My homeland

The Moscow-Budapest express train will arrive at platform number three of the Lwów railway station when the time will come. But now, fortunately, a much more attractive train is waiting there for departure, the Czernowitz/Chernivtsi/Cernăuți local with beautiful, old-fashioned lace curtains, seductively inviting to explore the old capital of Bucovina. Soon we will accept the invitation. In the meantime, the sight of the train leaving from the former capital of Polish tango to Czernowitz recalls us Pyotr Leshchenko, the king of Russian tango, who was born in Odessa, but became world famous in Czernowitz and later in Bucharest.

The Leshchenko Cabaret, dubbed even in Paris as “the Maxim’s of the East”, was one of the most fashionable places of entertainment in the Bucharest of the thirties. In addition to the metropolitan elite and the foreign aristocrats, its regulars also included those Russian emigrants, aristocrats, White officers and middle-class people, who during the war and the civil war managed to get through to Bessarabia, annexed to Romania. For them was written by the leader of Leshchenko’s orchestra, the Izmail-born George Ipsilanti the song Тоска по родине, “Homesickness”, which regularly featured in Leshchenko’s repertoire. A recording, however, was made only in the 1940s with Ipsilanti’s wife, the Chisinău/Kishinev-born Alla Bayanova. The song, which was banned in the Soviet Union, spread across the country via the smuggled copies of this disc, and the Homesickness, written by Bessarabian Romanian singers and a Greek composer, became a kind of an unofficial Russian anthem.

George Ipsilanti – Pyotr Leshchenko: Тоска по Родине (Homesickness). Song: Alla Bayanova. For the Hungarian version by Bori Rutkai see here

Я иду не по нашей земле.
Просыпается серое утро.
Вспоминаешь ли ты обо мне,
Дорогая моя, златокудрая?

Предо мною чужие поля.
Как у нас в голубом тумане,
Серебрятся вдали тополя
Этим утром холодным, ранним.

Я тоскую по родине,
По родной стороне моей.
Я теперь далеко-далеко
В незнакомой стране.
Я тоскую по русским полям.
Мою боль не унять мне без них.
И по серым любимым глазам,-
Как мне грустно без них...

Проезжаю теперь Бухарест.
Всюду слышу я речь неродную.
И от всех незнакомых мне мест
Я по родине больше тоскую.

Там идут проливные дожди.
Их мелодия с детства знакома.
Дорогая, любимая, жди,
Не отдай мое счастье другому.
I am traveling not on our land,
gray morning dawns on me.
Do you still remember me,
my dear, my golden-haired?

Foreign fields stretch out in front of me
like at home in the blue  haze,
the bark of the poplar shines like silver
on this cold, early morning.

I long for my homeland,
for my native country
here, far, very far,
in a foreign land
for the Russian fields.
My pain is not relieved without them
and without the beloved gray eyes
how sad it is for me…

My way leads now through Bucharest:
I hear foreign speech everywhere
and every uknown place makes me
long stronger for my homeland.

The rain falls heavily there, its melody
is well known to me since my childhood.
My dear, my beloved, wait for me:
don’t give my happiness to others!

The native land, however, waited in vain. The emigrants did not see it any more. On the contrary, the Soviet Union marched into Bucharest. Leshchenko was arrested by the Romanian secret police and he died in the prison of Târgu Ocna in 1954. Bayanova was imprisoned during the war by the Romanian police for singing in Russian. After her release she was condemned to silence, and only in the 1960s she was allowed to leave for the Soviet Union. Ipsilanti managed in time to flee to America, and he died in Los Angeles in 1994. And the hopeful and nostalgic hymn of the emigrants to their homeland became a labor camp song expressing the reality of the same homeland with the title Не печалься, любимая, “Don’t worry, my beloved”, as we can hear in Dmitry Astrakhan’s film Всё будет хорошо, “Everything will be all right” (1995).

За вагоном проходит вагон
С мерным стуком по рельсовой стали
Спецэтапом идет эшелон
Из столицы в таежные дали.
Заметает пургой паровоз,
В окнах блещет морозная плесень.
И порывистый ветер донес
Из вагона знакомую песню.

