The Don Cossack Chorus
S.A. Jaroff Conductor
There is readily to be found on the internet much information about S.A. Jaroff and his chorus. We add here a link to the main website about him and his chorus:
Don Cossack Chorus Serge Jaroff
On that site, there can be found history, photos, and recordings that can be played or downloaded for the enjoyment of the viewer (listener).
At this point, I would like to compare various aspects of Jaroff and Kostruckoff.
Jaroff was born in 1896 in Kostroma Province, northern Russia, while Kostruckoff was born in 1898 in the Don Valley, southern Russia. The way they became Cossacks was also different. There are only two ways to become a Cossack: one is to be born into a Cossack family, the other, at times of calamity and war when the numbers of Cossacks fall, it is the Ataman’s obligation to open the registry and register new Cossacks. This was Jaroff’s path to becoming a Cossack, when he joined a Don Cossack regiment fighting in Siberia. I know this for a fact, for it was told to me by Colonel G.M. Kosoff, who commanded that regiment. Kostruckoff, on the other hand, was a born Don Cossack, whose family had a long history of Don Cossack service.
Jaroff stood 4’10”, of slight build, weighing no more than 100 pounds. In stark contrast, Kostruckoff stood 6’2″, with broad shoulders and muscular chest, and weighing at least 230 pounds. Jaroff’s concept of conducting was cerebral, built on a solid foundation of musical training, while Kostruckoff’s concept emanated from the depth of his soul, being refined by academic discipline. Jaroff had a tenor voice, and this is perhaps the reason much of the music his chorus sang was in a higher key. Kostruckoff possessed a sonorous bass voice and, for this reason, liked the harmonies his chorus sang, built on the depth and warmth of the basses and baritones.
Jaroff’s style of conducting was flamboyant and ornate, with much rubato and long held fermatas. Kostruckoff’s style was more conservative, with a strict, almost metronomic, beat, departing from it only when necessary to heighten the intensity of the music or expression of the word. From the audience, watching the diminutive Jaroff, one saw the movements of his body and gestures of his hands and arms, all being very theatrical and flamboyant. From the audience watching Kostruckoff, however, one saw a tall, well built man who stood nearly motionless, as solid as the rock of Gibraltar. One couldn’t see his hands, which he held close to his chest, conducting with short, precise motions, his hands and arms extending out in view of the audience only when it was necessary for musical continuity.
Being born a Don Cossack, Kostruckoff was very proud of his heritage, and tried to represent the Cossacks at their finest. Jaroff, though he became a Cossack, never really thought of himself as being a Cossack. Rather, he though of himself as being a Russian. I do not fault Jaroff for this, for he had no Cossack tradition to relate to. This feeling of being Russian once caused him to think of changing the name of the chorus to “The Sergei Jaroff Male Chorus”. At that time this was considered, Jaroff and the chorus were under the concert management of the famous impresario Sol Hurok. When Hurok heard of the name change, he told Jaroff that the day he dropped the name Cossack from his chorus was the day he should find a new concert manager.
The temperament of Jaroff was volatile, and at times gave way to rage and ranting against the chorus. This was possibly due to his diminutive stature — which from time to time caused him to reinstate his position as the unchallenged leader of the chorus — though it may also be due to the advice of S.L. Rachmaninoff, who told him to control the chorus with a hand of iron. Kostruckoff had no such problem: he was quiet and even-tempered and, when he said something, no one questioned him: they knew that what he said was the law.
The primary reason for Jaroff’s fame today is due to the enormous amount of recordings he and his chorus made during the LP (long-play) era in Europe, with the aid of his concert manager, and here in America, through the support of various Russian groups, both religious and secular. Kostruckoff had no concert manager to help him: he was his own concert manager, each year sending several thousand letters and information about his chorus to universities, colleges, and organizations such as the Lion’s Club and VFW, announcing the time of year he and his chorus would be in their area and asking if they were interested in sponsoring a concert. Nor did Kostruckoff have the backing of Russian organizations to further him and his chorus.
