Music of Russia: Wikis


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Music of Russia
Genres classicalfolkpsytrancepophip hopauthor songrock
History (Timeline and Samples)
Awards Pesnya Goda, MTV RMA, RAMP, Silver Galosh
Charts Zvukovaya Dorozhka MK, Chart Dozen
Festivals Grushinsky festival, Nashestvie
National anthem "Hymn of the Russian Federation"
Regional music
AdygeaAltai - Astrakhan - BashkortostanBuryatiaChechnya — Chukotka — Chuvashia — DagestanEvenkia - IngushetiaIrkutskKaliningradKalmykia — Kamchatka — KareliaKhakassia — Khantia-Mansia - Komi Republic - Krasnodar — Mari El — MordoviaNenetsiaOssetiaRostovEthnic RussianSakha — Sakhalin — TatarstanTuvaUdmurtia

Russia is a large and extremely culturally diverse country, with dozens of ethnic groups, each with their own forms of music. Although the majority of Russia's music is produced by Russians, it has also seen contributions by numerous minorities (such as the Jewish, Ukrainians, Gypsies and others) who populated the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and modern day Russia.

Tracing its roots from early traditional songs, Russian music developed through centuries. It includes several prominent 19th century classical composers, such as P.I. Tschaikovsky and N. Rimsky-Korsakov, and Russian romance. The 20th century Soviet music saw the rise of Russian popular music, including bard music and early Russian rock. In modern Russia, Western-style rock and pop music are still the most popular musical forms.




Early history

Modern reconstruction of medieval Russian instruments: there are two different gusli, gudok, horn, buben, drum and svirel

Music existed in ancient Rus since the Middle Ages. Novgorod republic had especially deep traditions in music; its most popular folk hero and character of several songs was Sadko, a gusli musician. The most popular kind of instruments in medieval Russia were string instruments, such as the gusli or gudok. Archeologists have found in Novgorod many gusli and gudoks dating as early as 11th century[1]. Other sorts of instrument included flutes (svirel), tambourines (buben) and such unique instruments as treshchotka. The most popular kind of music, however, was singing. Ballads about epic heroes like Sadko, Ilya Muromets, and others were sung poems. Some of the songs are known to us because of their recorded lyrics.

By the time of Muscovy, there was a distinct line between sacred music of the Russian Orthodox Church and secular music for entertainment. The former draws its tradition from the Byzantine Empire, with key elements being Russian Orthodox bell ringing, as well as choir singing. Neumes were used for musical notation. Secular music used whistles and string instruments, and was played on holidays by skomorokhs — jesters and minstrels who attended to the noble court. During the reactionary period of the Great Russian Schism in the 16th century, skomorokhs along with their secular music were banned several times, but despite restrictions, the tradition survived.[2]

18th and 19th century: Russian Classical music

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, a prominent Russian composer of 19th century
See also: Music of the Russian Enlightenment, Opera of the Russian Enlightenment and Russian Opera

Russia has a long history of classical music innovation. In the 18th century, Peter the Great's reforms brought western music fashion to Russia. During the subsequent reign of Empresses Elisabeth and Catherine, the Russian imperial court attracted many prominent musicians of the time, mostly from Italy[2]. They brought with them Italian traditions of opera and classical music in general, to inspire future generations of Russian composers.

The first important Russian composer was Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857), who composed the early Russian operas Ivan Susanin and Ruslan and Lyudmila. They were neither the first operas in the Russian language nor the first by a Russian, but they gained fame for relying on distinctively Russian tunes and themes. Glinka was taking his inspiration from Russia's sacred and folk music, as well as from Italian operatic tradition.

Russian folk music remained the general influence for the younger generation composers. A group that styled itself "Mighty Five", (Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Balakirev, Borodin and César Cui) proclaimed its purpose to compose and popularize Russian national tradition in classical music. Among the "Mighty Five's" most notable compositions were the operas The Snow Maiden (Snegurochka), Sadko, Boris Godunov, Prince Igor, Khovanshchina, and symphonic suite Scheherazade. Most of Glinka's and "Mighty Five's" works were based on Russian history, fairy tales and fantasy fiction, and are regarded as masterpieces of romantic nationalism in music.

This period also saw the foundation of the Russian Musical Society in 1859, led by composers Anton and Nikolay Rubinstein. Glinka and the Five were the Russian Music Society's rivals, with the Five embracing their Russian national identity and the RMS being musically conservative.

Another prominent Russian composer was Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, best known for ballets like Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker. He remains Russia's best-known composer outside Russia, and his fame as the country's most famous composer is unquestioned.

The late 19th and early 20th century saw the third wave of Russian classics: Stravinsky, Scriabin, Sergei Prokofiev and Shostakovich. They were experimental in style and musical language. Some of them emigrated after Russian revolution, while others, like Prokofiev, remained and contributed to Soviet music as well.

