Russian music dates back to ancient times during the middle of the first millennium AC. Slavic tribes had then populated the European region now known as Russia and had brought with them their love of music, dancing and singing. The first folk songs have been handed down from generation to generation. Russian opera then came on the music scene in the 18th century and was known world-wide for its beauty and mastery. The pop music genre developed into one of the biggest music markets in the world by the early 1970s. Even with the political upheaval and economic crisis of the 1990s, Russia still managed to produce a significant amount of famous pop music hits.
Opera is a musical and theatrical art form in which singer/actors and musicians perform a drama combining dialogue and music. Opera was introduced to Russia in 1731, when the King of Poland sent his Italian opera troupe to entertain the Russian Empress Anna at her coronation celebration in Moscow. After this, the Russians made attempts to produce operas based on Italian, French and German operas, while trying to find their own “voice” and style. These first attempts paved the way for the famous opera composers of the 19th and 20th centuries, Stravinsky, Glinka, Mussorgsky, Borodin and Tchaikovsky.
Richard Wagner, a German composer and conductor, made an especially important impact on the Russian opera scene. He came to Russia in 1863, and organized a series of concerts in the Russian capitals, which helped the great German master to take root in Russian opera. At these concerts, Wagner not only featured excerpts from his own operas, but pieces from Beethoven’s works as well. Tchaikovsky said that the concerts of Wagner were the most memorable musical experiences of his life.
• Internet Archive: The Russian Opera – Online book
• Operas.com: Wagner operas
• Trell.org: Richard Wagner website
• The Metropolitan: Timeline of the history of Opera
• OperaOpera: Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky: The Queen of Spades
• Stanford.edu: Stanford University opera glass
Russian Church Music
The Russian Orthodox Church is thought to be one of the largest Eastern Orthodox churches in the world and is second only to the Roman Catholic church. Around 65% of Russians consider themselves Orthodox Christians. Christianity came to Russian when Vladimir I chose to unite his people with a single religion. He sent out scouts to find out about other country’s religions. Christianity appealed to Vladimir and he then proceeded to declare his country Christian in 988. When Eastern Orthodoxy was embraced by Russia so were all its religious rites, art, architecture and music. However, Russian culture and beliefs made the Orthodox religion their own. Orthodox Church music is a strictly vocal chant expressing the liturgy in a worshipful manner. Musical instruments have never been accepted and the use of the human voice is central to all church music.
• IvanMoody: An Outline History of Russian Sacred Music
• Russian Orthodox Church of Three Saints: Russian Orthodox Music Downloads
• SonoraProductions: Hymns of the Russian Orthodox Church
• ROCA: Servants of Beauty The Precious and Sacred Role of Church Musicians
• Northern Kentucky University: Russian Theology and Aesthetics Resource Site
Russian Folk Music
Taking on various styles and forms of early Russian music, in the late 19th century, Russian folk music took on a life of its own and became a part of everyday Russian life. Russian folk music is closely tied to regions, villages and each population’s traditions. There are over 300 ethnic groups in Russia, each having a musical legacy of its own.
Traditional instruments include: the balalaika, a three-string, triangular soundboard; the domra, small three or four-stringed variant of the mandolin; the gudok, a three-stringed, pear shaped bowed instrument.
A famous folk song, Kamarinskaya, berates Russian manhood with lyrics like, ''You lie on top of the warm stove all day and never do a lick of work.'' With other well-known folk songs incorporating sentiment and humor such as: Kalinka-Malinka, Ah, Amara-Gorodok, and Vinovata li Ya.
• RussiaIC: History of Russian folk music
• The New York Times: Russian folk music comes to the U.S.
• Guide Guru: Russian folk songs to listen to
• Russia Info-Center: Russian folk music
Russian Pop Music
Russian pop music found its roots in the 1960s, but became much loved by the Russian people in the 1970s. Outside of the widely popular classical music that dominated Russian society, there was a demand for a more relaxed and fun music. Western influence on the Russian pop scene was censored by the state, so Russian pop music had its own unique style. Once the USSR fell, western-style pop music became popular in Russia.
Early Russian pop musicians included Leshchenko Lev, Rotaru Sofia, Alla Pugacheva and Gazmanov Oleg. Modern day pop musicians are Alsou Safina, Vitas, Roma Zhukov and Baskov Nikolay. A few Russian pop songs include I love you, girls, First Snow, Always on My Mind, and He Loves Me.
• Vitas: Fansite for the pop singer
• SRAS.org: Introduction of the modern Russian scene
• Russmus.net: Modern Russian Dance/Pop music intro
• The Baltic Times: New wave of popular music
Russian music is as diverse as the hundreds of ethnic groups that make up the country. All genres of Russian music have deep roots within the culture of this melodic and musically masterful group of people. This open-minded culture has embraced music from around the world and taken it to heart creating variations of opera, religious, pop and folk music and making it their own.
• Hymn.ru: Russian Anthems museum
• SIUE.edu: Chronology of Russian/Soviet Composers
• Classical.ru: Classical music in Russia
• Biu.ac.il: Russian music before Glinka
• Bucknell.edu: Russian music studies program