Thursday, December 13, 2012

Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Gagarin (Ю́рий Гага́рин) was born in Smolensk in 1934. His family were farmers and they suffered greatly from the Nazi occupation of the Soviet Union in the 40's, which caused a lot of strain. He went to school and eventually attended training to become a pilot. His colleagues spoke very highly of him and he did very well in training. It was his fellow students who voted for him to be selected for the up and coming space program. He started his training for space flight and was selected again for an elite group, the Sochi Six, which led to the selections for the Vostok program. In April of 1961, he orbited the Earth. This was groundbreaking as no person had even ever been in space before. The flight only lasted and hour and a half or so but it changed the course of the Cold War for a while since the space race was such a fierce and expensive element. Post flight, he became really famous and traveled around the world. Women, apparently, really liked him. He wanted to go to space on additional occasions but due to safety concerns the USSR would not really let him. Eventually he died in a slightly suspicious jet crash during a training exercise. Several investigations were launched, none that conclusive. He remains one of the most famous figures from the Soviet Union and has appeared on stamps and coins since his death in 1968 at the age of 34.


Катюша is a folk song written in World War II, describing a woman longing for her husband who is fighting in the military. 

The lyrics were written by 
Mikhail Vasil'evich Isakovsky and it was composed by Matvei Isaakovich Blanter. The song is apolitical, and is the result of a long-time collaboration between the two authors. Katyusha is by far their most popular song, and it is still performed internationally to this day in a variety of different languages. 

Most other compositions were in the days of World War II, although the lyrics were at times radically different. For example, the Italian version of the song is "Fischia il vento" (As the Wind Blows), and has nothing to do with the original lyrics. 

The song is still wildly popular, and has undergone even modern remixes -- absent its original folkish tune.

Russian Lyrics:

Расцветали яблони и груши,
Поплыли туманы над рекой.
Выходила на берег Катюша,
На высокий берег на крутой.
Выходила, песню заводила
Про степного, сизого орла,
Про того, которого любила,
Про того, чьи письма берегла.
Ой ты, песня, песенка девичья,
Ты лети за ясным солнцем вслед.
И бойцу на дальнем пограничье
От Катюши передай привет.
Пусть он вспомнит девушку простую,
Пусть услышит, как она поёт,
Пусть он землю бережёт родную,
А любовь Катюша сбережёт.

English Lyrics:
Apple and pear trees were blooming.
O'er the river the fog merrily rolled.
On the steep banks walked Katyusha,
On the high bank she slowly strode.
As she walked, she sang a sweet song
Of her silver eagle of the steppe,
Of the one she loved she loved so dearly,
And the one whose letters she had kept
O you song! Little song of a young girl,
Fly over the river and in the sunlight go.
And fly to my hero far from me,
From his Katyusha bring him a sweet hello.
Let him remember this plain young girl,
And her sweet song like a dove,
As he stands guarding his proud nation,
So Katyusha will guard their love.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Symbolism of the flag- unit 5

  • The above picture of the Russian Flag indicates the tri-colour of Pan-Slavic colors of White, Blue and Red

  • According to Ancient and Heraldic traditions much symbolism is associated with colors. The colors on the Russian flag represent the following:

    • White - peace and honesty
    • Red - hardiness, bravery, strength & valor
    • Blue - vigilance, truth and loyalty, perseverance & justice

  • The current Russian flag was adopted on August 21, 1991 just before the country became an independent state and member of the United Nations on December 26, 1991. Most historians trace the origin of Russia's flag to Peter the Great's visit to the Netherlands in 1699. He went there to learn about shipbuilding and saw the need for Russia to have a naval flag too. He designed the Russian flag similar to the flag of the Netherlands, but with Russian colors. His design was used as a Russian maritime flag for merchant ships in 1799 and was adopted as the civil flag of Russia in 1883. After the Russian Revolution in 1917 the flag was replaced with one that had yellow emblems in it. Russia became a member of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics. When Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 the Russian flag was re-adopted.


Reindeers are always mentioned when Christmas time comes around but for the Nenets, an indigenous group of Russia, reindeer is an integral part of their lives.  They live a nomadic lifestyle herding reindeer and inhabit the Yamal Peninsula that is above the Arctic Circle. Reindeer provide the Nenet people a cultural identity and it provides them with shelter, clothing and food. Reindeer is also their livelihood since their meat is exported to different countries and the antlers are also sold as a male potency drug. Among the more traditional Nenets, each herder has a sacred reindeer that is not to be harnessed or killed until it is incapable of walking. Since the Nenet’s live in districts of rich oil and gas supplies their way of life is being endangered by energy companies that are building pipelines and drilling sites.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Russian Festivals: Maslyanitsa or Pancake Week

When winter ends and spring comes, there is always a festival held for one week before Lent. That week is called, Maslyanista or Pancake week. The festival usually celebrates this week by serving all kind of pancakes (the thin slices that look similar to crepes) and they always have s special ceremony in which a doll known as Maslyanista is built and is burnt down in the bonfire. Whatever of its pieces remains or flies out of the fire, the citizens would then always throw it back to the fire. Later, after the fire ends, they bury the remains under the snow, in some sense; they make the remains act as a fertilizer so the plants and harvest can grow healthy in the spring. The weeks are as they follow.

Monday – “meeting”,

Tuesday – “fun”,

Wednesday – “sweet tooth”,--serving of the pancakes.

Thursday – “feast”---burning of the dolls in the fire.

Friday – “visiting mother-in-law”

Saturday – “visiting sister-in-law”

Sunday – “farewell” “Forgiveness day”—when you go to a certain person whom you wish they can forgive you. Each person confesses their sins, hoping to be relieved from it. And once they’ve made up, they bow and say, “May God forgive you.”


Original Rubens Painting Discovered

An original painting by the 17th century Flemish painter Rubens was recently discovered in a small museum in Irbit, Russia, about 124 miles from the nearest city of Yekaterinburg, Russia. It was originally thought to be a replica of Ruben’s "Mary Magdalene in mourning with her sister Martha” but upon further examination it was found to be undoubtedly original. Parts of the painting are thought to be the work of some of his pupils, but other aspects of the painting were done by Rubens himself. It was previously owned by a military medical academy teacher in the late 1800s. It was taken by the Bolsheviks, who then labeled it as a Rubens copy and passed it on to Hermitage in 1931. Hermitage gave the painting to the small museum, whose owner, at best, was looking for replicas in a somewhat good condition. The painting remained in the archives of the museum while waiting to be restored. The painting was finally discovered to be an original when the museum received state funds to restore the painting, just over a year ago.

Mary Magdalene in mourning with her sister Martha

Russian Holidays

     The Russian government recognizes about 9 official holidays, and by official holidays I mean that all government offices and most stores are closed. New Years day (January 1st)  is probably the most celebrated and anticipated holiday in Russia. It is usually celebrated with friends, lots of traditional food, champagne, beer and vodka. It is common to exchange gifts and put up a tree for this holiday, so I suppose it is very similar to the American Christmas. Russians do also celebrate Christmas, but not on the 25th of December. They celebrate on January 7th. Also, Christmas is seen as much more of a sacred Christian holiday, filled with church services and other religious activities. 

Russians celebrate the New Year in 2012- Moscow

Other popular holidays include День защитника Отечества (defender of the fatherland day), Flag day, Spring and Labor day, International Woman's day, Unity day, Russia day, and Victory day. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Five (4th/final portfolio)

Caroline Brazelton
Final Blog Entry
Elementary Russian 
The Five.

