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Great Russian singers of the 20th century
February 14, 2007 13:39


  Great Russian singers of the 20th century

Speaking about the Russian music of the 20th century it can hardly be claimed genuinely Russian: one can feel certain interchange of influences with the West in it, just like in music of nowadays. Nevertheless, peculiar Russian features are revealed in Russian music, and that is probably what we might be proud of.

We would like to draw your attention to a number of classical Russian singers who were self-sufficient and artistically interesting personalities. It is not enough to say that their creative gifts carry weight in the cultural history of Russia - they deserve live attention of any generation.

Fyodor Shalyapin

Sergey Lemeshev

Peter Leshchenko

Ivan Kozlovsky

Vladimir Nechaev

Vadim Kozin

Claudia Shulzhenko

Isabella Yurieva

Leonid Utesov

Mark Bernes



Fyodor Shalyapin (1873-1938)

Shalyapin Fyodor Ivanovich is a well-known Russian opera singer-bass. Shalyapin was both a great singer and a drama actor. His voice of unique flexibility, timbre, richness and beauty enabled him to express freely any shades of emotions. In his opera parts Shalyapin managed to convey the whole range of feelings - from heartfelt tenderness to tragic pathos and smashing sarcasm Shalyapin was a tremendous success with his performances in Europe and on stage of the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Worldwide fame was brought to him by his performing the major part in Musorgsky's opera Boris Godunov. Among his other achievements one can name his parts in such operas as Faust by Gounod, Sadko by Rimsky-Korsakov, Mephistophelis by Boito, Don Quixot by Massne and Life for the Tzar by Glinka.

Besides numerous opera performances, he gave a lot of concerts and proved to be a brilliant interpreter of chamber-vocal repertoire. Among the songs performed by him especially popular were the Russian folk song " Hey, uhnem!' and " the Song about a flea " by Musorgsky.

Shalyapin left Russia in 1922 and settled down in Paris.

Biography of Shalyapin

'Nochen'ka' (Perfomed by Fyodor Shalyapin)

Sergey Lemeshev (1902-1977)

Lemeshev's popularity in Moscow was enormous, his performances attracted crowds of admirers, or more likely, fans, (whose passion was heated with certain rivalry between Lemeshev and I.S.Kozlovsky). The singer's great talent was exceptionally harmonic and light; his manner of singing was easy and natural and marked with an exquisite taste. Just listen to the way he performed the folk song Ah ty dushechka / Oh you my pretty soul!

Sergey Lemeshev often sang songs accompanied with an orchestra of folk music instruments.

His lyrical tenor of an unusually soft and light timbre almost at once brought him love and popularity of opera art admirers. Nevertheless, Lemeshev was a great worker and worked hard to elaborate each of his opera parts. And there were a great number of them: Lensky in Evgenie Onegin, Tzar Berendey in Snow Maiden, the Astrologer in The Golden Cockerel, the Indian visitor in Sadko, Vladimir Igorevich in Prince Igor, Boyan in Ruslan and Lyudmila, Duke in Rigoletto, Alfred in Traviata, Almaviva in The Barber of Seville, etc.

Biography of Lemeshev

'Vykhozhu odin ya na dorogu' (Perfomed by Sergey Lemeshev)

Peter Leshchenko (1898-1954)

Having comprehended all the secrets of gramophone recording Peter Leshchenko made a great number of superb recordings. His voice in those records has a beautiful timber and the performance is very expressive. Though Peter did not have proper voice qualities to perform on stage, his singing of lyric songs, tangos, foxtrots, etc. on phonograph records is considered one of the best. The well-known hits of the master are Moya Marusichka, Dve Gitary, Tatyana and Chubchik.

In March 1951 Leshchenko was arrested for some careless words about the Soviet establishment... The voice of "the favourite of the European public Peter Konstantinovich Leshchenko" ceased sounding. He died in prison.

