The balalaika is a Russian folk instrument which is approximately 350 years old. It is mostly known for the Russian folk songs.
How was the balalaika invented ? Nobody knows. Most people think that it is a variation of a chinese instrument – the domra. Others say that its first apparitions were in the Caucasus. Thus, one way or another, the balalaika was introduced to Russia.
The base of balalaika’s ancestor - the domra – was made with half a pumpkin, but the Russians, being of simple nature, changed its fabrication. They were making it with wood, which changed the form of the balalaika. It became triangular.
Since its fabrication was so easy, the balalaika started to gain popularity, especially amongst the people living in the countryside. And, at the end of the 18th century, it became one of the most widespread instruments in Russia.
Unluckily, during the 19th century, the balalaika started to lose its popularity, leaving its place to the seven-stringed guitar and the accordion. Maybe the balalaika wouldn’t exist today if it wasn’t for one man : Vasiliy Vasilievich Andreev who revived this instrument.
Vasiliy Vasilievich Andreev came from a rich family, but once in the countryside, he heard the sounds of a balalaika. He was so enchanted that he asked the shepherds to teach him to play this instrument. He learned quickly and wanted to show this instrument to the public. Unfortunately, for the aristocracy, the balalaika was more of a toy than an instrument and it is not without difficulty that Andreev managed to bring this instrument on stage.
The genre of songs with which Andreev wanted to make the balalaika win the hearts of the upper class was a mix of classical and Russian folk music. Andreev’s goal was to give the balalaika the unmistakable sound of Russia.
Unfortunately, almost nobody wanted to go in the same direction as Andreev. Most people thought that the balalaika was only a toy which the lower uneducated class used to emit sounds. To break this stereotype, Andreev wanted to make himself a new balalaika, because the one he has recieved from the shepherds didn’t satisfy him anymore. But no instrument maker would accept his invitation to make his balalaika. They were afraid to taint their reputation by manufacturing such a “non-serious” instrument. But the refusals didn’t discourage Vasiliy Vasilievich. Au contraire, he began even more profound reasearches.
Finally, Andreev succeeded in convincing an instrument maker to make him a more professional balalaika for which he drew the plans himself. The instrument maker agreed to make the balalaika, but with conditions. He asked Andreev not to tell anyone that he was manufacturing a balalaika.
After giving several concerts with his new instrument, there were already people willing to learn the art of playing it. It is with these students that Andreev formed the first Russian folk instrument orchestra. This orchestra traveled a lot and gave concerts in many cities of Europe and even America.
During the 20th century, it is not the fabrication of the balalaika that changes, like it was the case during Andreev’s reform, but the repertoire. In the repertoire of a modern balalaika player there are not only Russian folk songs, but also fugues and concertos, jazz and classical music, old and new.