Citizen Barrel Organ

Niko Pirosmani: Arganshchik (organ grinder from Tbilisi), two versions, 1910

We have already met organ-grinders in pre-war Warsaw and Lwów, Bucharest and bombed-out Budapest, and even in America and the Caucasian Georgia, and a comprehensive illustrated post on the history of the barrel organ is already becoming ripe, indeed. This, however, would not be complete without the Russian organ grinder.

The scene with the organ grinder and the Gypsy girl from an 1910s performance of Stravinsky’s Petrushka

The barrel organ, that is шарманка – whose name is an assimilation of the French charmante with a Russian diminutive suffix – was popular in the towns and even villages of Russia at the turn of the century, together with its master, the шарманщик, whose detailed portrait is drawn in Lev Uspensky’s Записки старого петербуржца 1890-1910 (Records of an old citizen of St-Petersburg), of which we want to specifically write later. It was a special Russian feature that the organ grinder usually went from village to village in the company of a puppeteer, called Petrushka after one of his traditional puppets, who was elevated into high art together with the organ-grinder by Stravinsky in his ballet of 1910.

Alexei Ivanovich Korzuhin: “Petrushka has come!” (1888) Russian village idyll. In the background you can discover our old acquaintances, the early heralds of modernization: the paleocyclist to the right, and the children’s stroller to the left.

After the revolution, however, the barrel organ – unlike in other countries – quickly declined in the Soviet Union. On the one hand, it was separated from its Petrushka, monopolized by the young Soviet agitation and propaganda art for the purpose of workers’ performances. On the other hand, as Gilyarovsky’s Moscow shows it sensitively, the Soviet power tried to eliminate both such kinds of mobile elements, and the traditional population which was its audience. One of the last hommages to the sharmanshchik as a living trade is, we think, the book which we would like to present now, and which appeared in Leningrad without date, but sometime around 1925.

Sharmanochka – Little Barrel Organ. Its author is the same Nikolai Yakovlevich Agnivtsev who published the recently presented In defense of the chimney sweep as well as a number of other forgotten pearls of youth literature. You can read the translation of the poems in popup windows.

Песенка старого шарманщика (Song of the old organ grinder). Dedicated to Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Music and song by Bulat Okudzhava

Шарманка-шарлатанка, как сладко ты поешь!
Шарманка-шарлатанка, куда меня зовешь?
Шагаю еле-еле, вершок за пять минут.
Ну как дойти до цели, когда ботинки жмут?

Работа есть работа. Работа есть всегда.
Хватило б только пота на все мои года.
Расплата за ошибки – она ведь тоже труд.
Хватило бы улыбки, когда под ребра бьют.
Barrel organ, charlatan! how sweet you sing!
Barrel organ, charlatan! where do you call me?
I hardly advance, five minutes an inch:
How could I arrive, when the shoes are tight?

Work is just work, and work is all the time:
so much sweat would have been enough for a life.
Pay for the errors as well – it is also work
and when it beats under the string – give at least a smile.

Ali Baba, the last Russian organ grinder (Pyotr Yakovlevich Lyubaev, Petyka)
Вокруг Света, June 1970

The nostalgia for the barrel organ, as shown by the song of Okudzhava, was not forgotten after the craft went into oblivion. How could it have gone, once in one of the most popular Soviet children’s books – if not the most popular one indeed –, Alexei Tolstoy’s The little golden key (1936), a recast of Pinocchio (which in my humble opinion is better than the Italian original) Daddy Carlo is no carpenter, but an organ grinder! His statue is still standing in front of the Kiev Children’s Theater. Moreover, it seems that the instrument is living a new golden age, which is marked not only by the increasing presence of nostalgia organ grinders on various fairs, but its genial further developments such as the one presented by the Russian television in the following program:

An organ grinder leading a trained fox and a dog. Ivan Turgenev’s drawing in his sketchbook, 1834

10 comentarios:

MOCKBA dijo...

Intriguingly, Hungarian wikipedia has an entry for the violin-like hurdy-gurdy, but none for box-like mechanical street organ known in Russian as шарманка. The hurdy-gurdy string instrument (called a lyre or sometimes a ryle) is barely known to the Russians, although in the past it has been used by some Ukrainian blind street singers alongside with the more common bandura and kobza. Definitely not the шарманка!

Petrushka, with his organ accompaniment and his high-pitched voice modified by a special reed, is definitely a puppet but not the puppeteer (the latter may be called Petrushechnik).

And, although I haven't really investigated the timing of the demise of the roller organ and its attendant pet monkey, I couldn't help remembering Galich's wonderful "Manchuria Hills" (aka in memory of Zoschenko), where the action takes place in 1946. The dishonored, railroaded author stops to collect his thoughts in a basement speakeasy, and there is an organ-grinder with a monkey, and their tune is this wonderful and sad turn-of-the-century waltz (which is better known in the West today because of the 17 Hippies, of course)

Studiolum dijo...

There is a short Hungarian WP article for street organ (verkli <= ʻWerkel’ or kintorna <= ʻQuinttonen’, both names indicating its Austrian origin). In Hungary, where the “proper” hurdy-gurdy (tekerőlant) has been very widespread and still in use since the Middle Ages (and now living a new renaissance in urban music!) the two instruments clearly distinguished (although ʻverkli’ is sometimes used for any mechanism with preset music that is sounded by grinding). As far as I see, in written English this distinction is not so clear-cut: ʻhurdy-gurdy’ is often used for both, while ʻstreet organ’/ʻbarrel organ’/ʻroller organ’, as the uncertainty of the terminology also shows, is less in use, that’s why I also prefer the general use of ʻhurdy-gurdy’.

