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"Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)" is a patter song with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and music by Kurt Weill, first performed by American comedian Danny Kaye in the 1941 Broadway musical Lady in the Dark. In his lyrics Gershwin used the alternate spelling "Tschaikowsky", from the German transliteration (used by German music publishers of the period) in place of the more widely accepted modern transliteration Tchaikovsky.
"Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)" is not a song in the normal sense of the term: it is a rhyming list of fifty Russian composers' names, which Kaye rattled off (in a speaking, not singing, voice) as rapidly as possible. At each performance, Kaye tried to break his previous speed record for reciting this song: consequently, it was intended to be recited a cappella (without instrumental accompaniment), as the orchestra could not possibly keep up with him.
Several of the "Russian" composers listed in this song are actually Russian-Americans whose names Gershwin altered for the purposes of his lyric. For example, one of the names in the song is "Dukelsky"; this is actually the birth name of Vernon Duke, an American composer of Russian ancestry. Stanisław Moniuszko, Witold Maliszewski and Leopold Godowsky are actually Polish, not Russian, but all three were born in what was then part of the Russian Empire.
Ira Gershwin began his career writing lyrics for his brother George Gershwin. Ira, the more self-effacing of the Gershwin brothers, was concerned that music publishers might think that George had chosen him as lyricist on the basis of nepotism rather than talent, so Ira originally chose to write lyrics under the pseudonym "Arthur Francis" (derived from the names of his other brother Arthur and his sister Frances).
The song was originally a nonsense poem which Ira Gershwin had published in a college newspaper under the name "Arthur Francis" in his student days. Decades later, in his memoir Lyrics on Several Occasions, Ira Gershwin expressed the hope that someone might accuse him of plagiarizing his song "Tschaikowsky" from the collegiate poem, so he could reveal that he and Arthur Francis were the same person.
In later interviews, Danny Kaye described how, on opening night, his rendition of Tschaikowsky brought down the house. Instead of elating him, this put Kaye in a panic because Gertrude Lawrence's song, The Saga of Jenny, was the next number, and "no one upstages Gertrude Lawrence!" He was certain Lawrence would demand Tschaikowsky be cut from the show the next day. Lawrence, however, was up to the challenge, and gave an overwhelming performance of The Saga of Jenny, thereby saving Kaye's number.
List of composers
With adjustments to Gershwin's spelling, here are the Russian composers mentioned in the song, in order: Witold Maliszewski, Anton Rubinstein, Anton Arensky, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Wassily Sapellnikoff, Nikolay Dmitriev, Alexander Tcherepnin, Ivan Kryzhanovsky, Leopold Godowsky, Nikolai Artsybushev, Stanisław Moniuszko, Fyodor Akimenko, Nicolai Soloviev, Sergei Prokofiev, Dimitri Tiomkin, Arseny Koreshchenko, Mikhail Glinka, Alexander Winkler, Dmitry Bortniansky, Vladimir Rebikov, Alexander Ilyinsky, Nikolai Medtner, Mily Balakirev, Vasily Zolotaryov, Kvoschinsky, Nikolay Sokolov, Alexander Kopylov, Vernon Duke (born Dukelsky), Nikolay Klenovsky, Dmitri Shostakovich, Alexander Borodin, Reinhold Glière, David Nowakowsky, Anatoly Lyadov, Genari Karganoff, Igor Markevitch, Pantschenko, Alexander Dargomyzhsky, Vladimir Shcherbachov, Alexander Scriabin, Sergei Vasilenko, Igor Stravinsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Modest Mussorgsky, Alexander Gretchaninov, Alexander Glazunov, César Cui, Vasily Kalinnikov, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Joseph Rumshinsky.