On Russian Folk Music
As you may know, on the 4th July we will be having our annual ‘White Nights’ Party by the beautiful river Cam, an informal celebration where we will be enjoying traditional, uplifting songs of both British and Russian origin. Folk music is an intrinsic part of Russian cultural history, with its ability to reveal the interests, emotions and lives of ordinary people. This party will be a wonderful opportunity to commemorate this important heritage.
Ever since Slavic tribes settled in what is now known as European Russia, it seems that the entirety of Russia was filled with harmonious choruses of song – though of course, this chorus did vary dramatically across the eleven time zones and diverse range of cultures that stretched through Russia. Russian folk music is predominately vocal and this resulted in the enormous variety of genres that emerged – from songs for spring to barge hauling songs to lullabies – if the occasion exists, there is probably a song for it.
Traditionally, as most parts of life in those days, folk music was linked to the Russian Orthodox Church, and this, as well as high levels of illiteracy, accounts for the lack of instruments in early folk music. At the time, it was viewed that instruments where not spiritually pure, and were therefore prohibited by the Church. Nevertheless, the gusli, a string instrument, and the dudka, an end blown flute, amongst other instruments, were occasionally used as accompaniments for dances and songs. Later, the famous skripka and balaika emerged, and they are still used in performances of folk music today.
An extremely popular and light-hearted vocal tradition is the chastushka, a genre of song that uses a combination of humour and satire to cover all sorts of topics, from politics to love. These songs are often sung with two or more people, and in this way they are more of a performance, with the singer having the ability to improvise if the occasion called for it.
A conscious preservation of folk music began in the eighteenth century, when the first collection of written Russian folk songs was published. More recently, the 1960s saw a revival of traditional folk songs as part of a national movement to remember the ‘old days’, and they are still very much alive today – I am sure we are all looking forward to experiencing them both in July and many times in the future.
Eugenia Grigorieva, CamRuSS’ trainee correspondent