is a revision of an article of mine published in the Italian
bimonthly "Seicorde" [ Note 1 ], a guitar magazine that ended its life in
1995. To my knowledge it was the first article about this subject
published in the Italian language (after the most significant article by
Matanya Ophee in a concurrent magazine, which was published some 7 years
before mine [ Note 2 ]). I was induced to republish it in English not only to
make it available to a wider audience, but also because for editorial
purposes part of the original text and all the end notes were cut in the
first publication, so I could not give due credit to my references.
But it was my first published article, so I was glad for it to appear
anyhow. Some years later I noticed also that some of the information
contained therein was not completely exact.
Since the collapse of the Berlin wall in 1989, the countries of eastern
European have exploded in a painful big-bang that has changed the geography
of Europe and Asia drastically. The new Russia was born, now being part of
the Community of Independent States (CIS) that replaces the former USSR.
The guitar fraternity in Russia has been living for more than 70 years in
total isolation, prevented from being in touch with the West. The presence
of many types of the instrument that we call "guitar" has been a constant
one in Russian music life in all periods, having very old origins. But
only recently has this guitar world started opening to western Europe, and
we still know far too little about Russian composers for guitar and Russian
It was quite difficult for me to get information about some
Russian guitarists, due both to the ever-present difficulties in
communication (it is still difficult just to send a fax to Moscow during
the day time) and to the problems of language comprehension.|
In the past, references to the Soviet guitar world in Western music literature were always very scarce, and only in recent years has a subtle breath from that guitar world started blowing beyond the Urals. I wish to thank especially the guitarists Mikhail Goldort from Novosibirsk (central Siberia) and Piero Bonaguri, teacher at the Conservatory of Rovigo (Italy) as well as the composer Umberto Bombardelli, who helped me in collecting more information.
The guitar was not the only known plucked instrument in Russia; two other
instruments at least are worthy of mention: the domra and the balalaika.
The domra is nowadays known in two variants with three or four metallic
strings and in different sizes. It has a triangular shape, is tuned by
fourths, and is played by means of a plectrum. It is the most ancient
plucked instrument, having been imported by the Mongols during the 13th
century. Its tremolo is similar to the one of the Neapolitan mandolin and
its range is large, due to its having 16 frets up to the junction of the
neck. It is now employed both as a solo instrument and in an orchestra,
together with the balalaika .
The guitar appeared in Russia during the 18th century, in a society far
behind the European one in development. However, at the first half of the
19th century it was already known as a national instrument: the Russian
guitar. Its own peculiarities were the tuning by thirds on the notes of
the G scale, and having seven strings. It is known by the tender-sounding
name of "semistrunaia" (a composite noun made from "sem' " = seven and
"struny" = strings). Its popularity grew among the people of all ranks,
both middle and upper class, as described by many Russian poets and
|The main differences between the 6-string and 7-string guitars are naturally not only related to the number of the strings, but to the intervals between them. We recognize in the two Russian systems analogies with the instrument employed by Straube and Geminiani, tuned in thirds, or the one used by Boccherini, tuned in fourths. In Russia the distinction between these two tunings has caused intense rivalry between two opposing groups of supporters: the "zapadniki", a word that means western-oriented, and the "slavophils". This division has lasted practically up to our day. It is a fact that the repertory for the 7-string instrument, though diminished in comparison to the one for the 6-string guitar, is still thriving [ Note 5 ]. However, many guitarists of the past played both instruments: Andrei Sychra (1773-1850) himself, beside his devotion to the Russian guitar [ Note 6 ]; and certainly many others after him, such as Vasiliy Lebedev (1867-1907), Piotr Isakov (1886-1958), and many others, of whom we know nothing other than their names [ Note 7 ].|
It is well known that the prominent composer Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) knew at Villadolid the skillful flamenco guitarist Felix Castilla,
who gave him the inspiration for the First Spanish Overture [ Note 8 ]. His
interest in the guitar would have been known to Russian guitarists of his epoch: it is not by chance that the patriarch of the seven-string guitar,
the Lithuanian Andrei Sychra, transcribed in full for two guitars two of Glinka's greatest operas: A life for the Czar and Ruslan i Ludmila.
The popular tradition always had a big influence in Russian music, which
influence has continued up to our day; one thinks of the great importance
of popular tales in the imagination of Russian composers like Musorgsky or
The contacts between Russian guitarists and Europe were important. For example, Nikolai Makarov (1810?-1890?), a 7-string guitarist and author of a book of memoirs, lived in Warsaw. He was a companion on gallant evenings of Fryderyk Chopin and other virtuosos of those years. [ Note 9 ]
After the revolution of 1917 and the events that followed, the closing off
to the majority of important western musical experiences instituted by the
USSR initiated a critical period in the history of the 6-string guitar,
which was already showing a tradition of open sharing with the West. That
year, a talented painter by the name of Vladimir Bobritzki (1898-1986) left
his Ukrainian birthland forever, as did many other artists from all over
Russia. The western world then afforded him Segovia's friendship and a new
name: Bobri [ Note 10 ].
