06 June 2009

From Bitterweed: The National Anthem of the Soviet Union

The National Anthem of the Soviet Union replaced The Internationale as the national anthem on March 15, 1944. The lyrics were written by Sergey Mikhalkov in collaboration with G. El-Registan and the music was composed by Alexander Alexandrov.
It was believed that Soviet soldiers would respond more to an anthem that was dedicated only to the Soviet Union rather than to a worldwide movement.
It was adopted as national anthem after a competition in 1943. But what puzzles me is why this was chosen, when in that same 1943 competition, there was an offering from Dmitri Shostakovich, which finally aired some seventeen years later with hardly an alteration, as Novorossiysk Chimes.
Novorossiysk Chimes was finally presented in 1960, for the war memorial in the city of Novorossiysk. It has been playing nonstop at Heroes Square (pictured) in Novorossiysk since its opening on September 27, 1960.
Novorossiysk is a city in southern Russia, the main Russian port and highly important oil terminus on the Black Sea, in Krasnodar Krai. It is one of the few cities honoured with the Soviet title of the Hero City.
In 1942, the town was occupied by the Wehrmacht, but a small unit of Soviet sailors defended one part of the town, known as Malaya Zemlya, for 225 days, until it was liberated by the Red Army on September 16, 1943.
The heroic defense of the port by the Soviet sailors allowed to retain possession of the city's bay, which prevented the Nazis from using the port for supply shipments.
Novorossiysk was awarded the title Hero City in 1973.
Now, to my rhetorical question: Clearly, Shostakovich was in and out of trouble with the authorities. He received denunciations in 1936 and again in 1948. Commissions dried up, his income plummetted and the political climate, courtesy of Pravda, made performance impossible. Yet – and I am no historian nor musicologist – how would anyone with any political savvy, who was judging that competition, not recognise the perfect simultaneous combination of loyalty, solemnity for the dead, but also praise towards an indefatigabe human spirit ? Surely, with suitable lyrics, it could serve as a tour-de-force hymn to, well, pretty much anything ? How could it fail to be popular and win battles in hearts and minds ?
Forget for a moment any feelings you may or may not have about Shostakovich’s disputed personal motives and allegiances, or towards the Soviet era, or even Joseph Stalin. Just imagine for three and a half minutes it’s the anthem of your people, whatever that means to you. Because, on one level it is rooted in the grim, infinitely regrettable geopolitics of its time. But on another, at least for me, it speaks of a universal, undefeatable and intrinsically good, human spirit. It raises emotions I can still barely put into words after first hearing it fifteen years ago. My observation is that: no matter who it was written by, nor for what reason, a piece of music this good can say as simply and eloquently as any speech:
“You are human. Stand up and be counted.”


  1. Rather than my normal "Daily Chat", I'd planned on doing a brief post about the 65th anniversary of D-Day. I think this piece of music is heroic enough to serve as a tribute to those brave men today.

  2. BW

    Yep nice on. Enjoyed that. My musical appreciation rarely makes it past "kick ass tune" or "Nah...don't like it"

  3. @BW:

    Nice one. I liked the old Soviet one as well (same tune as the new anthem, just different lyrics).

    Check this Red Army Choir version out.

    You can almost smell the T34s.

  4. Old Commies! I thought we were all dead!
    C T S.

  5. Good piece, BW, and beautiful bit of music.

    How much better is this than bloody god save the queen -


    It makes me embarrassed to watch our rugby team sing to the bloody queen and it is an unpleasant little consequence of monarchy, singing to one unelected old dear instead of singing about the nation, like most other countries.

  6. I think that's the point, though. It's too good to be a national anthem, especially a wartime one. Workable anthems ought to be something you can still shout after ten pints...that's why God Save the Queen works, Deutschland Uber Alles, the Marseillaise, Star Spangled Banner and the Soviet one.
    It is a beautiful piece though (though I wonder what the locals think if it really is played permanently).