From the prospective of hindsight, it is easy to see why Kostruckoff, with a world-class chorus, at that time performing only in America and Canada, didn’t record in the LP era. This was the time of the Cold War in North America, with hysteria and fear of communistic infiltration, and a possible nuclear war, running rampant. Though the concert halls were filled and the concerts were well-received, there was no clamor for recordings, as the public feared that to do so would be considered anti-American and perhaps even pro-communist. The general public didn’t realize that Kostruckoff’s chorus, to a man, was staunchly anti-communist and anti-Soviet union, and we would often be asked when would we be returning to Russia (the Soviet Union).
Though Jaroff is still remembered and honored and Kostrockoff almost forgotten. Kostruckoff was easily Jaroff’s equal as a master of choral conducting. I remember a concert given somewhere in the southwest: the stage was enclosed in a plywood shell, which gave the hall cathedral-like acoustics. Kostruckoff instantly recognized this and used it to great advantage: the pianissimos were a thread of music that carried to every corner of the hall. The crescendos were musical tsunamis that rolled out and up, engulfing everyone in the audience. The fortissimos were musical thunder, like the peeling of gigantic church bells. Of all the concerts that I appeared in with both Kostruckoff and Jaroff, this is the one that I am most proud to have been part of.
Being that I have made a comparison between Jaroff and Kostruckoff, I deem it necessary to compare at least one recording: “Monotonously Rings the Little Bell”. Jaroff’s recording, in a higher key, with his gossamer-like harmonies that seem to hang, suspended in the air, has the slender, silver, falsetto voice of V.V. Bolotine as soloist, all making for a fine recording. Kostruckoff’s recording, set in a lower key, the harmonies built around the warm, nut-brown glow of the basses and baritones, admirably support expressive, fuller, honey golden toned voice of M.A. Dedovitch. They are both fine recordings, and both will have their devotees. I prefer Kostruckoff’s recording for, after listening to it, I am left with the sense and the feeling of the mother Russia of long, long ago.
Kostruckoff’s “Monotonously Rings the Little Bell”:
Jaroff’s “Monotonously Rings the Little Bell”:
To close this section, I would like to point out and correct some misinformation that is on the internet. There are several sites that intimate, and one actually states, that Kostruckoff’s and Jaroff’s choruses were at one time one chorus, and then later split into two. This is patently false: the two choruses were never joined. For the true origins of both choruses, re-read page one of this website, then go to the link provided for Jaroff’s site.
The Ural Cossack Chorus
A.I. Scholuch, Conductor
The Ural Cossack Chorus was formed in 1924 by A.I. Scholuch in Paris, with Cossacks from the Urals that fled to France after the revolution. I do not know if they were a chorus that existed in Russia prior to the 1917 revolution. Early photos show them in tcherkeska, which was not the uniform of the Ural Cossacks, but the uniform of the Kuban and Terek Cossacks in the Caucasus. I can see only two reasons for this: the first and most probable was to avoid confusion with the Don Cossack Chorus, who’s uniforms were similar, except for the color of the stripe on their pants, and fleece hat liner. The Don Cossacks being red and the Ural Cossacks being crimson; the second reason being that the tcherkeska is a more attractive and eye appealing uniform. At the outbreak of the Second World War, in 1940, the chorus was disbanded. In the early 1950s, Scholuck conducted the Black Sea Cossack Chorus and recorded with them. After leaving the Black Sea Chorus, he re-organized the Ural Cossack Chorus, continuing until 1966, when he gave a final summer tour. Scholuck wanted Bochko and I to dance with the chorus that last tour, if I didn’t leave Jaroff’s chorus in mid-tour, Bochko and I probably would have stayed in Europe that summer and made the summer tour with the Ural Cossack Chorus.
