Literature, music and Russian language: all in one

Literature, music and Russian language: all in one
01 June 2016

Russians excel in literature and this is not anything new. The same applies to music, both classical and modern. I have been thinking of how these areas of Russian pride can serve our objective, which is to advance our command of the Russian language. After some internet research, I have come up with the idea of putting together a list of great literary pieces which have successively been integrated into musical works. Why? First, because there is some evidence showing that music is a powerful learning tool, apparently triggering memories of words and of syntax. Second, because this is a ludic and easy way to get access to some of the most representative and renowned Russian authors.

While doing my selection, I have tried to follow a number of criteria. First, to include writings of some of the most significant Russian authors. Second, to offer some good quality music. Third, to include works which are relatively easy to understand. And fourth, to provide you with substantial grammatical and lexical content. Here is the output!

1 – Pushkin: Я помню чудное мгновенье (1825) []

This is a classical piece and the music of the romance was written by Glinka. The astonishing thing about this love poem, and more generally about Pushkin’s writing, is its extreme beauty in simple words!

2 – Tsvetaeva: Молитва (1909) []

Tsvetaeva writes Молитва (Prayer) when she is only 17! Born in a wealthy family, the author grew up as a mischievous child with extremely strong character and a talent for poetry. Before graduating from school, Tsvetaeva writes already in sophisticated rhythms. In this poem, she dialogues with God and with juvenile arrogance deliberates about life and death.

3 – Mayakovskiy: Лиличка! (1916) []

This is something unexpected: a romantic poem in a contemporary rock version. Although this is not the first translation of Mayakovskiy’s verses into a song, Splean’s (Сплин) 2007 version is definitely something worth listening to. Indeed, the asymmetric structure of the poem adapts itself wonderfully to the rock genre.

4 – Akhmatova: О, жизнь без завтрашнего дня (1921) []

In the 2003 movie Одна жизнь the main female character sings a love romance in which are put together Akhmatova’s verses and the melody composed by the famous contemporary music writer Aleksey Ribnikov. To me, this is one of the most beautiful poems on the question of tragedy in love. At least two other of Akhmatova’s love poems have also been converted into romances: Песня последней встречи and Приходи на меня посмотреть.

5 – Yesenin: До свиданья, мой друг, до свиданья (1925) []

On 24 December 1925, Yesenin leaves Moscow for Leningrad (St Petersburg). For three days he meets friends and on the 27th, before he dies at the age of 30, he handles to the poet Ehrlich a letter which contains the poem До свиданья, мой друг, до свиданья. Written with Yesenin’s own blood, as no ink was available at hotel Angleterre where he was staying, this poem was soon converted into a music composition, first by Boguslavskiy (1926) and then by Veselov (1966). I propose, though, to listen to Vertinskiy’s (1932) version which uses Yesenin’s letter as a framework but the text is longer and includes Vertinskiy’s own verses.


[The text of all of the poems is available at:]

Garbis Latifyan, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz Moscow

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