  7. Jay: good comment on the D-Day thread; exactly what I wanted to say.

  8. Polly seems to have gone off Alan Johnson. Perhaps she'll suggest Stephen Pound next.

  9. Thank you fencewalker, the sarkozy thing really did rile me deeply, these old vets must just be appalled, and rightly so, this day has got absolutely nothing to do with Sarkozy, Brown or Obama and the Queen just drove a bloody truck in the war. Self centered little vermin.

  10. Right i gotta get some revision done before the rugby starts.

  11. I second Fencewalker's appreciation of your comment, Jay.
    I wasn't aware of Sarcozy's snub and I'm deeply shocked.
    The guy is an arsehole of the lowest order.

    BTW, are you revising for an exam?

  12. man with no name06 June, 2009 12:00

    @ Jay

    "..the Queen just drove a bloody truck in the war"

    I was told she just posed by one - or at best used it to nip down to the Royal Offy (wine merchant)when supplies ran low.

    Interesting post BW - thanks. Didn't know you were into hitch hiking

  13. Good Matthew Parris comment in the Times; better written than just about anything in CiF these days:
    #It is also an act of supreme selfishness on Mr Brown's part. Wrapping himself like some wingless albatross around his administration's throat, starving his own colleagues of oxygen in his mindless determination that other careers should not live in order that his should not die, he has brought his Government and his party to the ground, broken their legs - and yet still will not release his grip. They must crawl on, shackled together, past the humiliation of Thursday's elections and onward for another year: plans jettisoned, policies stalled, Bills postponed, shelving everything bold, all in the name of mere survival. Mr Brown's survival. Never mind Labour's, never mind the future of progressive politics, never mind the ideas and spirits of capable men and women in and around his Cabinet. #

  14. I'm watching the Obama/Sarkozy press conference now. I want someone to ask:
    "Mr President, do you believe Overlord was a 'Franco-American' affair? Do you believe it's right that desperately small politicians spit in the faces of people who liberated their country, that they diminish the name of their own country, simply in order to get a picture with you?"
    Betting no one asks it, though.

  15. Yup- very good piece by Parris. Brown is selfish and arrogant and should fuck off out of it IMMEDIATELY. But he won't...

  16. ""Mr President, do you believe Overlord was a 'Franco-American' affair? Do you believe it's right that desperately small politicians spit in the faces of people who liberated their country, that they diminish the name of their own country, simply in order to get a picture with you?""

    What i would give for one of them to ask that, that would be truly magnificent viewing.

  17. Bitterweed: Thanks for a really interesting post.

    It’s made me dig out Shostakovich’s 7th, the only one of his pieces I have, which is playing now.

    His music does seem to have something very powerful, which speaks to the human “spirit”, for want of a better word.

    Symphony No. 7 is known as the Leningrad, and was dedicated to that city as it was undergoing attack and siege by the Nazis in December 1941.

    I know that Shostakovich had huge problems with the authorities all through his career, but I don’t have any real idea what was at the root of them. Maybe he just didn’t want his art to be totally subsumed under Stalin’s ideology, which is fair enough.

    Maybe that’s why his music wasn’t considered suitable as the Soviet National Anthem (I’m not familiar with Alexandrov).

    Maybe the idea “You are human. Stand up and be counted” didn’t fit the point Stalin was trying to put across, as you suggest when you say he wanted something that would appeal specifically to Soviet citizens AS Soviet citizens, rather than as human beings.

    Interesting that Fencewalker mentions La Marseillaise. I don’t know the words, and wouldn’t properly understand them if I did, but it FEELS to me more about “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternate” or whatever than “Our Country is so Fucking Great”, sorry “God Save the Queen”, which is somehow musically jingoistic, even without the words.

    There’s a long and interesting looking article on Wiki about the Leningrad Symphony which I’ll try to read sometime, but not today.

    In other music news, Sonic Youth have a new disc out. Has anyone heard it yet?