After that, in 1948, came the method book by
Alexander Ivanov-Kramskoi (1912-1973), a 6-string guitarist, mainly
designed for those teaching themselves. This text is still used frequently
in conservatories, together with other European methods.|
As to the study of history and literature of the Russian guitar in this transition period, the works by Vladimir Mashkievic (1888-1971) had the most significant impact. He was an erudite musical critic, a guitarist, a meticolous collector and engineer, who gave concerts on the 7- and 10-string guitar. He dedicated himself to music criticism while working in Kharkov as an engineer. He founded a monthly guitar magazine Gitara i gitaristy with a circulation primarily in the region of the Don. His publications appeared also in Italian guitar journals of those years [ Note 11 ].
Another remarkable figure is Boris Perott (1882-1958), if for no other reason than he was Julian Bream's teacher and presented Bream to Segovia. He was a practicing surgeon, a guitar virtuoso and teacher who worked in London since the Twenties, where he founded the Philharmonic Society, which often gave opportunity to the young Julian [ Note 12 ].
Nowadays the interest for the guitar in Russia is in a renewal phase. The
number of festivals, courses and competitions is on the increase in all the
Republics. Unluckily the main problems are always the poor availability of
scores and the high prices of good guitars. One finds that, in 1993, a
guitar for study cost at least 1,000,000 rubles and a discreet concert instrument
at least the double, a sum equal to about two years of a medium-level salary [ Note 13 ].
His curriculum vitae is typical. Mikhail Goldort was born in Novosibirsk in 1966. He started the study of the guitar at
13 years of age in classes with Yuri Kuzin.
He became a student at the Conservatory of Novosibirsk; then he started the intense
activity of a young concert player. He often took part in the Pansoviet
competitions and in international festivals of guitar in Moscow, Poltava
and Donietsk (Ukraina). In 1990 he qualified as the winner at the
Panrussian concourse of guitarists. In the festival of Novosibirsk in 1991
he received the Grand Prize. He took part in international competitions
and tournèes in Cuba, Spain and Austria; then he was invited by Alvaro Pierri in Canada,
where unluckily he was not allowed to go. His recitals at the festival of Lambach
(Austria) in 1989 established him as a virtuoso. In 1991 he was admitted
to the master course in the Musical Academy of Moscow to study with Professor Alexander Frauchi.
From 1993 to 1996 he has been teaching at the the Conservatory of Music
"M.I. Glinka" of his city. Now he has moved to Saint Petersburg.|
The society most responsible in Moscow for the organization of concerts in Russia is the Goskonzert, which has been functioning for many years.
In the former USSR there were about 30 conservatories
of music [ Note 14 ].
To my knowledge there are still no chairs of
lute, but the lute literature is very beloved and frequently played (usually on the guitar) [ Note 15 ].|
At present Alexander Frauchi (1954) is Professor of Guitar at the Russian Musical Academy at Moscow, together with the older Nikolay Komoliatov (1942). The "Ciaikovsky" Conservatory of Moscow had at one time a chair of guitar, where Natalia Ivanova-Kramskaia, daughter of Aleksandr Ivanov-Kramskoi, taught, but it was suppressed [ Note 16 ].
The second most important chair of guitar is situated in Saint Petersburg (formerly Leningrad). In the Conservatory Evgeni Pheodorovich Larionov (1940) teaches but only from 1995, Jadviga Kavaleskaia (1922) has beeen teaching for many years in the College "M. P. Musorgski" (I am indebted to Sergey Ilyin for this information).
Another chair of guitar is situated in Novosibirsk, the central main Siberian city, has been active since 35 years ago, and it is very accredited in Russia. Students come there from every region on the East of the Pacific Sea. The chair of Popular Instruments was held by Arcadii Burkhanov and Mikhail Goldort (up 1996). They were both Yuri Kuzin's pupils. The class had eleven pupils guitarists in a total population of about 400 students (1993). The Prof. Burkhanov was born in 1958. After his studies with Natalia Ivanova-Kramskaia and Kliuev in guitar and lute he specialized with Stepan Rak and John Duarte. In Novosibirsk there are also the Opera and Ballet Theatre, called the Siberian "Bolshoi", a Symphonic Orchestra directed by Arnold Kaz, the violinistic school Sachar Bron and the Philharmonic. In the city there are constantly festivals and concerts.
Besides in the Conservatories, the guitar is taught in the four-year musical colleges as well.
The Musical Institute of Voronezh, a city with 1.5 million inhabitants in the central Russia, where Vasiliy Sarenko was born in 1814, has a class of guitar. In 1992, the city hosted the first "International Competition for Young Guitarists" open to outsiders in the history of Russia, and an important festival, "Guitar in Russia". These events introduced many young Russian "enfant prodige" of the guitar to the public; the rebirth of interest in the guitar in Russia was possible, thanks to their enthusiasm.
We will follow subsequent events with great attention, as it will be possible, and will report about them in future articles.
I wish to thank Dr. Michael Penny, Assoc. Professor of Voice at Union University of Jackson, Tennesse (USA),
for his valuable help in assisting me during the phase of translation and reconstruction of this
article and Prof. Filippo Michelangeli, director of the magazine Suonare News (and formerly Seicorde) for
his permission for the republication and redistribution of the former original Italian article
published in his Seicorde.