February 13, 2007 at 09:41 PM · What do you understand about the RUSSIAN SOULE IN MUSIC...

did you talk about it with russian people..

because when someone plays shostakowitsch concerto 1, like I trie to do, my teacher tells me to play w

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Replies (32)

February 14, 2007 at 02:56 AM · It's a treatment that really is different than other treatments. The first time I heard the Moscow Symphony playing something familiar, I was like: woh!. I like it, but it's a little different.

February 14, 2007 at 04:09 AM · Steve Martin once suggested that talking about music was like trying to dance about architecture.

Why not listen to some recordings of Russian music by Russian performers, and absorb the essence of the Russian soul that way? Shostakovich's 5th symphony would be a good place to start, and some Tchaikovsky symphonies, Rachmaninov piano trios... that should clarify the concept for you. Try some Russian literature, too. Clichees are there for a reason...

February 14, 2007 at 04:24 AM · Greetings,

one also has to distinguish between the Moscow, St Petersburg and my local restaurant soul. Misltein was quite verbose on that subject.



February 14, 2007 at 02:57 PM · Better yet, read Dostoyevsky. Or Lermontov. Or Pasternak. Or Chekhov. Or Pushkin, but he doesn't sound so good in translation...

February 14, 2007 at 05:25 PM · What's Tolstoy, chopped liver? ;))

February 14, 2007 at 05:38 PM · thanks a lot everyone....

it's already a good beginning

February 14, 2007 at 06:00 PM · "Better yet, read Dostoyevsky. Or Lermontov. Or Pasternak. Or Chekhov"

I'd start with Chekhov....

February 14, 2007 at 07:15 PM · I don't really understand what this thread is about? Are you suggesting that Russians play music differently from other people, or what?

February 14, 2007 at 07:22 PM · Yea, it can be different. The way one lives his or her life can deeply affect how their music sounds. Genuine, not staged and practiced, emotions come out in literature and music.

Take Shosti's 5th, for example. When, let's say, the NY Philharmonic plays it they're playing great music. When the Moscow Symphony plays it they're playing their heritage, their lives, and yes, their very souls.

February 14, 2007 at 07:58 PM · I have to agree with Ray--a lot of times, especially since 1848 (or thereabouts) a country's music is very closely tied up with its history, folklore, struggles for independence etc. That's not to say that people of other nationalities can't play other people's music brilliantly, but there's often a sort of intangible special something that comes when the musicians are squarely within their own heritage and traditions. (So I'm a romantic nationalist, sue me.)

Mitchell--erm, I'm not much of a Tolstoyan myself, to be perfectly honest, but yes, I should have included him on that list. :)

February 14, 2007 at 08:02 PM · If I win--do I get your violin Maura? ;)>...

Larry, the best image I can give follows: my folks use to rock me on the porch and sing very old a'capella hymns--that--simply doesn't translate.

February 14, 2007 at 08:31 PM · >[...] not to say that people of other nationalities can't play other people's music brilliantly, but there's often a sort of intangible special something that comes when the musicians are squarely within their own heritage and traditions.<

Maura's right.

I don't have an opinion on tapping into the Russian soul. However, there are Russians and Russian expatriates on Perhaps they'll give you better insight than i can.

February 14, 2007 at 08:32 PM · thanks again,

this is becoming interesting...I started to read this literture but

like kachatoerjan violinconcerto is full of armenian influences, shostakowitsch of jewisch....still everyone is telling about the russian thats possible?

February 14, 2007 at 08:32 PM · Why don't you hang out with some Russians? This is what I have learned from my Russian friends:

1) You are welcome to come visit anytime, especially if you bring Stoli!

2) They make marvelous capitalists.

3) They know how to give great parties. I have seen a Bolshoi-trained dancer show a small child how to swing-dance!

4) They are loyal to a fault, and are always quick to help you with a problem (especially a computer problem!).

5) They love jokes, tricks, and silly youtube videos.

My Russian violinist buddy plays Russian music as if he is to the manor born, but he also plays Mozart as if he is to the manor born. I don't know if knowing these people have given me any insight to the Russian soul, but I have learned to enjoy good Russian cooking. Well, not Borscht, because I don't like beets.

February 14, 2007 at 09:00 PM · Off subject story, but itinvolves Russians, then Soviets.

While on a layover with TWA in Oklahoma City years ago the Russians landed their super giant (forgot the name of it) cargo plane in OKC. It was the very first landing by a Soviet plane ever in the United States. They were there to load up with Wheat. This plane was huge. Tensions between the Soviets and us at the time were still a bit iffy.

