The Song of the Volga Boatmen
1902 record by Feodor Chaliapin
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The "Song of the Volga Boatmen" (known in Russian as Эй, ухнем! [Ey, ukhnem!, "yo, heave-ho!"], after the refrain) is a well-known traditional Russian song collected by Mily Balakirev, and published in his book of folk songs in 1866. It was sung by burlaks, or barge-haulers, on the Volga River. Balakirev published it with only one verse (the first). The other two verses were added at a later date. Ilya Repin's famous painting Barge Haulers on the Volga depicts such burlaks in Tsarist Russia toiling along the Volga.
The song was popularised by Feodor Chaliapin, and has been a favourite concert piece of bass singers ever since. Glenn Miller's jazz arrangement took the song to #1 in the US charts in 1941. Russian composer Alexander Glazunov based one of the themes of his symphonic poem "Stenka Razin" on the song. Spanish composer Manuel De Falla wrote an arrangement of the song, which was published under the name Canto de los remeros del Volga (del cancionero musical ruso) in 1922. He did so at the behest of diplomat Ricardo Baeza, who was working with the League of Nations to provide financial relief for the more than two million Russian refugees who had been displaced and imprisoned during World War I. All proceeds from the song's publication were donated to this effort. Igor Stravinsky made an arrangement for orchestra.
First publications and recordings
A version of the song was recorded by Mily Balakirev (a Russian composer) from Nikolay Aleynikov in Nizhny Novgorod in 1860 or 1861. Already in 1866, the musician published it in his book A collection of Russian folk songs by M. Balakirev (Russian: «Сборникъ русскихъ народныхъ пѣсенъ»; 1866), with his own arrangement.
|Russian||Transliteration||(Poetic) English translation|
The English lyrics above fit the melody. A more accurate translation of some lines are:
|Now we fell the stout birch tree,||We'll untwist the stout birch tree,|
|Now we pull hard: one, two, three.||We'll untwist the curly tree!|
|Hey, hey, let's heave a-long the way||Hey, hey, pull this way!|
|Mighty stream so deep and wide.||Wide and deep,|
Notable recordings and arrangements
A translated vocal version was sung by Paul Robeson.
The song, or at least the tune, was popularized in the mid-20th Century through an instrumental jazz version played by the Glenn Miller Band. Glenn Miller released the song as an RCA Bluebird 78 single, B-11029-A, in 1941 in a swing jazz arrangement which reached no. 1 on the Billboard pop singles chart in a 10-week chart run. Not in copyright, the song was not subject to the 1941 ASCAP boycott, allowing for more radio play that year.
Modern popular culture
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The memorable tune of The Song of the Volga Boatmen has led to its common usage in many musical situations, particularly as background music, often with the theme of unremitting toil (or, alternatively, devotion to duty). Some uses, particularly those portending doom or despair, employ only the iconic four-note beginning; others go so far as to add new, often wryly humorous, lyrics, such as the "Birthday Dirge". Some usages only acknowledge the tune's Russian heritage; very few use the original lyrics (for instance its use as the introductory theme of the Soviet boxer, Soda Popinski, in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!).
- The cartoon Goofy Gymnastics (1949)
- Dickie Goodman in his 1959 novelty hit "Russian Bandstand."
- At 2:55 minutes in the song "The Stroke" by Billy Squier.
- In A Troll in Central Park, a minor character sings "I'm a bad troll, a very bad troll!" to the tune.
- The Fremantle Football Club of the Australian Football League based their inaugural club song on the tune, used between 1995 and 2011.
- The Gainesville, Florida rock band The Vulgar Boatmen were named as a play on the original term.
- Peter Schickele (writing as P D Q Bach)as used the tune for the subject of a fugue called "Fuga Vulgaris" in Toot Suite for Calliope four hands.
- On the Simpsons episode "The Springfield Files", when Homer takes the breathalyzer test, he reaches level "Boris Yeltsin", which then plays the song's tune.
- On two episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants: in "Sandy, SpongeBob, and the Worm", the song can be heard as Patrick and the townspeople push the city of Bikini Bottom; in "Employee of the Month", the song is heard as SpongeBob and Squidward crawl to the Krusty Krab
- In the 2001 film Shrek, the tune of the song is hummed by the dwarves as they are being led away in chains.
- A piece by Gramatik (Denis Jasarevic), 'The Swing of Justice' (2014) reuses the Glenn Miller piece.
- The song was used in the film Lord of War when Yuri is in Ukraine purchasing Soviet military hardware from his uncle after the breakup of the USSR.
- The 1944 Warner Bros. cartoon Russian Rhapsody features gremlins dismantling Adolf Hitler's airplane. They sing "We are gremlins from the Kremlin" to the tune of the song.
- On the Gilligan's Island episode "Goodbye, Old Paint", a Russian artist (Harold J. Stone) sings the song while painting, occasionally making up his own lyrics.
In computer games the tune is used in much the same way:
- The theme of the Russian civilization in the series Civilization, including the original game and its sequels Civilization II and Civilization IV.
- In Team Fortress 2, the character Heavy can be heard singing the song at times.
- The tune of the song is featured in Tetris: Axis for Nintendo 3DS.
- A rendition of the tune is played in Pipe Mania for NES whenever a level is failed, or the game is over.
- Parts of the tune are used in the Malinovka map theme of World of Tanks.
- The video game Punch-Out!! (Wii) features the song in Russian character Soda Popinski's introductory cutscenes. It is also used to introduce him in the earlier Nintendo Entertainment System version.
- Fuld, James J. (2000). The book of world-famous music: classical, popular, and folk. Courier Dover. p. 520.
- Hess, Carol A. Sacred Passions: The Life and Music of Manuel de Falla, Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 134. ISBN 0-19-514561-5.
- Е. В. Гиппиус (1962). "Эй, ухнем": "Дубинушка" : история песен (in Russian). Сов. композитор.
- Записки Императорскаго русскаго географическаго общества по отдѣленію этнографіи (in Russian).
- Гиппиус, Е. В. Русские народные песни (in Russian).
- Грюнберг П. Н.; Янин В. Л. История начала грамзаписи в России. Каталог вокальных записей Российского отделения компании "Граммофон" (in Russian). М.: Языки славянской культуры. p. 235.
- Е. А. Грошева, ed. (1960). Шаляпин (in Russian). II. Москва: Искусство. pp. 516, 517, 519.
- Ванслов, В. В. (1950). Симфоническое творчество А.К. Глазунова (in Russian). Гос. музыкальное изд-во.
- YouTube: The Song of the Volga Boatmen.
- Hoffmann, Frank (May 23, 2016). Chronology of American Popular Music, 1900-2000. London; New York: Routledge. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-415-97715-9. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
- Gilliland, John (1994). Pop Chronicles the 40s: The Lively Story of Pop Music in the 40s (audiobook). ISBN 978-1-55935-147-8. OCLC 31611854. Tape 2, side B.
- The Birthday Dirge.
- "Gramatik - The Swing Of Justice". Retrieved 2015-05-14.
- Niccol, Andrew (2005-09-16), Lord of War, retrieved 2016-05-28
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Song of the Volga Boatmen.|
- Song of the Volga Boatmen: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP).
- YouTube: Song of the Volga Boatmen — sung in the tradition of Chaliapin by Leonid Kharitonov with the Alexandrov Ensemble, 1965.
- YouTube: Song of the Volga Boatmen — Paul Robeson.
- YouTube: Song of the Volga Boatmen — Glenn Miller and his orchestra.
- YouTube: Song of the Volga Boatmen — translated Chinese version performed by the Male Choir of the People's Armed Police.