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Chastushka: Russian Witty Ditty Tradition
December 11, 2013 11:49


Chastushka is a folklore genre, a short humorous Russian folk song (rhymed quatrain) performed in a fast manner. As the researcher . A. Shakhmatov assumes, the name of “chastushka” comes from the Russian verb “chastit’” meaning “to do something/to speak rapidly”; it can also be interpreted as something that is often repeated. 
 
This poetic folk miniature can ironically or even sarcastically and with grim humour tackle a wide range of subjects in various areas of life. All nations throughout the world have some ditty traditions of the kind.

This genre takes its roots from the Old Russian verse and, probably, the skomorokhi - wandering minstrels-cum-clowns in Old Russia. The chastushka appeared in the last third of the 19th century as a part of rural folklore, but was developed to its utmost after establishment of the Soviet power.
 
In the early 20th century researchers already started paying attention to its characteristic features: some of them found reasons to label it as “indiscreet” and “naughty, and others considered it “ribald”. 
 
Oral folk art especially flourished in the areas banned by censorship. Religion was among such subjects in the preSoviet period. During the USSR era most of the witty ditties were of sharp political or sexual focus; lots of them contained uncontrolled vocabulary.
 
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The first publications of erotic chastushkas from the category of “indiscreet” appeared abroad in the late 1970s. After Perestroika lots of curbs were removed and subsequently chastushka collections came to be published in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Among them there were lots of literary fakes, which had no relevance to folklore. The pink and paragon of Russian witty ditty books were collections compiled by Nikolay Starshinov, namely Let me Amuse You and Oh, Semenovna! They presented chastushkas that he collected throughout life.

Chastushka is usually a quatrain in trochee with cross rhyming of the 2nd and 4th lines (or all lines sometimes). A peculiar feature of chastushka language is its expressiveness and richness of linguistic means, which often go beyond the standard language. Chastushka is often performed to the accompaniment of an accordion or a balalaika.

As for their subject matter, chastushkas can be divided into love-and-household and social-political. However, they often intertwine.

Love-and-household ditties are usually about village and collective-farm everyday life. Integral part is the collective-farm production subject, with participation of tractor operators-machine operators.

The social-and-political chastushkas mostly depict life condition in a satirical manner. In Soviet days the Soviet propaganda would often trigger new chastushkas to appear.

Lots of chastushkas pinpointed general indifference of common people to all the perturbations in the country — as a counterbalance to the imposed political activity. Sometimes chastushkas conveyed the current news. Some ditties came us an instant well-aimed reaction to topics of the day. At the same time, “ideologically correct” chastushka collections were published for the sake of Soviet propaganda.

Folk ditties were composed by both adults and children.

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Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Russian Music Russian Traditions Chastushka   

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