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PHILHARMONICA. International Music Journal

Vladimir Fyodorovich Odoyevsky and Public Music Education: The Background of the Problem and the Reception of the Scholar's Ideas in Russian Folklore

Popova Irina

PhD in Art History

Professor at the Department of Ethno-musicology of Saint Petersburg Conservatory named after N.A. Rimsky-Korsakov

190000, Russia, g. Saint Petersburg, ul. Glinki, 2, liter

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Abstract: In this article, the author examines the outstanding writer, musician, scholar, collector, and researcher of music folklore and the Old Russian art of singing, Prince Vladimir Fyodorovich Odoyevsky, and his perspective on the topic of public music education. The author considers Odoyevsky’s opinion on educating women and the lowest tiers of Russian society and the possible methods of public music education. This research is based on Odoyevsky’s letters and diaries and three articles about primary music education methods and the peculiarities of giving solfeggio classes to the broader public. The author focuses on the role of the “numerical technique” in developing Russian folklore music notating. The scientific novelty of the research lies in understanding Odoyevsky’s contribution to the popularization of the music notation system created by Émile-Joseph-Maurice Chevé. The author of this research is the first to establish Odoyevsky’s priority in developing and supporting government and social initiatives in the field of public music education. The author demonstrates the Russian enlightener's universal character toward the approaches to solving educational problems and explains the reception of some of the scholar’s scientific ideas in the Russian folklore milieu. The author uses the examples of typologically homogeneous terms of the theory of music applied by Odoyevsky that continue to be used by folk musicians.  


teaching music, music theory, public education, music education, folk music, Emile Cheve, Vladimir Odoyevsky, self-teaching, music notation, ethno-notations

Vladimir FyodorovichOdoyevsky (1804–1869), the writer, musician, composer, and art theorist, needs no special introduction. His extensive musical and literary heritage has repeatedly been the subject of attention. Odoyevsky's works on the study of old Russian singing and folk art are of significant importance. Concerning the latter, the Russian thinker made insightful theoretical reflections and worked as a practitioner, making recordings of musical folklore. An enlightened musician (Odoyevsky perceived folk music as a phenomenon of an artistic order), he was convinced that "works of popular creativity should attract our sympathy not only in a historical but also in an aesthetic sense" [8, p.371] and considered singing and instrumental music-making a true expression of the national spirit: "What a commoner cannot express in words, he expresses with music" [8, p. 371; 375].

The subject of this article is the understanding of Odoyevsky's contribution to public activities in the musical education of the people and some of the fruits of this work that are found in modern folklore tradition. It should be noted that Odoyevsky's views on this problem are in tune with the ideas expressed at the time by other Russian enlightenment scientists, for example, Alexander Nikolayevich Serov. This is, first of all, the question of the need to create new textbooks on the technical, historical, and aesthetic aspects of music in all its manifestations, including in the field of folk art, modern Russian, and European art [14]. At the same time, many of Odoyevsky's reflections on the vector of public music education development were deeply peculiar and had a significant impact on the practice of amateur and folk music-making in the twentieth century.

For more than two decades, from 1838 to 1862, Odoyevsky was a member of the Academic Committee of the Ministry of State Property, devoting himself entirely to the service of the "little man" [3, p.31]. He was engaged in the organization of orphanages, helped the Society of Visiting the Poor, took part in the affairs of the Patriotic Institute in St. Petersburg. Convinced that "every action for education in Russia can only come from above from the government" [3, p. 31], Odoyevsky promoted the creation of village schools for peasant children and the publication of textbooks [3, p.28]. Reflecting on what books should be "for the common people," the scientist spoke about the need for serious works of authors on the content and form of presenting facts. "Our people, in a serious matter, do not like jokes, and moreover, it should be noted that our people use a joke mostly in the form of ridicule. […] in books for the common people […] it is necessary to use short phrases and write in the purest language" [4, p. 183].

According to the researchers, Odoyevsky's educational activity was most active in 1860 [1, p. 635], although in reality, many of the scientist's ideas were formed earlier than the designated decade. From 1856 to 1859, Odoyevsky was in correspondence with Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, Grand Duchess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (1786–1859), during which they discussed various state initiatives in the field of Russian education for the lower strata of society. In one of the letters, Odoyevsky wrote: "The Government has paid special attention to students and private artisans […] Sunday classes are being opened for these students, and a craft magazine is supposed to be published for them. The Ministry of Education provides premises for these classes in parish schools, which, of course, are not occupied on Sundays " [4, p. 219–220]. In addition, the Russian musician enthusiastically spoke in favor of women's education. "Women's schools, or women's gymnasiums [ …] have started beautifully on our blessed land; they started recently, and they are already three in St. Petersburg" [4, p. 219]. In another letter, this topic was developed: "Morally, I expect a lot […] from the improvement of educational institutions and, in particular, from the development of women's gymnasiums" [4, p. 219].

Odoyevsky perceived art as one of the most important stimuli for developing moral qualities in a person and assigned the most important role in public education to music-making. Odoyevsky considered teaching music one of the most effective ways to ensure public good, which was especially important in Russia in connection with the abolition of serfdom. In Odoyevsky's diary entry of December 1, 1862, we find the following lines: "If I contribute to the progress of music in our country as much as I can, it is because long observations have convinced me that in addition to being an art, music is a powerful moral and pacifying means that distracts from the desire for change" [15, p.162].

Odoyevsky has repeatedly expressed himself on the issues of musical education in diaries, letters, and the press, devoting several special articles to this problem in the last decade of his life. Odoyevsky associated the spread of musical knowledge among the people, first of all, with teaching musical notation, which is why he carefully studied the experience of European countries in the methods of "elementary teaching [ …] on the part of music" [7, p. 294 –295].

In a short article for the encyclopedic dictionary The Alphabet of Musical Notation (1861) [6], Odoyevsky expressed an enthusiastic attitude to the system of elementary music teaching according to the method of Emile Joseph Maurice Chevé (1804–1864), a French music teacher and author of many textbooks, including on the digital system. The name of the Parisian teacher appears in two more of Odoyevsky's articles in 1860 [7], [9].

Odoyevsky considered Chevé's method, based on the developments of Pierre Galen (1786–1821), the most acceptable for the broad strata of Russian society. The Galen-Chevé method, as it is sometimes called, became a starting point in the implementation of the concept of public music education for the Russian thinker: "by its simplicity, [it] is available to every peasant boy, even if he was not gifted with special musical abilities" [6, p. 395]. It should be noted that Odoyevsky was not the first musician who defended the Chevé method in Russia [5]. Still, his works contributed to the wide dissemination of the French music teacher's ideas.

The essence of the Chevé system (as it was called in Odoyevsky's works) was to reduce seven notes to numbers from one to seven, sufficient to express all possible relations between the sounds of twenty-eight different scales currently used [6, p. 395]. Odoyevsky did not absolutize the recording of music with the help of numbers, believing that the latter was only the first step for a complete understanding of all those polysyllabic combinations of sounds that are represented by ordinary notes and which are all "[…] reduced to seven [ …] sounds expressed through seven well-known signs – what overcomes the first difficulty in the initial study of music, where there are up to 800 and even up to 12,600 different conventional signs, expressing the same thing" [7, p. 298].

Odoyevsky considered the main achievement of the Chevé method to be its simplicity and accessibility. "It should be noted that in the method of music is all the tricks of the ordinary, which for a beginner are presented in the form of some kind of gibberish, are reduced to the simplest signs expressing by seven. Everyone knows the numbers, the main elements of music, i.e., e. intervals. […] a person familiar with the meaning of intervals can easily make it possible to read any music, no matter how it is depicted, with notes, numbers, letters, hooks, and in any key. And that's the whole problem teaching music" [7, p. 292].

The Russian scientist perceived the Chevé method as a continuation and development of the traditions of musical writing of the preclassical period. Odoyevsky saw its continuity in relation to the ancient forms of musical graphics, especially domestic ones. "This method is almost the same as that used by Guido and his followers in the West, and here Shaidurov, Makarievsky, Mezenets, only with the difference that numbers are easier to express the relationship between sounds than letters or hooks" [6, p. 295].

Of significant importance for Odoyevsky was that the Chevé method received a solid practical approbation in France, demonstrating its effectiveness. "For about twenty years, teaching on this subject has been done by Chevé himself in Paris […] daily and free of charge to people of both sexes and different ranks, and with amazing success […]. Students using this method, almost from the first lessons, acquire the opportunity to read, and subsequently sing any music, whatever it may be […], write music under dictation […]. I personally and many other music lovers were convinced of everything by numerous, direct observations at the Chevé school itself" [6, p. 295].

