Stravinsky's arrangement of the Song of the Volga Boatmen was his attempt to compose a new Russian national anthem. Stravinsky, a follower of his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov's advocacy of the 1905 Revolution, was an ardent supporter of the February, 1917, Revolution. For a gala concert in support of the revolution given in April at the Costanzi Theater in Rome, Stravinsky, at Diaghilev's request, arranged the folk song for winds and percussion literally overnight. As Stravinsky later recalled in his Chronicles of my Life, he "sat at the piano in Lord Berner's apartment instrumenting and scoring the song for the orchestra, dictating it chord by chord, note by note, to Ansermet, who wrote it down."
The parts were quickly copied and Stravinsky was able to hear the work the next morning. Unfortunately, by the time the score had made its way to Russia to be considered by the Duma, the October Revolution had already taken place and Stravinsky's new national anthem was no longer wanted. It was played for the first time in the Soviet Union when Stravinsky himself returned to there for the first time in 1962.
The Song of the Volga Boatmen is the first in a series of three arrangements of national anthems which Stravinsky made. In 1919, he arranged La Marseillaise for solo violin(!), and he arranged The Star-Spangled Banner in 1941 for full orchestra.