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"The heart grows light with a joyful song." 120th birthday of Isaak Dunayevsky

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"The heart grows light with a joyful song." 120th birthday of Isaak Dunayevsky


Isaak Dunayevsky. Photo credit:

Anna Genova

120 years ago, Isaak Dunayevsky, perhaps the most famous Soviet composer of popular songs, was born in the quiet Ukrainian town. “Could you think thirty-five years ago that a small musician, a fan of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Borodin, would be able to become a master of the easy genre? But it is my extensive musical background that helped and still helps me to create light music by serious means,” Dunayevsky wrote in his memoirs.

Light music quickly becomes obsolete. Fortunately, there are exceptions, and such exceptions include unforgettable songs by Dunayevsky and films in which they were performed. Today we will talk about some of them.

Marsh vesyolykh rebyat (March of jolly fellows) (Jolly Fellows, 1934)

Lyrics by: Vasily Lebedev-Kumach, performed by Leonid Utyosov

The audience sees a man appearing in front of them. He wears a huge straw hat with jagged edges and plays a lively tune on his whistle flute. He walks along with a group of musicians dressed in a country style and a herd of cows. The field through which they cheerfully march to the sounds of a banjo orchestra is flooded with sun. This man is Leonid Utyosov, the film is Jolly Fellows, and the music is the one of Isaak Dunayevsky.

I first met him in Moscow in 1923. Several actors decided to make a comic choir. They wanted to do it for the next actors' party or for some other performance - I don’t remember. But I will never forget meeting Dunya at the piano. I was stunned by the extraordinary ingenuity and humor with which Dunayevsky finished different songs completing them with such musical construction that no one else could have imagined, recalled Leonid Utyosov. He admired high professionalism of Dunayevsky, who was able to compose music without touching the piano. He wrote the orchestration without a musical score and with stenotype speed, laying out sheets of paper on the table.

Dunayevsky was a kind of Soviet Mozart - he wrote entertaining music of a highly professional level. However, he didnt make it to Requiem, and he didnt really need to.

It was Utyosov who made Dunayevsky famous. He insisted that Dunayevsky should be the one to compose music for the film. Utyosov brought the head of musical section of the Leningrad Music Hall to Grigory Alexandrov, a director, who was then looking for a composer for his film, which was due to become a famous Soviet comedy.

Immediately after the premiere, an active discussion began on the main film theme, "March of jolly fellows." A number of people thought that the composer had adopted it fromLa Adelita, a song of the Mexican revolution. Allegedly, Grigory Alexandrov sang its melody to him. The accusations reached Comrade Stalin himself. He replied that, first of all, he had not heard any particular similarity and, for another thing, even if had been so, what was wrong with the composer adopting a tune from Mexican folklore.

One way or another, the film was a resounding success both at home and abroad. After watching it Charlie Chaplin said: This film made America discover new Russia. Previously, the Americans knew Dostoevskys Russia.

"Don't you want some peace, my heart?"(Jolly Fellows, 1934)

Lyrics by Vasily Lebedev-Kumach, performed by Leonid Utyosov

Another legendary musical piece from the first Soviet musical is the tango song Serdtse, tebe ne khochetsya pokoya (Heart, you don't want to be in peace). It should be noted that Alexandrov was inspired to make a musical film during his visit to the Leningrad Music Hall, where Isaak Dunayevsky was working back then.

Furthermore, Aleksandrov saw a couple of performances with participation of Utyosovs jazz band. He realized that if they were combined with Dunayevskys music, an ingenious musical fusion would come out. Jolly Fellows marked the start of a long-term cooperation between the composer and the director.

Despite the fact that Dunayevsky was more or less restricted to travel abroad for no obvious reason, he was very familiar with foreign jazz and light music. He confirmed using tunes from American blues pieces in Marsh vesyolykh rebyat (March of jolly fellows). Apart from blues, music of jazz big bands and swing are clearly audible in many Dunayevskys compositions.

Motherland Song (Circus, 1936)

Lyrics by Vasily Lebedev-Kumach

Viktor Astafyev, a writer, said that this song by Dunayevsky was an everyday morning prayer performed by Mark Reizen on the radio." Originally the song was performed by Lyubov Orlova.

Pesnya o Rodine (The song about Motherland) was not composed as easily and naturally as other Dunayevskys works. Truth be told, the poet had to make extra efforts. We all tired each other to death, especially you did it to me, joked Lebedev-Kumach. Dunayevsky was known for being meticulous about everything, including himself. Thirty-five versions of the song were written in six months. And only the 36th one was finally approved by everybody. The accomplished work can be sensed very well - the form of music is as if it was forged from steel; it is impossible to either take away or add anything to the melody or harmony; there are virtually no variations or improvisations for this song.