While in Paris, Odoyevsky attended classes at the Chevé school and communicated a lot with the creator of the methodology, certainly falling under the charm of this extraordinary creative personality. In particular, the Russian musician outlined the main arguments voiced by Chevé regarding the goals of developing the digital alphabet, among which were tasks of social and ethical order: "every evening, when I return from school, I console myself with the gratifying thought that my students will no longer go to a pub or brawl on the street. Their soul is tuned with music. […] my goal is to introduce an artistic element of pacification to the people" [7, c. 297]. The last thought was the closest to the civil position of the Russian educator.

In his public statements, Odoyevsky generously shared his vivid, emotionally rich impressions of Chevé's classes, which convinced the Russian musician of the method's effectiveness. "These lessons were performed simply in the anatomical hall of the famous medical school of Paris […] every evening […] I found in the hall more than three hundred people of both sexes, of different ages and all ranks: officials, merchants, artisans. Still prejudiced against the digital method, I sat down on a bench to get acquainted with it by my own experience. By the end of the lesson, my prejudice had disappeared. I clearly saw that through this method, and only through this one method, of all the difficulties I have studied so far, the difficulty in musical training that seemed to many teachers to be irresistible had been overcome" [7, c. 294–295].

Convinced of the high efficiency of the Chevé musical alphabet, Odoyevsky did everything possible to introduce it on Russian soil. In 1864, on the initiative and with Odoyevsky's personal support, a simple singing class was opened at the Moscow branch of the Russian Musical Society (hereinafter referred to as the RMO), where music and choral singing were taught using the digital method. In the same year, Odoyevsky published a special article, A Free Class of Simple Choral Singing, where he described in detail his views in defense of this method of teaching.

At the beginning of this article, Odoyevsky, in particular, refers to the director of the Moscow Conservatory, N. G. Rubinetein's speech. The latter spoke at the opening of the simple choral singing class and outlined the goals that public music education in general sets for itself: "We are not gathered here to become musicians […] and in order to learn to read according to the most simplified alphabet, according to the most understandable signs" [7, p.293].

It is obvious that Rubinstein clearly distinguished the goals and objectives of educating professional musicians on the one hand and musical education and performing practice of the broad strata of Russian society on the other. While advocating for the development of professional music education, Rubinstein, nevertheless, strongly supported Odoyevsky's educational initiatives. Here are fragments of the director of the Moscow Conservatory's speech as presented by Odoyevsky: "It is impossible to demand that the whole people learn to sing according to the polysyllabic requirements of instrumental science, but it is possible to achieve that everyone participating in the choir is aware of what he is doing. […] This is the diploma of simple singing, which should not be confused with the science of music, based on the study of instruments and a rather complex theory " [7, p. 292 –293]. The appeal in the practice of the RMO to the methodology of the Parisian teacher and amateur musician, which at one time caused a heated controversy among French professional musicians, could meet no less serious resistance in Russian academic circles. Because of this, the support of the director and one of the leading professors of the Moscow Conservatory had a special weight and public resonance.

Odoyevsky enthusiastically described the first lesson of the free choral class according to the Chevé method at the RMO, where more than 60 people of both sexes and different ages gathered [7, p.301]. There was not enough space for everyone, which is why Odoyevsky suggested the need to use more extensive halls for classes, using classrooms at the university or in one of the gymnasiums that remained empty on Sundays [7, p.301]. It should be noted that later, this method of organizing public music classes (in educational institutions, on weekends) was established as one of the main methods. Odoyevsky was proud to announce that the number of people who wanted to attend classes was so large that he said, "we are talking about stopping the admission of new students." In addition, he advertises another educational initiative — free choir classes in private homes: at "Ms. Voeikova on Mokhovaya […] Lessons on Sundays and Thursdays start at exactly 2 o'clock" [7, p.301].

As Odoyevsky testified, training in the class was conducted free of charge, thanks to the support of Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna and Moscow patrons. The training remained that way until the end of the 1870s, but even in later years, it did not exceed 50 kopecks per month [1, p.615], which was still feasible for not quite wealthy citizens. Odoyevsky intended to print the classes' texts on separate sheets and distribute them to the general public [7, p. 301], but it was not possible to find out whether this plan was implemented.