  18. @andy:

    Bugger. I was in HMV earlier today with my daughter, completely forgot about looking for the new SY album.

  19. That Johnny Cash "Hundred Highways" album has really got under my skin the past few days.

    His last recordings (produced by Rick Rubin, who worked with him in his later years), and you can almost feel Death's hand on John's shoulder. He can feel it, that's for sure - you get the sense he's looking behind him more often than looking straight ahead.

    Magnificent. Really.

  20. Swifty: never mind, I’ve got over a dozen SY discs to see me through until I get round to acquiring the new one.

    Your daughter’s five, isn’t she? What sort of music does she like?

    Mine’s thirteen. I’m still waiting for her to develop a proper interest in music. By the time I was her age I was head over heels with Punk.

    I suppose kids today just don’t have the same chances we had.

  21. @andy:

    She likes music with guitars in it (like me). I bought her a small guitar last year, and she's starting to pick it up now in preference to the uke (as long as she thinks I'm not listening). She's trying to figure it out herself I think, she's got an independent streak a mile wide.

    I liked the Beatles and C&W (cos my dad did) when I was a kid, until about about 1979 (I was 12) when I first heard the Clash. That was me, really, at that point.

  22. Thanks for that Swifty, great !
    Fencewalker, Jay - funnily enough I first heard it, and then played it all the time, when I was a student sharing a house with a couple of lads who were fanatics about rugby, and I always thought it could/should have been an anthem, years before I knew the truth about that competition. There were about thirty lads who were we were all mates with at the uni, and we all took part in a five a side football tournament one Saturday afternoon. I took my ghetto blaster with me and my team played the thing before our first match... everyone saluted ! Very silly & happy days ;-)

    Andy, thanks, and that's probably sadly all true. He ended up joining the party towards the end of his life (1960), and his wife's account of his sympathies starkly contradicts his childrens', which makes it even more difficult to really know what drive him or occasionally drove him mad. I know he was a deeply conflicted person, and critics savaged him occasionally for his brutal, "coercive" music. But the Communist Party's first denuniation in 1936 for his "coarse, primitive and vulgar" Lady MacBeth, was thought to have been instigated by Stalin. This is possibly evidence enough for your analysis...

    A remarkable piece though, and yes, I would take it any day over that abysmal drone we've got.

  23. re: Offspring's musical taste: my son's favourites are the Specials & Squeeze. He also likes John Lee Hooker, Lyle Lovett and George Jones (that last one is my brother-in-law's influence at work).

  24. Can't beat a bit of the old Red Army Choir, B/W.

    I'm not joking when I say that that version actually makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Altogether now...

    Союз нерушимый республик свободных
    Сплотила навеки Великая Русь!
    Да здравствует созданный волей народов
    Единый, могучий Советский Союз!

    Славься, Отечество наше свободное,
    Дружбы народов надёжный оплот!
    Партия Ленина — сила народная
    Нас к торжеству коммунизма ведёт!

  25. “And so, as the final chords of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 60, played by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and conducted by Mariss Jansons, fade into the afternoon...”

    Ah, sorry, went a bit Radio 3 there.

    Bitterweed: Given his run-ins with the Soviet authorities, it’s a bit rich for anyone to dismiss HIM as coercive, isn’t it?

    I haven’t heard “Lady Macbeth” (maybe I’ll seek it out), but there’s nothing wrong with a little “coarse, primitive and vulgar” in my book (punk rock influence again, no doubt).

    Novorossiysk Chimes and the Leningrad hardly fall into that category though.

    Swifty: Sounds like she’s well on her way to being a rock monster. Before you know it she’ll be pestering you for a proper electric and an amp that goes up to eleven.

    I’m not, generally, a Country fan, but I’ve got what I thought were Cash’s last two albums, “Solitary Man” and “When The Man Comes Around”.

    Death may not be listed in the credits, but he’s clearly there in the room.

