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.
|Russian||Transliteration||(Poetic) English translation|
Modern popular culture
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!!).
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.
The tune was also incorporated in the cartoon Goofy Gymnastics in 1949.
The tune was also used by Dickie Goodman in his 1959 novelty hit "Russian Bandstand."
The tune was adapted, most likely by or for "Yang the Nauseating" (the founder and Aga Khan of the Great Dark Horde), as the Mongol Birthday Song. This "filk" was well known internationally by 1990.
In A Troll in Central Park, a minor character sings "I'm a bad troll, a very bad troll!" to the tune of "Ey, ukhnyem".
The Gainesville, Florida rock band The Vulgar Boatmen were named as a play on the original term.
In the 2001 film Shrek, the tune of the song is hummed by the dwarves as they are being led away in chains.
In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Employee of the Month", a rendition of the tune can be heard when SpongeBob is pulling an anchor and Squidward is pulling a ship.
The tune can also be heard in the loading screen of some levels in World of Tanks.
The video game Punch Out!! (Wii) showcases the theme in Russian character Soda Popinski's intro cutscene.
- 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.
- The Birthday Dirge.
- 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.
- "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.
"Frenesi" by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra
|The Billboard National Best Selling Retail Records number-one single
(Glenn Miller and His Orchestra version)
March 15, 1941 (one week)
"Frenesi" by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra