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Russian traditional music specifically deals with the folk music traditions of the ethnic Russian people. It does not include the various forms of art music, which in Russia often contains folk melodies and folk elements or music of other ethnic groups living in Russia.
Soviet postage stamp depicting traditional Russian musical instruments.
The performance and promulgation of ethnic music in Russia has a long tradition. Initially it was intertwined with various forms of art music, however, in the late 19th century it began to take on a life of its own with the rise in popularity of folkloric ensembles, such as the folk choir movement led by Mitrofan Pyatnitsky and the Russian folk instrument movement pioneered by Vasily Andreyev.
In Soviet Russia, folk music was categorized as being democratic (of the people) or proletarian (of the working class) as opposed to art music, which was often regarded as being bourgeois. After the revolution, along with Proletarian “mass music” (music for the proletarian masses) it received significant support from the state. In Post World War II Russia, Proletarian mass music however lost its appeal, whereas folkloric music continued to have a widespread support among the population, inside and outside of the Soviet Union. However the authentic nature of folk music was severely distorted by the drive to ‘professionalise’ performers, regardless of the genre they worked in: thus all folk singers were obliged to both learn Western-style classical notation, and to learn to perform classical repertoire – or else risk losing their right to perform as ‘professionals’.
In the 1960s folk music in Russia continued to receive significant state support and was often seen as the antithesis of Western pop music. The fact that numerous Soviet folkloric ensembles were invited for foreign tours raised the prestige of the folk performer to that of academic musicians, and in some cases even higher because access to the West and Western goods was very desirable.
Ethnic (folk) music in Russia can often be categorized according to the amount of authenticity in the performance: truly authentic folk music (reproductive performances of traditional music), folkloric and “fakeloric” performance.
Russia is a multi-ethnic country with some 300 different ethnic groups, many of them non-Slavic, living within its borders. This article deals specifically with just Russian ethnic music.
This music is closely tied in with the village life and traditions. It was usually not performed by professional musicians. From the Central Committee’s resolution of 1932, which prescribed musical literacy (in parallel to the drive to industrialise the Soviet Union), there has been a marked decline in authentic folk performance practice. Festivals, competitions and the work of ethnomusicologists have made attempts at preserving what has survived. In recent times there has been a movement by musicologists to study and reproduce authentic folk music in an authentic performance style on the concert stage. This movement in Russia is spearheaded by members of the faculty of folk music at the Moscow Conservatory under the direction of Dmitri Pokrovsky. More recently, Russian folk songs with strong religious (spiritual) components have been performed by singers like Zhanna Bichevskaya, Olga Arefieva and Elena Frolova
This category includes music by groups led by music professionals, past and present, who have taken authentic musical material, and then arranged and performed it in a manner formulated by Vasily Andreyev and subsequently refined under Stalin’s regime, yet widely accepted as ‘authentically Russian’ by Western audiences (conditioned, for instance, by performances by the Red Army Song and Dance Ensemble). The category includes many of the regional folkloric ensembles and dance companies popular in the Russian Federation. Often these folkloric ensembles specialize in collecting and maintaining the folk music traditions of the area of their origins which they service. They perform in stylized stage costumes based on the authentic costume designs used in the village but modified for stage use. Most inauthentic – but widespread – was the practice of performing so-called Cossack prisiadki (low-squatting dances) in perfect synchronization; as Professor Laura J. Olson observes, ‘this situation did not reflect actual Cossack traditions so much as it borrowed from the traditions of Russian ballet that dated to the late nineteenth century’.
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Includes music composed by city intelligentsia and professional composers in a folkloric manner. Much of the music of the Russian folk instrument orchestras can also be categorized in this group as it is based on academic music traditions and playing techniques only taking a folk element as its inspiration.
As in all western folklore traditions, the distinction is difficult to draw, as in the 19th century, intellectuals would both collect folk music (not always being accurate about their source material) and conflate it with original compositions.