    And Cash does great things with songs I’ve previously dismissed as rubbish, as well as remaking many I love in his own image. Everyone raved about “Hurt”, which was great, but his version of Will Oldham’s “I See A Darkness” and his duet with Nick Cave on “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” are sublime.

    If music be the fruit of love (or even if it isn’t) play on...

  26. Indeed stirring!

    RE: Sonic Y One of my aforementioned house mates got me into SY by the way I think he had was the Ciccone Youth album and Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star. Made for intersting hangovers on Sunday morning...(He also liked Hole but we never quite forgave him for that...)

    MW - that kid's got taste ! But then why not, eh, he's one of yours ? Thanks for sticking this up for me btw. I have to go out in a while but will be back later.

  27. Montana: just as long as he doesn’t actually like The Offspring ;-)

  28. andysays
    Cash was truly great. (That film doesn't do him justice btw...)

  29. Stalin's contribution to music is not recognised today. The fact that he sometimes sent the boys round to slam Shostakovich's nuts in the piano lid kept him from straying too far into Modernism.

  30. Hi colin: Slamming his nuts in the lid of the piano, wow!

    Did anyone get a recording of that?

    Maybe it’s where John Cage got the idea for prepared piano from.

  31. Sarkozy is a bit of dog turd stuck to the shoe of humanity. The only reason he got elected is because the French Left is still in utter disarray, and factionalised to such an extent that there was no way any of the leftist parties was going to get anything like a majority.

    I am pretty sure there are many French people who are utterly ashamed of the way he has tried to exclude us from the D-Day ceremonies. Nasty little creep that he is.

    Andy - will try and translate the Marseillaise (well the first verse and chorus) for ya:

    Come, children of the motherland, the day of glory has arrived!
    Tyranny's bloody flag is raised against us
    Can you hear the ferocious roars of the soldiers in our countryside?
    They will be coming into your arms, cutting the throats of your son, your partner
    To arms, citizens!
    Form your batallions
    March, march
    Until their impure blood
    Blunts our scythes.

    Nice, innit? :p

  32. BB: thanks for that.

    Apart from the possibly dodgy reference to the Motherland, I’m sure we could all agree with those sentiments wholeheartedly.

    Now all we need is to commission Sonic Youth to create an updated version with atonal noise guitar feedback (maybe Swifty’s daughter can join them), and we’ll have a full-on International Anthem.

    The bit where they sing La Marseillaise in Casablanca gets me every time, BTW. Next time I watch it, I’ll have your translation handy.

    Regarding D-Day etc, as I understand it, some of the French still bear a bit of a grudge over the number of civilians who were killed by Allied fire during the Normandy landings. Whether that’s true, and whether it’s justified, I really don’t know.

  33. hello everyone. what exactly has sarkozy done?

  34. It wasn't until I lived in France that I realised just how incomplete our idea of their wartime experience really is - and I still don't pretend to understand it all. There is a new series just started on French tv called Un Village Francais which is due to last as long as the war did, and is recounting what the occupation was really like for the first time, without the "either partisans or collaborators" bias that seems to infect most films.

    I hope they bring it out in a boxed set or show it here - I have TV5 on cable, so maybe I will be able to pick it up here now. But I imagine it is going to be quite an eye-opener, especially the ambivalence of local people to their German occupiers.

  35. Anyone who's a fan of Johnny Cash should listen to Sarah Vowell's radio essay about his relationship with June Carter Cash. That link takes you to the episode of NPR's "This American Life" on which it aired. Click on the orange "Full episode" icon. A player window will open. Once the episode is fully loaded in, drag the slider to about 47:30. Sarah Vowell is one of my favourite authors and it's such a beautiful story...

  36. The words to the Marseillaise do seem particularly, erm, bloodthirsty? But then, I suppose given the history of the country, the sentiment is somewhat understandable. And who doesn't love Mireille Mathieu singing it?

