The Public Records 12/17/18
Welcome again to The Public Records’ album of the week. The last two weeks have seen both French and English cafe music respectively. From the salons of post Napoleonic France to the cabarets of post World War 1 England, the music of the commoners was zesty experience where ‘bawdy’ and ‘obscene’ themes could be explored. For the beauty of music is that, unlike aristocratic bloodlines, anyone can be born with a set of good ears and the ability to produce tunes.
This week, we’ll continue with our folk music themes; however, this time we are jumping from to east and exploring a different corner of Europe – namely Russia. For our album this week, The Public Records happily shares with you Balalaika Melodies (Fiesta, 196?)
The balalaika is a triangular shaped, 3 stringed instrumental made from maple and topped with pine. It is similar to the Turkish saz and other central Asian instruments due to its limited amount of strings (two of which are tuned to the same not while the third is tuned a perfect 4th above the bottom). Traditionally the frets on the balalaika, like the Turkish saz and the central Asian string instruments, were not built into the neck – like guitars – this allows the players to move the frets up and down the instrument allowing for those exotic ‘eastern’ sounds. Modern versions are fretted.
The balalaika, like the the violin, comes in all sizes and each size produces a fitting tone. The balalaika ranges from the piccolo to the contra-bass size and like the violin, full balalaika orchestras are a thing. As for the name, the modern term balalaika was first seen in Russian documentation from a guard’s logbook from the Moscow kremlin in 1688 when two civilians were cited for a drunk and disorderly conduct – apparently they were causing a ruckus.
In the second half of the 19th century, Vasily Andreyev, a professional violinist in St. Petersburg, standardized the instrument. While before, the balalaika ranged from 2 – 6 strings, it was now patented to 3 and the current ranges in size were set. Piggy backing off of that a few years later, another St. Petersburgian, added a set of chromatic frets to the neck and the modern instrument was born. The balalaika movement in Russia and then the Soviet Union was so popular that even the military symphony orchestra and Red Army Choir would arrange pieces to have this instrument fit into their arrangements.
So come on down this week and hear what the largest country in the world is raging about! With the nasty weather outside, our lovely mood lighting inside, and several Absoluts (we know, we know – it’s Swedish, but that’s as close as it gets here) later, you’ll be wolf whistling and Cossack kicking out your legs at the knees to these peppy instrumentals.