Friday, October 16, 2009

Russian Folk Music : 1 (Lydia Andreyevna Ruslanova)

Today my teacher, Nikolai Konstantinovich Gorlov brought me a song book commemorating Lydia Andreyevna Ruslanova (Лидия Андреевна Русланова), one of the greatest performers of Russian folk songs. One of my favourite song "Charming Eyes" was sung by her, hence my teacher promised to find the score and lyrics, and he did! And who will forget "Katchusha" that was written especially for her during war-time Russia! (Katchusha is also the Chinese name of my blog which means Katchusha's Diary.)

Published in 1973, in the year that she died, the long introduction at the beginning of the book gave us a glimpse of the rough time she had as a child and how early misery in life, led her into singing. But her life even unfolded into greater drama...and she sang until the day she died.

"The first real song that I heard was that from crying-- when my father was conscripted to the war, my grandmother was tied to the cart and wailed." (Lydia Andreyevna Ruslanova)

Sources on the internet weave into such a personal portrait of her:

She was born in Chernavka in 1900 near Saratov, into a peasant family, her parents both died by the time she was five—her father was killed in the war in the Russo-Japanese war and her mother died soon after—so she spent most of her childhood in an orphanage.She began singing when she joined the local parish children's choir, and she soon became a soloist.

Ruslanova gave her first concert at the age of 16, to a military audience, where she sang everything she knew. She first started singing for Russian soldiers during the Russian Civil War, and debuted as a professional singer in 1923. She was noted for her peculiar singing voice and timbre, which was a revival of old traditions in which female soloists would perform on festive occasions.
Stamp of Russia devoted to Lidiya Ruslanova, 1999, 2 rub. (Michel 759, Scott 6545)

During the 1930s, Ruslanova became extremely popular. She became an artist of the state association of musical, variety and circus enterprises in 1933, and performed all over Russia throughout the rest of the decade. When second World War broke out, she ceaselessly toured from one front to another, helping to boost the soldiers' courage with her patriotic songs. Her signature songs were Venlenki and Katyusha, written specially for her.

Ruslanova became one of the richest woman in Soviet Russia and even financed the construction of two Katyusha batteries, which she presented to the Red Army in 1942. That same year, she was made an Artist of Honour of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Her rough manners and racy language appealed to the soldiers to such a point that she came to be regarded as a potential threat to the Soviet authorities. In 1948, due to association with Georgy Zhukov, a marshall, who was a strong political opponent of Stalin, Ruslanova's husband General Vladimir Kryuchkov was arrested and Ruslanova followed two years later. Ruslanova was forced to sign a declaration that her husband was guilty of treason, but refused so sentenced to 10 years of camp labour.

In the gulag she was dispatched to, Ruslanova became a star lionized by inmates and administration alike. Therefore, she was moved to a prison cell. Following Stalin's death, she was released on 4 August 1953; she was thin, gray, and had difficulty walking. However, she returned to singing almost immediately. Her spell in prison was unmentioned in the press, until decades after. Although awards and titles bypassed her, Ruslanova presided over the first All-Soviet Festival of Soviet Songs, together with Leonid Utyosov, Mark Bernes, Klavdiya Shuzhenko. She went on singing right up until her death in 1973, at the age of 72.

If you are interested, you could listen or watch these clips:

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