The balalaika has its origins in the oriental domra, a two-stringed, oval-faced instrument brought to Russia most probably by the Mongols in the fourteenth century. For centuries it was an instrument of the peasant class - at various times during its history, the playing of it was banned by both the Orthodox church and the State, for as often as not the irreverent street musicians, or 'skomorokhi', poked fun at both of these institutions in their music.The word balalaika is similar to the Russian words “балакать,” “балаболить” and “балабонить” meaning “babble” or “jabber” an analogy to the sound of the balalaika.
By the mid-eighteenth century, the balalaika was easily the most popular instrument amongst the Russian people. Several factors contributed to the: earlier stringed instruments such as the 'gusli', 'domra' and 'gudok' - all of which may have rivalled the balalaika - had gone out of fashion, the guitar had not yet penetrated into the Russian life, and it was surprisingly easy to make a balalaika at home. It was the latter that also contributed to the change in shape from the oval to triangular - it was much easier to form straight sides that curved.
Even though the balalaika was largely considered a toy for the underclass, it was Vasiliy Vasilievich Andreyev, born in 1861 who was inspired by the instrument and learned to play it from local peasants. Determined to garner respect for the lowly balalaika, Andreyev commissioned a professionally made balalaika and with it, performed concerts. Andreyev wrote music for the balalaika and his performances commonly combined Russian folk music with classical programs. During the 1850s, a popular balalaika player named Radivilov gave performances on one, three and four string instruments. Music Andreyev wrote music for the balalaika and his performances commonly combined Russian folk music with classical. Many balalaika players of his day played traditional folk songs
The adjacent photo shows, on the left, a typical five row, 120 bass bayan. On the right is an accordion. Both instruments are used in the orchestra.
The bayan (named after a legendary Russian folk singer) was created in Russia at the end of 19th century. It could play a 46 note chromatic scale and probably has the greatest range of treble notes of any accordion available today. The size of Bayans range from 20 treble keys and 12 bass buttons, to the modern Chromatic Button Accordions which has up to 6 rows of treble buttons and 160 bass buttons. There is a large body of original Russian bayan scores, ranging from virtuoso arrangements of folk songs to serious classical and contemporary works.
Domra is a long-necked Russian string instrument with three or four steel strings with a round resonator. It is thought that it was brought to Russia with the Mongolian invasion in 12th century.
The Domra was redesigned in 1896 by Vasily Vassilyevich Andreyev. No exact descriptions of the original instrument remain.
The Domra is played with a plectrum, and is used to play lead melody in Russian Folk Orchestras.
The Cimbalom is a form of dulcimer of Eastern origin which came to Europe in the middle ages.
The strings are either plucked or struck with leather covered hammers held in the player's hands. The cimbalom in the picture is widely used in Byelorussia and Hungary and has 76 strings with a range 3.5 octaves.