The Balalaika with origins in the XVI century (sometimes wrongly referred as « russian guitars ») is one of the major Russian musical instruments, along with the Domra, the Accordion and the Guitar. The Balalaika most likely evolved from the Oriental Dombra, which is still played in present-day Kazakhstan.
It is said that the Balalaika embodies the Russian people’s character, with its ability to switch from happiness to sadness with ease. It was common for the peasant ballads, composed for the Balalaika, to irreverently poke fun at the authority of the times. For this reason there were times when the Balalaika was banned by both the Orthodox Church and the State. The instrument enjoyed its greatest folk popularity in the early 18th century. It was also carried by the common people when they fled Russia at times of war.
This instrument is characterized by the triangular body (a trait that it acquired in the XIX century) and three strings (or six, in three double courses).The Balalaika is a member of the Lute family and is made in a number of sizes; Piccolo, Soprano, Prima, Secunda, Alto, Bass, Contra-Bass and Sub-Contrabass. The lower pitched the bigger the instrument is. All have three-sided triangular bodies, spruce or fir tops and backs made of from three to nine wooden sections, and usually have three strings. The prima balalaika is played with the fingers, the sekunda and alto either with the fingers or a plectrum depending on the music being played, and the bass and contrabass (equipped with extension legs which rest on the floor) are played with leather plectrums. It was in the XIX when it started to be featured in orchestras aside from the folk music.
Photos taken in the church of Beaumont le Roger – Normandy. 2014, december 14th.
balalaïka virtuoso : Micha Tcherkassky,
bayan (accordion) : Bogdan Nesterenko,
balalaïka bass : Leila Soldevila.