In the late 19th to early 20th centuries, romances—in exotic Russian, Caucasian, Gypsy and Italian styles—became very popular. The greatest and most popular singers of romances usually sang in operas at the same time. The most popular was Fyodor Shalyapin. Singers usually composed music and wrote the lyrics, such as Alexander Vertinsky, Konstantin Sokolsky, Pyotr Leshchenko.

20th century: Soviet music

Valentin Parnakh's the first Soviet jazz orchestra

After the Russian Revolution, cultural field of Russian music has changed dramatically. Early 1920s were the era of avant-garde experiments, inspired by the "revolutionary spirit" of the era. New trends in music (like music based on synthetic chords) were proposed by enthusiastic clubs such as Association for Contemporary Music[3].

But later with 1930's and Joseph Stalin arriving, music was brought within certain boundaries of content and innovation. Classicism was favoured, and experimentation discouraged[4]. (For example, Shostakovich's veristic opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District was denounced in Pravda newspaper as "formalism" and soon removed from theatres for years).

The music patriarchs of the era were Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Aram Khachaturian, whose career started before the Revolution. With time, a wave of younger Soviet composers, including Georgy Sviridov, Tikhon Khrennikov, Alfred Schnittke managed to break through, partially thanks to Soviet education system[3]. Union of Soviet Composers was established in 1932, and became the major regulatory body in Russia's music.

Jazz music was introduced to Soviet audiences by Valentin Parnakh in 1920s. Singer Leonid Uteosov and film score composer Isaak Dunayevsky helped its popularity, especially with popular comedy movie Jolly Fellows that featured jazz soundtrack. Eddie Rosner, Oleg Lundstrem and others contributed to soviet jazz music.

Alla Pugachova, soviet 1970-80's pop star

Film soundtracks produced a significant part of popular Soviet/Russian songs of the time, as well as of orchestral and experimental music. 1930's saw Prokofiev's scores for Sergei Eizenshtein's epic movies, and also soundtracks by Dunayevsky that ranged from classical pieces to popular jazz, Among the pioneers of soviet electronica, was 1970's ambient composer Eduard Artemiev, best known for his scores to Tarkovsky's science fiction films.

The 1960s and 1970s saw the beginning of modern Russian pop and rock music. It started with the wave of VIA's (vocal-instrumental ensemble), a specific sort of music bands performing radio-friendly pop, rock and folk, composed by members of Union of Composers and approved by censorship. This wave begun with Pojuschie Gitary and Pesnyary, popular VIA bands also included Tcvety, Zemlyane and Verasy.

It was also the time of new individual pop stars such as Sofia Rotaru, Alla Pugacheva, Yuri Antonov. Many of them remain popular to this day. They were the mainstream of Soviet music media, headliners of festivals such as Pesnya Goda, Sopot, Golden Orpheus. 1977 saw also establishment of Moskovsky Komsomolets hit parade, the Russia's first music chart.

Kino, an iconic soviet post punk band

Music publishing and promotion in Soviet Union was state monopoly. To earn money and fame from their talent, Soviet musicians had to assign to state-owned label Melodia. This meant to accept certain boundaries of experimentation, the family-friendly performance and politically neutral lyrics, favoured by censors. Meanwhile, with new sound recording technologies arriving, it became possible for common fans to record and exchange their music via magnetic tape recorders. This helped underground music subculture (such as bard and rock music) to flourish despite being ignored by the state-owned media[5].

"Bards" or "authors' song" (авторская песня) is an umbrella term for the singers-songwriters movement that arose at the early 1960s. It can be compared to the American folk revival movement of the 60's, with their simple single-guitar arrangements and poetical lyrics. Initially ignored by the state media, bards like Vladimir Vysotsky, Bulat Okudzhava, Alexander Galich gained so much popularity that they finished being distributed by the state owned Melodiya record company. The largest festival of bard music is Grushinsky festival, held annually since 1968.

Rock music came to Soviet Russia in the late 1960s with Beatlemania, and many rock bands arose during late 1970s: Mashina Vremeni, Aquarium, Autograph. Unlike VIAs, this bands were not allowed to publish their music and remained in underground. The "golden age" of Russian rock is widely considered to have been the 1980s. Censorship mitigated, rock clubs opened in Leningrad and Moscow, and soon rock became mainstream[6] Popular bands of that time include Kino, Alisa, Aria, DDT, Nautilus Pompilius, Grazhdanskaya Oborona. New wave and post punk were the trend in 80's Russian rock [5].

21st century: Modern Russian music

t.A.T.u., a Russian pop group that broke through to Western charts
Aria, Russia's pioneering Heavy metal band

The quantity of musical projects in modern Russia is enormous.

