, as well as in the Volga and southern regions and the Kingdom of Poland.
Jewish folk songs and spiritual music, and works of young Jewish composers were performed by the Society choir, students of musical courses which were first offered by the Society in 1916, instrumental groups, and professional performers - cantors Sirota (Petersburg) and Yakobson (Sevastopol), singers Medvedev and Tomars, instrumentalists and pianists Tseitlin, Burgin, Yanovsky, Katus, and Vakhtman. The Society held conferences and concerts-lectures at which papers were presented by Kissel'gof (on Jewish folk songs recorded in a Lyubavicher settlement), Riversman (on Jewish humorous folk songs), Saminsky (on synagogal liturgical melodies, i.e. chants of biblical texts), and Gnesin (on Wagner, Jews in music and Jewish musical life in Palestine).
The Society for Jewish Folk Music published a total of four series of the collected works of Jewish composers, consisting of eighty one opuses for voice, choir, piano, string and wind instruments. In 1912, "Collected songs for Jewish school and family" was published. This collection was reprinted two years later and two books of unadapted folk melodies - collected by Society members in Jewish settlements inside the Pale and in the Caucasus - were issued in 1915. The Society prepared some editions jointly with OPE and collected folklore material mostly during expeditions of the Jewish Historical and Ethnographic Society. Several leaders of the Society for Jewish Folk Music including Kissel'gof, were also on the board of the Jewish Historical and Ethnographic Society.
Title page of a musical publication of the Society