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continental drift 11/27/23 - russia

by Kirby Wilkerson



Welcome to Continental Drift! As we drift into the chillier part of the year, we’ll also drift into one of the chillier countries; this episode (and long overdue post) is about Russia! You can find the playlist here and listen to the episode here!

The Russian Federation is a country stretching from Eastern Europe to Northern Asia. It is the largest country in the world by area, spanning 11 time zones. It comprises 83 political divisions called federal subjects, is bordered by 14 different countries, and with a population of well over 140 million, it’s the 9th most-populous country in the world and the most populous in Europe. Russia, massive as it is, is vastly multiethnic, and while the national language is Russian, 26 other languages are officially recognized in different administrative regions of the country. 

As we do so often, we’ll start with folk music, and later discuss what exactly you're hearing.

Folk Music

Altai: Kara-Suu // Altyn Tuu

Tatar: Душистый цветок (dushistyy tsvetok) // Galia Gafiatullina

Russian: Korobeiniki // Zhenya Shevchenko

So, lots of diversity in the music of the past segment; all of the songs are from different ethnic groups. Kara-Suu was Altai; throat singing like you hear in the song is an iconic type of folk music in Russia’s Altai Republic and neighboring regions like Mongolia. The second is Tatar, featuring a pentatonic scale like you’d hear in certain types of East Asian folk music, and the third was Russian (as in the ethnic group, not the nationality). You may recognize Korobeiniki as the Tetris theme; as it happens, Tetris was originally programmed in the USSR, so the connection’s always been there. 

During the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, Russian art underwent drastic Westernization due to the efforts of royals like Catherine the Great, and soon Russian classical music was effectively indistinguishable from the music heard in Western Europe. You may have heard of a little-known composer by the name of Tchaikovsky; he was an example of Western music’s heavy influence on Russian art. 

Classical-Era Music

Coffee (Arabian Dance) // Pyotr Tchaikovsky

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy // Pyotr Tchaikovsky

Despite the Western influence, in the mid-19th century, a group of young composers that people nowadays call the Mighty Five banded together to create a musical identity that could come to be seen as uniquely Russian, deliberately steering their compositional choices towards natively Russian musical traditions and explicitly un-Western composition practices.

The Five

Cum mortuis in lingua mortua // Modest Mussorgsky

The Hut on Hen’s Legs // Modest Mussorgsky

In the early days of the Soviet Union, there was a lot of innovation in music, and you can see this in various developments, from tonal experimentation to the invention of the theremin. However, in the 1930s, under Stalin, there was a push towards more classicism in music and against more unorthodox practices. This entire next block mainly showcases Dmitri Shostakovich, who was one of the premiere artists of the time. We’ve got a pretty waltz, a piece that involves the theremin, and an excerpt from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, one of Shostakovich’s operatic works that Stalin reportedly hated; just 2 years after its premiere, a scathing review was written and published in the newspaper, it was banned from being performed in the USSR for almost 3 decades.

Soviet Era Music But Really It’s An Excuse to Play Shostakovich

Waltz No. 2 // Dmitri Shostakovich

Odna (Alone) // Dmitri Shostakovich

Ay! Ay! Ay! (from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) // Dmitri Shostakovich

Rock music found its way into the Soviet Union through Beetlemania, and as tends to occur, musicians started to take influence from it. The problem with this is that in the Soviet Union, record labels were state-owned, so burgeoning rock artists couldn't very well have their Western-influenced music published. As a result, there's a ton of old Soviet rock that existed for decades as underground recordings. This next segment features a band called Mashina Vremeni; the music is from their first album, which was released in the '70s, but was never formally published until 1992.

Soviet-Era Rock

Избавление (Deliverance) // Mashina Vremeni

День рождения (Birthday) // Mashina Vremeni

That about does it for this episode; there's 2 more songs to do though, so quickly about those, the first song is the track I play at the end of each episode because I have the time, it's a jazz rendition of the Tetris theme, so essentially a cover of Korobeiniki. The second is a piece by the classical composer Sergei Rachmaninoff; actually, the entire inspiration for this episode was my little brother asking if I could play this particular piece on air and I was like "bro it's 11 minutes long" and he was like "OK and??" and I couldn't disagree with that reasoning, so that'll close out the show for the night!

Songs I'm Playing Because There's Time To

Tetris A (From "Tetris") // Carlos Eine/Insaneintherainmusic

Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18: 2. Adagio sostenuto // Sergei Rachmaninoff