Since the collapse of the Berlin wall in 1989, the countries of eastern European have exploded in a painful big-bang that has changed the geography of Europe and Asia drastically. The new Russia was born, now being part of the Community of Independent States (CIS) that replaces the former USSR. The guitar fraternity in Russia has been living for more than 70 years in total isolation, prevented from being in touch with the West. The presence of many types of the instrument that we call “guitar” has been a constant one in Russian music life in all periods, having very old origins. But only recently has this guitar world started opening to western Europe, and we still know far too little about Russian composers for guitar and Russian guitarists. It was quite difficult for me to get information about some Russian guitarists, due both to the ever-present difficulties in communication (it is still difficult just to send a fax to Moscow during the day time)and to the problems of language comprehension.
The Guitar of the Czars- a new English summary redaction
In the past, references to the Soviet guitar world in Western music literature were always very scarce, and only in recent years has a subtle breath from that guitar world started blowing beyond the Urals. I wish to thank especially the guitarists Mikhail Goldort from Novosibirsk (central Siberia)and Piero Bonaguri, teacher at the Conservatory of Rovigo (Italy) as well as the composer Umberto Bombardelli, who helped me in collecting more information.
At the beginning there was the domra
The guitar was not the only known plucked instrument in Russia; two other instruments at least are worthy of mention: the domra and the balalaika. The domra is nowadays known in two variants with three or four metallic strings and in different sizes. It has a triangular shape, is tuned by fourths,and is played by means of a plectrum.
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It is the most ancient plucked instrument, having been imported by the Mongols during the 13th century. Its tremolo is similar to the one of the Neapolitan mandolin and its range is large, due to its having 16 frets up to the junction of the neck. It is now employed both as a solo instrument and in an orchestra,together with the balalaika .
The balalaika has a peculiar triangular shape and three strings, among which two are tuned in unison and the other a fourth up. It appeared first during the 17th century. It was able to oust the domra in popularity, thanks to the preference of the Czars. It is played both by fingers and with the plectrum; from the last years of the Nineteenth Century it has existed in different sizes which cover all the frequency spectrum of the orchestra.
The guitar appeared in Russia during the 18th century, in a society far behind the European one in development. However, at the first half of the 19th century it was already known as a national instrument: the Russian guitar. Its own peculiarities were the tuning by thirds on the notes of the G scale,and having seven strings. It is known by the tender-sounding name of “semistrunaia” (a composite noun made from
“sem’ ” =seven and “struny” = strings).
Its popularity grew among the people of all ranks, both middle and upper class, as described by many Russian poets and writers. There are also many variants of this main type, in number of strings and dimensions.By studying the surviving photos of Russian guitarists of the last century, re-published in the volume Guitar in Russia and USSR (see photo in the full PDF article linked below), we see that the guitar with 7 strings on the neck and 4 strings outside of the neck was very popular. The famous photograph of
Valerian Rusanov, one of the first Russian guitar historians, with his 11-string guitar is significant in this respect. This instrument shared favor with the six string guitar (the so-called“shestistrunaia“, from “shest,” which means “six” ) tuned as in the West, and many other types. Continue reading full article PDF by clicking here. For the Silo, Marco Bazzotti.