From Mussorgsky to Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, the unmistakable sound of bells rings through the greatest pieces of Russian music. Composer Llywelyn ap Myrddin takes us on a musical journey to discover the 'voice of the Russian sky' amid the throng at the Rostov-the-Great Bell Festival.
With the aid of pianist Yaroslav Timofeev and musicologist Gerard McBurney, Llywelyn sheds light on the unique complexity of the Russian bell's sound, its chaotic overtones and harmonics, and why its wild untuned state must have enraptured The Mighty Five composers in their quest for a truly national school of Russian music during the 19th century.
Woven into the very fabric of everyday Russian life for centuries, bell chimes sounded warnings, weddings and death knells. At different points they have been emblematic of both a deep patriotic conservatism and dangerous subversion. With the help of historians and expert campanologists, Llywelyn delves into the medieval origins of Russian bells, including colourful anecdotes which encapsulate the literal and symbolic power of the bell. Exclusive archival evidence sheds light on the layman reaction to the shocking abolition of bells during the Soviet era.
But what of the future of this age-old Russian tradition? Speaking with Oleg Gritsaenko at his thriving Litex bell foundry in Zhukovsky, Llywelyn gets to grips with the intricate playing style of the zvonar' (bell-ringer) and feels the heat of the fiery furnace with the next generation of bell-casters who are painstakingly rediscovering a lost art.
Recorded on location in Russia.
A Cast Iron Radio production for BBC Radio 4.