The balalaika is a Russian string instrument belonging to the lute family. It is used to accompany Russian folk songs and dances as well as in ensembles playing classical music arranged for the balalaikas.
Today it can be recognized by its shape thanks to its triangular body slightly rounded at the back. However, this has not always been the case.
Are you looking for an instrument from Russian crafts? Discover the history of the balalaika.
The balalaika is one of the symbols of Russian culture, but its provenance remains partly unknown. The term balalaika is mentioned for the first time in a Russian document dating from 1688.
According to a first version, this string instrument is of Turkish origin. His name comes from the Turkish word "Bala" which means "child". The explanation for this name would come from the fact that playing this instrument made it possible to calm agitated children.
For 250 years, Russia was under the Mongol-Tatar yoke. Consequently, it is possible that the Mongol conquerors imported into Russia distant ancestors of the balalaika during the invasions of the 12th century. But according to another version, the name Balalaika is associated with the style of play used.
Its ancestor, domra, dates from the 16th century. Accompanied by this instrument, the skomorokhi, Slavic artist musicians of that time, interpreted satirical songs mocking the nobles and the clergy. But in 1648, Tsar Alexei Mikhailovic, second in the Romanov dynasty, issued a ukase, that is to say a decree, which prohibited playing a musical instrument or even owning one. Considered "demonic vessels", the beeps, gusli and domra were then burned and the skomorokhi persecuted.
After the disappearance of the domra at the end of the 17th century, a new instrument with a long handle and two strings appeared: the balalaika. The peasants built it using improvised materials: ladles dug out of wood with veined ropes. At that time, the balalaika had many and varied shapes and sizes depending on the inspiration of its creator. It is believed that the very first one had a round shape. Subsequently, this instrument took the form of a shovel. Gradually, the triangular appearance that we know today has developed. But after its popular success in the 19th century, the balalaika fell into oblivion in the following century, as did many other Russian instruments.
At the end of the 19th century, the musician Vasily Andreev developed a passion for the instrument. With the help of luthier Semion Nalimov nicknamed "the Russian Stradivarius", he developed and codified its shape and size. Then, in 1887, Vasily Andreev created the first balalaika orchestra called "Le Cercle". In 1888, this ensemble was produced for the first time under the direction of Andreev in Saint Petersburg with the help of Emperor Alexander III. The orchestra gained international popularity in the following years, making it possible to make known to the whole world this instrument stemming from Russian art. The balalaika then moved away from its image of peasant entertainment. It has become not only a folk instrument, but also a concert instrument. Indeed, his repertoire has also grown thanks to complex pieces first written by Vasily Andreev and soon followed by other talented composers.
Perfect Russian gift for a musician
Looking for a Russian gift for a musician friend? You now know a little more about the origin of the balalaika. Why not offer a little Russian soul with this typical musical instrument with a unique sound? If you are simply looking for a small souvenir for the price of a few euros, you can opt for balalaika-shaped decorations such as magnets for example. So, do not hesitate to discover our diverse and varied range of magnets. Handcrafted, our colorful products will appeal to all lovers of Slavic music.