Slavic Song in New York Hills
A Russian musical family's journey from Czar's palace to the heart of the Adirondacks
THE exhibit looked very interesting but it was not one upon which I initially had expected to spend much afterthought. The display was one of gorgeous Russian costumes, most of them in the fashion called Vladimir. Historically, the town of Vladimir and its surrounding region, about 150 miles outside Moscow, was an important area; its princes were instrumental in throwing off the Mongol domination of Russia which followed the invasions of the khans of the Golden Horde during the 13th century. The Franklin County Council for the Arts is housed in a former woolen mill, and cheek by jowl with these exotic splendors is a workaday Adirondack exhibit of the products of the old Ballard Woolen Mill whose slogan was, ``All Wool and a Yard Wide.'' The incongruity of the Russian exhibit was increased by my understanding that there were few, if any, Russians living in the area. Intricate, traditional Russian dressSkip to next paragraph
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The Vladimir style highlights its ancient Russian heritage. Characteristically, the woman's garment was a sleeveless jumper with a square neckline. It fell fairly straight from a wide embroidered band bordering the neck and has a decorated front panel. Moderately full sleeves of a thinner white undergarment covered the arms. The headdress was a stiff miter-shaped crown tied with bows in the back. Sometimes the face was shaded with a partial veil of a sort of white fishnet. An ample gauzy veil, also white, flowed from the open crown over the wearer's shoulders and arms.
The examples in the museum rooms of our local Arts Council's precincts are of colorful velvets and satins, all of the pieces beaded and embroidered with a theatrical richness and an intricacy that defies description. There are also men's jackets and curious helmet-like caps as well as some fur-trimmed outfits for boys. Costumes that belonged to a prince
The story behind the costumes is implicit with history, adventure, and romance. In 1834, a son, Dmitri, was born to the princely Agreneff family. Instead of spending his youth being princely - with whatever vices and virtues this might have entailed - he mingled with the serfs on the family estates. Serfdom was the next thing to slavery - the serfs could not leave the land on which they were born and worked without compensation. If the land was sold, the serfs were sold along with it as part of the deal.
Prince Dmitri must have heard and loved their work songs and the songs sung at their village fairs and festivals as they observed births, marriages, and deaths. Musically inclined and doubtless provided with an aristocratic and musically sound education, young Dmitri Alexandrovich (as he would have been customarily called in Russian) collected, wrote down, and arranged the haunting folk melodies. The Csar confers a special title
The prince is credited with preserving the poignantly beautiful ``Song of the Volga Boatmen.''
His work came to the attention of Czar Alexander II, who came to the throne during the Crimean War. The conflict had been precipitated by his irresponsible father; Alexander immediately negotiated a peace treaty.