About the Orchestra
Balalaika is one of the "youngest" musical instruments of the Russian people, which appeared (at least, in the present form) not earlier than second half of the 17th century. According to images and eyewitness accounts, balalaikas of that time came in various shapes − round, triangular, quadrangular, trapezoidal, and with different quantity of strings − from two to five. The instrument of that time had a diatonic scale.
The balalaika came up to replace mass folk musical instruments like ancient gusli, gudok (bow-instrument) and bagpipe which were increasingly losing its popularity. Its fast introduction into a musical life and extraordinary popularity can be accounted for the change of musical styles in Russian folk musical art from the end of the 17th century and especially in 19th century. The following polyphonic style most fully expressed in plangent polyphonic songs gradually slowed down its development, giving way − and the further, the faster – to homophonic and harmonious one.
It was Vasily Andreyev who subsequently managed to see balalaika’s prospects to become an instrument of professional concert performing. Under his initiative in 1887 the first chromatically tempered balalaika was created. Acoustic qualities having been improved and tessitura varieties (for orchestral playing) having been designed, this instrument became a representative of the academic art, prospective for exuberant development of the classical musical heritage.
Thus, the balalaika acquired an equal value in a mass musical life as well as in the professional and academic art. It is the instrument which unites two opposite spheres of musical creativity. This is balalaika’s huge social importance.
Domra was identified by the scholars-ethnomusicologists as the most widespread instrument in 16-17 century Russia. For the most part it was used by professional musicians of that time, skomorokhs (wandering minstrels). Their art developed in Russia in the heaviest conditions. Eastern Christian church, unlike Western one, did not allow the use of instrumental music in the temples. There was a severe intransigent struggle not only against anticlerical skomorokhs and their «diabolical buzzing containers», but also against those who listened and let «cheerful people» in the house or played musical instruments him- or herself. After skomorokhs had been eradicated, professional domra musicians performing disappeared.
Only at the very end of XIX century V. Andreyev, the head of the first Russian Folk Instruments Orchestra, who was interested not only in balalaika, but also in other Russian folk instruments, found a domra image and restored the instrument therewith, and afterwards created a whole family of domras similar to the family of balalaikas.
Gusli is one of the most ancient string plucked instruments of the East Slavs. There are various types of gusli, but the Andreyev Orchestra uses rectangular (table-like) gusli. It is the direct descendant of the helmet-like gusli and represents the highest stage of development of the ancient Eastern Slavic gusli culture.
It is unknown when and under what conditions rectangular gusli appeared, but they are believed to have been created approximately in the1st third of 17th century in the Monarchic Amusing Chamber and, most likely, under the influence of the West European string keyboard instruments − a clavichord and spinet, which appeared at the Moscow Imperial Court in the end of 16 − the beginning of 17 centuries.
In 1914 N. Fomin adapted a simple, witty designed and reliable keyboard mechanics for a rectangular gusli. The mechanics represents a damping system operated by means of 12 piano-like keys (one octave). A metal frame, similar to the piano one, is used to ensure a better stability of the gusli tuning system, called keyboard.