In recent times music professionals who have completed diplomas in noted conservatories performing on Russian folk instruments are now questioning their “folkiness” when they perform, as none of their music was ever really performed originally by the (village) folk. Some now refer to their music as being academic folk music which to many academic musicians is an oxymoron.
Authentic Russian folk music is primarily vocal. Russian folk song was an integral part of daily village life. It was sung from morning to night, and reflected the four seasons and significant events in villagers’ lives. Its roots are in the orthodox church services where significant parts are sung. Most of the population was also illiterate and poverty-stricken, so musical instruments were rare, and notation (which is more relevant for instrumentals than vocals) could not be read.
Authentic village singing differs from academic singing styles. It is usually done using just the chest register and is often called “white sound” or “white” voice. It is often described as controlled screaming or shouting. Female chest register singers have only a low diapason of one octave to 12 notes.
Chest register singing has evolved into a style used by many of Russia’s folk choirs and neighbouring countries. It was pioneered by Pyatnitsky and Ukrainian folk choir director Demutsky in the early 1900s.
Notable ensembles include the Pyatnitsky Russian Folk Chorus, the Northern Russian Folk Chorus, the Omsk State Russian Folk Chorus, the Alexandrov Song and Dance Ensemble of the Soviet Army and the Moscow Military Area Song and Dance Ensemble.
Instrumental music for a long period was suppressed in Russia. In 1648, Tsar Alexis I of Russia under the influence of then-prevalent views in the Russian Orthodox Church banned the use of all musical instruments.[citation needed] At that time, it was stated that instruments were from the devil. Not easily verifiable today, but some historians also believe that skomorokhs, singing disrespectful songs about the Tsar to instrumental accompaniment, could have been the real reason.[citation needed] As a result of the ban, instrumental music traditions disappeared and did not have a fertile ground for development in Russia for many years. No musical instruments are used in Orthodox churches (in Russia).
In the late 19th century, Vasily Andreyev, a salon violinist, took up the balalaika in his performances for French tourists to Petersburg. The music became popular and soon Andreyev had organized a club of balalaika players. This club grew into an orchestra, which in time grew into a movement. Alexey Arhipovsky is the modern-day Russian Paganini of the balalaika, but with a Pat Metheny approach. During his tours he has got much admiring fans who compared him with Paganini and Jimi Hendrix: “One would [sic] think that a three string instrument tuned E-E-A would have much potential, but you then haven’t heard Alexei Arkhipovskiy yet… [who] shows that he is the Russian Paganini.” “[He] became a sensation immediately after the first appearance in front of the general public. He practically wrecked the Guitar festival … showing incredible musical mastery. It was a real Theatre of inexpressible play and giddy performing numbers, MIME and gesture. Many hearers compared [him] no less than with great Jimi Hendrix”
From a simple unsophisticated three-stringed instrument, combined with an awakening ‘Russianness’ in the last phases of the Tsarist Empire, the movement led to the development and implementation of many other Russian folk instruments. The Russian folk instrument movement had its resonance in the cultures of other ethnic groups within Russia, the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc countries. Folk instrument orchestras appeared in Belarus, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Moldavia, and Romania.
Mary Hopkin (born 3 May 1950), credited on some recordings as Mary Visconti, is a Welsh folk singer best known for her 1968 UK number one single “Those Were The Days”. She was one of the first musicians to sign to The Beatles’ Apple label.
Early singing career[edit]
Hopkin was born in Pontardawe, Wales, into a Welsh-speaking family; her father worked as a housing officer. She took weekly singing lessons as a child and began her musical career as a folk singer with a local group called the Selby Set and Mary. She released an EP of Welsh-language songs for a local record label called Cambrian, based in her home town, before signing to The Beatles’ Apple Records. The model Twiggy saw her winning the British ITV television talent show, Opportunity Knocks and recommended her to Paul McCartney.She became one of the first artists to record on The Beatles’ Apple record label.