Konstantin Albrecht (1836–1893), a cellist, composer, inspector, and Moscow Conservatory teacher, one of the founders of the Russian Choral Society, became the conductor of Odoyevsky's ideas in the field of public teaching of choral singing by the digital method. It was Albrecht who, from 1864, led a simple singing class in the RMO, and in 1881, opened public choir classes in the Russian Choral Society, where, among other things, he trained choir teachers for folk schools, teaching singing by numbers.

Odeoyevsky and Albrecht's efforts contributed a lot to how the digital alphabet became widespread in Russia. The idea of "tsifirka," as it was called in the vernacular, became widely used in various educational practices as a universal methodological tool, especially when teaching folk musical instruments. Digital tablatures had gained priority in various self-help books, music schools, and repertoire collections, and they were sometimes used in combination with traditional five-line notation. The digital method proved relevant for the entire twentieth-century Russian folklore tradition, stimulating the emergence of many types and forms of instrumental and vocal ethnonotation. For example, according to the samples of printed self-help books set out in digital tablatures, "folk" composers' schools of playing on local varieties of harmonics began to appear, some of which were published and studied in the aspect of the problem of ethnonotation [10],[12],[13].

Another significant work by Odoyevsky, written shortly before the scientist's death, is the pamphlet Musical Literacy or the Foundations of Music for Non-Musicians (1868). According to the author, the purpose of this publication was to help "those who think that it is too late for them, as they say, to study and yet they would like to get an idea of its essence, whether to record a tune they heard, whether to make it easier to read research on the history of music or finally, for their own archaeological and paleographic studies of our ancient musical manuscripts [9, p. 346]. In fact, Odoyevsky defines the readers he addressed in this work as music lovers who could use the theoretical knowledge gained to record folk melodies. It is noteworthy that in the nineteenth century, some collectors of folklore actually carried out field recordings of folk music using a digital technique (Finn E. Lennroth, Norwegian L. N. Linneman). It should be noted that the possibility of recording melodies with numbers was also provided for in paragraph three of the Program for Collecting Folk Songs and other Musical and Ethnographic Materials, developed by the Musical and Ethnographic Commission at the Society of Lovers of Natural Science, Anthropology, and Ethnography at Moscow University (1902) [11].

According to researchers, Odoyevsky's contemporaries did not fully appreciate the historical significance of Musical Literacy [1, p.635]. At the same time, this work of Odoyevsky's is an "original experience of creating a methodological manual for self-study" [1, p.635]. One of the few received contemporary reviews of the manual, expressed by the writer N. M. Stromilov, reads: "I read the musical diploma with attention and reread it with pleasure. I predict an enviable future for her before other books: the people will also read her, her language is understandable to them " [1, p. 635].

Nowadays, professional musicians are quite skeptical about the way Odoyevsky explains musical-theoretical concepts and terms. In the comments to the Soviet reissue of Musical Literacy, we find the following assessment of this publication: "In an effort to simplify the learning system as much as possible, to prove the availability of knowledge of the laws of music and music science, Odoyevsky defends the method of self-learning, which does not require, as it seems to him, special training and offers his terminology, which hardly has advantages over the generally accepted" [1, p.635].

Our objections relate only to the last judgment of the commentator. For example, some of the terms proposed by Odoyevsky to explain the basics of musical theory that seem far-fetched to professional musicians, find a response from folk performers, i.e., that wide range of users of musical knowledge who, not being experienced in classical theory, often turn to textbooks and various self-help books in an attempt to get answers to their questions. As the study of folk music terminology based on expedition recordings of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries show, many folk performers (especially instrumentalists) were close to Odoyevsky's approach.

Let's illustrate our observations with a few examples.

In the preface to Musical Literacy, Odoyevsky defines a list of the main musical-theoretical terms, the meaning of which must be understood by every beginner, and also offers their brief definitions. Among the fundamental concepts mentioned are such concepts as "interval (gap, indent)," and "chord (consonance)" [9, p. 346].

In the main text of the work, Odoyevsky offers a more detailed definition of the term interval: "Anyone who has seen the playing of the guitar or the violin probably noticed that for the production of each sound, a special grip or pressing of the string with your finger at a certain place, and that the distances between the two grips are different. These distances, or gaps between the parts of the string, in music are called intervals. […] The space between the grips is the interval" [9, p. 351 –352]. Explaining the concept of the interval, Odoyevsky appeals to the readers', albeit insignificant, performing experience, calls for observations on the playing of other musicians, and also, quite likely, relies on his own achievements in teaching the basics of musical theory.