Russian pop music is well developed, and enjoys mainstream success via pop music media such as MTV Russia, Muz TV and various radio stations. A number of pop artists have broken through in recent years. The Russian duet t.A.T.u is the most successful Russian pop band of its time. They have reached number one in many countries around the world, with several of their singles and albums grossing more money and popularity than any other Russian band to date.[citation needed] Other popular artists include Dima Bilan, the Eurovision 2008 winner, as well as Philipp Kirkorov, Vitas and Alsou. Music producers like Igor Krutoy, Maxim Fadeev, Ivan Shapovalov[7], Igor Matvienko, and Konstantin Meladze control a major share of Russia's pop music market, in some ways continuing the Soviet style of artist management.

The rock music scene has gradually evolved from the united movement into several different subgenres similar to those found in the West. There's youth pop rock and alternative rock (Mumiy Troll, Zemfira, Splean, Bi-2, Zveri). There's punk rock, ska and grunge (Korol i Shut, Pilot, Leningrad, Distemper, Elisium). The heavy metal scene has grown substantially, with new bands playing Power and Progressive Metal (Catharsis, Epidemia, Shadow Host, Mechanical Poet), and Pagan Metal (Butterfly Temple, Temnozor).[8]

Rock music media has become prevalent in modern Russia. The most notable is Nashe Radio, which is promoting classic rock and pop punk. Its Chart Dozen (Чартова дюжина) is the main rock chart in Russia[9], and its Nashestvie rock festival attracts around 100,000 fans annually and was dubbed "Russian Woodstock" by the media[10]. Others include A-One TV channel, specializing in alternative music and hardcore. It has promoted bands like Amatory, Tracktor Bowling and Slot, and awarded many of them with its Russian Alternative Music Prize[11]. Radio Maximum broadcasts both Russian and western modern pop and rock as well.

Other types of music include folk rock (Melnitsa), trip hop (Linda) and reggae (Jah Division). Hip Hop/Rap is represented by Bad Balance, Kasta, Ligalize and Mnogotochie. There's also an experimental rapcore scene headlined by Dolphin and Kirpichi.

A specific, exclusively Russian kind of music has emerged, that mixes criminal songs, bard and romance music. It is labelled "Russian chanson" (a neologism popularized by its main promoter, Radio Chanson). Its main artists include Mikhail Krug, Mikhail Shufutinsky, and Alexander Rosenbaum. With lyrics about daily life and society, and frequent romanticisation of the criminal underworld, chanson is especially popular among adult males of the lower social class.[12][13]

Electronic music in modern Russia is underdeveloped in comparison to other genres. This is largely due to a lack of promotion.[14] There are some independent underground acts performing IDM, downtempo, house, and trance (including tracker music, scene and Dark psytrance), and broadcasting their work via internet radio. They include Parasense, Fungus Funk, Kindzadza, Lesnikov-16, Yolochnye Igrushki and Messer Für Frau Müller. Of the few artists that broke through to the mainstream media, there are PPK[15] and DJ Groove[16], that exploit Soviet movie soundtracks for their dance remixes.

Ethnic roots music

Russia today is a multi-ethnic state with over 300 ethnicities living under one flag. Each of these ethnic groups has their own indigenous folk, sacred and in some cases art music, which can loosely be categorized together under the guise of Ethnic roots music, or folk music. This category can further be broken down into folkloric (modern adaptations of folk material, and authentic presentations of ethnic music).


In recent years, Adygea has seen the formation of a number of new musical institutions. These include two orchestras, one of which (Russkaya Udal), uses folk instruments, and a chamber music theater.

Adygea's national anthem was written by Iskhak Shumafovich Mashbash; music—by Umar Khatsitsovich Tkhabisimov.


Altay is a Central Asian region, known for traditional epics and a number of folk instruments.


The first major study of Bashkir music appeared in 1897, when ethnographer Rybakov S.G. wrote Music and Songs of the Ural's Muslims and Studies of Their Way of Life. Later, Lebedinskiy L.N. collected numerous folk songs in Bashkortostan beginning in 1930. The 1968 foundation of the Ufa State Institute of Arts sponsored research in the field.

The kurai is the most important instrument in the Bashkir ensemble.


The Buryats of the far east is known for distinctive folk music which uses the two-stringed horsehead fiddle, or morin khuur. The style has no polyphony and has little melodic innovation. Narrative structures are very common, many of them long epics which claim to be the last song of a famous hero, such as in the Last Song of Rinchin Dorzhin. Modern Buryat musicians include the band Uragsha, which uniquely combines Siberian and Russian language lyrics with rock and Buryat folk songs.


Alongside the Chechen rebellion of the 1990s came a resurgence in Chechen national identity, of which music is a major part. People like Said Khachukayev became prominent promoting Chechen music.

The Chechen national anthem is said to be "Death or Freedom", an ancient song of uncertain origin.


Dagestan's most famous composer may be Gotfrid Hasanov, who is said to be the first professional composer from Dagestan. He wrote the first Dagestani opera, Khochbar, in 1945, and recorded a great deal of folk music from all the peoples of Dagestan.


Karelians are Finnish, and so much of their music is the same as Finnish music. The Kalevala is a very important part of traditional music; it is a recitation of Finnish legends, and is considered an integral part of the Finnish folk identity.

The Karelian Folk Music Ensemble is a prominent folk group.


Ossetians are people of the Caucasian Region, and thus Ossetian Music and Dance has similar themes to Music of Chechnya and Music of Dagestan.


Carnival in Petrograd in about 1919

Archeology and direct evidence show a variety of musical instruments in ancient Russia. Authentic folk instruments include the Livenka (accordion) and woodwinds like zhaleika, svirel and kugikli, as well as numerous percussion instruments: buben, bubenci, kokshnik, korobochka, lozhki, rubel, treschetka, vertushka and zvonchalka.

Chastushkas are a kind of Russian folk song with a long history. They are typically rapped, and are humorous or satiric.

During the 19th century, Count Uvarov led a campaign of nationalist revival which initiated the first professional orchestra with traditional instruments, beginning with Vasily Andreyev, who used the balalaika in an orchestra late in the century. Just after the dawn of the 20th century, Mitrofan Pyatnitsky founded the Pyatnitsky Choir, which used rural peasant singers and traditional sounds.


Shamanism remains an important cultural practice of the ethnic groups of Siberia and Sakhalin, where several dozen groups live. The Yakuts are the largest, and are known for their olonkho songs and the khomus, a Jew's harp.


Tatar folk music have rhythmic peculiarities and pentatonic intonation in common with nations of the Volga area, who are ethnically Finno-Ugric and Turkic. Singing girls, renowned for their subtlety and grace, are a prominent component of Tatar folk music. Instruments include the kubyz (violin), kurai (flute) and talianka (accordion).


Tuvan throat singing, or xoomii, is famous worldwide, primarily for its novelty. The style is highly unusual and foreign to most listeners, who typically find it inaccessible and amelodic. In throat singing, the natural harmonic resonances of the lips and mouth are tuned to select certain overtones. The style was first recorded by Ted Levin, who helped catalogue a number of different styles. These are include borbannadir (which is compared to the sound of a flowing river), sygyt (similar to whistling), xoomii, chylandyk (likened to chirping crickets) and ezengileer (like a horses trotting). Of particular international fame are the group Huun-Huur-Tu and master throat singer Kongar-ool Ondar.

Ukrainian music

Although Ukraine is an independent country since 1991, Ukrainians constitute the second-largest ethnic minority in Russia. The bandura is the most important and distinctive instrument of the Ukrainian folk tradition, and was utilized by court musicians in the various Tsarist courts. The kobzars, a kind of wandering performing who composed dumy, or folk epics. Many of the early classical composers of Russia such as Dmytri Bortniansky, Maksym Berezovsky and Artemiy Vedel and a significant number of others were of Ukrainian descent.

See also


  • Broughton, Simon and Didenko, Tatiana. "Music of the People". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 248–254. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
  1. ^ Русские музыкальные инструменты
  2. ^ a b Russian Music before Glinka:A Look from the Beginning of the Third Millennium. Marina Ritzarev (Rytsareva), Bar-Ilan University
  3. ^ a b Amy Nelson. Music for the Revolution. Musicians and Power in Early Soviet Russia. Penn State University Press, 2004. 346 pages. ISBN 978-0-271-02369-4
  4. ^ Soviet Music and Society under Lenin and Stalin: The Baton and Sickle. Edited by Neil Edmunds. Routledge, 2009. Pages: 264. ISBN 978-0-415-54620-1
  5. ^ a b History of Rock Music in Russia
  6. ^ Walter Gerald Moss. A History Of Russia: Since 1855, Volume 2. Anthem Series on Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies. Anthem Press, 2004. 643 pages.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Diverse Genres of Modern Music in Russia -
  9. ^ The Moscow News - Chartova Dyuzhina
  10. ^ Article: A Russian Woodstock: rock and roll and revolution?; not for this generation.(Nashestviye Festival)
  11. ^ Russian alternative rock RAMPed up
  12. ^ Modern Russian History in the Mirror of Criminal Song - An academic article
  13. ^ Notes From a Russian Musical Underground - An NY Times article about modern Russian Chanson]
  14. ^ Российская электронная музыка - общая ситуация.
  15. ^
  16. ^ Staroe Radio: Where Samples Come From


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