Russische Gesänge

A recital by the Russian bass Boris Christoff. On some of these he is accompanied by an orchestra of balalaikas. Most people will recognise this archetypical Russian instrument, if not by sound then certainly by its odd triangular shape. But what is known of its origins?

The first reference to the balalaika is from the time of Peter the Great, the end of the seventeenth century. Peter heard the instrument and wanted to hear more. It is certainly older, and the current theory is that is from the period of the Tatar-Mongol rule in the area. That would be around the 13th to 15th centuries, see my article from yesterday.

The name balalaika might be more related to the Russian word balakat, to chatter. The instrument was seen as a peasant idle pastime. After Peter the Great it vanished from aristocratic circles, to be kept alive in traditional peasant households. It was revived mostly by the musician Vasily Andreyev at the end of the nineteenth century. Andreyev created an orchestra around it and added a whole family of balalaikas in different sizes, from a piccolo to a double bass.

I don’t come across it that many times in classical music, so to hear it in this recording is a nice extra. Together with Christoff’s exceptional voice this is worth a listen.

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