Skomorokh

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Skomorokh

 

(itinerant performer), one of a group of medieval Russian actors, who also performed as singers, dancers, and musicians and who wrote most of the musical and dramatic works that they performed. The skomorokhi came into existence before the mid-11th century. They are depicted in frescoes dating from 1037 in the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kiev. This type of entertainment was most popular from the 15th to 17th centuries, declining gradually in the 18th century. Some of its traditions were passed to the balagan (a temporary theatrical, circus, or estrada [variety stage] performance) and to the raek (a peep show).

The repertoire of the skomorokhi included comic songs, dramatic scenes, and glumy (social satire), which were performed in masks and special costumes to the accompaniment of dom-ras, bagpipes, and tambourines. Appearing on streets and squares, the skomorokhi mixed with the spectators and involved them in their performance. The main hero of their presentations was a merry, sprightly, and very crafty fellow who frequently operated under the guise of comic simplemindedness.

In the 16th and 17th centuries the skomorokhi traveled in groups of 70–100 members. They were often persecuted by the church and by civil authorities and were prohibited from performing by ukases issued in 1648 and 1657. (Subsequently, the skomorokhi did, however, sometimes perform at folk festivals.)

REFERENCES

Famintsyn, A. S. Skomorokhi na Rusi. St. Petersburg, 1889.
Morozov, A. “M. D. Krivopolenova i nasledie skomorokhov.” In M. D. Krivopolenova, Byliny, skomoroshiny, skazki. Arkhangl’sk, 1950.
Vsevolodskii-Gerngross, V. N. Russkaia ustnaia narodnaia drama. Moscow, 1959.
Belkin, A. A. “Skomorokhi ν obshchestvennoi zhizni Rusi.” Teatr, 1971, no. 11. [23–1533–]
References in periodicals archive ?
Belkin in his book about Russian minstrels (skomorokhi): Russkie skomorokhi (Moscow: Nauka, 1975), 157.
The first volume covers the early period of Russian history comprising twelve chapters so diverse that they are worth enumerating in detail: "The Predecessors of the Slavs", "Pagan Rus'", "Kievan Rus'", "Novgorod the Great", "The Activities of the Skomorokhi in Russia", "Music and Musical Instruments in Russian Miniatures, Woodcuts, and Glossaries", "A Survey of Old Russian Folk Instruments", "Music in Ancient Russia (Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries)", "Music in the Monastery: Chashi (Toasts).
Although he begins his study with a brief discussion of the skomorokhi and popular theatrical culture prior to the Great Reforms of the 1860s, his concentration on the fifty-year period between 1861 and 1917 serves to suggest that concepts around and proponents for a popular theatre movement were not in currency prior to 1861.
According to Mikhail Bakhtin's classic account of carnival, the removal of linguistic taboos on words that denote reproductive and excretory functions promoted an ambience that was `frank and free, recognizing no distinctions between those involved, free from the usual (non-carnival) norms of etiquette and decency'.(44) Such carnivalesque use of language was associated in Russia with the skomorokhi, minstrels whose singing, dancing and bear-baiting were standard fare at festivities.
(45) Russell Zguta, Russian Minstrels: A History of the Skomorokhi (Oxford, 1978), 60-3.
From ancient to early modern times, pagan guitar bards (Skomorokhi) wandered the countryside, "stirring up Russia in teams of a hundred men armed with cacophonous instruments,' as Lipninsky puts it.
When Aleksei Mikhailovich's ban on minstrels (the skomorokhi) apparently had little effect in the countryside, an order sent to northern villages in 1653 outlined penalties for such entertainment, noting that some minstrels were featuring small trained dogs in addition to bears.