Her debut single, “Those Were the Days”, produced by McCartney, was released in the UK on 30 August 1968 (catalogue number APPLE 2). Despite competition from a well-established star, Sandie Shaw, who released her version of the song as a single that year, Hopkin’s version became a number one hit on the UK Singles Chart, reached number two in the US Billboard Hot 100, where for three weeks it was held out of the top spot by The Beatles’ Hey Jude, and two weeks at number 1 in the Canadian RPM Magazine charts (Apple 1801). It sold over 1,500,000 copies in the United States alone, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. Global sales topped 8,000,000.
On 2 October 1968 Hopkin appeared at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, for the Pop Experience, where she sang “Morning of My Life”, “Turn Turn Turn”, and “Plaisir d’Amour”.
In December 1968 the NME music magazine reported that Hopkin was considering a lead acting role in Stanley Baker’s forthcoming film, The Rape of the Fair Country. That particular project did not materialise but Hopkin did sing the title songs to two of Baker’s films, Where’s Jack? and Kidnapped.
On 21 February 1969 her debut album, Postcard, also produced by McCartney, was released.[8] It included covers of three songs from Donovan, who also played on the album, and one song each from George Martin and Harry Nilsson. It reached number three on the UK Albums Chart, although it proved to be her solitary success in that chart.[3] In the United States, Postcard reached Number 28 on the Billboard albums chart.
The next single was “Goodbye” written by McCartney (credited to Lennon–McCartney),[10] released on 28 March 1969 (APPLE 10); it reached number two in the UK Singles Chart and number 15 in the Canadian RPM Magazine charts (Apple 1806). It was kept off the top of the charts by The Beatles’ single “Get Back”. “Goodbye” has never been officially released by The Beatles, although a demo version can be found on some of their bootlegs.[clarification needed]
Hopkin’s third single, “Temma Harbour”, a re-arrangement of a Philamore Lincoln song, was released on 16 January 1970 (APPLE 22) and peaked at number six in the UK Singles Chart in February and number 42 in Canada in April (Apple1816). In March, she represented the United Kingdom in the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest, singing “Knock Knock, Who’s There?”. Author and historian John Kennedy O’Connor notes in The Eurovision Song Contest — The Official History that she gave a very comfortable performance and sang in a crystal clear voice but despite being the pre-contest favourite, Hopkin came second to “All Kinds of Everything”, performed by Irish singer Dana.
“Knock Knock, Who’s There?” was released as a single on 23 March 1970 (APPLE 26) and became her second Number 2 UK hit.Her second album, Earth Song, Ocean Song, was released by Apple on 1 October 1971. The record was produced by her husband Tony Visconti and included cover versions of songs written by Cat Stevens, Gallagher and Lyle, and Ralph McTell and the two title tracks by Liz Thorsen. Hopkin felt it was the album she had always wanted to make, so coinciding with getting married and with little left to prove, she left the music scene. Another single, Que Sera, Sera, reached number 47 in the Canadian RPM Magazine charts in August 1970 (Apple 1823).
After marrying Visconti in 1971, Hopkin withdrew from the pop-music scene to have a family. Although reportedly unhappy with show business, she did not stop recording. She travelled to Australia with Visconti in January 1972 and performed at a large outdoor rock festival in South Australia, in addition to giving concerts in several major cities. With Visconti’s help, 1972 saw the release of the Christmas song “Mary Had a Baby” / “Cherry Tree Carol” on Regal Zonophone Records, re-released in 1973. In June 1972, the single “Summertime Summertime” / “Sweet and Low” was released on Bell Records under the name of Hobby Horse. The A side was a cover of a 1958 song by The Jamies.
Although no other singles or albums came out in her name until 1976, she sang on numerous recordings that her husband produced, such as those featuring Tom Paxton, Ralph McTell, David Bowie (Low), Bert Jansch, The Radiators From Space, Thin Lizzy, Carmen, Sarstedt Brothers, Osibisa, Sparks, Hazel O’Connor, and Elaine Paige. On all of these recordings (and also on her husband’s own Inventory album) she is credited as “Mary Visconti”. During this time, she also appeared on various TV shows such as Cilla Black’s, and various radio programmes.