'I l'etsya pesnya' (Perfomed by Peter Leshchenko)

Ivan Kozlovsky (1900 - 1993)

The voice of Kozlovsky, a high lyrical tenor of a distinguished beautiful timbre can be recognized at once. Having a fortunate appearance, the singer was extremely artistic both in theatre and on a concert stage. As well as other big Russian artistes of the old school, Kozlovsky could very expressively articulate the text.

From 1919 and till the last years of his life Kozlovsky gave many concerts, mainly with programs of old Russian romances, Russian and Ukrainian folk songs and chamber lyrics of Russian composers, such as Glinka, Dargomyzhsky, Tchaikovsky and Rakhmaninov. In 1938-1941 he was the organizer and the art director of the State Opera Ensemble in Moscow in which he staged a number of operas in concert performance.

Kozlovsky's singing was exclusively emotional, sometimes even impending on the limits of an immaculate taste (it happened mainly with the western repertoire). But then he can be considered the unsurpassed interpreter of such opera parts, as the "God's Fool" and Tsar Berendej, and many old romances; in the last years of his life Kozlovsky also sang and recorded Russian sacred music.

'V etu lunnuyu notch'' (Perfomed by Ivan Kozlovsky)

Vladimir Nechaev (1908-1969)

'Volodya Nechaev was a person with a big, vast soul and an amazing voice. He was very kind and witty. Lots of people were attracted to him and it was always warm near him and never boring' - his contemporaries recall.

He made popular a lot of lyrical songs, among them Moya Lyubimaya, Zazhglas Zarya Vechernyaya, Osennie Listya, etc.

Since 1944 he performed in a duet with Vladimir Bunchikov.

Bunchikov recollects: " I got acquainted with Volodya Nechaev at a radio station in 1942. In front of me there stood a lean young man who turned very affable. He had just returned from the war front where he was with a concert radio brigade and sang Russian songs to the accompaniment of bayanists. We performed not only in big cities, but also in villages, mines, hospitals, at frontier posts, and where not.

'Gde zhe ty, moi sad' (Perfomed by Vladimir Nechaev)

Vadim Kozin (1903-1994)

Vadim Alekseevich Kozin is the legend of Russian romance. Till now biographers argue about where the truth ends and fiction begins in the life of "the Russian nightingale ". Usually, speaking about Kozin, they recall, that he was a grandson of the great gipsy singer Barbara Panina. They do not also forget the story of the singer's participation in the Teheran conference where he performed for Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt

Listening to the songs performed by Kozin, one cannot but be amazed at his great scope and keenness. The fact is his repertoire consists of about three thousand works. And all of his songs went through thorough selection; if a song met no response with the public he never sang it again afterwards. Each song performed by him was always a brief story, which encouraged the audience both to muse and to think, or made one excited or burst into laughter...

Due to his humane nature Kozin underwent two imprisonments in the times of repressions. Nevertheless he managed to live a good long though difficult life.

'Daleka ty put'-doroga' (Perfomed by Vadim Kozin)

Claudia Shulzhenko (1906-1984)

Claudia Shulzhenko is considered a superstar of the domestic variety stage of the 20th century. There must be some secret of her popularity: she was neither a brilliant beauty nor a possessor of an exclusive voice. However her name has become a symbol of the epoch. It is probably thanks to her heartfelt songs and personality.

Those with shallow understanding of the history of our variety stage, might consider Claudia Shulzhenko a singer of a Communist-patriotic type. But that would be unjust to think so. The actress preferred to execute mischievous, cheerful and lyrical songs about love, kind people and simple pleasures of life -songs not burdened with ideology. Her most popular songs of the 1930s were: Druzhba/' Friendship ' (' When a simple and clear look... '), Ty pomnish Nashi Vstrechi/' You remember our meetings ', ' Ah, Andryusha! ', Dyadya Vanya/' Uncle Vanja ', etc.

The simple lyrical waltz Sinii Platochek / ' Dark blue kerchief ', sung by Claudia Shulzhenko in the first months of war, unexpectedly became something like a front hymn alongside with the glorified song Katyusha.

