No 1: Now, little grey duck
No 2: Good day, my fair, my nice one
No 3: Oh, mother, my little head hurts
No 4: Now, thou little pine tree
No 5: In my ample chamber
These bridal songs were collected by Galina Tkachova in villages near Voronezh and have not been arranged, but rather transcribed without being re-worked or especially edited. They are not directly related to the melodic and rhythmic building blocks of Svadebka, but are brilliant examples of the type of folk material which Stravinsky instinctively drew upon. We can certainly see clear parallels in Svadebka in the bridal songs’ motivic repetition, imagery and the appearance of creatures to symbolize states of being, human qualities and emotions. What we miss in a sound recording, however, is the visual element of movement and dance without which these songs are only partly expressive. A live performance of these songs necessarily involves the theatrical; the performers use spontaneous as well as symbolic gestures which are an essential part of the ritual.
Now, little grey duck is performed on ‘Svodushka’, the day when the girls of the village go walking as soon as the matchmaker has entered the future bride’s house. The maiden does not yet know who her future husband is to be, but although fearful, she is encouraged by her friends to go home and pay her respects to her betrothed.
Good day, my fair, my nice one is a greeting in song offered by the joyful groom to his new bride: he describes her as a flawless picture of beauty. The darkness of the bride’s eyebrows are one of her most praised attributes; a direct ‘echo’ of this image occurs in the last scene of Svadebka in the men’s shouted ‘Nastya chernobrovaya!’.
Oh, mother, my little head hurts is the song of a bride-to-be who is unusually fortunate to be engaged to a man she loves. The song’s bubbly, dancing character betrays the girl’s impatience, which is improper for her to show, but impossible to conceal.
Now, thou little pine tree depicts the emotional climax before the wedding ritual for the bride—the moment when the girl’s braided hair is unwound and then bound at home before her marriage. Each of the women present at the ceremony (men are not admitted) offers her own emotional response to the short-lived freedom of girlhood. Her mother is dismayed to have to give her carefree daughter away to a stranger; her friends are sad to lose their companion, the older women reflect on their own youth. The bride cries most of all and, joining in the lament, she takes leave of her mother and relations, asking for consolation for what lies ahead.
In my ample chamber represents the glorification of the young couple. Of all the beautiful symbols found in the poetry of Russian bridal songs, the favourites are the similes comparing the bride to a duck, a swan, a birch tree; emblems of beauty, wholesomeness and purity in Russian folklore, these images emerge similarly in Svadebka.
from notes by Lorraine Gwynne © 1991