Bylina Melodies

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Bylina Melodies


melodies to which byliny are performed.

In the northern areas of Russia (Trans-Onega, Pinega, Mezen’, Pechora, the shores of the White Sea, and so on), byliny are performed primarily by a single (solo) skazitel’ (bylina narrator), and in certain localities by two or three skaziteli (in an imitative manner). These melodies are brief (corresponding to two or three lines of text), narrow in range (a fourth or sixth), with a predominance of seconds and thirds in melodic movements. The character of the performance of the northern byliny is unique; they are sung softly—“narrated.” In its repetitions the bylina melody is varied in an improvised manner according to the development of the poetic images; its beginning and ending are the most stable sections. Bylina melodies are not attached to definite texts; frequently the skazitel’ uses one or two melodies to perform all the byliny he knows. Among the skaziteli of northern byliny the following enjoyed special renown: T. G. and I. T. Riabinin, M. D. Krivopolenova, and A. M. and M. S. Kriukov.

Among the cossacks of the Don, Urals, and Terek, as well as in Voronezh Oblast, there are byliny of a different type; their melodies resemble prolonged, lyrical songs, and they are performed by a chorus in two or three parts. Moreover, each melody is used for the rendition of only one specific text. Many bylina melodies have been written down; their arrangements have been included in collections of Russian folk songs, compiled by N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov, M. A. Balakirev, A. K. Liadov, and others. Bylina melodies have had a great influence on Russian classical and Soviet music, facilitating its development of epic principles (the opera Sadko by Rimsky-Korsakov, the works of A. P. Borodin, A. K. Glazunov, Iu. A. Shaporin, and others). Bylina melodies have been used in a number of works by Russian and Soviet composers (the opera The Snow Maiden by Rimsky-Korsakov, Boris Godunov by Mussorgsky, A Fantasy on Themes of I. T. Riabinin for Piano and Orchestra by Arenskii, Bylina About Lenin by Popov, Epic Poem by Golynin, and others).


(Collections of Byliny with melodies)
Drevnie rossiiskie stikhotvoreniia, sobrannye Kirsheiu Danilovym. Moscow-Leningrad, 1958.
Il’ia Muromets. Moscow-Leningrad, 1958.
Byliny Pechory i Zimnego Berega. Moscow-Leningrad, 1961.


Maslov, A. L. “Byliny, ikh proiskhozhdenie, ritmicheskii i melo dicheskii sklad.” Trudy muzykal’ no-etnografcheskoi komissii, vol. 2. Moscow, 1911.
Ianchuk, N. “O muzyke bylin v sviazi s istoriei ikh izucheniia.” In the collection Byliny, vol. 2. Edited by M. Speranskii. Moscow, 1919. Pages 527-72.
Popova, T. V. Russkoe narodnoe muzykal’noe tvorchestvo, 2nd ed., vol. 1. Moscow, 1962.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.