"Den Pobedy" (Russian: День Победы, English: Victory Day) ranks among the most popular in the large corpus of Russian songs, devoting to Second World War. The song refers to the Victory Day (9 May) celebration and differs from most of these by its cheerful intonations of a marching song and by the fact that it was composed some thirty years after the war. In the words of Vladimir Shainsky, a veteran composer, "the song seemed to have turned back the time. Although written three decades after the war, it now seems that it was this song that helped us to gain the victory".
In order to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Soviet victory in the Second World War, the Soviet government announced a competition for the best song about the war. In March 1975, poet Vladimir Kharitonov, who had taken part in the war, approached his traditional co-author, the young composer David Tukhmanov with a proposal to write a new song for the occasion. This effort was to differ strikingly from their previous collaborations, which had been disco-influenced chartbusters. Several days before the deadline, Kharitonov brought his lyric to Tukhmanov and the latter composed a song just in time to be recorded track of an orchestra. His wife Tatyana Sashko (the singer and the lyricist) sang Den Pobedy before the jury.
However, the jury, composed primarily of elderly songwriters whose tastes had been formed during Stalin's era, was exceedingly displeased with the result. The lyrics appeared to them lightsome and frivolous, while the melody was alleged to abuse the "rhythms of tango and foxtrot", two "bourgeois" dances which had been banned in the Soviet Union.
Although the performance of the song was strongly discouraged, Lev Leshchenko, one of the most popular Soviet singers, dared to premiere it during his concert in Alma-Ata in late April. Then the song was performed in the Little Blue Light TV show on 9 May by another singer (Leonid Smetannikov)), but his interpretation was rather lackluster and failed to attract attention. Thereupon the song was not performed until 10 November when Leshchenko revived it for a grand concert (and live in Soviet television) in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses on the Militsiya Day. His performance astounded the censors but proved to be a runaway success with the audience, who clamored for an encore.
Since then, the song has been invariably performed during every Victory Day celebrations in the Soviet Union and Russia, often concluding a program of festivities, with the last stanza drowned in sounds of fireworks over the Red Square. According to Komsomolskaya Pravda, the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev liked this song greatly, especially when performed by Joseph Kobzon, and predicted to Kharitonov that "folks would sing this tune for many years after you and I are gone".
Brezhnev's expectation did not fail to materialize, in part because, as the American researcher David MacFadyen explains, "this powerful song draws not upon the bravery of youthful soldiers but the private memories of ageing, greying veterans. Its poignant combination of joy at a stunning victory and sadness at great loss sounds just as relevant today, when the war itself is something about which many young Russians neither know nor care".
- David MacFadyen. Red Stars: Personality and the Soviet Popular Song, 1955–1991. McGill-Queens Univ Press, 2001. ISBN 0-7735-2106-2. Page 180.
- (Russian) Download the song, performed by Leshchenko.
- (Russian) Article in the Komsomolskaya Pravda
- (Russian) Article in the Nezavisimaya Gazeta
- (Russian) History of the song on Tukhmanov's website
- The first performance of Den Pobedy — Tatyana Sashko and children's chorus, April 1975 on YouTube
- Lev Leshchenko is singing Den Pobedy on Russian TV on YouTube
- Muslim Magomayev is singing Den Pobedy on YouTube
- Version performed by the Alexandrov Ensemble Choir ("Red Army Choir") in 1986 with Eduard Labkovsky as the soloist on YouTube