On the Sources of Orientalism in the Russian Art Song

Philip Ross Bullock, Oxford University

Cesar Cui, in his 1896 study of the Russian art song (romans), noted with conspicuous approcal that the use of Eastern motifs was characteristic of Russian national music. Cui rarely offers any clear definition of what vostoch;nyj kolorit might mean, other than singling out exotic instances of Italian, Spanish, Polish, Jewish, Caucasian, Middle Eastern and Persian music in the works of Russian composers. Such wanton heterogeneity is perhaps to be expected; after all, Russia's dialogues with its respective "Others" are an important feature of Imperial self-definition. The "internal" other of Jewish music and the native folk tradition, the immediate other of the Caucasus and Central Asia, the "occidental" other of Italy and Spain, can all be conveniently read in the terms of orientalism (to borrow Edward Said's term). Several important studies of Russian orientalism have already been written, and in the field of Russian music, Richard Taruskin has deftly analysed the development of an orientalist discourse in three settings of Push;kin's "Ne poj, krasavica, pri mne," but Glinka, Balakirev and Raxmaninov respectively. So far, however, most analyses of orientalism in Russian music (unlike those of Russian literature) have dwelt on the works of composers active in the later nineteenth century. It is the purpose of this paper to consider the pre-history of Russian musical orientalism, most notably in the songs of Aliab'ev (1787-1851), Varlamov (1801-48) and Gurilev (1803-58). The selection of exotic poetic texts will be considered, as will the musical response to them. Aliab'ev's settings of non-Russian folk songs will also be examined as one of the earliest Russian musical encounters with a supposedly authentic "other." Finally, settings of non-exotic texts which nonetheless display characteristic of musical orientalism will be explored.