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Donna Arnold

(b Makaryev, Kostroma Province, Russia, 20 March/1 April 1896; d Lakewood, NJ, 9 Oct 1985). Russian émigré choral conductor, founder of the Don Cossack Choir. He studied at Moscow’s Synodal School of Church Singing, and afterwards joined a Don Cossack regiment in the Russian Civil War. Defeated by Bolsheviks and exiled from Russia in 1920, his regiment was interned at a miserable camp near Istanbul. Ordered to found a choir to raise morale, he arranged repertoire from memory and, remarkably, transformed 36 amateur singers into a world-class ensemble. Once liberated, the Don Cossack Choir began a high-profile international career that spanned six decades.

Its concerts, sung in Russian, comprised Russian Orthodox liturgical works and folk, traditional, and soldier songs. Jaroff arranged most of the music. Conducting with minimal hand movements and penetrating facial expressions, he evoked extremely expressive rubatos and dynamic changes that enthralled audiences. The Don Cossacks were particularly renowned for their brilliant technique and superb octavists (whose vocal range extended to an octave below the bass) and falsettists. Jaroff’s unusual inclusion of falsettists was crucial to the choir’s compelling signature sonority and made mixed-choir masterpieces from the Russian canon feasible. Extra-musical factors, especially the very short Jaroff’s strict control of his Cossack giants, fascinated and delighted their fans....