Russia’s Happiest and Saddest of Instruments

Everything you didn’t think you needed to know about the balalaika

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Say “balalaika” to most Americans, and they think of “Lara’s Theme” from Dr. Zhivago — where no balalaika was actually played — or a cheesy 1930s Nelson Eddy movie of the same name.

And from this they might conclude that the three-stringed, triangle-shaped instrument is either a folk relic of limited musical range or, worse, a quaint purveyor of string-laced schmaltz.

But the humble balalaika can, in the hands of a master, produce a sound and richness unequaled by any other musical instrument. And its virtuosity is celebrated not only by brilliant soloists, but entire orchestras as well. Continue reading