Moses Beregovski was born in the Ukraine in 1892. He was exposed to liturgical music at an early age through his father who was a teacher at the Kiev Jewish Music School and a ba’al kore (official who reads the Torah from the scroll in synagogue with proper accentuation and cantillation). Beregovski began his formal musical education at the Kiev and Leningrad conservatories where he studied composition with Shteinberg and Yavorsky.
In 1917 he was recruited to catalogue and analyze the musical material from An-Ski’s second ethnographical expedition. In 1919 Beregovski established and directed the musical division of the Jewish Culture League in Kiev and served as the director until it was closed in 1921. There are differing accounts of the personal and professional details of Beregovski’s life from 1930-1948. The Encyclopedia Judaica (1971:600) asserts that he headed the ethnomusicological branch of the Institute for Jewish Proletarian Culture of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences between the years of 1930-1948. During this extended period he worked to assemble manuscripts and recordings collected by the Culture League, An-Ski, Joel Engel, and his own fieldwork.
Joachim Braun offers a different chronological order in Jews and Jewish Elements in Soviet Music (1978). Braun bases his dating on an autobiographical manuscript of Beregovski’s recently brought to Israel by Aron Vinkovetski, who worked at the Beregovski archive in Leningrad. According to the manuscript, Beregovski was the head of the Folk Music Division from 1928 to 1936. He then moved on to the Folklore Department of the Kiev Conservatory, and from 1941-1949 acted as the director of the Folk Music Division of the Department of Jewish Culture of the Institute for Literature under the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. Regardless of the contradictory chronologies, by 1946 Beregovski had amassed a library of over 7,000 items and made substantial progress on his projected five volume collection and study of Eastern European Jewish folk music.
It is unclear exactly what portion of the collection was lost during World War II, but what does remain is housed at the Institute of Theater, Music and Cinema in Leningrad. Yidishe Folkslider, Beregovski’s second volume devoted to Yiddish folk song was complete and set to print in 1938 but never realized publication. Beregovski’s personal proofs of this volume were found at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York in 1981. This volume includes a long introduction by Beregovski dedicated to a critical discussion of the state of pan-Jewish art music composition and research of Jewish folk songs and melodies. In his introduction, Beregovski argues that there is nothing uniform about “so-called” Jewish folk music in its content, themes, and expression.
He valued the artistic contribution of secular folklore, such as love songs and lullabies, and is critical of claims that secular folk music is corrupted by Diaspora culture. Beregovski’s approach to the study of Jewish folklore in general, and folk music in particular, differed greatly from Abraham Z. Idelsohn and Lazare Saminsky. Beregovski promoted the idea that “borrowed elements” from Diaspora culture were transformed and incorporated into Jewish folk music to service changing Jewish ideology. In his view, “borrowed elements” were not foreign additions, but changes that were adopted and developed from a uniquely Jewish perspective.
Beregovski recognized the influence of Diaspora culture as an integral part of Jewish music in its historical development. Beregovski also lamented the lack of attention paid to workers’ and revolutionary folk songs. He dedicated a large portion of his introduction to a discussion and analysis of this body of songs. He divided this folk genre into two main categories: (1) songs created before the organization of a cohesive workers movement and (2) songs created to service the activities of organized revolutionary workers’ movements. In the collection itself, Beregovski included 83 workers’ and revolutionary folk songs, which he separated into the following groups: songs about work, exploitation and poverty, strike songs, struggles and victims, revolutionary hymns and songs, and melodies to songs by M. Vintshevsky, E. Edelshat and others.