Music: Kalinka (Ivan Petrovich Larionov), performed by Tanya Kalmanovitch, violin and Ted Reichman, accordion. April 26 2010 in Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory, Boston MA.
Images: scenes from Scenes from Умирающий Лебедь (The Dying Swan), featuring Vera Alexeyeva Karalli, directed by Yevgeni Bauer (1917).
In the introduction to Gulag: A History, historian Anne Appelbaum observes a brisk tourist trade in Soviet paraphernalia springing up on Prague's Charles River Bridge in the immediate wake of the collapse of the Soviet monolith. Western tourists who would be sickened by the thought of wearing a swastika snapped up pins, hats and T-shirt emblazoned with the hammer and sickle. "It was a minor observation", she writes, "but sometimes it is through just such minor observations that a cultural mood is best observed. For here, the lesson could not have been clearer: while the symbol of one mass murder fills us with horror, the symbol of another mass murder makes us laugh."
The iconic Kalinka is not a Russian folk song. It was composed in 1860 by composer and folklorist Ivan Petrovich Larionov, and can be located squarely in the tradition of Russian musical nationalism, in which elements of Russian folklore - actual and imagined - were adapted and adopted into Russian art and popular music. Under the Soviet regime, Russian folklore and pseudofolklore were professionalized, popularized and propagandized as emblems of a natural, authoritative Soviet ideal. In the latter half of the 20th century, Kalinka was made ubiquitous in the Soviet Union through broadcast on State-owned television, and later as the theme to the computer game Tetris. In the 21st century, Kalinka has been appropriated for yet another new purpose: when Russian oligarch Roman Arkadyevich Abramovich bought the famed Chelsea Football Club in 2003, he made Kalinka the club's theme song.
How we receive this song -- with nostalgia, fear, or naiveté -- reveals something of our position with respect to a vexed, and largely unvoiced history.
- Tanya Kalmanovitch, April 26 2010