              In Russian Musical history, there are five men who had an influential mark on what came to be the cultural acceptance in Russian history.  These five men,  Mily Balakirev (the leader), César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin, were known as The Five.  Other common names included The Mighty Handful, or The Mighty Coterie.  These composers met annually in St. Petersburg from 1856-1870.  Each of these men aimed to revise and reshape the identity of Russian music.  They did in their own ways, but all had a common purpose of starting the Romantic Nationalist movement in Russia. They composed through art song, opera, orchestration, dances, and many other forms of music.  Certain rhythms and chords began to be associated with the Russian culture. Most importantly, these men essentially put Russia ‘on the map’ for great compositions, paving the way for other phenomenal composers to follow.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas in January?!

Believe it or not in Russia Christmas is not celebrated on December 25th, but rather on January 7th! It wasn’t always this way; prior to the 1917 Revolution Christmas was celebrated on the 25th and similar to the United States it was a holiday complete with Christmas trees and gifts. After the Revolution, Christmas, along with other religious celebrations, were band throughout Russia. It wasn’t until about 75 years later, in 1992, that thanks to the Russian Orthodox Church the holiday was again openly observed. However, this time it would be celebrated on January 7th because the Russian Church uses the old Julian calendar which is thirteen days behind the Gregorian calendar which we use. Either way no matter what day it’s celebrated it’s a good thing Russia got their Christmas back!

Christmas nowadays is a huge holiday in Russia with many traditions and customs. As far as Santa goes, Russians refer to him as St. Nicholas who is very popular.  Legend has it that 11th century Prince Vladimir returned home from a trip to Constantinople to be baptized and told stories of miracles performed by St. Nicholas. During the communist years in Russia St. Nicholas was transformed into Grandfather Frost. Another common tradition in Russian, one which people around the world are probably familiar with, is the Babouscka. Little children in Russian wait up at night to try and catch a peek at Baouscka as she runs by. She is a really old and poor lady who, as legend has it, did not offer food to the Magi during the search for the Christ Child. So to this day she still wonders around looking for baby Jesus. But, on Christmas on Christmas Eve she stops by the houses of children and leaves them small gifts.

Lastly, no Christmas would be complete without a tree. The Christmas tree, or Yolka, was sadly also banned during the Soviet era. To get around this though, people decorated New Year’s trees instead! Yolka comes from the word which refers to a fir tree. It was introduced to the Russians by the famous Peter the Great after visiting Europe. He taught Russia the custom of decorating a tree. It has once again
been brought back as a Christmas tradition these days.

The Nutcracker

This famous two-act ballet was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the director of the Imperial Theaters, commissioned Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to compose a double-bill program featuring both an opera and a ballet. The opera would be Iolanta, and the ballet was adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann's story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King."

The premiere took place at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on Sunday, 18 December 1892. While the performance was not a success, Tchaikovsky earned much praise for what is now one of his most famous works. His Nutcracker Suite is composed of eight different numbers.

 For those not familiar with the storyline, here is a brief synopsis via cartoon.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky - The Russian Master

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky - Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский
The Russian Master

Peter Tchaikovsky
  • Peter Tchaikovsky was a Russian master composer of the Romantic Era. Tchaikovsky is nowadays one of the most beloved and famous composers of all time. His colorful music has enchanted listeners all over the world. His memorable melodies have ingrained themselves deep into popular culture.
  • His immense music talents had their source in an unhappy soul. Tchaikovsky suffered from depression and neuroses his whole life, and was extremely sensitive to criticism. He poured his unhappiness into writing passionate music.

  • Some of his most famous works are: 

    “Symphony No 6”, (
    “Swan Lake”, 
    “Violin concerto in D major”, 
    “Piano concerto no 1”, 
    and his “1812 overture”

    which were all composed in the 1800's.
    You can still find his music recent movies like “V For Vendetta” (2006, Canada) or “The Concert” (2009, France).

