Bard (Soviet Union)
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|Author song/Bard musical|
|Stylistic origins||Russian romance, Russian poetry, ethnic Russian music|
|Cultural origins||1950s, Russian SFSR|
|Typical instruments||Vocals, Guitar (mostly Russian guitar)|
|The biggest scene was in Moscow, where it started, but all cities in the Soviet Union had their scenes. Grushinsky festival is a major bard music venue.|
|Music of Russia|
|Media and performance|
|Nationalistic and patriotic songs|
|National anthem||Anthem of Russia|
The term bard (Russian: бард, translit. bard) came to be used in the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, and continues to be used in Russia today, to refer to singer-songwriters who wrote songs outside the Soviet establishment, similarly to folk singers of the American folk music revival. Because in bard music songwriters perform their own songs, the genre is also commonly referred to as author song ("авторская песня" avtorskaya pesnya). Bard poetry differs from other poetry mainly in being sung with simple guitar accompaniment as opposed to being spoken. Another difference is that it focuses less on style and more on meaning. This means that fewer stylistic devices are used, and the poetry is often in the form of a narrative. What separates bard poetry from other songs is that the music is far less important than the lyrics; chord progressions are often very simple and tend to repeat from one bard song to another. A far more obvious difference is the commerce-free nature of the genre; songs are written to be sung and not to be sold, as the bards are often working professionals in a non-musical occupation.
Stylistically, the precursors to bard songs were Russian "city romances", also known as urban romances, which touched upon common life and were popular throughout all layers of Russian society in the late 19th to early 20th centuries. These romances were traditionally written in a minor key and performed with a guitar accompaniment.
Bard poetry may be roughly classified into two main genres: tourist song and political song, although some other subgenres are also recognized, such as outlaw song and pirate song.
Initially the term "bard" was used by fans of the tourist song genre, and outside those circles, the term was often perceived as slightly derisive. However, there was a need for a term to distinguish this style of song from the traditional mainstream pop song, and the term eventually stuck.
Many bards performed their songs for small groups of people using a Russian guitar, and rarely, if ever, would they be accompanied by other musicians or singers. Those who became popular were eventually able to hold modest concerts. Bards were rarely permitted to record their music, given the political nature of many of their songs. As a result, bard tunes usually made their way around via the copying of amateur recordings (known as magnitizdat) made at concerts, particularly those songs that were of a political nature.
Types of songs
Tourist song 
During the Soviet Era of Stagnation, camping, and especially its intense forms such as alpinism, kayaking/canoeing, and canyoning, became a form of escapism for young people, who felt that these activities were the only ways of life in which such values as courage, friendship, risk, trust, cooperation, and mutual support still mattered. It is these types of situations and virtues that tourist songs use for their subject matter.
Many of the best tourist songs were composed by Yuri Vizbor who participated and sang about all the sports described above, and Alexander Gorodnitsky who spent a great deal of time sailing around the world on ships and on scientific expeditions to the far North.
A notable subgenre of the Tourist song was the Sea song. As with other tourist songs, the goal was to sing about people in hard conditions where true physical and emotional conflicts appear. Vladimir Vysotsky had several songs of this sort, since his style suited them perfectly. Many of Alexander Gorodnitsky's songs are about the sea since he actually had the opportunity to experience life at sea. While some songs were simply about sailors, others were about pirates. With the romanticism of songs like Brigantine by Pavel Kogan, pirate songs are still popular at author song concerts today. Almost every bard has at least one song of this type.
Tourist song was generally tolerated by the government, and it existed under the moniker author song (avtorskaya pesnya), i.e., songs sung primarily by the authors themselves, as opposed to those sung by professional singers (although professionals often "borrowed" successful author songs for their repertoires). Another name for this genre was "amateur song" (samodeyatelnaya pesnya, literally translated as "do-it-yourself song" or "self-made song"). This term reflects the cultural phenomenon of the Soviet Union called "amateur performing arts," or khudozhestvennaya samodeyatelnost. It was a widespread, often heavily subsidized occupation of Soviet people in their spare time. Every major industrial enterprise and every kolkhoz had a Palace of Culture, or at least a House of Culture, for amateur performers to practice and perform. Many of them, as well as many universities, had Clubs of Amateur Song ("Klub samodeyatelnoy pesni", or KSP), which, in fact, were clubs of bard song and which stood quite apart from the mainstream Soviet "samodeyatelnost'".
Grushinsky festival traces its origins to tourist song fan meetings, but now includes songs from all genres.