A total of more than twenty musical pieces were composed for the film. On January 1, 1937, the lyricist and the composer were awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor. Subsequently, Circus, a film by Grigory Alexandrov, was awarded with the State Stalin Prize of the first degree. And Pesnya o Rodine (The song about Motherland) is still considered to be the "unofficial anthem of the USSR."

By then, terminally ill Ilya Ilf wrote: We will die and do it in any case to the music by Dunayevsky and lyrics by Vasily Lebedev-Kumach.

March of Enthusiasts (Tanya, 1940)

Lyrics by Anatoliy DAktil, performed by Lyubov Orlova

Lyubov Orlova, the sophisticated intellectual, played a role of Tanya Morozova, once again a simple woman, the Soviet Cinderella and subsequently Stakhanovite.

The march theme appears since the beginning of the film as accompaniment to traditional morning exercises broadcasted by each radio station of the Soviet Union. Then the same theme is heard as a New Year's waltz, though it is arranged in a completely new way - the two main characters performed by Orlova and Yevgeny Samoylov, the idol of all USSR women, together celebrate New Year to it. And for the third time the theme is heard during the climactic scene of the film, when Tanya Morozova sets the Stakhanov record - here the Marsh Entuziastov (March of Enthusiasts) is performed in the most famous choral version. In fact, Dunayevsky wrote three scores in completely different genres - this is a huge work, despite the fact that the song is the same.

He usually wrote one very good song with a simple, pure melody, which he then repeatedly used in the film in different variations. And in that sense, he would be a very successful Hollywood composer, wrote Harlow Robinson, an American professor of film studies, about Dunayevsky.

A song of the Water-Carrier (Volga-Volga, 1937)

Lyrics by: Vasily Lebedev-Kumach, performed by Pavel Olenev

Another popular comedy by Grigory Alexandrov, which followed Jolly Fellows and Circus, immediately became a resounding success. It was filmed in 1937 - 1938, in the midst of repression.

Funny operette couplets of Vodovoz were watched literally by everybody. However, the film crew did not avoid repressions. Nikolai Erdman, one of the scriptwriters, was arrested. As a result, Aleksandrov was listed as the sole scriptwriter in the credits. Vladimir Nilsen, a cameraman, was also sentenced to be shot, and later Zakhar Doretsky, the film production manager, disappeared without a trace in the camps.

Meanwhile, the untouchable director kept up with Dunayevsky, filling the film with elements of burlesque, music hall and operetta, which Alexandrov, who was allowed to travel abroad, had observed in Hollywood films during his American business trip. As to Dunayevsky, who had travel restriction, he was provided with American LP records. Towards the end of his life, the composer had one of the largest LP record collections in the USSR.

A Snowball Tree Is Blooming (Oi, Tsvetyot Kalina)(Cossacks of the Kuban, 1950)

Lyrics by Mikhail Isakovsky, performed by Klara Luchko

Vladimir Dashkevich, a composer, once noted: It was the nature of Pyryevs concept that allowed the composer to create truly popular songs for the film, which have been included into memory of generations. The film, which was greatly favored by Stalin, and then casted down by Khrushchev for "polishing reality", has preserved its place in history in virtue of the work by Ivan Pyryev, a classicist of Soviet cinematograph, the excellent cast, and, no doubt, of Dunayevsky's music.

Dunayevsky, as a brilliant professional, composed a song, which did not really correspond to his own musical predilections, but was fully in line with the canons of Russian folk music. Therefore, Oy tsvetyot kalina (Oh, viburnum is blooming) became a real folk song.

My Dear Muscovites (The Pokrovsky Gate, 1983)

Lyrics by Vladimir Mass and Mikhail Chervinsky. The first performer was Leonid Utyosov

The All-Union hit of the postwar era had been written in 1947, long before the film was produced. Utyosov was preparing the program to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the capital and offered the old friend - "Dunya" – to work together. At that time Dunayevsky was working on Vesna, a romantic comedy, with Alexandrov, but he did not refuse his old friend. As always, it worked out - the Moscow orchestral fantasia by Dunayevsky was performed, and in the end Utyosov and his daughter Edith sang Dorogie moi Moskvichi (My dear Muscovites). It is interesting that there is a record of another version of the song under the title of Proschalnaya Leningradskaya (Leningrad Farewell song) with a refrain going: Leningraders, dear friends. Later on, wherever the Utyosovs traveled on tour, they changed the ending, always fascinating the audience.

Dunayevsky passed away in 1955. His heart could not stand the change - there were personal emotional upheaval, and about-face in the political situation.

Utyosov continued to perform this song for a very long time. It was given a new life in 1982, the year of the great actors death. Mikhail Kozakov in the Pokrovsky Gate talks about the past, combining old and new urban views in a single scene, while getting nostalgic and playing old records. George Garanian, the film composer, included music by Tsfasman, Okudzhava and this very song by Dunayevsky into the soundtrack, which somehow sums up the film.

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