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On the “Russian” in Russian Music: a Lecture by Roman Nasonov

While pondering the nature of Russian music, Roman Nasonov characterizes it as “beautiful, full of strong emotions and well-remembered.” Through ten examples from folklore singing and orthodox church chants to 19th and 20th century classical composers and Soviet popular songs, Nasonov problematizes the identification of music as “Russian” by showing the complexity of its history. While its roots may be found in local folklore or the Byzantine choral tradition, the major composers who stand behind the creation of the “national” canon (Mikhail Glinka, Alexander Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, etc.) got their education in Europe or at least travelled there extensively. In their world-recognised masterpieces, Russians were sometimes presented as “Easterners” compared to the “West” and as “Westerners” when compared to the “East.” Was their identity constructed and predicated on the expectations of European listeners and music lovers?


FULL LIST OF MUSIC EXAMPLES:

Cossack Song” by Lidia Gavryushina

Cherubikon” (The Valaam Monastery)

Mikhail Glinka, chorus “Glory, Glory to you, holy Rus'” from “A Life for the Tsar” opera (performed by MEPhI choir)

Modest Mussorgsky, monologue: “I have attained supreme power” from Boris Godunov (performed by Yevgeny Nesterenko)

Alexander Borodin, “The Polovtsian Dances” from Prince Igor (Bolshoi Theater, 1992)

Igor Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring (choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky; performed by Yulia Makhalina and Alexandra Iosifidi)

Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Romeo and Juliet, by The London Symphony Orchestra (Valery Gergiev)

Sergei Rachmaninoff, “Vocalise

Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 Leningrad, Invasion theme

Viktor Tsoi and Kino, “Peremen!” (“We are waiting for changes”)


RECOMMENDED FURTHER READINGS:

Frolova-Walker, Marina. Russian Music and Nationalism from Glinka to Stalin. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007.

Hakobian, Levon. Music of the Soviet Era: 1917 – 1991. London and New York: Routledge, 2018.

Slonimsky, Nicolas. Writings on Music, Volume 2: Russian and Soviet Music and Composers. New York and London: Routledge, 2003.

Taruskin, Richard. On Russian Music. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2008.

Taruskin, Richard. Russian Music at Home and Abroad: New Essays. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2017.


A HISTORY OF RUSSIAN CULTURE: ESSENTIALS

A series of seven lectures conducted by prominent Russian scholars in cinema, literature, visual art, theater, music, architecture, and design. Each of the speakers presents a broad authorial perspective on their respective fields and puts it in the wider cultural and social landscape. What distinguishes this crash course from others is that it highlights not only Western, but also Eastern influences, relations, and parallels. This series is held in English with Arabic subtitles and will be accompanied by the Russian Culture Manual. Participants: Kirill Adibekov, Alexei Vdovin, Kirill Svetlyakov, Valery Zolotukhin, Roman Nasonov, Anna Bronovitskaya, and Alexandra Sankova. 

Contributors
Roman Nasonov
Music historian. Since 1996 he has been teaching at the Subdepartment of Foreign Music History, Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatory. Associate Professor since 2004. Since 1998 he has been teaching also at the Subdepartment of Literary and Art Criticism and Publicism at the Department of Journalism, Lomonosov Moscow State University. He is the author of Music: Dialogue with God. From Archaic to Electronics (2021).