Russian music is as ancient as the Russian nation itself. Over hundreds of years Russian musicians, who were strumming psalteries as early as the 6th century, blended their Slavic roots with traditions from Byzantium, Scandinavia, Eurasia, the Caucasus and beyond. Though the Orthodox church restricted musical expression in European Russia, it didn’t squash all musical expression. Quasi-pagan music was popular in villages across the gigantic nation. Minstrels called “skomorokhi,” playing traditional instruments such as the balalaika, traveled the land sharing epic songs and news of the day. In the cities in the 18th and 19th century, romansy (romantic) songs arose, modeled on Roma ballads. Russian classical composers like Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, and Tchaikovsky proudly wove Russian folk melodies into their work.

During the Soviet era the ruling Communists promoted traditional Russian folk through state-sanctioned ensembles but pushed any musical innovation underground. When the USSR fell, Russia’s expressive modern musicians freely created Western rock/pop/jazz/hip-hop in urban Moscow and St. Peterberg, while the outer-regions sprouted local-language pop and vibrant ethnic neo-folk, celebrating the Russia’s extreme ethnic diversity with lively dance music from the Caucuses, Turkic songs from the Volga region and extraordinary Tuvan throat singing.

More information:
Wikipedia on the music of Russia, including information about music from bands representing some of the Soviet Union’s ethnic minorities, such as the Siberian/Russian Buryat band Uragsha, the Karelian/Finnish Karelian Folk Music Ensemble and the Tuvan throat singing master Kongar-ool Ondar | Traditional Russian folk songs…enjoy!

In class we’re going to listen to:

— “Million Scarlet Roses” by Alla Pugacheva
All Pugacheva has been a popular Russian singer and actress since the ’70s. “Million Scarlet Roses” was her greatest international hit, but she has recorded over three hundred songs and has earned recognition from the Soviet and post Soviet Russian governments as a “People’s Artist.”

More information:
About Alla Pugacheva | Pugacheva performs “Million Scarlet Roses” in 1983 wearing something white and furry

— “Kafa” by Cherim Nakhushev
Cherim Nakhushev is a folk-rock musician from the Caucasus Mountains in western Russia where the Chechen people have been fighting the ruling Russians for decades. You can find his music on Songs of Defiance: Music of Chechnya and the North Caucuses, a collection of music from the Caucuses — mainly from Chechnya, but also beyond — which captures the depth of pro-autonomy sentiment in the region and steadfast determination to pursue freedom from Russia at any cost. Also, check out this bit of Cherim on YouTube.

If you get a chance, as an alternative to the very poppy pop music that is prevalent in Russia today, do check out some music by Elena Frolova. Elena Frolova was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1969, and began writing music and performing at an early age. From her creative beginning she focused on singing songs of Russian poets; at her first Tallinn, Estonia, All-Union Bard Festival (1988), she was an immediate sensation. (The poet Andrey Anpilov wrote of her performance, “I will never forget her stepping up the emotional energy in one of her songs and “literally “revving up”. And then, when she seemed to have reached the limit, she suddenly and effortlessly soared, as it were, into what was to us a kind of space absolutely beyond our reach. It was sheer magic.” Not a bad review.) Frolova soon began to focus on Russian bards of the Silver Age (the first two decades of the 20th century), then moved to the small Russian town of Suzdal, near the small Russian city of Vladimir, and embraced Russian folk music. She has reached out to other Russian musicians, writers and visual artists, who also create non-pop, non-commercial work, to develop a vibrant post-Soviet Russian art community.

More information:
Elena Frolova live and solo; an intimate performance | Elena Frolova sings the M. Cvetayeva´s poem “Magdalena” (accompanied by the paintings of Ilya Repin)

Visit AATW’s Eastern Europe and the Baltics Genres of Music page, or explore these genres from Russia:

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Visit AATW’s Eastern Europe and the Baltics Instruments page or explore these instruments from Russia

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Explore these All Around This World songs from Russia:

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