Dear listeners! You hold a disco with the record of “About Dobrynya” bylina, probably the first complete record of the bylina made in the 21st century. It is a reconstruction because bylinas were last recorded in traditional environment in the 1950s. Since that time performing of bylinas by native folk singers has completely stopped. This bylina was reconstructed on the basis of the old sound record of Ivan Terentievich Fofanov the famous narrator (1873-1943) who dictated the text of this bylina.
Bylina is a Russian ancient epic song. The plot of bylina is some heroic event or a remarkable episode from the Russian history. The term “bylina” was first used by I.P Saharov, folklorist (1807-1863) in the 1840s.
The first bylinas appeared probably before the Baptism of Russia (988) and they had features of very ancient pagan epic songs, which were later “Christianized”. According to the place of their origin bylinas are divided into Kiev and Novgorodian, and later All-Russian ones. The peculiar poetic language of bylinas and the way to perform them had developed for many centuries. It is considered that in old time narrators performed bylinas playing the gusli, later their performance was a type of cantillation. The basis of the special bylina’s accentual verse is commensurability of lines and stresses that result in rhythmic uniformity. Although the narrators used only few melodies they enriched them with various intonations and also they changed their timbre.
As a rule a bylina consists of three parts: the introduction, which is not directly related to the content, its aim is to prepare the audience for listening, then the main part (action) and the conclusion.
The number of subjects) in bylina is very limited (about a hundred), although there are the many recorded versions of the same song. The first record of Russian epic songs was made by Richard James who was England, at the beginning of the 17th century. But the first significant work on collecting of bylinas belongs to Cossack Kirsha Danilov. He recorded 70 songs in the 1840-60s. Some of them were published in Moscow only in 1804 under the title of “Russian Old Time Verses”. This book remained the only collection of Russian epic songs for a long time.
The next step in study of epic songs was made by P.N. Rybnikov. Although this folk genre was considered to be “dead” he discovered that some people in Olonets province still performed bylinas. Due to his discovery there was more chance to study the epic songs, to learn the way of their performing and to get acquainted with the performers. The result of his study – “Songs collected by Rybnikov” – was published in 1861-1867. Its four volumes contained 165 bylinas (in comparison to 24 songs in the collection of Kirsha Danilov).
Later Gilferding A.F., Kireevskii P.V., Onchukov N.E. and others published the results of their folklore expeditions to the north of European part of Russia, Siberia, the Middle and Lower Volga Region, at the Don and Tereck Rivers and Urals. The last records of bylinas were made in the1920-50s by Soviet expeditions in Northern Russia. Since the 1950s epic songs ceased to exist as live performance and they remained only in books.
And now again our re-created "About Dobrynya" epic song. The text and a sound fragment were recorded after Ivan Fofanov, a peasant from the village of Klimova, Avdeev District, Pudozh Region. He leant how to sing the bylina from Nickiphor Prokhorov - the famous narrator of the older generation. At the same time he gives an interesting story unfolding in 523 verses (Prohorov’s song had 479 verses). He begins with the introduction – Dobrynya’s packing for hunting. Then in this edition there is a very rare, unusual for this epic song episode of the fight of two Russian heroes with each other. He gives consistent story about Dobrynya’s traveling is in detail. Thus, the episode of the Alyosha’s courtship is in the background.
Fofanov I.T. is a outstanding narrator and connoisseur of the heroic genre. He admires the folk heroes for their physical power and the description of the battles. A bylina for the narrator is a story about the heroic deeds of the main characters. Some fairytale elements of bylina question its reality and the narrator draws a sharp distinction between a bylina and a fairy tale.
You can imagine how difficult it was for me to follow such a master in singing bylina. I, Oleg Scobelev, have deeply studied performing of folk songs for about ten years when I became a participant of the Kizhi museum folk theatre. I was born in Perm Region. My grandmother was from the old Urals’ city of Cherdyn. I also have deep Tver’s and Yaroslavl’ roots. Russian epic songs did not attract me immediately. Because of my great respect for this genre and lack of self confidence it was not so easy to realize this idea – to restore bylina. It took me four years to become ready – internally and externally – for this work. My great desire to revive bylina and to show the new generations how bylinas sounded, lived and sung helped me. I’ll never forget that wonderful feeling when I was stunned by joy while listening to the recorded bylina performed by I.T Fofanov. I was impressed by the music of the words; I was charmed by the melody streaming like a brook. I hope you will also feel this living link between the times and generations.