Exploring Russian culture, history, music, language and dance

Today’s edition of the Mendeleyev Journal explores culture, history, music, language and dance–what a combination!

In the Russian city of Сургут (Surgut), a town heavy in oil/gas exploration, it appeared that almost an entire apartment block had gathered for a celebration on 9 May (9 мая) the date for Victory Day celebrations across Eastern Europe.

They danced:

One of the enduring aspects of Russian and Eastern European culture is that kids don’t seem to mind the generational gap in music or dance. It is not uncommon to find kids who can sing from memory many of the famous Russian folks songs dating back 100 years or more and old Soviet wartime songs.

When it comes to dance, Russian & Ukrainian kids can waltz or jitterbug with the best of them. The video above of course is a Вальс as they pronounce it. There is no letter ‘W’ in the Cyrillic alphabet so a B (veh) is substituted and the word ends up being spoken as “Vahls” instead of Waltz.

One of the most popular wartime waltzes is Синий платочек (Blue Scarf) composed around 1939 by Jerzy Petersburskiy, a musician who had been born in Poland during the time that it was part of the Russian Empire. As for the lyrics, well, they seem to be all over the place. The war had not yet begun in 1939 but by 1942 the song was being performed to a popular poem that told the story of the initial Nazi bombing of Kyiv (Kiev) on 24 June 1941.

The lyrics have changed over the years but one of the most popular versions, if not the most popular, is the version performed in the next video by Сергей Лазарев и Юлия Савичева (Sergei Lazarev and Yulia Savicheva).

Синий платочек (Blue Scarf/Blue Kerchief)
A plain blue kerchief
was falling from drooping shoulders
you promised me you won’t forget
to keep the blue kerchief.

One night we met,
white nights, blue kerchief,
sweet, dear and nice

The winter frost is over,
The blue horizon is clear,
The heart is warm,
one can believe in summer,
The spring caresses with its sunrays.

And again, in spring,
under a green shady pine-tree
The blue kerchief will show up in the night,
sweet, dear and nice.

Do you remember the day we parted?
You brought to the river
Your farewell tenderness and a bunch of forget-me-nots
Wrapped in your blue silk kerchief.

And many times I dreamt of
your curls under the kerchief,
and the blue sparks of your tender eyes.

For these dearest, wonderful eyes,
and for the blue kerchief on a girl’s shoulders
The machine-gunner is shooting on and on.

(Footnote: this is one of several versions of lyrics sung to this tune.)

Red Army training poster.