Little Creole Boy (1918)
Aleksandr Vertinskii. Sung by the author
Description: Vertinsky first met starlet Vera Kholodnaia at the Khazhankov Film Studio. Rumor has it that he fell madly in love with her ‘demonic beauty,’ and that he was the source of her meteoric success. Several of his early songs were dedicated to her, none more famous than this.
The Great Moscow Fire (1910)
Nadezhda Plevitskaia. Piano accompaniment: Sergei Rachmaninov. Lyrics: N. Sokolov
Description: The Napoleonic wars, which ended in victory, glory, and a surge of patriotism for Russians of all classes, left a deep imprint in popular culture. This song was written by a minor poet long after the fact, yet it gained rapid popularity and was sung in many versions for the next seventy years. The author s name had been lost, and the lyrics had been polished, by the time they reached the repertoire of the famed singer Nadezhda Plevitskaia in the 1900s. Already hugely famous, she became even more so with this song. It repeats traditional motifs of popular culture, most curiously a fascination with Napoleon that lasted up till the Revolution. Though occasionally labeled an anti-Christ, Napoleon was more often the object of fascination, sometimes even affection.
The Peddlers (1916)
Varia Panina. Transposed from a Hungarian csardas. Lyrics: Nikolai Nekrasov
Description: This song is an excerpt from a longer poem by Nikolai Nekrasov, Russia s greatest civic poet of the nineteenth century. A masterful wordsmith, Nekrasov focused on the lives of poor Russians, for whom he evoked considerable sympathy. Peddlers was a collage of rural Russia after the emancipation, and a strong political statement. Yet this extract, sung with throbbing passion by Varya Panina of Moscow s Yar Restaurant, suggested very different intentions.
Anastasiia Vial’tseva. Music: P. Bulakhov. Lyrics: Anastasia Vialtseva, from original poem by Petr Viazemskii
Description: Troikas, the famous three-horse sleighs whose bells jingled through the Russian countryside, represented the freedom and expanse of outdoor Russia. In many songs of the gypsy repertory, the troika was seen rushing down the road to a waiting lover, so that the very mention of the vehicle set the imagination running. The song is performed here by Anastasia Vyaltseva, whose own love affairs were legendary.
Long Road (1920)
Aleksandr Vertinskii. Music: Boris Fomin. Lyrics: Konstantin Podrevskii
Description: Vertinsky first performed this song at a benefit concert on October 25, 1917 – truly marking a turning point on the ‘long road’ of Russian history. Many Soviet performers continued to perform the song during NEP; Vertinsky made it a hit in his Parisian emigration, making it one of the few Russian popular songs to gain success in the West. Under the title ‘Those Were the Days,’ the song has been covered by many performers over many decades, few of them conscious of its historical origins.