The first historical evidence of musical life in Russia dates back to the 10th century, when documents attest to the birth of the byliny epos, which was in vogue for several centuries, first having Kiev as its center (11th-12th century), then Novgorod (12th-14th century). Popular song, epic-narrative, monodic or polyphonic, the bylina gradually disappeared with the formation of the Russian state (14th- 15th century), giving way to real folk songs, more rooted in political events and in social aspirations.
● The heritage of popular songs is immense. Among them stand out the burlaki, once sung by the alators of the Volga, and the short and incisive castuske, alluding to current events. Inseparable from singing is dance: the ancient trepak, the Ukrainian gopak , the perepljas, a 5-a-side dance competition, the pridanie, characterized by unbridled momentum, the roundabouts, etc. Popular instrumental music, closely linked to singing, uses various instruments: the gusla, the gudok, the domra and then the balalaika ; fifes, trumpets, flutes, the zalejka and the volinka (wind); the lozki and other percussion instruments.
The cultured music
Together with the popular forms, sacred music (whose presence is historically datable from 988) greatly contributed to the formation of a national musical heritage. In the 16th century, when there was the introduction of the European notation on 5 lines, a great work of revision and classification of all liturgical music was carried out: this led, among other things, to the compilation of the Stoglavyj sobor, a code including a selection of the melodies in use under the reign of Ivan the Terrible, and the introduction of the strocnoe song, with 2 or 3 voices. ● In the seventeenth century, despite official opposition, due to the direct influence of Ukrainian singers and their composer N. Diletsky, sacred music was enriched with forms linked to the Western tradition, a phenomenon that led, in the second half of the century, to kant (which recalls the gymel English), also common to the profane genre, with 3 voices, with a major or minor tonal flavor, while the polyphonically complex ‘spiritual concert’ had already spread (up to 24 voices), which had prominent composers in V. Titov and, in the 18th century, in M. Sozontovic Berezovskij and D. Stepanovic Bortnjanskij.
● In the eighteenth century the nobles, following the example of Peter the Great and Catherine II, felt the need to surround themselves with distinguished men in the field of art and science, drawing largely on Western civilization. In the second half of the century, famous musicians, especially Italians, contributed to the birth of a cultured Russian music: among them the operas F. Araja, B. Galuppi, T. Traetta, G. Paisiello, G. Sarti (director of the Imperial Chapel), D. Cimarosa (director of the Italian Opera in St. Petersburg), C. Cavos(director of the Imperial Theater and author of the first Russian-language operas on Russian subject). Under their influence at the end of the eighteenth century Russian composers had already established themselves: in the theater, EI Fomin, M. Matinskij, VA Paskevic; in the vocal genre, J. Kozlovskij; in the instrumental one, I. Chandoskin.
● In the 19th century. the assimilation of western music extended and the vocal romance was established with SN Titov, AN Titov, A. Varlamov, AF Lvov, author of the national anthem God Save the Tsar (1833). But the nineteenth century was above all the century in which Russian cultured music took on its own physiognomy. Initiators of the national school were AS Dargomyzskij and MI Glinka, creator of the national work with A Life for the Tsar and Ruslan and Lyudmila, in which he originally recovered Russian folklore. Their legacy was collected by the Group of Five, in particular from MP Musorgskij, who was largely inspired, especially in opera, from popular heritage. Other composers, such as AG Rubinstejn, instead clearly referred to German Romanticism or looked for valid forms of expression in eclecticism: among these, by far the most important place is occupied by PI Tchaikovsky, probably the greatest representative of Russian musical history, active in every field with works that still form the basis of the theatrical, symphonic and chamber repertoire. Among the other authors we will mention AS Arenskij, A. Konstantinovic, AN Skrjabin, SV Rachmaninov, whose language harks back to German Late Romanticism.
● The greatest Russian composer of the twentieth century, I. Stravinskij, is placed in a clearly Western tradition, whose biographical story took place completely, starting in 1915, between Europe and the United States. After the outbreak of the revolution in 1917, in addition to Stravinsky, other musicians left the country and moved to the West, Rachmaninov, AT Grecaninov and AK Glazunov. SS Prokof´ev, who had been absent from the Soviet Union since 1918, although sharing its political and ideal choices, returned there in 1933.
● The first phase of the communist regime (up to about 1930) was characterized in the musical field by an open adherence to the western historical avant-gardes, in particular to the experiences of expressionism and the new school of Vienna (A. Schönberg, A. Berg and A. Webern), and from the search for a language that reflected on the level of style the process of revolutionary renewal taking place in the country. The revaluation of the folkloric heritage, the close collaboration with men of theater and cinema (famous among others the collaboration of Prokof´ev with SM Ejzenstejn for Alexander Nevsky), the development of new forms and ways of communication were the focal points of this research. Alongside Prokof´ev and D. Shostakovic, who remain the most important personalities in the Soviet musical history of the twentieth century, there were N. Mjaskovskij, RM Glier, BV Asaf´ev, AA Krejn, JA Saporin, SN Vasilenko and others.
● Stalin’s cultural policy led to an arrest of these experiences, emphasizing the need for music that is easily understandable to the people, inspired by patriotic themes and, above all, clearly linked to the tonal system: on the basis of these principles in 1948 they were accused of ‘bourgeois formalism’ authors such as Prokof´ev, Shostakovic, AI Khacaturjan and others. These directives were also accompanied by a capillary restructuring of musical life, L. Berman, the cellists G. Piatigorski and ML Rostropovic and his wife, the soprano GP Visnevskaja, the violinists D. and I. Ojstrach, LB Kogan etc.