“Не печалься, любимая,
За разлуку прости ты меня,
Я вернусь раньше времени, жди.
Дорогая, прости.
Как бы ни был мне приговор строг,
Я вернусь на заветный порог
И, тоскуя по ласкам твоим,
Постучусь под окном.”

Двадцать лет трудовых лагерей,
И в подарок рабочему классу
Там, где были тропинки зверей,
Мы проложим таежную трассу.
Утопали в снегах трактора,
Даже “сталинцу” сил не хватало,
И тогда под удар топора
Эта песня в тайге прозвучала:

“Не печалься, любимая…”
Wagon after wagon passes
rattling along the steel tracks:
a prisoner shipment is carried by the train
from  the capital to the far away taiga.
The train is attacked by a snow storm,
mold of frost glitters around the window,
and the raging wind sweeps along
a well known song from the wagon:

“Don’t worry, my beloved!
Forgive me for the separation!
I will soon come back to you,
I swear to you, my dear!
No matter, how severe the sentence is,
I will return to the beloved threshold,
and longing for your caress
I will knock on your window in silence…”

Twenty years of labor camp,
and as a gift to the working class
where the paths of beasts used to be
we break a track in the taiga.
The tractor is sinking into the snow,
even the “stalinitsa” has not enough power,
and then, at the rhythm of the axe blows
this song resounded in the taiga:

“Don’t worry, my beloved!…”

6 comentarios:

languagehat dijo...

Wonderful! I love these forgotten bits of popular history, and I thank you for taking the trouble to bring them back to life. One question: who or what is Мия Побер? And a couple of corrections: "the vicinal of Czernowitz/Chernivtsi/Cernăuți" should be "the Czernowitz/Chernivtsi/Cernăuți local," and "the Maxim of the East" should be "the Maxim's of the East" (otherwise it sounds like a wise saying!).

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you very much for the corrections, Language, as always. I have now included them in the text. Miya Pober was the performer of the song on this disc; I unfortunately could not find a picture of the one with Bayanova.

MOCKBA dijo...

Thank you very much, Studiolum! "Don't be sad, my love" was a beloved party song of my young years - our version had the train departing from the Red Presnya (aka Voinovo Transit on the Moscow Ring Railroad), and these words:

Здесь на каждой площадке конвой
Ощетинил свои пулеметы
И прожектора луч голубой
Освещал нам леса и болота

The railroad cars bristled
With the machine-guns of the guard
And the bluish beams of searchlights
Lit the woodland and swamps

Of course I didn't know then that it had roots in Leschenko's Bucharest and perhaps even before, in the antebellum Russia (the same source claims that Kolyma's own Vadim Kozin sang the Leschenko lyrics)

BTW Leschenko has been offered a clean-slate return home. Some say that he thanked his Romanian second home too profusely at his farewell parties, and it prompted Stalin to change his mind; others think that Leschenko's first wife denounced him to prevent his return to Russian with his younger Odessite seatheart. Whatever happened, a repatriation offer has been abruptly rescinded. Leschenko remained in Romania, soon to die in the labor camps of Danube estuary swamps.

MOCKBA dijo...

That's what may be the pre-Leschenko predecessor

Studiolum dijo...

Thanks, MOCKBA! I have read about this probable predecessor of Ipsilanti’s melody, and have found the same video. But I have also found so many other things – including on the story of Leshchenko’s text, the adaptation of the melody for Ветер в роще листвою шуршит (of which I was unable to find any audio version), the several versions of Не печалься, любимая, or the interesting story of the recording of Leshchenko’s songs by other singers at the same time and in the same Bucharest, that I decided to present now just the core of the story, and to clear up the whole plot only later, when writing more about Leshchenko’s tangos.

MOCKBA dijo...

I know, these stories are so interwoven and with so many remaining mysteries, it's hard to know where to snip the threads. I was most fascinated by a reference to Vadim Kozin, who has been incarcerated since 1944 and remained in the camps or exile (or self-exile) until his death in 1994. Just under what circumstances would have he performed Leschenko's song?