The "Song of the Volga Boatmen" (known in Russian as , ! [Ey, ukhnem!, "yo, heave-ho!"], after the refrain) is a well-known traditional Russian song collected by Mily Balakirev, and published in his book of folk songs in 1866. It was sung by burlaks, or barge-haulers, on the Volga River. Balakirev published it with only one verse (the first). The other two verses were added at a later date. Ilya Repin's famous painting Barge Haulers on the Volga depicts such burlaks in Tsarist Russia toiling along the Volga.
The song was popularised by Feodor Chaliapin, and has been a favourite concert piece of bass singers ever since. Glenn Miller's jazz arrangement took the song to #1 in the US charts in 1941. Russian composer Alexander Glazunov based one of the themes of his symphonic poem "Stenka Razin" on the song. Spanish composer Manuel De Falla wrote an arrangement of the song, which was published under the name Canto de los remeros del Volga (del cancionero musical ruso) in 1922. He did so at the behest of diplomat Ricardo Baeza, who was working with the League of Nations to provide financial relief for the more than two million Russian refugees who had been displaced and imprisoned during World War I. All proceeds from the song's publication were donated to this effort.Igor Stravinsky made an arrangement for orchestra.
A version of the song was recorded by Mily Balakirev (a Russian composer) from Nikolay Aleynikov in Nizhny Novgorod in 1860 or 1861. Already in 1866, the musician published it in his book A collection of Russian folk songs by (Russian: « »; 1866), with his own arrangement.
|Russian||Transliteration||(Poetic) English translation|
The English lyrics above fit the melody. A more accurate translation of some lines are:
|Now we fell the stout birch tree,||We'll untwist the stout birch tree,|
|Now we pull hard: one, two, three.||We'll untwist the curly tree!|
|Hey, hey, let's heave a-long the way||Hey, hey, pull this way!|
|Mighty stream so deep and wide.||Wide and deep,|
A translated vocal version was sung by Paul Robeson.
The song, or at least the tune, was popularized in the mid-20th Century through an instrumental jazz version played by the Glenn Miller Band. Glenn Miller released the song as an RCA Bluebird 78 single, B-11029-A, in 1941 in a swing jazz arrangement which reached no. 1 on the Billboard pop singles chart in a 10-week chart run. Not in copyright, the song was not subject to the 1941 ASCAP boycott, allowing for more radio play that year.
The memorable tune of The Song of the Volga Boatmen has led to its common usage in many musical situations, particularly as background music, often with the theme of unremitting toil (or, alternatively, devotion to duty). Some uses, particularly those portending doom or despair, employ only the iconic four-note beginning; others go so far as to add new, often wryly humorous, lyrics, such as the "Birthday Dirge". Some usages only acknowledge the tune's Russian heritage; very few use the original lyrics (for instance its use as the introductory theme of the Soviet boxer, Soda Popinski, in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!).
In computer games the tune is used in much the same way: