Music Monday: “The Song of the Volga Boatmen”

I’ve decided to start a series that will be known as Music Monday, where I share, every week, a piece of music from Eastern Europe. Hans Christian Anderson said, “Where words fail, music speaks.” Music is an essential and irrevocable part of a culture, as much as language, food, or fashion.

Today’s song is one of the more recognizable tunes from Russian music, becoming a sort of staple of the culture. Known as “The Song of the Volga Boatmen” in English, and “Эй, ухнем!” (Ey, ukhnem!, “Hey, heave-ho!”) in Russian,  this song was first collected and published by Mily Balakirev in 1866, with later verses written at another date. Balakirev noted the original version was sung by burlaks, men who were charged to haul barges and ship upstream. This song first became popular in 1902 by Feodor Chaliapin.

Below is a recording in 1959 by Boris Christoff; normally, the chorus would be accompanied by a choir, but here, Christoff’s vocals are clearly powerful enough alone:

Here is a recording with a choir, by Leonid Kharitonov and the Red Army Choir in the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, in 1965:

The Russian lyrics, along with a translation, are below:

Эй, ухнем!                             Hey, heave-ho!
Эй, ухнем!                             Hey, heave-ho!
Ещё разик, ещё да раз!      One more time, once again!
Эй, ухнем!                             Hey, heave-ho!
Эй, ухнем!                             Hey, heave-ho!
Ещё разик, ещё да раз!      One more time, once again!
Разовьём мы берёзу,          We pull a birch tree,
Разовьём мы кудряву!       We pull a curly!
Ай-да, да ай-да,                 Go, yes, go, 
Aй-да, да ай-да,                 Go, yes, go, 
Разовьём мы кудряву.       We pull a curly
Разовьём мы кудряву.       We pull a curly,
Эй, ухнем!                            Hey, heave-ho!
Эй, ухнем!                            Hey, heave-ho!
Ещё разик, ещё да раз!     One more time, once again!
Мы по бережку идём,       We go along the bank,
Песню солнышку поём.    To the sun we sing our song.
Ай-да, да ай-да,                Go, yes, go,
Aй-да, да ай-да,                Go, yes, go,
Песню солнышку поём.    To the sun we sing our song.
Эй, эй, тяни канат сильней!  Hey, hey, we pull the rope strongly!
Песню солнышку поём.       To the sun we sing our song.
Эй, ухнем!                               Hey, heave-ho!
Эй, ухнем!                               Hey, heave-ho!
Ещё разик, ещё да раз!        One more time, once again!
Эх ты, Волга, мать-река,    And you, Volga, mother river,
Широка и глубока,              Wide and deep,
Ай-да, да ай-да,                  Go, yes, go,
Aй-да, да ай-да,                  Go, yes, go,
Волга, Волга, мать-река.   Volga, Volga, mother river.
Эй, ухнем!                              Hey, heave-ho!
Эй, ухнем!                              Hey, heave-ho!
Ещё разик, ещё да раз!       One more time, once again!
Эй, ухнем!                              Yo, heave-ho!
Эй, ухнем!                              Yo, heave-ho!
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