Long story short. Somehow I got permission from the Russians to tour their plane. They were extremely pleasant. They just told me to get TWA to give me a ride out to where it was parked and look to our heart's content. A TWA mechanic and I did just that. All I can say is WOW!

Anyway, while walking down those lonnnnng and steep stairs from the cockpit to the pavement an Oklahoma State Trooper met us at the bottom. He thought I was the Russian plane Captain. I had my TWA Captain's uniform on which plainly said TWA. With a smile and a kind of fawning voice he said, and I quote as accurately as possible; "El Cap-i-tan. Youuuuuu - trade - your - hat - emblem -for - mine....? As he pointed to mine, then his.

I looked down at him and assumed an arrogant air and spewed out the best fake Russian that I could. (I HAD taken Russian in High School, though.) NYET_NYET_NYET!!!! Plus what sounded like Russian, but gibberish. All the while pounding my fist into my palm and the railing.

I felt sorry for the poor Trooper. He looked like he had just screwed up and started world war three. He could see his career flying out the window. When I started laughing hysterically he looked closer at me and asked if I were the Russian captain. I pointed to the TWA 727 and said, "no sir, I fly for TWA and that's my plane over there" I thought he was going to run me in and throw away the key. Finally he started laughing, too. A few Russians came down from the plane to see what was going on. When we got through to them what happened they slapped us all on the back and laughed themselves silly as they climbed back up into their monster.

February 14, 2007 at 10:26 PM · Kakaya prekrasnaya istoriya! Spasibo!

Great story! Thanks for sharing!

February 14, 2007 at 10:47 PM · Subtract "Dawn over Moscow" from "Chelsea Morning" (dawn over New York City) and the remainder is Russian Soulle. Maybe you'd divide instead of subtract, not sure.

February 15, 2007 at 02:08 AM · This brings back memories... Time to find my copy of "The Icon and the Axe." Back when I was in college taking a course called "The Russian Experience", I knew no Russians. Now I'm surrounded by Russians, as well as Chinese and Indians. But Russians are special. There is a warmth, poignancy, passion and conviviality there. My teacher says time to learn some Russian music after 3 years of studying with him.

February 15, 2007 at 01:19 PM · Anne, I hate to say it, but your description of "Russians" is very very general! I have been in contact with many many Russians, and I can tell you that every single one is different, just like every single person of any country or race.

I could find you a very unloyal Russian and a completely computer illiterate Russian and one who hates parties and has never even looked at Vodka in an instant!

I'm just saying, it's a bit pointless to generalize. You can't even generalize about their violin playing. Some play Russian music well, some play it very badly. Same with Westerners. It all depends on one's musical tastes and upbringing and experiences...

And on that note, I have to run now to my lesson with my Russian violin teacher!!! (who is computer illiterate :P )

February 15, 2007 at 02:58 PM · Larry, of course my observations were of my friends, and not every Russian I have known. I tend to make friends with people who share values with me. That said, I dislike vodka, I don't dance well, and I am "electronically challenged".

I hope you had a good lesson!

February 15, 2007 at 04:14 PM · What? A Hungarian who doesn't dance well?! Scandal!!

(or maybe I should say, ANOTHER one who can't dance--it's not as if I'm coordinated enough to learn the csárdás.) :)

Getting back on topic--Larry, no one is saying that people of whatever nationality aren't individuals with their own likes and dislikes. But, thanks to culture, history and traditions, people DO often have at least some "typical national characteristics." That's just how things are.

February 15, 2007 at 03:49 PM · Larry, not sure about some of the other stuff, but a Russian that has never looked at a vodka bottle? That I'll never believe.

It is really impossible to define "the Russian soul" or give an explanation of what it is. One needs to have lived there, surrounded by the quickly diminishing Russian intelligentsia to understand. Of course it doesn't mean that we play music better or worse than other nationalities; but we do approach our music differently.

I am writing this in NYC, living very comfortably in a great city, and I am still nostalgic for Moscow, and always will be. Its a paradox really, like all our history.

February 15, 2007 at 05:21 PM · As with the "Spanish soul," the "Jewish soul," etc., whatever might be defined as a "Russian soul" lies somewhere on a spectrum between over-romanticized cliches at one end and invidious national stereotypes on the other. I'm not sure what that means, but I thought it sounded good:).

February 15, 2007 at 05:11 PM · I think the word "soul" applies to a collective expression of a group in times of suffering. I can think of at least three ethnic groups that claim to have "soul" in music and they all have this above statement in common.


