Violin is a Poem of Music, Balalaika its Prose: Fascinating Story of Balalaika
Everyone knows balalaika, but how much do we know about balalaika?
Here it is — narrated just for you! Some additional text written just for you below! Enjoy!
To book a hall for the historically very first concert presenting balalaika to a classical concert audience was almost impossible! That peasant instrument was not welcome into the concert halls, deemed unsuitable for the refine taste of classically cultivated crowd!
But with vision and perseverance it eventually happened.
We are in St. Petersburg on a cold October evening in 1888. The first ever official balalaika concert is about to start! The octet that will perform was established by Vasily Vasilyevich Andreyev in 1886. Andreyev was a visionary and an ambassador for the "renaissance" of balalaika that he transformed from a peasant passtime instrument into a concert one!! The name of his orchestra translates "the club for those who love to play balalaika”; for my Russian friends: Кружок любителей игры на балалайках.
The initial concert was not a failure, but neither a smashing success. Many Russians loved what was Russian, but perhaps a little bit more all that was admired in Europe. And to accept this ordinary simple instrument as a "legitimate" one was for many difficult!
But! The charm of balalaika prevailed and at the majority of following concerts the ovation had no end! The orchestra has grown, survived a revolution, two wars, perestroika, several name changes and it still performs regularly for its 133rd season today under the name of ”The Andreyev State Academic Russian orchestra”.
Who was Vasily Vasilyevich Andreyev? Born in 1861 in a rich family, he studied music and learned to play many instruments. He became a violinist in a court in St. Petersburg.
In the summer of 1883 he visits his mother's manor in Marino and hears a man, Antip Vasilyev, play balalaika.
”I was struck by the rhythm and the original way of playing the balalaika and could not figure out, how such a poor looking, imperfect instrument, with only three strings, could give so many sounds.”
Andreyev decides to learn to play and to improve balalaika to perfection. He becomes so passionate that he dreams about transforming it into a national instrument, so strongly he feels about the soul of balalaika being a soul of Russian people.
He learns how to play, finds a luthier Vladimir Ivanov and together they built the instrument with better wood, enlarged body, shortened neck and fixed frets. By the spring of 1886 the first concert balalaika is ready! And before we know it, Andreyev is approached by the imperial luthier Franc Passersbky who along with him designs different sizes of balalaika: piccolo, prima (the most common), secunda, alto, bass and contrabass.
After the initial concerts in Russia, Andreyev marks an unenexpected success in Paris at the World Exhibition of 1889. Everyone is charmed! Even the famous musician, pianist and composer and an opinionated Anton Rubinstein — also he first laughed at Andreyev's idea to elevate balalaika to a concert instrument, and later embraced it and promote it.
By 1896 Andreyev decides to enlarge the orchestra to 24 members and enrich it by other wonderful Russian instruments like domra. Under the patronage of Nicholas II, the orchestra leaves again to France, for another World Exhibition in Paris of 1900 and performs 25 times in 6 weeks! The uniquness and popularity of balalaika is sealed forever!
Domra (below) is similar to balalaika, has also 3 strings but tuned differently: as prima balalaika has two identical strings and the last tuned four steps higher
(E4- E4- A4), domra is tuned in fourth ( E- A- D). Legend has it that balalaika developed from domra when domra was banned (in mid 1600's) and collected as a "sinful" instrument. Musicians started quickly making new instruments. and to make it fast, they used a triangle shape rather than a round one as it was much easier to make. Balalaika is born!
Balalaika history may be shrouded in mystery, but what is important that this simple peasant instrument caught an eye of someone who saw its uniqueness and took a rocky road to make it visible and played all around the world.
I admire people like that, visionaries who enrich humanity by recognizing the beauty in our midst.
And now, ladies and gentleman, you are for some treat! The charming and unusually musical Anastazia Tyurina, mere 7 years old, will sweep you from your feet!