Vladimir Horn

Vladimir Horn

A horn in Rus has long served as a signal instrument. The sounds of horns collected people for important news, informed of the arrival of mail delivered by coachmen. The sounds of bugles accompanied hunting. Horns sounded during military operations and solemn ceremonies. Since the 10th century, a horn is mentioned in oral folk art (songs, epics, legends), its image is found in ancient Russian chronicles and fresco painting.

In the late 17th-early 18th centuries, according to the researchers of Russian folk instruments, a shepherd's horn became widespread as a musical instrument. It served to give signals during work: a shepherd gathered a herd with the sound of a horn, grazed and guarded it. During the rest, simple joggings were played on a horn. In fields one could hear whole "orchestras" of  horn-players. Shepherds' horns became very popular among the people, especially in the peasant environment.

Initially, shepherds' horns were made from natural animal horns, but were gradually replaced by conical shaped wooden tubes. To make the instrument, folk masters, as a rule, used birch billets with a length of 150-200 cm: they were split longitudinally, wood was selected by semicircular chisels, two processed halves were braided with birch-bark.  Before the game, a horn was wetted with water, so that cracks on the trunk tightly closed, and sound became stronger. A small recess at the beginning of the trunk served as a mouthpiece. A trumpet was made of conical shape from tin or natural cow horn.

A large distribution of horn got among shepherds in the villages of central Russia. But the greatest popularity peasants of the Vladimir province acquired as musicians horn-players in the 18th century. In spring, they took their horns  and went on seasonal work in villages of other provinces. As a matter of fact, a whole kind of seasonal work for the Vladimir horn-players was formed. They were indispensable participants of holidays in villages, and performed at town fairs. The ensembles, composed of musicians horn-players, began to be called "choirs".

In the middle of the 1850s, in the village of Mishnevo, the Kovrov district of the Vladimir province (now the Kameshkovo district), peasant N.V. Kondratiev established the orchestra of the horn-players, consisting of serf musicians from various villages – Mishnevo, Suslovo, Gorki, Berkovo, Ostrov, Mashkovo, Simakovo. The first performances of the "choir" of the horn-players took place mainly at holidays and festivities in neighboring provinces. In 1865 the Vladimir horn-players became widely known at the Nizhny Novgorod fair, which was noted in the press. Their performance was then admired by the writer Maxim Gorky.

But the greatest success came to peasant musicians in Petersburg in 1883, when they were invited to Peterhof and played for the Emperor Alexander III and his family. Even Paris and the cities of Germany and Belgium applauded the Vladimir horn-players, where they had to show corns on their hands, proving that they were not disguised artists from a conservatory, but real peasants. Orchestra of the horn-players, led by N.V. Kondratiev existed for more than 40 years, until the end of the 1890s.

Since then a shepherd's horn became known as "Vladimir horn", thanks to the glory of N.V. Kondratiev and his horn-players, although widespread in many provinces. The Vladimir horn and the Vladimir horn-players as special concepts are included in all encyclopaedic dictionaries. It is not by chance that a shepherd's horn is depicted on the coat of arms of the Kameshkovo district of the Vladimir region.

The Vladimir horn is no longer just a shepherd's attribute, but a completely independent musical instrument. It is made of birch, maple or juniper. According to the musicians, juniper horns possess the best sound qualities. The sound of a horn, strong and piercing, depends on its size. There are two types of horns: a small horn (local name – "vizgunok"), 30-32 cm long, and a large horn ("bass", local name – "basok"), which length can reach one meter. Sometimes a horn, medium between large and small, a "half-bass" (local name – "polubasok") 50-60 cm long, is used.

Horns have six playing holes: five of them are located on the front side, one – on the backside. They are located at the same distance from each other. Often the masters did not attach special importance to the location of the holes on the trunk of the horn. Therefore, the difference in their location was sometimes 3-4 cm. The purity of the tones was achieved by the force of the jet of air, which makes it possible to raise or lower the tone.

Traditions of musical art of the Kondratyev’s choir of the horn-players on the Vladimir land today preserves and develops the ensemble of folk music "Vladimir horn-players " ("Vladimir Rozhechniky"). It was established in 1997, in 2006 the ensemble was awarded the title of "People's Collective". The artistic director of the ensemble is the laureate of the Russian Government's "Soul of Russia" award Alexander Lebedev. The ensemble performed at the best concert venues in the country (in the halls of the Gnesin Academy of Music, in the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses), together with the fund "New Names" was on tour in Germany. The ensemble is a laureate and a diploma winner of the International and All-Russian competitions, as well as an active participant in the project of the People's Artist of Russia Nadezhda Babkina – the All-Russian festival-marathon "Songs of Russia". The ensemble "Vladimir horn-players" is one of the basic collectives of the Regional Center of Folk Art.  

"Vladimir horn-players" conduct a large concert and educational work, speaking in general schools, military units, hospitals, at regional and town events. During each concert A. Lebedev tries to acquaint spectators with the history of the Vladimir horn, its device, and the folk Russian musical and song culture.

The repertoire of the collective consists of folk songs and tunes that were performed by Vladimir horn-players at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, as well as modern arrangements of folk music. The programs of concerts include lyric, dance, wedding, quadrille, calendar, joky, soldier songs of different regions of Russia. The actors not only play horns, but sing and dance.

"Vladimir horn-players" is a very bright and distinctive collective of folk music, and today, in fact, has become a "visiting card" of the Vladimir region. 

Author: V. Korolkova