Legend of the Twelve Robbers (1928):
Evening Bells (1928):
The Ural Cossack Choir – Female Singers
We were unaware of this female Cossack group until we stumbled across this photo, taken circa 1899. If anyone is aware of any further information, regarding where and when they performed, the members, or the conductors, we would love to know more.
The Kuban Cossack Chorus
S._. Ignateff, Conductor
I do not know if this chorus existed in pre-revolutionary Russia or was formed when the Cossacks were forced into exile, though it was active in Europe during the 1920s and 1930s. They made a few recordings for HMV (His Master’s Voice) on the Plum Label, which were also issued by Electrola, the German equivalent of HMV. I have heard three recordings: The Midnight Review (by M.I. Glinka), and two Cossack songs which were recorded at a concert on September 27, 1926, in Berlin, Germany. These recordings stand among the best of all Cossack chorus recordings. The voices are young and fresh. Their discipline and execution, thanks to the choral mastery and sensitivity of Ignateff are, in my opinion, unrivaled by any other Cossack chorus on recording.
The Midnight Review (composer: M.I. Glinka):
Two Cossack Songs:
The Kuban Cossack Chorus
L._. Ivanoff, Founder and Conductor
The chorus was formed in exile on the order of the ranking Cossack officer, who controlled the money and financial affairs of the Kuban Cossacks in exile. This was told to me by I.I. Guzenko (see I.I. Guzenko among the biographies), who sang with the chorus. When I was a young man, the old-timers would tell me that this was the finest of all the Cossack choruses. If this be true, as well it may be, I am left with the impression that those who had seen or heard them were left with an unforgettable experience and memory, as the old-timers who told me of them had been. They were active in Europe during the 1920s and 1930s, and recorded for the HMV, Polydor and Homochord recording companies (sorry to say, I have no heard any of their recordings). There is a small picture of the chorus in the Kuban Cossack house in Howell, New Jersey. The Chorus, in black tcherkeska, and Ivanoff, in a white or gray tcherkeska. Of the singers, I.I. Guzenko is to be scene.
The Cossacks of the Volga
N._. Tripolitoff, Founder and Conductor
Organized in Vienna, Austria, in 1933, the chorus was still active in the late 1960s. To the best of my knowledge, historically, there was never a formal Cossack host on the Volga, though at an earlier time there were Cossack settlements on its banks. The name Volga Cossack Chorus was probably chosen to honor these Cossacks, as well as those who used the Volga as a waterway. I do not know if they recorded in the 1930s, but there was an LP recorded in the late 1950s. The recording is that of older singers, who’s voices are not as fresh or supple as they once were, but the intelligent and careful conducting of Tripolitoff keeps the chorus well within its vocal limits and makes for a pleasant recording. I add two selections from this recording, “Save God, Thy People” with L._. Antonoff as bass soloist. When I lived in Berlin, I had a friend, I._. Igoroff, a tenor, who sang with the Black Sea Cossack Chorus in the early 1950s. At that time, Antonoff also sang with the Black Sea Chorus. Igoroff respected Antonoff greatly, and praised his artistry and singing. The second selection, “The Lord’s Prayer”, has G._. Karpoff, as bass soloist. Both Antonoff and Karpoff, both older singers, have to be commended for keeping their voices in good condition.
God Save Your People (soloist: L._. Antonoff):
Litany and The Lord’s Prayer (soloist: G._. Karpoff):
During the 1970s, the chorus was altered into a soloist ensemble, and was continuing to perform, as of 2004, under the direction of A._. Petrov.
The Ataman General Kaledin Don Cossack Chorus
Nicholas Herzog von Leuchtenberg, Conductor
I know nothing of this chorus, so I have to make assumptions and intelligent guesses. The founder’s name, Nicholas Herzog von Leuchtenberg, is German, and Herzog von Leuchtenberg translates as “Duke from Leuchtenberg”. In czarist Russia, there were German settlements on the Volga, and in the Baltic states around Riga and Libau. I do not know if this chorus existed prior to the revolution, and was the chorus of Kaledin’s army, or was formed in exile after his death by suicide in 1918. The one definite thing that I can say is that they recorded for the Diestimme Seines Herrn (German HMV) in 1937. These recordings were also issued on the Polydor label.