As modern expedition records show, the term interval is extremely rare in the speech of folk musicians, while word formations with the root "grip" quite often appear in the vocabulary of performers on traditional musical instruments. An example is the folk self-help guide for playing the accordion, compiled in the 1980s by a village musician from the Belozersky district of the Vologda Region, V. L. Chugunnikov [10]. The village harmonica player developed his own system of recording music using digital tablatures and used the term "tack" in the explanatory remarks to them: "tack on the second [o]m row [y] distort 5 and 6", "tack 5 and 6" (Figure 1).

Figure 1. "Ugryumovskaya," entry by V. L. Chugunnikova [10, S. 20]

In the context of Chugunnikov's musical-theoretical views, "tack" means a chord formed by adding two or more sounds to one tone (indicated in the recording by the numbers 5 and 6), i.e., the interval. The actual intervals in the harmonic form are distinguished in Chugunnikov's manuscripts by an explanatory remark "together" and graphic means (circular stroke, brackets, horizontal and vertical lines), or by the term "chord" (in the author's writing "chord"), which is also used when simultaneously playing two or more sounds on the right keyboard of the harmonic (Figure 2).

Figure 2. "There was a carriage at the church," entry by V. L. Chugunnikov [10, S. 20]

In Odoevsky's Musical Literacy, an experiment was also undertaken to explain the concept of the interval from the standpoint of acoustics. To do this, the scientist suggested that beginners should be guided by the table of the structure of intervals (Figure 3).

Figure 3. "Ladder of degrees of sounds and distances between them" [9, c. 369]

Note that in this scheme, Odoyevsky uses and recommends that novice music lovers use another pair of definitions instead of the concepts "tone" and "semitone" – "whole interval" and "half interval" – since these terms denote different distances between two musical heights, which corresponds more to their original meaning.

Even though the very concept of "interval," as a rule, is unfamiliar to modern carriers of the folklore tradition, the names of some of them are used in areas of practical activity that require special musical knowledge, for example, by self-taught masters of repairing and tuning harmonics. Without having received special education, they master musical notation at least to a minimal extent, understand the tonal composition of intervals, and, recalling Odoyevsky's approach, distinguish between intervals in "whole" and "half."

Music master and harmonica player N. N. Bibin from Sokol, Vologda Region, uses the concepts of "octave" and "semi-octave" in his recordings (Figure 4). However, in its coordinate system, these terms do not exactly denote intervals but the resonators of the left harmony keyboard vocal bars. In fact, these concepts differentiate the tones by the tessitura of the sound since the resonator bars' "semi-octaves" sound an octave higher than the bars designated as "octave."

Figure 4. Working recordings of the music master N. N. Bibin (materials of the joint expedition of the St. Petersburg State Conservatory and the Center for Folk Culture were recorded on 03.02.2007 by A. A. Mehnetsov, I. S. Telenkov)

Returning to Odoyesvsky's Musical Literacy, we note that the examples used to explain certain musical theory concepts given in this publication are strikingly similar to the language of the speakers of folklore consciousness, which is quite symbolic. According to the researchers, "the system underlying this work was formed by Odoyevsky over a long time and was practically tested by him in lectures and music-theoretical classes organized at home" [1, p. 635]. Perhaps this system of Odoyevsky's took into account the experience of perception of musical-theoretical terms by a broad audience and partly relied on it in the newly introduced definitions.

The study of Odoyevsky's works related to the people's musical education shows that this activity had a consistent character and was reflected in the scientist's practical, methodological, organizational, and scientific work in the last years of his life. Understanding the demand of the environment to obtain musical knowledge and participation in various forms of performing practice, Odoyevsky studied and adapted the experience of his European colleagues on Russian soil (the Chevé method), directed serious professional musicians (first of all, Konstantin Albrecht) to this path, personally contributed to this work in every possible way (assistance in organizing a simple singing class at the RMO). It is noteworthy that much of what this outstanding nineteenth-century Russian educator expressed in his articles at the time turned out to agree with the understanding of the musicians of the folklore tradition as found in numerous confirmations in modern field materials.

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