Pesen Zemli ‎– Russie / Russia : Chants Polyphoniques de Mariage / Polyphonic Wedding Songs

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Wedding songs are now rarely sung in Russian villages. They have mainly been preserved in the memory of women born in 1910s and 1920s, who grew up when folk traditions were still very much alive. Now the customary wedding rites belong to the past; there are but a few fragments left, scattered here and there in various arias of Russia.
The wedding, a major event in peasant life, was also an important moment for the entire village community, bringing about a change in the social status of several individuals: of the bridegroom and bride of course, but also of their close relatives, while the relationship between the two families about to become allied by marriage was also transformed. It is therefore hardly surprising that all villagers participated in the wedding ceremony.
The ritual’s protagonist was, of course, the bride, because it was she who underwent the most important changes. The transition she went through could only be compared to death: the girl had to “die” to be “reborn” a woman. This explains the similarities between some moments of the nuptial rite and a funeral , including laments performed in a “dead voice”, that is, using the melody of dirge, during the wedding ceremony.
Russian folk tradition exhibited a great variety of local and regional variants of wedding rituals; their main common trait was the division of the ceremony into two distinct phases: the first one combined all activities destined to take the bride away from her family and to bring her to abandon her girlhood; the second phase represented acceptance by her new family and the acquisition of the status of married woman. The passage from one phase to the next was marked by the arrival of the bridegroom and his parents at the house of the bride, as well as by the purchase of her braid, symbol of her girlhood. According to circumstance, this pattern evolved over three to five days during which many people intervened on as many occasions. Indispensable ritual objects for the ceremony included bread loaves of various shapes (round, cone-shaped, hand-shaped, etc.) , young trees (fir, sapwood), ribbons, embroidered napkins, and often a live hen dressed up like the bride which accompanied her to the bridegroom’s house… But despite these common traits, many features were characteristic of specific regions of Russia.
The Smolensk, Briansk and Gomel regions near the Belarus border to the west still posses rather intact traditions including ancient agrarian rituals predating Christianisation in Russia. These rituals have exercised considerable influence on the rural wedding ceremonial. The latter does not show a neat demarcation line or contrast between the two ritual phases, mainly because there are no laments. It is the episodes and melodies referring to the relationship between the two families which are important , and ritual activity focusing on bread loaves, grain, and various plants play a significant role.
In western Russia, the melodies struck up during the wedding and those of the ancient agrarian rites share a number of stylistic traits, such as their terseness, their syllabism and their formulaic character, as well as polyphony on a drone performed by tense and sonorous voices whose specific traits are hard to identify even outdoors.
Conversely, northern Russian wedding ceremonial, especially in the Vologda and Arkhangelsk regions, exhibits a strong contrast between the two phases. The first one, which takes place before the church service, has a strong resemblance to a funeral , since it only consists of lamentations, whether solo ones, mostly by the bride, or collective ones; these start when the bride’s face is covered with a shawl (pokryvanié) , a gesture marking her separation from the world of girlhood and her entry into a specific “in-between” realm. The laments punctuate all the following episodes of the ritual: the ugor (taking leave from her native village), preparing beer, baths, and bidding farewell to “beauty” and “freedom” as symbols of her life as a girl. The second phase of the ceremony mainly consists of a series of banquets accompanied by much singing.
In northern Russia, the originality of the wedding songs lies mainly in the melodies’ rhythm which is determined by the prosodic pattern of each song, by the scanning of the verses, which not only structures the lyrics but also the melody. Furthermore, many wedding songs of southern Russia follow a specific polyphonic model by which the main (“fat”) voice is doubled by a so-called “thin” voice an octave higher.
Southern Russian marriage rites (Kursk and Belgorod area, and the Russian-speaking villages of the Kharkov region in Ukraine) also comprise laments, but their timbre is a striking imitation of a genuine weeping. The wedding is also characterized by abundant panegyrics which are usually struck up during the banquet following the church ceremony. In some villages, these are performed while dancing on the benches, and the female singers are expected to stomp their feet on these until they break.
Unlike the wedding songs of the west and the north, which exhibit a considerable stylistic unity, those of the south are extremely diverse and heterogenic, probably as a result of the history of the region which witnessed the arrival, 250 to 300 years ago, of large numbers of emigrés from various parts of Russia. The cultures of Finno-Ugric peoples also exercised a decisive influence in the formation of the folk repertory of the southern villages, as indicated by the stylistic traits of certain wedding songs, especially the anhemitonic scales of which many of the melodies are based.

Barcode and Other Identifiers

  • Barcode: 7 619918 083727
  • Rights Society: SUISA
  • Matrix / Runout: GALLO CD-837