Tchaikovsky's Rise to Greatness

  • Peter Tchaikovsky was born in 1840. He started learning piano when he was 5 years old, and got good quickly. His parents supported his musical talent at first, but then sent him to be a civil servant.
  • His mother died when he was 14. This tragedy deeply affected the young composer for the rest of his life. His mother's death was the inspiration for his composing - he wrote his first piece (a waltz for piano) in her memory.
  • He went on to study law and had a short career as a civil servant. But he hated it, so switched to studying at the St Petersburg Conservatory instead. After graduating, he became professor of music theory at the new Moscow Conservatory. He kept on composing during his professorship, and his reputation as a composer grew.
  • Other Russian musicians and composers shunned Tchaikovsky for a long time at the start of his career. They considered him a bit of an untrustworthy renegade since his music had a very western sound, and was more personally emotional than usual.
  • The Tsar noticed him eventually, gave him the Imperial stamp of approval and a lifetime pension, and suddenly Tchaikovsky was accepted in Russia.
  • He became even more famous, and traveled to other countries in Europe and the United States to conduct his own music. But although he was hugely successful, he was still under the black cloud of depression.
  • His sixth and last symphony (called the Pathétique) was premiered only ten days before the composer died (he died on November 6 1893).

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Russia's Recently Active Volcano

On November 27, the Plosky Tolbachik volcano in Russia's eastern Kamchatka Peninsula erupted for the first time in 36 years.

 The nearly two-mile high volcano was given code red on the U.S. Geological Survey Volcano Alert Level due to the amount of ash it has produced. Because the ash explosions have reached up to 2 miles high with the potential of reaching 10 miles high, there is growing concern for flight traffic interruptions if the activity continues, much like what happened after the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010.

Plosky Tolbachik volcano erupts in Kamchatka

A local branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences said that lava flow has also destroyed two science camps that were over 6 miles away.

Plosky Tolbachik volcano erupts in Kamchatka

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Church Slavonic: Russian's Religious Brother

Church Slavonic is a language from the Slavic family that is used for the liturgy (music, prayers, etc.) of many Orthodox Churches, including the vast majority of Russian Orthodox parishes.  Originally written in Glagolitic script, the Cyrillic script took prominence and has been used since at least 1491.  Up until the 18th century, Church Slavonic was not exclusively a liturgical language but also used in other forms or Russian literature and thus has been regarded by some as a higher form of Russian.

While Russian uses the same alphabet and shares words with Church Slavonic, some differences in pronunciation are noteworthy:

  • There is no vowel reduction, so "е" and "о" are pronounced the same under stress and not under stress
  • No word-final devoicing
  • The letter ё does not exist
  • The letter г can be pronounced as a voiced fricative velar sound or devoiced to a [х] sound as in Бог, often pronounced [Бох]
  • The г in the endings -его and -ого is pronounced as written instead of as a [v] sound as it is pronounced in standard Russian.
Check out this sample of a Russian Orthodox litany sung in Church Slavonic.  It may be a bit difficult to follow in some places, but pay particular attention to the lack of vowel reduction and the pronunciation of -его and -ого.

Vladimir Putin: More Bad Ass Than You.

Vladimir Putin is way more bad ass than you could ever hope to be.

He goes hunting. Shirtless. In Russia.

He holds hands. With Tigers.
He rides motorcycles. In Russia.
He drives race cars. In Russia.
He goes bowling. In Russia.
He and George W. Bush once wore the same outfit. Vlad wore it best.
He breaks sticks with his knees.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Operas of Mikhail Glinka

     Russian composer Mikhail Glinka is widely known as the father of Russian music. His compositions   are often considered to be the first to really display traditional Russian song to the rest of the world. He was also apart of the Russian Five (a group of composers in the mid 1800's  known for their original Eastern European style of writing). Glinka wrote two specifically great operas, A Life for a Tsar, and Ruslan and Lyudmila. A Life for a Tsar's plot involved a typical heroic Russian character named Ivan Susanin. This character gives his life for his country when the Polish invade. I find that often Russian operas have this ongoing theme of Patriotism and "This is my country!" kind of business.  His other popular opera, Ruslan and Lyudmila, is an opera in 5 acts based off of a poem by Alexander Pushkin. This opera received most of it's fame and glory by it's extremely popular Overture. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Melnitsa (Урок 4)


Melnitsa (Мельница) is a Russian folk rock band that was formed in 1999. Its frontwoman, Natalia O'Shea (née Nikolayeva), is an academic with a PhD of philological science. She is considered an expert in medieval Indo-European languages, particularly with regard to Celtic languages. 

