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8.550781 - Russian Folk Songs
Russian Folk Songs
The far-stretching lands of Russia, the severity and changeability of its climate, its frequent wars and ruinous internal strife and the insecurity of a centralised state that must control widely divergent ethnic groups have produced one constant factor, the enigmatic Slav soul, the spiritual abyss. Whatever name is given to this phenomenon, understanding the Russian national character is difficult, perhaps more easily approached through allegories, parables and metaphors, through art.
Russian literature, from ancient manuscripts and the lay of Prince Igor's campaign up to Solzhenitsin, Astafyev and the newest writers, presents a great gallery of images striking in their psychological truthfulness. Especially valuable to Russia is the culmination of spiritual search in the nineteenth century. At this time Russian literature crossed its own frontiers to become sermon, liturgy, teacher and nurse. National character is not static but a living organism, like a plant that is constantly changing, growing or withering. National character is, in fact, not a state but a process. That is why, bearing in mind the genius of Push kin, Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Leskov, Dostoyevsky, Gorky, Sholokov, Platonov and Pasternak, we cannot feel in their creations the object sought for in its movement and development. We are faced with books that are not susceptible to further change in their inner structure.
The natural development of folk-lore was much hindered by technological progress and for other reasons, the chief of them being that enemy of the civilised world, television. Now, however, new transformations are taking place, new forms of thinking appear, but the universe remains, illuminated by the Creator in radiance of kindness, truth and beauty. Folk music, it seems, in its very simplicity, may allow the discovery of the mysteries of distant nations. This music is not desiccated by the refinements of professionalism but is born naturally from the depth of life, love and suffering.
The pain and grandeur of Russian history, the joy and despair of the Russian character, lies in the depths of Russian folk-lore. Unexpressed, blue and tender, in the words of the poet Sergey Yesenin, is an element perceptible in Down the River Mother Volga. The people, exhausted by labour, keep in their hearts so much warmth, mercy and tenderness to a nature that is sometimes cruel that it seems there is no unkindness or injustice in the world, but only brotherhood and light. The melody of the song The bell tolls palpitates and rises to Heaven, bringing new life to the vast tracts of Russia. The theme of the road, man's wandering, Push kin's versts and Gogol's three-horse carriage flying like a magic bird touches us deeply, but the song itself is so full of sadness and feeling that grief vanishes and the heart is aflame, a psychological paradox. Snow falls in the street expresses in its amorous and insinuating tones boundless admiration for the beauty of women, a feeling to which surrender is unthinkable, chained by the chains of perpetual slavery. The theme of death in Steppes, only steppes all around lacks the sexual implications of Nietzsche or Wagner. Instead there is a quiet acceptance of fate, without fear or protest, a dignified submission. The last recollections in the face of cruel death on the road are the father, the mother, the wife, the last with a word of parting and wedding-ring, the symbol of sacred wedlock, chastity and holiness. All is gratitude to the Lord for everything, without worldly ambition.
One of the best folk-songs is O, the sweet night. In the swinging of the pendulum of minor tonality can be heard lonely sadness, with no sobbing romanticism: parents are sadly remembered, the woman, though cruel, is tenderly addressed as "my beloved": now only night is left, the only friend, a cold autumn night, but loved and offering escape. The troika-mail is running epitomizes the long-cherished Russian dream of destroying the power of money that makes one man humiliate another: bored, the nobleman asks the coachman about his life and the latter opens his heart, to be met by interest that is feigned and superficial. In The legend of the twelve highwaymen there is an opening declamation, the bold flourish associated with history songs: God awakened the conscience of Kudeyar, the robber, and he went to the monastery in penitence. The elegiac melancholy of The young man has flown like a bird is no selfish whimper but meek and calm in its resignation. Push kin's words, "Some friends are gone, others far away", express the feeling of the song of some outcast in Evening bell, drawn from the verses of the blind poet and prophet Ivan Kozlov. Guelder rose is a dream of love, interrupted by the rough interjections of the choir, echoing the eternal tragedy of Russia. Neighbour is a playful song and Along the river is bright and cheerful, full of humour, a metaphorical description of man and his relationship with nature. The collection ends with the best known of all songs Ochni chernye (Dark eyes).
Patriarchal Choir, Moscow
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