The Society for Jewish Folk Music

February 21, 2024

The Society for Jewish Folk Music was an ambitious group of composers, musicians, and scholars affiliated with Russia’s St. Petersburg Conservatory in the early 20th century. Inspired by the folklore collection project undertaken by Sha’ul Ginsburg and Peysekh Marek and encouraged by the Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, this cadre of young Russian Jewish musicians sought to redefine Jewish music on “national” terms–drawing on folk and sacred musical traditions to create compositions and arrangements that could be presented in the formal context of a concert hall. Through meetings and publications, they exchanged ideas about the history and content of Jewish music and debated about its future development. 

While the combined forces of the Russian revolution and the sea changes affecting traditional Jewish life ultimately led to the Society's dissolution within a decade or so of its founding, its impact remains. Several members of the Society emigrated to America—most prominently Joseph Achron, Lazare Saminsky, and Jacob Weinberg—where their ideas and creative output helped shape the field of Jewish music for decades to come.

Explore more about the Society for Jewish Folk Music »

WATCH: Art Songs from the St. Petersburg Society
Sunday, Feb. 25, 4PM PST Live and Streaming

St Petersburg Society e1697399487681 

A free concert program presented by the UCLA Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience curated by Neal Stulberg.

View Program »


In Their Own Words: Freydele Oysher and Harold Sternberg
Our newly available oral history features Freydele Oysher with husband Harold Sternberg. While the religious culture of her time prevented her from singing in synagogues, Freydele Oysher excelled at the performance of eastern European cantorial art—or hazzanut—and was a celebrated presence on Yiddish theater stages throughout the world. Sternberg was a singer and composer responsible for much of the cantorial music that Freydele—and her very well-known brother, Moishe—sang in theater productions. In addition to Oysher and Sternberg's touching memories of their lives in Jewish music, there is also much breaking out in song.


Curator’s Pick: Jacob Weinberg’s String Quartet, Op. 55 “On Jewish Themes”
This masterful chamber work by Jacob Weinberg beautifully illustrates the aesthetic agenda of the Society for Jewish Folk Music. The first two movements draw upon signature Ashkenazi High Holy Days melodies, while the third incorporates fragments from Hasidic melodies and dance tunes.


Podcast: The Nightingale of Iran
Two sisters, one a documentary film producer and the other a musician and anthropologist, try to discover why their father–once a teen idol in Iran and later a celebrated cantor in the U.S.–doesn’t talk about certain aspects of his family’s illustrious history.

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