|"A fairy tale is a lie, but a song tells the truth", as a Russian proverb goes. In present-day Russia fairy tales have become rare, but folk tunes still form an integral part of daily life. Accompanied by the balalaika and the bayan (a large button-key accordion), these songs tell of love and loss, of sadness and solace, of brave deeds and everyday problems. Humor and dance can be found here, as well as melancholic longing and heroic pathos. Tunes of old are followed by more recent ones, but, today just as in earlier days, the close connection with real life is ever-present.
Thus, in the Regimental Polka, a soldier strikes up a melody on his accordion for his comrades to dance to "What a shame that there are no girls here!", cries out one of the young soldiers, speeding up the dance. By thinking of their sweethearts and by giving in to the polka's rollicking tempo, the comrades are able to forget the hardships of a soldier's life for a while.
The Russian composer Lev Knipper initially wrote Meadowland as part of his 4th Symphony, but since then, it has become a true folk-song. It tells of young soldiers going off to battle. They say goodbye to their wives, who are in tears, and sing about the long road that lies ahead of them.
Kalinka is surely one of the best-known Russian folk-songs: a small declaration of love dedicated to a snowball tree. It is especially popular because of its impetuous, light-hearted character, speeding up in the refrain to a frenzied tempo.
The Volga Boat Song accompanied the Burlaki (barge-haulers) during their work, which consisted in towing large ships upstream. The chanter strikes up a tune that reflects their physical exertion and the monotony of their chore with a heavy, dull beat and a constantly repeated melody.
In the heroic war song The Sun Set Behind a Mountain, one can hear, from far away, the song of the soldiers who are returning home from the battlefront. When they see the flag that protected them during the fight, the soldiers sing of their victory and hail the upcoming reunion with their families in their beloved homeland. The sun sets behind the mountains; the regiment moves on, and, far off, the last song fades away.
The folk song The Swallow comes from Armenia. It describes a son's longing for his homeland, where his old mother is waiting in vain for his return. He asks a little swallow to fly to his far-off native country and to build its nest beneath his mother's window as a sign of his love for her.
Georgian composer Vane Muradeli wrote The Pine Trees Are Rustling in the 1950's. Under the shelter of the pine trees, during a marching break, a sergeant plays a little song. The soldiers remember their homeland and dream of their sweethearts.
Kamarinskaya was written by the great Russian composer Mikhail Glinka. His name is always associated with the beginnings of Russian classical music. In order to fulfill his declared aim of composing in a true "Russian" style, he drew his melodies from the available supply of folk tunes. Kamarinskaya, composed in 1848, offers a fitting example to illustrate his procedure. Here, he varies two Russian themes: a slow, solemn wedding song and a playful, lively dance tune.
Since the 18th century, the Don Cossacks had been fighting to defend the Russian Empire. In the old soldier song The Brave Don Cossacks, their heroic deeds are sung: it tells about how they won victory over Napoleon and made him tremble.
Wait For Your Soldier is a soldier's farewell to his beloved before going off to war. As the train roars off into the distance, he remembers the lovely times spent with her and hopes that she will remain faithful to him: "A soldier's life is hard; a maiden's love for him is all the more important."
An old romance sings of the gypsy woman's Dark Eyes. So full of passion, they have robbed the singer of all tranquility and of all his happiness. He cannot forget her: with his whole heart he is longing for the fire in those dark eyes, burning everything in sight with their flame.
In the Sunny Meadow sits a young lad and dreams of his sweetheart. Before going off to battle, he had proposed to her, but her haughty answer was: "If you come back decorated with a badge, then we can start talking." And surely enough, his bravery in dangerous combat won him a medal. Now, he has sent a letter to his beloved in their snow-covered homeland, and hopes that she will finally accept his proposal.
The Flight of the Bumblebee was originally part of Rimsky-Korsakov's opera "Tsar Saltan", based on Pushkin's fairy tale of the same name. Prince Gvidon has ended up on a desert island; the swan princess transforms him into a bumblebee, so that he can fly and thus observe Tsar Saltan from the air.
The Cliff a song about a legendary crag on the banks of the Volga River: covered only with wild moss, it juts out to astonishing heights. The only person ever to reach its top was the legendary Cossack leader Stepan Rosin. Today, the cliff bears his name; when the waves of the Volga speak to one another at night, they don't forget to mention Ataman Stepan, the great hero.
Dubinushka means "little axe", and it is the title of an old woodcutters' tune. It developed into a folk revolutionary song that tells of the hardships and the suffering of the field workers. But the people shall rise up, turn against their oppressors and thus achieve freedom and happiness.
The song On The March came into being shortly after the Second World War. It praises the victorious soldiers as heroes, now facing new tasks. After years of destruction, the villages and the cities need to be built up again, so that their land may soon attain full bloom once more.
Whether banded down over the centuries or newly composed, whether from Armenia or from Ukraine, all these songs form a living treasure of the Russian people, a treasure that has survived the ages and that will be kept alive on into the future.
With folklore from all parts of the former Soviet Union, using popular folk-tunes and fiery soldier songs, the Red Star Red Army Chorus And Dance Ensemble was founded in January, 1977 with the purpose to help keep Red Army soldier spirits high (especially those of the missile forces). Since then, the singing-and-dancing-troupe has won the hearts of civilian audiences as well.
In 1983, Anatoly Nikolayevich Bazhalkin took over the musical direction of the ensemble. Since than, both the repertoire and the quality level of these fine singers, musicians and dancers have continued to grow (the young "Red Star" ensemble - their average age is 27 - is still regarded today as the armed forces' leading artistic formation). Furthermore, they took part in music festivals in many important cities of what was then the Soviet Union.
In the meantime, these high-spirited performers have become a regular radio, television and concert-hall guest in Moscow; they are in ever-growing demand at home as well as abroad. Their tours have led them to visit Switzerland, France, Great Britain, Ireland and Belgium. The response was overwhelming:
"The evening with the Red Army Ensemble gave us everything imaginable: beautiful music, rich typical Russian enthusiasm and tremendous dance numbers." (Evening Post, Great Britain).
"The Red Ensemble gets a gold star. It scored a victory and, in a flash of lightning, won the hearts of the public in Her Majesty's theater in Aberdeen." (Evening Express, Great Britain).
For 1992, the ensemble plans to make recordings and television appearances, as well as to participate in festivals in Russia, Ukraine and White Russia and going on tour through Europe, Australia, Southeast Asia, the U.S. and Canada.
An activities are coordinated by the Artistic director Anatoly Nikolayevich Bazhalkin, who bears the order of "Deserving Artist of the Russian Republic". Born in 1946 in Zhitomir (Ukraine), he finished his studies in military band conducting at Moscow Conservatory. He bears a special interest for lesser-known folk music: he re-incorporates long-forgotten songs from Old Russia back into the repertoire (some of them arranged by himself especially for the "Red Star").
The ensemble has survived the dissolution of the Red Army: during the August 1991 coup, Bazhalkin and many members of the troupe were in Moscow. Lead by their conductor, they made their way to the Russian White House as faithful supporters of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, in order to defend Parliament.
Like his singers, musicians and dancers, Bazhalkin is also excited about their upcoming first direct contact with U.S. culture and American audiences. "I am looking forward to getting to know Americans, their daily life as well as the musical and aesthetic tastes of this great country".
Translations from German: Stanley Hanks