Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Bulat Okudzhava's "Musician" and "Lady Absence"

Oleg Pogudin's nightingale-voice again graces my blog: he represents the revival of the popularity of many Russian romances, some of which remained unsung for a while after the emergence of Communism. But in this case, Pogudin sings a more recent composition.

Okudzhava's version. In certain ways, I like it better. It is Okudzhava, after all.

Bulat Okudzhava, an ethnic Georgian dissident poet/bard (his father was "repressed," by Stalin, and his mother spent 18 years in the gulag), is not as well-known as Yevtushenko or Brodsky. But, according to this article in the New York Times, "his songs, lovingly memorized and repeated by millions, were recorded secretly and smuggled from tape player to tape player in homes across the Soviet Union." One of his most well-known lyrics can be translated as, "Let us hold each other's hands so we will not die one by one."

Musician (B.Okudzhava), Dedicated to I. Shvartz.

A musician played the violin; I glanced into his eyes.
It was not that I was curious--I was flying in the skies.
It was not out of boredom--I was hoping to understand
What enables these hands to produce such sounds:
From some sort of board, from a  rude cord,
From some sort of fantasy, which he serves?
And, what's more, fingers need to know where to press,
So as not to get lost in the darkness of proud sounds.
In fact, it's necessary to set on fire and penetrate our soul...
Why should we prevent this, why guard against it?
Happy is the home where a violin's voice sends us on our way
And grants us hope...the rest will come of itself.
Happy is the instrument, pressed to an angular shoulder,
Under whose benediction I fly about heaven,
Happy is he whose method--sure, whose bow--sharp and fingers fierce,
This musician, that has conjured a bonfire from my soul.
And the soul, this is for sure, having been burned--
Is more fair, more merciful, and more righteous.

Probably the most famous media clip of one of Okudzhava's witty songs is from the1969 film, a favorite of the cosmonauts and a must-see for any Russian-language film aficionado, The White Sun of the Desert, (also known jokingly as The Great Liberation of the Women of the East.) "Your Grace, Lady Absence.....if I'm not lucky in death, I'll be lucky in love." As they say, "The East is a subtle matter."  Ha. But that is another story.

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