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Song of the Day: October 5

This week’s Song of the Day curator is Russian soprano and international star Dina Kuznetsova. You can hear Dina in NYFOS’s upcoming show From Russia to Riverside Drive on November 8 (Boston) and November 10 (New York), performing songs by Rachmaninoff, alongside some of the Jazz Age music that Rachmaninoff heard during his time living in New York.

from Dina Kuznetsova:

It gave me acute pleasure to read and listen to the blog. It seems that people who love art song share similar obsessions, which do not have a genre boundary. From jazz singers to Sondheim, from Lorraine Hunt Lieberson to the Barry sisters, to…nearly anything and everything.
 
There is so much repertoire that I love that choosing five entries proved a difficult task, but for my first entry I dip into a childhood memory. My selection will be a song by Petr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, “Not a Word, My Friend” (op.6, #2, written in 1869). I’ve sung Tchaikovsky’s operas and songs, and they hold some of my fondest professional memories, but this song I did not sing (or at least have not yet sung…).  It belongs to my Grandmother, a constant and beloved and yet a mysterious presence in my childhood. She was from an educated family, with unrealized but deeply felt artistic sensibilities. Some of her family members perished in the Gulag; she lived through World War II, and suffered innumerable losses at which I can only guess.
 
“Play this,” my grandmother once announced, pulling out a thin sheet of paper and putting it in front of me. I started to read: “Not a word, my friend, not a sound, We will be silent together, for silent are weeping willows that lean over the tombstone…” I played the melody—short, repetitive phrases; the melody did not seem to develop…
 
At my twelve or so years, I was not impressed. I wanted DRAMA in sad songs, a sweep, an outcry, much like in Liza’s arias in Queen of Spades. So I put it aside. After that, I heard my Grandmother murmuring the melody to herself. And it stayed with me—that was the song my Grandmother loved. Now, decades later, I try to imagine what the song meant to her, and it is a poignant memory.
 

Translation: (words by Alexei Plesheev)
Not a word, my friend, not a sound,
We will be silent,
For silent are the weeping willows
That lean over a tombstone.
They bend and read
In your tired heart
That there had been days of shining happiness,
That happiness is no more.
Not a word, my friend, not a sound,
We will be silent,
For silent are the weeping willows
That lean over a tombstone.

 

Georg Ots (1920-1975), Estonian baritone, was a huge celebrity in the Soviet Union. He sang classical repertoire in major opera houses, but was propelled to wide fame when he starred in a 1958 Soviet movie “Mister X”, based on The Circus Princess, an operetta by Hungarian composer Emmerich Kálmán.
Here Georg Ots singing Tchaikovsky at a live concert in 1962.
https://youtu.be/HRY6Ri52a18

 

Some bonus tracks:
The second version of Tchaikovsky’s song, by the legendary Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, live from 1964 concert, with Mstislav Rostropovich on the piano.
https://youtu.be/7HwXHe5d-WA

 

Georg Ots as mysterious and dashing “Mister X”, a nobleman who abandons the aristocratic life and becomes a circus acrobat.

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