She is often an instructor at Lomonosov Moscow State University, but her academic career is on and off with her spending most of her time in Switzerland or Ireland. As can be guessed by her name, she is married to an Irishman -- particularly, a diplomat.

Melnitsa's music is exclusively in Russian, though Celtic themes and instruments are often times included. Instruments include a cello, two acoustic guitars, bass, flute, percussion, harp, and vocals.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Portfolio 4

Caroline Brazelton
Blog Entry
Portfolio 4

Russian Folk Dances have always been apart of the Russian culture. Exemplifying the traditional dances of both the Slovenian and Tatar origins.  Many of the first dances appeared around the turn of the 10th century.  This was of course as the Slavic tribes moved into Russia. These Russian dances reflect greatly on the source of classes.  As in the upper class was the audience as the middle and lower classes typically performed it.
 They would make their own costumes as well, given that this was a very important detail of the performance. These costumes had many deep yet bright and vivid colors, often times this color is red.  The women would sometimes wear headdresses and an embroidered shirt, but most especially an ornamented apron.  The men were know to wear narrow pants with their shirts and high boots.
Today,  the dances continue to play a very pertinent part in the Russian culture. Evoking the beauty of tradition into an every day existence.

YPOK 4 BLOG: Russian versus American Education

There are numerous statistical differences between Russian and American schools. First of all, not a huge difference but notable; Russian’s compulsory secondary education is eleven years whereas in the United States it is twelve years. Next the United States education spending (percent GDP) is 50% higher than Russia’s United States spends 17.1% while Russia spends 11.5%. An interesting fact about tertiary education in Russia is that women lead in enrollment with 57%. In addition more than half of the Russian adult population has attained a tertiary education. This is two times that of the OECD average.

            In the United States it is common to either complete the twelve years o school and go on to get a job or go to a college or university. In Russia, students have the option, upon completion of a nine-year program, to either complete the remaining two years or transfer to a specialized professional training school.

            Lastly in Russia there are two successive postgraduate degrees. These degrees are kandidat nauk (Candidate of science) and doktor nauk (Doctor of science). It is important to note that both are a certificate of scientific, not academic, achievement.

Leon Theremin

Leon Theremin (Lev Sergeyevich Termen) was born on August 27, 1896, in St. Petersberg, Russia. His family was French and German. As a child and even more so a high school student, Leon was interested in science, specifically electricity. He experimented with many different things, and even built a million volt Tesla Coil in his laboratory. As a student he met several famous scientists, most notably a physicist named Abram Ioffe, and they began to look into working together. At this point WWI began in full swing and Theremin was required to serve in the army. Through the army he received advanced education and rose to moderate prominence within the armed forces. He worked mainly on radio stations for the war and seems to have spent WWI and the entire Russian Civil War involved in that field. After the war he continued working with Ioffe. He worked there for a while, inventing many diverse things, including, accidentally, the theremin, which became the first mass produced instrument, as well as the first electronic instrument. The theremin came about on accident when Theremin was trying to figure out some legitimate scientific concept. For some reason this was pretty popular with people and spread throughout Europe and the United States. He went on to travel widely and eventually moved to the US where he invented a number of other interesting things, and greatly improved television. He later married and African-American ballerina. Soon afterwards he was kidnapped back to the Soviet Union and imprisoned in a Gulag. While incarcerated, he invented what he is possibly best known for, aside from the strange instrument that shares his name, which is known as "The Thing". This was a sophisticated listening device used by the KGB during the Soviet era. After the end of the Soviet years he worked on instruments for a while until it was declared that electricity and music should not mix. He spent some of his late years traveling, even performing at the Hague. He died in Russia in 1993.