Pelageya sings “Under Willow”

Written by Alexey Lavrov


In category: Song of the Day

Published January 17, 2017

When I was asked to write a blog about my favorite vocal pieces I had some doubts:  Am I a good story teller? Is my English good enough to tell it the way I’d like? How do I choose just four pieces out of so many favorites? Actually, what are the criteria anyway … ?

The only certain thing was—if I do it, I will start with a Russian folk song. Because folk songs are the reservoir of Russian vocal treasure and because they are personal to me. My first steps into the world of music and singing were made with folk songs.

I grew up with a grandmother who was always singing: while doing housework, picking
mushrooms and berries in the woods, taking a rest… From her I heard most of them: happy and sad songs, songs for work and holidays, wedding songs, funeral ones, funny and joking ones.  One can express anything and everything with a song. A folk song is like a prayer, a meditation. It clears one’s soul and brings comfort to one’s heart.

For this blog I’ve picked out the Russian folk song “Under Willow”. Most folk songs are anonymous, but the names of the writers of some are known. The lyrics for this song belong to Nikolay Veryovkin, the officer of Nevsky Infantry. He fought in the Russian-Persian War of 1826-1828, the Russian-Turkish War of 1828-1829 and the Polish Campaign of 1830-1831. The song pictures a wounded Russian warrior lying under the willow, watching a black raven flying over his head. In Slavonic mentality and folklore black raven is a prophetic bird that lives up to 300 years, keeps secrets, leads to hidden treasures, predicts death. In songs this ominous bird often flies over battlefield and then brings families news of their son’s or husband’s death.

The dying warrior asks the raven to fly to his motherland and tell his father, mother and wife that they shouldn’t expect him to return.

Under the green willow
The wounded cossack was lying
Oy du, under the green one
The wounded cossack was lying.

A raven bird over him was flying,
Began croaking loudly.
Ay du, raven wouldn’t fly
Hadn’t he smelled a good bite.

Black raven, don’t croak over my head,
I am still a cossack alive.
You’d better fly to my father’s and mother’s home,
Give the kerchief soaked in my blood
To my young and lovely wife.

Tell them, raven, that I’d got married
To another girl.
That I’ve found a bride
In the open field, across the river.

Was our wedding quiet, subdued,
Under the willow bush,
Oy du, quiet, subdued
Under the willow bush…

The matchmaker was the saber sharp,
The best man was bayonet of damask steel.
Oy du, saber sharp
And the bayonet was the best man.

A swift bullet married us fast
And motherland wed us.
Oy du, swift bullet
and motherland us wed.

I chose this song because it resembles the northern folk songs from the region where I was born and raised—Komi Republic. Northern songs are different from other regions; they inherited the melodies and the moods of the nations that lived in those parts of Russia. They reflect the northern landscape—wild nature, a lot of snow, rivers and swamps. And they resemble, more then other types of Russian songs, a prayer or a meditation.

In conclusion, I’d like to introduce the performer. The soloist is Pelageya, a Russian singer who debuted on stage as a little girl. She remains one of the public’s favorites. She sings Russian folk songs, romances and pop songs. At 13, after winning a number of vocal competitions, she received an invitation from the great Russian cellist, outstanding musician and public figure Mstislav Rostropovich to perform at the Evian Music Festival, alongside with Evgeny Kissin, Ravi Shankar, Paata Burchuladze, B.B. King. Galina Vishnevskaya, in her French Press interview, called Pelageya “the future of the opera world”. I’m sure the singer would have been a great success, had she chosen opera. But I’m also happy for the choice she has made. Thanks to her arrangements, folk songs acquire new, sometimes unexpected sounds, and become hits with young audiences, ensuring this genre continues to thrive.

select author’s name to read all of their posts

Baritone Alexey Lavrov returns this season to the Metropolitan Opera as Schaunard in La Bohème, Silvio in Pagliacci and Malatesta in Don Pasquale. The recent graduate of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist program shone in NYFOS’ 2015 concert Letters from Spain, after which he was hailed by The New York Times for his “riveting interpretation…dramatic fervor and characterful nuance.” Come hear Alexey in NYFOS’s Pyotr the Great: The Songs of Tchaikovsky & His Circle on Jan 22 in DC and Jan 24 in NYC.


  1. Avatar

    I don’t have a comment, actually, I was flabergasted with the song and the quartet. Absolutely marvelous. Besides Pelageya, would you be so kind and telling me who are the other singers? I have tried to find it, but since I don’t know Russian, I just can’t find who they are or even understand the cyrillic alphabet.

  2. Avatar

    Where can I find the names of the others singers singing with Pelageya “Under Willow”

    • Avatar

      ones Elmira from the Russian Voice

  3. Avatar

    The singers are in a clockwise locations;
    Pelageya, Elmira Kallimulina, Anri Gogniashvili, Mariya Goya.

  4. Avatar

    Beautiful! Simply beautiful! The singing and the meaning are ver powerful… I heard this song a few months ago, while trying to learn Russian on my own by listening to folk songs on YouTube.

  5. Avatar

    So, there was this compilation of ‘The Voice’ from different countrys. This one was titled ‘Magic on stage’ and it was actually really mindblowing how incredible talented singers are out there. That compilation gave me gosebumps at almost every song which was in it. And then ‘Under Willow’ started and I am still impressed from the entire performance. From the music I could tell this is ment to be a sad song but since I don´t speak russian I googled a bit and came across this site. I am happy you choosed this song to explain what this song is all about.
    I mean this song could have been in a epic battle movie and everyone would held the breath because it so tense. So, thanks for sharing the information around this song.

  6. Avatar

    That video is outstanding. Have been trying to find more of her songs on iTunes. Other than some pop songs from some 1020 years ago, I cannot locate any.
    Would love to download/buy some of her songs. Also something like the video where she sins with a couple of ‘Cossacks’.

    Any hint on where I can find some recent songs would be appreciated.

  7. Avatar

    Are they stil active as a group or separately? I’m sure Pelageya still is as I can find relatively recent videos. The other 3 not so much. Thanks in advance.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *