Balalaika, wood / metal / plastic, [made by R Pashroff, Adelaide, South Australia], 1970-1973
The balalaika is recognised internationally as the typical traditional Russian musical instrument. The balalaika is a stringed instrument and is readily identifiable by a triangular body with three to six strings. The derivation of the balalaika is unknown and this lack of instrument ancestry has lead to much academic speculation and debate as to its origins as an indigenous or imported musical instrument. The first documented evidence of the balalaika dates to 1688 with an account of the arrests of a townsman and peasant for ¬?playing the balalaika and singing in the street¬?. By order of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich who was famous for his hatred of Russian culture, all instruments were to be collected and burned and Russian musicians were flogged and exiled if caught playing an instrument
The balalaika has at the height of its popularity been noted as a democratically accessible instrument given its popularity across all strata of society. Due to the simple design of the balalaika it was easy to play, could be hand-made in any Russian home and was a favourite with the aristocracy and in court circles.
The balalaika survived periods of being in and out of favour, however, the Russian nobleman, Vassily Vassilievich Andreyev (1861-1918), is credited with reviving the popularity of the balalaika with a public performance in St Petersburgh in 1886. He improved and standardised the balalaika for orchestral use, arranged traditional Russian folk songs and melodies as orchestral works and composed new pieces. He promoted ensemble rather than solo playing and made the balalaika once-again fashionable. This resulted in the mass manufacture of the balalaika and the development of a family of balalaika comprising the prime, the highest pitched and also the most common balalaika, and included the second, alto, bass and contrabass..
Andreyev fostered a strong orchestral tradition developing the balalaika with its distinctive sound as the ¬?sound of Russia¬?. Tchaikovsky commented on the technical execution and timbral possibilities of the balalaika describing it as an ¬?indispensable instrument¬? to an orchestra. (Words of Tchaikovsky printed on the reverse of a balalaika postcard from the Glinko State Central Museum of Musical Culture supplied to and translated by M. Kiszko.)
During the Soviet period (1917-1991) of Russian history, the balalaika achieved prominence in Russian society. The balalaika shows the use of traditional Russian instrument making in Australia, as the instrument was probably made by a person of Russian origins living in Adelaide. This balalaika is an example of the significance of the relationship between traditional cultural influence and the migrant experience in Australia and represents a diversity of cultural interests and heritages in Australia.
The balalaika was possibly made by R. Pashroff of Adelaide. It was made on or before 1973.
This balalaika was transferred from the Dennis Wolanski Library housed in the Sydney Opera House. Following the closure of the library and the dispersal of its collections to organisations in New South Wales and interstate, the Powerhouse Museum acquired the balalaika.
If R. Pashroff is not the maker of the instrument, he may have owned it before it was given to the Sydney Opera House. According to the plaque on the belly of the instrument, The Russian Club Ltd, Strathfield, New South Wales, presented the instrument on 28 October 1973. According to Opera House documents including a press release of 8 February 1974, the National Folkloric Programme was presented in the Concert Hall of the Opera House on 26 October 1973. The Opera House received a large number of gifts from performers in the Folkloric Programme and in the South Pacific Festival held on 26 October. The balalaika was included in an exhibition of some of these gifts, held at the Opera House in February 1974. The list of items in the exhibition states that the balalaika was "Presented by the Russian National Ensemble of Sydney".