This chorus was conducted at various times by Nicholas Herzog von Leuchtenberg, L._. Iwanoff, and B._. Ledkovski, prior to his founding of the Black Sea Cossack Chorus.
Die Wolga abwärts (Down Mother Volga)
Song courtesy of Nicholas Duke of Leuchtenberg:
More information can be found at Freundeskreis Leuchtenberg:
The Black Sea Cossack Chorus
B._. Ledkovsky, Founder and Conductor from 1937-1950
A.I. Scholuch, Conductor from 1950-1955
S._. Horbenko, Conductor from 1955-196?
Formed in Germany in 1937, all three of the conductors named above made recordings with the chorus. I do not have a photo of S._. Horbenko, but I add a photo of his son, W.S. Horbenko, who was one of the finest tenors to ever sing with a Cossack chorus, first with his father, then with Jaroff, with whom he recorded, and can also be seen on the DVD of a compilation of television programs …
When not on tour with the Cossacks or Jaroff, Horbenko would sing in night clubs in Russian restaurants. When he was singing at the Russian Rodinya in Hamburg, Germany, the famous Italian operatic baritone Tito Gobbi heard him, and told him to go back to Italy with him and study with him, and he would help him to sing in opera. Horbenko graciously declined this: being a free spirit, he preferred to tour with the Cossack choruses, and sing Russian folk songs and sacred music of the Russian Orthodox Church. Before I left Berlin, I gave him the telephone number of Boris Blacher (one of my teachers), and told him to sing for him. At the time, Blacher was one of the moving forces in the classical music life of Berlin. I do not know if he contacted Blacher or not. In Vienna a year or so later, I heard of his death. His wife, also a singer, was on a summer tour with a group of singers. Horbenko, to relieve the boredom and summer heat, went to a bar for a glass of wine. There he got into a conversation which became heated, and turned into an argument and then a fight. Horbenko, who’d had a short career as a heavyweight boxer (who’s nose was slightly bent, having been broken several times in the ring), beat them to the floor, but one of them rose and produced a handgun, shooting him several times in the chest. Horbenko turned and ran from the bar and up the street, falling and dying at the entrance to the U-Bahn (subway).
When we were with Jaroff’s chorus, he and I were the two youngest, being in our late 20s. For that reason, we gravitated to each other and became good friends. With his passing in his early 30s, I not only lost a good friend but the world lost a great singer just hitting his prime, who would have gone on singing and recording and, by doing so, enriched the world of music with his beautiful voice. I have composed two sacred pieces to honor his memory.
[Recording: S._. Horbenko Conducting The Lord’s Prayer and Down the Volga, and Barinya (Gentlewoman)]
A.I. Scholuch conducting Evening Bells:
A.I. Scholuch conducting Monotonously Ring the Little Bells:
A.I. Scholuch conducting Song of the Volga Boatmen:
A.I. Scholuch conducting Meadowland:
S._. Horbenko conducting The Lord’s Prayer:
S._. Horbenko conducting Te Deum (D.S. Bortniansky, composer):
W.S. Horbenko singing Ave Maria (with Jaroff’s Chorus):
The Cossack Orchestra and Singers
Captain A.H. Strelsky, conductor
The conductor is listed as being “Captain”. The Cossacks did not use the term “captain” in their ranking. They used “Podyesaul”. The term “Captain” was no doubt used because “podyesaul” would not have been understood by non-Russians (click here for a list of Cossack ranks).
The following songs were recorded at the Kazbek Restaurant, London.
Cossack Marching Song:
Song of the Volga Boatmen:
Unspecified Cossack Choruses