Very often the singer as played whole drama scenes in her songs. Her voice and style successfully combined Russian folk intonations and the variety relaxedness. Shulzhenko's voice once heard can be easily recognized.

'Sinii Platochek' (Perfomed by Claudia Shulzhenko)

Isabella Yurieva (1899-2000)

Isabella Yurieva was adored and worshipped by millions, her concerts were always sold out. Later she was forgotten and then recollected again.

Love and woman's dignity became the major themes of her creativity. In old gipsy romances performed by her , as well as in romances of the 20th century, and in lyrical songs by Soviet composers she would draw the image of a loving and beautiful yet suffering woman. And this image turned very dear and close to her contemporaries.

The power of the singer's influence came from that profound artistic experience that penetrated her song execution. She freely resorted to improvisation and variation of melodies. Her accompanists Simon Kagan and David Ashkenazi with whom she worked all her life, also were free at improvising, which added to the special lustre of the performance. She was always extraordinarily sensitive to the word, to poetic speech in music. Her change of intonation, its shifts, a wide guttural singing or an intimate confession became " the voice of a magic lyre "

'O lubvi i druzbe' (Perfomed by Isabella Yuryeva)

Leonid Utesov (1895-1982)

Having listened to foreign the jazz-bands, Utesov decided to create an original orchestra, distinct from the western ones. Later he recollected: "... Isn't it possible, I thought, to turn this genre in the direction needed to us? What is this direction? Just one thing was clear to me: my orchestra should not resemble any one of the existing, and it would not because it would be synthetic". He dreamed of jazz, which would be a good and witty theatre; about musicians who would be good and cheerful actors; about a concert that would become a spectacle; about songs which would become known by everyone.

Such people as Utesov, possessing so many-sided talents, become real path breakers in many areas of a science and art. The synthesis of theatre, jazz and song in Utesov's creativity was a real break through. Musical critics often accused Utesov of the absence of a real singer's voice. Leonid Osipovich invariably answered: "Let it be so! I sing not with my voice - I sing with my heart!" Utesov's popularity in Russia was overwhelming, and the song authors who worked with him selected the best songs to be heard in his execution.

Utesov's voice is remembered by people of three generations. He opened the gate to such fine songs, as Polushko-Pole, Partizan Zheleznyak, Tachanka, Kakhovka, Grenada, Dva Druga/Two friends, and Cossack's Song. His song Odessit Mishka still cannot but move the audience. As for the famous scenes from the movie Vesyelye Rebyata / Cheerful Fellows with participation of his jazz, they are immortal. Gramophone and tape records with songs executed by him are still cherished and safely kept in many family music funds.

'U chernogo morya' (Perfomed by Leonid Utesov)

Mark Bernes (1911-1969)

Mark Bernes was a well-known Soviet cinema actor. But he was also widely known as the singer of songs by Soviet composers on a variety stage, radio and TV.

Bernes's voice did not contain any qualities of a virtuoso data, but it was as charming, as for example, the voice of Utesov.

He was an amazing success on the Soviet variety stage. Till this day there is no a better executor of the songs that has become national such as Ya lyublyu tebya, Zhizn! / I love you, Life!, Seryezhka s Maloi Bronnoi, Lyubimy Gorod/ Favourite city, Khotyat li russkie voiny? Do the Russian want war, Vragi sozhgli rodnuyu khatu/ Enemies have burnt the native hut, Tyemnaya Noch/ Dark night and many others. All in all he performed over a hundred songs, which have entered the golden fund of domestic art.

Close acquaintances of Mark Bernes mentioned: he never said, "I shall sing a song", instead, he used to say " I shall tell you a song ". And he never considered singing to be his profession: " First of all I am a film actor, and my songs are my love ".

"I do not like satisfied and safe songs, - Bernes said. - If an unhappy person becomes a bit happier hearing that someone has shared his/her loneliness, it means my song is all right".

'Temnaya noch'' (Perfomed by Mark Bernes)




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