I heard my first Russian music at the Kings Theatre, Southsea, UK when I was ten years old back in 1949. It was the ballet Prince Igor that had the Polovtsian Dances as part of the score. This later became a popular song – Stranger in Paradise. Ever since then I have listened to Russian music and always found invariably that frisson that brings empathy with the composer, conductor and players and with Russia in general. All these years later I have recently come across Scnittke on Youtube after watching the film of Mikhail Bulgakov’s book ‘The Master and Margarita’. The quote that prefaces the novel is Goethe’s ‘…who are you, then?’ ‘I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good.’
Originally posted at http://www.thesaker.is
(Russia is not Europe) – an example through Music
Two days ago I posted an article entitled “Yes, Russia is *still* ready for war – even nuclear war” in which I wrote the following: “my daughter always laughs that Russian songs are all about only three topics: love, the Motherland and war. She is right. War and everything it represents in an integral part of the Russian culture as is sacrificing your life for the Motherland“. Yesterday my daughter came home from college and introduced me to a song by the famous singer Pelageia which had not heard in the past and, sure enough, it was a song about love, the Motherland and war, all into one. But there was a lot more to this song, and here I need to explain a few things.
Pelageia, possibly one of the best Russian singers ever, even at her young age, spends a lot of time travelling across Russia going into small villages and remote areas to seek out and record ancient songs which have been almost forgotten in the modernity frenzy of the 20th century. In that quest for the ancient Russian folklore Pelageia is supported by numerous other artists and ethnomusicologists who all together are at the root of the modern Russian “ethno-rock” movement.
As I have written many times here, modern Russian history has been a tragic and often ugly one. Not only was Orthodoxy persecuted under several nominally Orthodox Czars (like Peter or Catherine so-called “The Greats”), but the true “deep” Russian culture has been suppressed and even repressed by the Russian elites (Masons, Socialists, Trotskists, Bolsheviks, liberal democrats) to various degrees roughly from 1700 to 2000. As a result, most people in the West got an image of the kind of Russia seen in the books of Tolstoy and the music of Stravinsky. This was not a false image, this “Russia” did (and does still) exist. It is a thin layer of social elites who are detached and alienated from the majority of the real “Russia” which still remains partially hidden and ignored. This is now changing and more and more Russians are rediscovering their cultural, civilizational and spiritual roots and Russia is now slowly returning to her true “self”.
What I propose to do next is to share with you a song which Pelageia has discovered somewhere in the “deep Russia” and which she superbly interprets. I will be honest with you, this exercise will only work for those who have a “musical sensitivity” who are used to feel the deep emotions music convey far beyond the words of a song. If you have a musical ear, you will miss nothing if you do not understand Russian, but if you are a Russian native but don’t have a musical ear, you will never really “get” what this song conveys.
This is a rich and complex song, which conveys are typically Russian range of emotions, but what I hope to get across here is what I believe is one of the single most important truths about Russia and yet one of the most ignored ones: Russia is not Europe. The real, “deep”, Russia (not the one of Tolstoy or Stravinsky) has a completely different ethos, shaped by the Russian immense steppes and forests, by the Orthodox phronema and by numerous wars which threatened the very existence of the Russian nation. If you can, I hope that you will hear the “voice” of this “deep Russia” in this song:
I am fully aware that some of you will smile in condescension and think “what is this guy trying to prove with his little song?! Russians are White, Aryan Christians, of course they are Europeans! They sure don’t look like the Chinese, now do they?!”. And yet all White Aryans as they indeed are, this did not stop the Nazis from considering Russians as Untermenschen (subhumans) and Ukronazis of calling the Russian “Asiatic mongrels”.
And then there is the famous statement of the French Marquis de Cuistine who said “scratch the Russian and you will find the Tatar”. Of course, this was a derogatory racist statement, but fundamentally de Custine was absolutely right: Russians do have a mainly European genetic makeup, but the Russian ethos and culture is much more Asian that European and a Muslim Kazakh or a Buddhist Mongolia will always be infinitely closer to the “Russian soul” than a Latin Pole or Lutheran German.
Listen to Pelageya and her singers and ask yourself: is this singing European in any way?
[Sidebar: True, the Russian will be intimately bound to the Serb or Greek thought the Orthodox faith, but then I would argue that neither Serbs nor Greeks are really “Europeans” either, at least not in the modern sense of the word and not, ancient Greece is NOT the cradle of European civilization, that is a historical fallacy, modern Europe was born from the Frankish Carolingian Sacrum Romanum Imperium (Holy Roman Empire). The Franks were not Greeks or Romans, in fact they were the anti-Romans and anti-Greeks par excellence. The Roman East of Byzantium was the true heir to Rome and ancient Greece. For those of you who want to really understand this and get a detailed explanation, please watch this series on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLBDD48BC06240E29B which explains that really well, or read the following article: http://www.romanity.org/htm/rom.03.en.franks_romans_feudalism_and_doctrine.01.htm%5D
It is also important to understand what I mean by “Russian”. This is not an ethnic or genetic category. There is not such thing as an ethnically “pure” Russian, so when the Ukronazis call the Russians “mongrels” they are, in their own way, quite correct. Not only are most “Russians” not ethnically “pure” (whatever that means – I have big doubts about the very concept of “ethnic purity”), many non-Russians are Russians too. Take for example Defense Minister Shoigu who is a Tuvan (and a Buddhist) or Ramzan Kadyrov who is a Muslim Chechen – they are clearly amongst the most patriotic Russians out there, yet neither one is a Slav (well, Shoigu is, by his mother). Identity is always a multi-layered “cake” and in the case of the category “Russian” it does not in the least mean that you cannot have another cultural or ethnic identity too. Vladimir Vyssotsky (the most famous Russian bard) was half Jewish, the Romanovs were mostly Germans, Pushkin was part African (from what is today modern Ethiopia or, according to more recent research, possibly from Cameroon). I have recently come across another very telling example of this, again a musical one.
I want to introduce you to the Turetskii Choir Art Group. Check out this pretty good Wikipedia entry about them: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turetsky_Choir_Art_Group. The short version is this: “The Turetsky Men’s Choir was established at the Moscow Choral Synagogue. The chorus made its debut in 1990 with Jewish liturgical and folk music in the philharmonic halls of Tallinn and Kaliningrad. Their repertoire has grown since to include opera, spiritual, folk and pop music in 10 different languages.” In other words – Jews.
The conventional wisdom says that Jews and Cossacks hate each other and, no doubt, they did so in the past and many of them still do. But that is not the full story. Listen to the Turetskii Choir Art Group beautifully singing “The Black Raven” a prototypical Cossack song and hear for yourself how much emotion they put into it:
Clearly, we are very very far from Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen or Paul Wolfowitz.
Even such a tragic and, sometimes, ugly past as the one who alienated Jews and Cossacks from each other is not strong even to always keep these people apart and in modern Russia they are coming together under the bigger “roof” of the Russian civilizational realm.
Of course, none of the above proves anything. Except that for me, it proves a lot. My hope is that at least for some of you, it might serve as a powerful illustration of an otherwise almost completely overlooked truth. But if not, well then at least you got to hear some pretty good singing 🙂