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Welcome to another post in our Classical Music Travels series. First we went to Paris, and now we travel to olde world Russia. Since actual time travel isn’t an option (yet), we will have to experience the Russia of yore through some epic classical music. Game?
I also have subject integration ideas for you below. I say it all the time (because it is true!)…classical music studied in isolation is often way too abstract for young children. Attaching music appreciation studies to other subjects, however? Now we are talking.
First, the music. Here are some of my favorite Russian pieces…
1812 Overture // Tchaikovsky
It doesn’t get any more Russian than this. Composed to celebrate the Motherland’s defense against that pesky little Napoleon in 1812, Tchaikovsky got so wild and crazy he included real cannons in the score. Cannons! Now that’s some percussion for you!
Piano Concerto No. 2 // Rachmaninoff
Sergei Rachmaninoff was born into an aristocratic family, which meant he was in deep trouble when the Bolsheviks pitched their rebellious fit in 1917. Sergei and his crew decided it was best they get out of dodge, so they fled on an open sleigh (for real!) and made their way to the good ole’ USA. Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is interesting for two reasons: first, it represented Sergei getting back into the composition game after his Piano Concerto No. 1 was a total flop. No. 2 was significantly better received. Second, parts of the second movement were used for the verses in the pop song All By Myself, written by Eric Carmen and made super famous by Celine Dion. See if you can hear it!
Pictures at an Exhibition // Mussorgsky
Modest Mussorgsky (along with his comrade below, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov) was a member of The Five, a group of Russian composers committed to celebrating truly Russian music and art. When Mussorgsky’s artist friend Viktor Hartmann died prematurely, Modest composed a collection of music inspired by Hartmann’s art. The Great Gate of Kiev is the most famous of the bunch:
Snow Maiden Suite // Rimsky-Korsakov
Also a member of The Five, Rimsky-Korsakov was a lover of Russian folk tales. He took preserving them very seriously. This is a portion of his take on the classic Russian legend of the Snow Maiden…who desperately wanted to fall in love, but melted in the sun when she finally did #bummer
Troika, from Lieutenant Kije // Prokofiev
A troika is a three-horse sleigh, so you automatically have a Dr. Zhivago moment happening right there. Super Russian. This is more upbeat thought. Prokofiev’s tune actually sounds a lot like Christmas!
Bonus: One More I Hate
I make it a point to only write about music I like. I just don’t find any joy in recommending teaching your children music I can’t stand listening to myself. I am making an exception because you can’t make a list of Russian music and not mention Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. It caused riots in it’s day because it was so out-of-the-box (read:ugly). It
should could have stayed inside the box if you ask me.
But do enjoy! #winkyemoji
Subject Integration Ideas
Here’s where it gets fun. Choose one of these activities (or let them spark your own ideas), and allow the activity and the music to work in tandem with one another.
Consider classical music your gateway to wherever you want to go next…
- Russian nesting dolls are a famous part of the culture. Head HERE for a fun re-creation.
- Make your own Faberge Eggs HERE. While you are at it, head HERE to learn more about their history.
- Lots of interesting country facts HERE.
- Learn a few words in the Russian language. Head HERE for help!
- Russian architecture is unique and distinctive. Learn all about it HERE. Little ones can complete a coloring sheet of Moscow’s famous St. Basil’s Cathedral HERE. And older children can learn to draw Russia’s famous onion domes with THIS tutorial.
Finally, some grown-up book recommendations in case all this talk of Russia sparks your interest in learning more (through historical fiction, which – let’s be honest – may or may not be completely accurate. But you will still learn a lot!).
- Russka: sweeping multi-generational saga by chunkster master, Edward Rutherfurd.
- Winter Garden: Two estranged sisters learn the truth about their Russian heritage.
- I Was Anastasia: A new take on the fascinating Romanov mystery of whether lost sister Anastasia really survived. (I haven’t read this yet, but I’m dying to — the reviews are excellent.)
- A Gentleman in Moscow: from Amor Towles, author of Rules of Civility (which I also loved).
- The Winter Palace: Catherine the Great comes to life through the eyes of one of her servant girls.
Enjoy your travels!
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