Russian Folk Music

Russian Folk music dates back as far as the middle of the first millennium. Slavic tribes, known for their love of music, settled in what is now European Russia. Kievan Rus, the first state of what is now modern Russia, in the 10th century, had Folk music in many languages, including Slavic, but also Turkish and Finno-Ugric. Many Russian Folk songs even today have very distinct styles, depending on the region. One aspect they all had in common was that they mainly had pagan ties rather than Christian references.

There are two rituals by which Russian Folk songs and dances are created: the first is by the calendar, songs associated with sowing, harvesting and other farming rituals, and the other family life such as birth, death and marriage. Individual songs are also made, mainly ballads about heroic characters in life. The calendar-based songs are very short, narrow and face very strict regulation. The calendar song cycle features smaller cycles timed to the seasons and to pagan festivals. The epic genre of music, such as bylinas and spiritual verses, has remained steadily popular from the beginning of Russian Folk music to the present.

The most complicated form of Russian Folk music is known as the lyrical song, formed sometime in the 1500s or 1600s in Moscow. It involved multi-voiced singing, with the participation of solo voices.  Weeping is also popular, and commonly seen at such occasions as weddings and funerals. Musical Russian Folk weeping is very melodic but does involve improvisation on the part of the performer depending on the occasion.

Vocals in Russian Folk music are considerably more important than the instruments, mainly as a result of the Orthodox religion disallowing musical instruments to be played in Churches. Instruments are only used as accompaniment to the vocals of a song. String instruments, such as the gusli, are the most widely spread, but a few wind instruments such as the doudka are quite popular as well. The accordion, mandolin and guitar are the three instruments mainly used in the modern era Russian Folk music.

The first collection of written Russian Folk songs was published in the 18th century.  In Soviet Russia, the treatment of Folk music was two-faced. On one hand, the government declared it was blossoming and patriotic, but on the other, it was seen as a tradition of the kulaks, who were now virtually outlaws, and seen as a pre-revolutionary tradition not fit for the strict authoritarian regime of communism.

In the 1960s, a revival of folk music occurred, with people wanting to get back into the traditions of the “old days”. Folk music in Russia today is alive and well, despite the troubled political atmosphere of the 20th century. Having lasted over 1500 years from the first singing Slavs who settled in modern Russia, the traditions of Russian Folk music are still alive and well. Russian Folk music is very unique in its lack of instruments, and appreciated by many people all over the world.