Wednesday, 7 May 2008

For Pierrot and Columbine

When I was very young I heard an old Russian folk ballad called Volga, Volga mat' rodnaya or Stenka Razin and thought Hullo, that's a good tune, no copyright, I could put English words to it, get a group to record it, make a great deal of money. Of course I didn't actually do it, but years later Dusty Springfield's brother Tim did, and in 1965 The Carnival Is Over was a very big hit for The Seekers in the UK and Australia.
Stepan (Sten'ka) Timofeyevich Razin was a Cossack leader who led a major uprising against the Russian nobility in the seventeenth century. Legend tells that once, while he was sailing the Volga in a pirated ship, his men almost mutinied because he was dallying with a Persian princess he had captured and neglecting his chieftainship, so to appease them he threw the Persian princess into the river to her death. The song describes this event and HERE is what the great Russian bass Boris Shtokolov made of it.

Apart from the melody, the Seekers' version has something else in common with the legend, for it also tells of someone dumping a partner (though not quite so literally) with some regret ("... I will love you till I die"). So same tune, similar sentiment but a very different style: Stokolov booming away is not a bit like Judith Durham warbling sweetly while swaying gently from side to side on a fifties kind of stage (actually this version was recorded in 1968).

However, as a corrective to the blandness of their presentation, the bass player has a face made of wax and wears some really scary spectacles.

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