Welcome to Virtual Artistic Residence with Elena Toponogova!

My article today is inspired by how much I miss the concerts of Russian folk orchestras. My friend is an artist in one of these orchestras in Russia and I often used to go and listen to her play. I would like especially to focus on a Russian folk instrument, called the domra and my dear friend, Margarita Gurova will help me to illustrate the article.

The domra has a similar construction to a traditional Neapolitan mandolin and is a member of the lute family. It has a round body with either three or four metal strings and is typically played with a plectrum.

Domras were played widely by performers, musicians and singers  (skomorokhi) in the 15th-16th centuries in Russia. They were often persecuted by the church and later prohibited from performing when in 1648 and later in 1657, Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich issued ukases (decrees) banning the skomorokhi’s art as profane. Domras started to disappear together with the skomorokhi’performances.

The instruments were ignored and almost forgotten until the late 19th century when, the story goes, a student of Vasily Vasilievich Andreyev, a father of the academic folk instrument movement in Eastern Europe, found a broken instrument in a stable: an abandoned domra. He brought it to Andreyev who then reconstructed it.

Playing Domra @CreativeCommons

Nowadays the domra is an important part of the Russian folk orchestra alongside the more well-known balalaikas, guslis, accordions and percussion instruments.