On the Russian Concept of Lād, 1830-1945

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Philip Ewell


Universally translated into English as "mode," the Russian term лад
("lād") first appeared in 1830 as a translation from German Tonart, which is usually
translated into English as "tonality." To Tchaikovsky a lād was, in fact, a tonality, but by
century's end lād had come to signify its pre-tonal cousin, mode. Boleslav Yavorsky's
work on the subject in the early twentieth century gave lād new post-modal and posttonal
meaning with respect to quasi-tonal and post-tonal music. In this article I delve
deeply into the history of this uniquely Russian concept, from its inception to its highly
modified mid-twentieth century form. Rather than trying to find an English equivalent, I
leave "lād" in its transliterated form, which disentangles it from inaccurate translations. I
examine a 1945 Chopin analysis by Yavorsky's student, Sergei Protopopov, which
outlines new interpretations for Russian lād. Sketches for this analysis, from the Russian
National Museum of Music, provide a backdrop for a reexamination of basic tonal
constructs such as cadence, phrase, form, harmonic function, and melodic diminution. I
look at a famous 1930 conference on Yavorsky's theories as an example of the high
stakes involved in creating a Marxist musical science, in which lād played a primary role.
I also briefly discuss Yavorsky's theories as a counterweight to Hugo Riemann's
encroaching functionality, which was brought to Russia by Gregori Catoire in the early
twentieth century. It is my hope that this work on lād will fill in many gaps for the
English-language reader, and possibly spur further studies into this uniquely Russian

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