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Vladimir horn and Vladimir horn-players

Shepherding was one of the ancient and widespread trades of the Vladimir province (especially in the villages of Kameshkovo, Suzdal, Yuryev-Polsky, Kolchugino, Kovrov counties). From April to the end of October adults and adolescents earned their living by this labor.

Shepherds used horns to give signals during their work: a shepherd collected the herd with the sound of a horn, herded the cattle and guarded it. While relaxing, he played simple tunes using a horn. Shepherd’s horns have gained great popularity among the people, especially among the peasant.

Folk masters produced a horn as a completely independent musical instrument rather than as a shepherd’s attribute. As a rule, they used birch, maple, and juniper blanks the length of which varied from 36 to 85 cm. Then the blanks were split longitudinally, the interior portion of wood was extracted with semicircular chisels, six game finger holes were drilled (or burned out), and two processed halves were braided with steamed birch-bark. A small deepening at the beginning of the barrel served as a mouthpiece. The trumpet was made of tin or a natural cow horn and was given a conical shape. According to modern musicians, juniper horns have the best sound qualities. Traditional manufacturing technology has been passed down from generation to generation up to the present time. Each new instrument got the final processing during use. Therefore, the old horns (which have already been played) were valued more than new ones.

There are two main varieties of horns (according to the execution) – ensemble and solo horns. Ensemble horns: a small horn, popularly called "screecher", up to 40 cm long, and a large, so-called "bass", about 80 cm long. They are always tuned relative to the other in an octave and have a minimum and maximum possible size. For solo play, a medium-sized horn (50-60 cm), popularly called "half-bass", is usually used. It is rarely found since it does not tune with other types of horns in the ensemble.  

As a musical instrument, the shepherd’s horn was widespread in the villages of central Russia. Horn-players ("rozhechniki") of the Vladimir province gained particular popularity as musicians in the middle of the 19th century. In spring they went to seasonal work in the villages of other provinces and took their horns along. In fact, an entire seasonal trade of Vladimir horn-players was formed. They were indispensable festival participants in the villages, they performed at city fairs. Ensembles composed of horn-players were referred to as "choirs".

At the beginning of the 1870s, in the village of Mishnevo, Kovrov district, the Vladimir province (now Kameshkovo district), the peasant Nikolay Vasilyevich Kondratyev created an orchestra consisting of 12 shepherds from various villages – Mishnevo, Suslovo, Gorki, Berkovo, Ostrov, Mashkovo, Simakovo. These illiterate people were good musicians who played from memory and freely improvised. The first performances of the horn-players’ "choir" were held mainly at festivities in neighboring provinces.

Particular success came to the peasant musicians in St. Petersburg in the summer of 1883. The fame of them reached the imperial court: they were invited to Peterhof and had the honor to play for Alexander III himself and his family. In 1889, Vladimir horn-players performed at the World Industrial Exhibition in Paris. In the spring of 1892, Kondratyev’s choir was invited to a two-month tour in Paris. A historical photo has been preserved in a French magazine: 12 bearded men in top hats, wide robes and bast shoes, a shepherd’s horn is pressed to everyone’s lips. The rozhechniki had to show their rough hands, proving to the enthusiastic audience that they were not dressed up artists from the conservatory, but real peasants. But the Paris tour ended sadly: abandoned in a foreign land by a runaway entrepreneur, penniless, without knowledge of foreign languages, courageous and strong peasant musicians walked all over Europe on foot, reaching their home.

In 1896, Vladimir horn-players performed at the All-Russian Industrial and Art Exhibition in Nizhny Novgorod with great success which was noted in the press. At that time, the young writer Maxim Gorky drew attention to their art and the faithful transmission of the tunes of Russian songs. In 1902, the creativity of Vladimir’s horn-players won the hearts of the visitors of the All-Russian Handicraft Exhibition in St. Petersburg.

N.V. Kondratyev directed Vladimir horn-players until the beginning of the 20th  century, then he passed this role to his disciple and member of the choir P.G. Pakharev. Already in the Soviet times, the choir of horn-players performed at Vladimir provincial meetings and conferences. In 1923, it got a warm welcome at the first All-Russian Agricultural Exhibition in Moscow. 

Vladimir peasant musicians with their original creative work contributed to the development of folk music. Since that time, the shepherd’s horn was called "Vladimir horn" thanks to the fame of N.V. Kondratyev and his horn-players, although it was widespread in many provinces. "Vladimir horn" and "Vladimir horn-players" as special concepts are included in all encyclopedic dictionaries. The shepherd’s horn is depicted on the coat of arms of the Kameshkovo district of Vladimir region, the small homeland of Vladimir horn-players.

Nowadays the traditions of musical art of Kondratyev’s choir in Vladimir land are maintained and developed by the folk music ensemble "Vladimir Rozhechniki ".

Author: V. Korolkova