I am sure that the tradition of the wandering organ grinder did not die out at once (as it is shown by the quoted article of Вокруг Света speaking about “the last living organ grinder” as late as 1970). But the literature I read about it writes that it significantly fell back in the 1930s, so that the organ grinder going from courtyard to courtyard to play music was not a common scene any more, unlike in Western Europe (or even in the old districts of Budapest in my childhood!)

Effe dijo...

I don't remember for sure organ grinders in my italian childhood. The images of them I can recall in my mind probably come from literature.
I remember wandering accordion players going from courtyard to courtyard. I remember myself throwing some coins from my balcony (sadly, no permission to go down and reach the player).
The music of the forbidden accordion was a far and exotic world to me.

MOCKBA dijo...

As far as I see, in written English this distinction is not so clear-cut: ʻhurdy-gurdy’ is often used for both

So it might become possible to exacerbate the confusion by applying both words to Russian "sharmanka"? OK, I see your point. But you are breaking new ground here. As far as could see from the web searches, virtually nobody has used "hurdy-gurdy" in this specific context before. For examples searches for "Okudzhava hurdy-gurdy" come back with this post, while "Okudzhava barrel organ" gets you the myriad music links. Likewise you only get this post by searching for "Pirosmani hurdy-gurdy", but you find art by going after "Pirosmani barrel organist".

BTW there may be another important clarification about this Okudzhava song, one of my all-time favorites. The way you introduce it, it may appear that the song was written by Evtushenko, rather than dedicated to Evtushenko. Of course the formal grammar rules of the language dictate that the names like Evtushenko remain unchanged in all cases, so some readers could indeed be confused between Nominative and Dative in the Russian text. Still it's easy to disambiguate in English translation!

Studiolum dijo...

You are right. It is better to avoid ambiguity, even if the term “barrel organ” in this context sounds much less familiar to me than “hurdy-gurdy”. Now I have changed it everywhere.

As to Yevtushenko, it was my fault. I was always convinced that the poem was written by him, and I am sure I have also read it like this in more than one place. Already a first search for Евтушенко+Шарманка results in a number of hits indicating him as the author (e.g. here, check the comments as well.) Now I have changed this, too.

MOCKBA dijo...

The words hurdy-gurdy conveyed a genuine street-music feel and it was quite nice ... but it just didn't make a good match to Russian usage IMHO.

Yes, as I said, the "E. Evtushenko" subtitle of Okudzhava's song misleads even some native speakers. Great many of Okudzhava's verses have dedications in subtitles, but usually the Dative case speaks for itself. Still it irks me that today's Russian readers may be confused about it! Like, come on, don't you know?

PS: Organito de la Tarde next ;) ?

languagehat dijo...

шарманка – whose name is an assimilation of the French charmante with a Russian diminutive suffix

While this is ultimately true, I think the details are of interest: the immediate source of the name (according to Vasmer) is the German tune "Scharmante Katherine," because it was often played on such an instrument.

A correction: когда под ребра бьют is "when they beat (me) under the ribs."

Studiolum dijo...

Yes, I also checked the etymology from Vasmer, and hesitated for a moment whether to include it entirely, but it would have been too long for a bracket, and then I decided that Scharmante Katherine (which was also translated at that time into Hungarian) should be presented anyway in the history of the barrel organ, so then I will tell about the etymology as well.

Checking Vasmer was useful also to dissipate a false etymology I unconsciously fabricated for myself, connecting шарманка with a beautifully singing bird, called in Hungarian sármány (whose diminutive form is also sármányka). Another check, this time in the Hungarian Etymological Dictionary, detected that sármány is an archaic composite word ʻsár-mály’, in modern Hungarian ʻsárga mell’: ʻyellow-breasted’.

MOCKBA: I’m sorry, but I am no Russian reader as far as it concerns the songs of Okudzhava. I have never read them in print: I only heard and learned by heart, I think, all of them, from noname tapes smuggled from the Soviet Union and given from hand to hand until they became unusable and their music lived on only in our memory.

MOCKBA dijo...

Apropos the last organist and its mystery: Neo-semiología del El último organito :)

Studiolum, of course my irritation with "today's Russian readers" wasn't directed at you, not at all! It is these people who opine about Okudzhava and Evtushenko on the web, apparently without any understanding of either poet's work. I agree, I rarely saw Okudzhava's verse in print. But there were also vinyl disks, and movie soundtracks, and most of all - singing of the friends whenever they got together!

Studiolum dijo...

Well, I understood it, but as your last ad hominem question (before the PS) was directed to me, I could not but reply it. I do not know whether I belong to those who understand Okudzhava’s work (including his novels), but I definitely have loved them since my teenager years, so that even now I can sing any of them by heart. In Soviet times even his vinyls were apparently not deemed worthy to be exposed in that sublime shop-window of Soviet culture that was the Gorky bookshop in Budapest, so the only way to listen to them was to wait for our friends studying in Russian universities to take home pirate tape copies of them.

The analysis of the último organito is simply bril-li-ant!