  37. @Sartrecastic: he failed to invite Brenda to the D-Day ceremonies. Said it was a Franco-American venture, or words to that effect.

  38. Wow
    Anyone see that fly past just now ? The Lancaster and two spitfires... the veterans' faces below...


    Nice to see us Brits arent the only ones stuck with moral and intelectual pygmies running our poolitical elite. Not that I give a shit about Brenda's whereabouts, but that Sarkozy is an arrogant little Thatcherite prick, and the whole world knows it.

  39. Montana: Thanks for that link. I still prefer this version:


    One day, I’ll have to learn how to create a link properly like you professionals.

  40. Montana
    #The words to the Marseillaise do seem particularly, erm, bloodthirsty? But then, I suppose given the history of the country, the sentiment is somewhat understandable.#
    I think it's more specific than that. IIRC this was the tune sung by the newly-Republican soldiers from the south arriving in Paris around the time of Valmy, when Austrian & Prussian armies were swarming into eastern France. Caught the mood of the times, which must have been very Battle of Britain/Blitz like.
    On the other topic:
    I'm not too fussed where the Queen is per se, either. I think the point (apart from the symbolism) is that the veterans are.

  41. andy - use the Cif post a comment window
    1. Copy the URL
    2. open comment window
    3. activate links
    4. Type the words you want for the link and select them.
    5. Click on the link button
    6. Paste the link into the window click ok.
    7. Cut the HTML code and paste it here
    8.Refresh Cif to close post comment window.

    Seems complicated but easier than trying to type it!

  42. The Normandy Veterans' Association in Antwerp will be there. They are a parallel organisation to the British Legion. Actually its members usually belong to both associations though the group is dying off now. My father was a stalwart of the British Legion so I know all these groups well and still attend some of their functions.

    You wouldn't believe how these really old guys can still enjoy themselves. They can still drink many a younger man under the table.

    My father was at Arromanches. He landed in Normandy on the third day. Said it was hell in a little boat. He was in the RAF but they still had to go by sea.

    I can imagine what he would have had to say about Sarkozy.

  43. I'm not exactly a fan of the royal family, but it seems incredibly twattish, of Sarkozy to have snubbed her. Whatever the realities of her practical wartime contributions may have been, it would be hard to deny that the royal family gave a lot of people hope and courage. That surely counts for something and it seems likely that most of the British veterans would have wanted to see her there.

    He also put Obama into an awkward position by doing so, and if Obama has any cojones, I hope he told him off about it. By being there, it looks to some people as though Obama is also a party to the slight, but how on Earth could he not have been there?

  44. Andy, to put a link into a comment here, use this, substituting < and > for { and } :

    {a href="URL to be linked to"}text to appear as a link{/a}

  45. DerrenNesbitt06 June, 2009 22:04

    @Bru - hmm, that's all very well, but what was he wearing? Let's be honest, the SS kicked ass when it came to haute couture militaire.

    We may have won the war, but we lost the fashion war.

  46. DerrenNesbitt

    I know - there's a certain type of British man who still loves to prance around in those Nazi uniforms(naming no names of course).

  47. Bollocks to the Germans winning the fashion thing. Look at a British commando or para; that Denison smock or the commando cap: that's a man's fighting outfit; the SS thing is just a Jarmanesque fantasy.

    Just finished watching Signs. Despite being a Mel Gibson film it's damned good and bloody scary.

  48. It's a bit boring this. Cheers.

  49. Hey colin, how hangs it ?

  50. Fencewalker
    Actually the Prussian military tradition is phased in to the 20th Century in equal parts by the Nazis and also Paton's men.
    Also Nam.


  51. Have this then:
    Lost love is better than no love...

  52. Fuck....
    Sinlge malt and cigarettes...

  53. Nite all.
    Thanks Montana for this episode. Those veterans' tears today... worth.... so much...

  54. annetan, Montana: Thanks for the advice.

    Montana’s seems simpler to me, so let’s give it a go