Lobachevsky (song)

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"Lobachevsky" is a humorous song by Tom Lehrer, referring to the mathematician Nikolai Lobachevsky.[1] In the introduction, Lehrer describes the song as an adaptation of a routine that Danny Kaye did to honor the Russian actor Constantin Stanislavski. Lehrer sings the song from the point of a view of a preeminent Russian mathematician who learns, from Lobachevsky, that plagiarism is the secret of success in mathematics. The narrator later uses this strategy to get a paper published ahead of a rival, then to write a book and earn a fortune selling the movie rights. Lehrer wrote that he did not know Russian. In the song he quotes two book reviews in Russian, the actual text of which bears no relation: the first phrase quotes Mussorgsky's Song of the Flea: "Once there was a king who had a pet flea." The second references a Russian joke: "Now I must go where even the Tsar goes on foot" [the bathroom].[2]

The song was first performed as part of The Physical Revue, a 1951–1952 musical revue by Lehrer and a few other professors.[3] It is track 6 on Songs by Tom Lehrer, which was re-released as part of Songs & More Songs by Tom Lehrer and The Remains of Tom Lehrer; in that version Ingrid Bergman is cited as the hypotenuse of The Eternal Triangle. It was recorded again for Revisited (Tom Lehrer album), with Brigitte Bardot as the hypotenuse. A third recording is included in Tom Lehrer Discovers Australia (And Vice Versa), a live album recorded in Australia, featuring Marilyn Monroe as the hypotenuse. A fourth recording was made in 1966 when Songs by Tom Lehrer was reissued in stereo, featuring Doris Day as the hypotenuse.[4][2]

According to Lehrer, the song is "not intended as a slur on [Lobachevsky's] character" and the name was chosen "solely for prosodic reasons".[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Lobachevsky". The Demented Music Database. Retrieved 2 October 2014. 
  2. ^ a b ""Lobachevsky" Words and music by Tom Lehrer". PhysicsSongs.org. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 
  3. ^ "The Physical Revue, by Tom Lehrer". PhysicsSongs.org. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 
  4. ^ "Tom Lehrer lyric variations". The Demented Music Database. April 2, 1995. Retrieved 2 October 2014. 
  5. ^ Liner notes, "The Tom Lehrer Collection", Shout! Factory, 2010