Songs of this kind expressed protest against the Soviet way of life. The genre varied from acutely political, "anti-Soviet" songs to witty satire in the best traditions of Aesop. Some of Bulat Okudzhava's songs touch on these themes.
Vladimir Vysotsky was perceived as a political song writer, although he was also part of the mainstream culture. It was not so with Alexander Galich, who was eventually forced to emigrate; owning a tape with his songs could mean a prison term in the USSR[verification needed]. Before emigration, he suffered from KGB persecution, as did another bard, Yuliy Kim. Others, like Evgeny Kliachkin and Aleksander Dolsky, maintained a balance between outright "anti-Soviet" and plain romantic material.
Paradoxically, "songs" from pro-Communist plays by Bertolt Brecht, supposedly criticizing fascism and capitalist society (and thus applauded by the Soviets), could be seen as protest songs, and hence were popular among bards. These were often called zongs (the German pronunciation of the word "song"). Below is a quotation from a "zong", translated from the Russian:
Rams are marching in rows.
Drums are rattling.
The skins for these drums
Are the rams' own.
These songs, known in Russian as blatnaya pesnya, originated long before the bards appeared in the Soviet Union. Their origin can be traced as far back as the first decade of the 20th century. While not differing much in style from other bard songs, these songs can be compared in their content to modern rap: glorification of crime and city romance. These songs reflected the breakup of the structure and rules of the old Russian society.
Since the 1930s, new outlaw songs had emerged from the Gulag. Many of these songs were concerned with innocent people who were sent to the labour camps, rather than with criminals. Some songs were actually composed in the camps.
During the Khrushchev Thaw years, many were released from the camps, and with them came their songs. Some bards learned of these anonymous songs and started singing them. At that point, the songs gained a more symbolic meaning of struggle against oppression. Bards such as Alexander Rosenbaum also wrote many humorous outlaw songs about the Jewish mafia in Odessa. Many of these songs were inspired by authors like Isaac Babel.
Even more common than the tourist songs were songs about ordinary life (usually life in the USSR). Nearly every bard wrote a significant number of songs on this theme. The setting is very frequently urban, often in major cities such as Moscow (particularly the Arbat). Some songs of this type, such as the ones by Yuri Vizbor and Vladimir Vysotsky, took a very direct approach and used simple and honest language to illustrate life. Other bards, such as Bulat Okudzhava, took a more symbolic approach and expressed their views on life through extended metaphors and symbolism.
Another type of song that appeared in Russia long before the bards was the War Song. Many of the most famous bards wrote numerous songs about war, particularly The Great Patriotic War (WWII). Bards had various reasons for writing and singing songs about war. Okudzhava, who actually fought in the war, used his sad and emotional style to illustrate the futility of war in songs such as "The Paper Soldier" ("Бумажный Солдат"). Vladimir Vysotsky wrote songs about war simply because they provided that extreme setting in which honour and emotional strength are needed, and a man's true character can be seen. Vysotsky's war songs were praised by veterans for their extreme success in portraying war, despite the fact that the poet did not actually serve in the military. Yuri Vizbor wrote war songs in which the people involved in the war were the most important element, rather than the war itself. In these songs, the war would often be happening in the background while the actual song would be in the style of the tourist song, with emphasis on nature and human emotions.
Some bards also wrote children's songs for various festivals and plays. These songs enjoyed great success, as the poets chose to write them in the same fashion as their other songs. This resulted in songs that, while directed at children, still had deep meaning behind them and were enjoyed by adults, not unlike Ivan Krylov's fables. The most famous bard performers who sang children's songs were the husband and wife duo Sergey Nikitin and Tatyana Nikitina. Sergey and Tatyana are still considered bards, even though they are known primarily for setting great works of poetry to their own music.
Famous bards of the Soviet era
- Victor Berkovsky
- Alexander Dolsky
- Alexander Dulov
- Leonid Dukhovny
- Alexander Galich
- Alexander Gorodnitsky
- Alexander Gradsky
- Evgeny Kliachkin
- Yuliy Kim
- Arik Krupp
- Yuri Kukin
- Victor Luferov
- Novella Matveyeva
- Sergey Nikitin
- Tatyana Nikitina
- Bulat Okudzhava
- Alexander Rosenbaum
- Yuri Vizbor
- Vladimir Vysotsky
- The Best of Russian Life, Volume 2: Biographies, Paul E Richardson (ed.), Russian Information Services, 2012, ISBN 978-1880100738, contains some articles on individual bards