February 15, 2007 at 06:38 PM · Nicely put Daniel. Who are those three? :)

February 15, 2007 at 06:38 PM · thanks everyone.....though

if I could have permission off some of you...I would love to wright my paper on this subject...

If some people could help me with this to explain what is the meaning of the russian soul for them I would be very greatfull

you can send to

I would appreciate it very much


February 15, 2007 at 07:18 PM · That's very interesting: a paper on Russia's soul. If it were me: (I love this type of thing).

I'd start with Russia's general history in relation to change. Then I'd look for both the stereotypes and those things which make them over broad sweeps of time. Then I'd look at the strengths and qualities that allowed them to live with the stereotypes--to use them--to tailor them as, to one extent or another they became self-fulfilling prophecy, and then I'd finish with the real qualities, uniqueness, strengths, surivability, and appreciative elements that makes Russia (or any other culture), in the present.

Beyond this, if Maura and Anne were having a multi-cultural party and we were all invited, there indeed would likely be qualities expressed with pride whether it was music, food, art or other things. That in my mind, especially if done with considerate research and thought, would begin to express the Russian or Hungarian soul.

For most people the history of Russia is expressed in things like Dr. Chivago, it's music, perhaps the Bolshevik revolution, the literature someone mentioned and so forth. But like German history, Russian history is a bit more nebuluous full of regional change and flowing of people walking the paths of broader general change.

One of my favorite periods of history is the Kahn dynasty, with many others, none really dominating. But that period alone is like a section rather than a chapter of Russia that would considerably paint it's soul.

But the Russian soul in music to me, is a specialized image that beyond it's school of bowing and so forth, is a sound and treatment that is unqiue and nice. It's a type of energy and courage in phrasing that I picked up on when I first started listening.

Though others took folkish elements (Bartok) and did certain things with them, it at least in my mind, was two different modes or rivers of expression that resulted today.

So, yes this is terribly generalized. But, there is an odd need to preserve these various expressions of classical music even in modes that were thought to be so universal even less than a century ago almost in the same spirit as folk music.

February 15, 2007 at 08:20 PM · If you wanted to do an empirical study of how a concept of Russian "soul" has been interpreted by various critics and other artistic personalities over the years, and how the interpretations have changed, that might be interesting.

But to do a study trying to trying "define" the Russian "soul" is IMO little more than chasing after a chimera. One is better off studying and analyzing factual questions (ie. contrasting Shost.'s approach to orchestration vs. Prok.'s or Rach's) as opposed to getting bogged down in sentiment-laden and ultimately totally unverifiable abstractions like the Russian "soul." And to reach any definition whatsoever of Russian "soul" you will have to ignore some inconvenient facts such as that the approaches of various Russian artists have almost nothing in common (eg. Shost. and Stravinsky).


February 15, 2007 at 08:25 PM · Greetings,

if you want some interesting perepsctives on this topic try Milsteins autobiograpy 'From Russia to the west'



February 15, 2007 at 08:32 PM · I agree with Mitchell to a large extent, but just like Maura and Anne's party, if the Moscow symphony were accepted as the expression of what has become Russia's soul, the question is still an interesting abstractions saying: 'how did that sound become'?

Most who write on these things, do try and narrow it down more... My approach would have been a difficulty ridden doctoral thesis--though nonetheless achievable.

February 16, 2007 at 11:47 AM · My teacher used to say to me, 'cmon give it a big Russian sound', so I just supposed that meant the Russian sound was big! I just imagine a huge choir with that depth of bass that defies believe and knocks you off your chair.

Why don't you go to Russia and find out yourself? I went in 2000 and it was different to what I expected, and since it has almost certainly changed in the last 7 years, I'm loath to make any social commentary.

Surprised that noone has even mentioned Tchaikovsky yet, as he is Mr Music for a large number of Russians.

February 16, 2007 at 01:32 PM · I work with and for a bunch of Russian immigrants, including a couple of professional string players. I can, from my own experience, confirm a lot of what Anne said, at least in regard to my own group.

There is a different feeling with the Russians I know. Some of it may come from living in constant low level fear of authority, of the state. One of my friends says he will never feel as free and comfortable as American seem to.

Part of it may come from having little time to "just live", in his words. Life in Russia has been pretty stark for all but the most wealthy. Russians, in general, seem to understand the Blues.

As for sound, I've been trying out a Russian bow hold lately, and it definitely gives me a richer, fuller sound. One of my friends is a graduate of the Leningrad Conservatory. I'll ask him what he thinks, but he'll probably just say, "Listen to the music."

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