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Stolen by Russia: confirmed music plagiarism facts

Ella Yevtushenko
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It’s not uncommon for Russia to steal things, being hungry not only for blenders and frying pans, but also for our Ukrainian great minds and artists, and even our history and culture.

They use them like every other empire does with its colonial resources. Music is not an exception. In this article, we will talk about how Russia stole separate melodies, songs without rewriting the lyrics, and sometimes even operas and composers, with compositions, made based on stolen material that become at least viral Russian “folk” songs, if not propaganda songs… up to Soviet and Russian anthems! So, let’s take a look at the most blatant examples of Russian plagiarism without myths or twists.

Translators: Yurii Lishchuk / Viktoriia Volosheniuk

This article was made together with Культуртрегер (Kulʹturtreher) YouTube channel. If you’re more comfortable being informed via video format please see below:

Imperial appropriation of Ukrainian composers

Although the Soviets were the most insolent copyright thieves, purely imperial appropriation of Ukrainian talents began earlier. The scheme is simple: you look for talented artists on the colonized land, grab them to your capital as the best must be only in the imperial court, and then you tell everybody it is clearly a Russian composer.

And it doesn’t matter that this composer grew up in Ukraine, in Hetman’s capital – Hlukhiv, studied in Hlukhiv music school that was, by the way, the only place in the whole empire to prepare singers and musicians for the court chapel in Petersburg, and his mentor was also Ukrainian Marko Poltoratskyi. Overall the person’s music had melodica prevalent exactly for Ukrainian folk songs.

Two Ukrainian composers of the XVIII century such as Maksym Berezovskyi and Dmytro Bortniansky had similar fate. Why was Russia keen on claiming them as their own? Because in Europe, at the time of classicism, were laid foundations of secular academic music, the base for its further development.

Dmytro Bortniansky and Maksym Berezovskyi were great minds of their time: both with Italian education, especially Berezovskyi who studied under Giovanni Battista Martini, Mozart’s mentor. His C major symphony was believed to be lost and was found only in the 2000s, and Russians were quick to name it as the first Russian symphony, though it was clearly a Ukrainian one.

These two composers influenced both Ukrainian and Russian composers of later years, but the Empire obviously dreamt of taking our people and putting it like we, Ukrainians, don’t have rich ancient culture. But if you surf the foreign Wikipedia, you can see that Russians didn’t care to hide the Ukrainian origin of those composers – you can’t throw the words out of the song… But wait: Russians did exactly that with many Ukrainian songs.

Stolen Ukrainian folk songs
Let’s take a look at the “famous” Russian folk song “Look, someone has come down the hill” (Вот кто-то с горочки спустился). In reality, it is a Ukrainian romance “White asters in the autumn garden” (В саду осіннім айстри білі). The melody is identical. The text is about love in both versions but here the similarity ends.
This romance was supposedly picked from Altai by composer Valentyn Levashov in 1952, and published in 1957. The Ukrainian version was recorded by Leopold Yashchenko in 1958 by Kyiv university students. Can it be that Kyiv students were quick to take Russian melody, change words and claim it as a folk song just in a year?
Unlikely. The song’s story is more complicated. According to musicologist Yurii Biriukov, Levashov later said that he wrote the text by himself because the version he heard from local Altai women seemed “too primitive” to him. It started like “In my garden wind is blowing” (that’s closer to Ukrainian lyrics) and was about a girl, left by her beloved.
But the melody could be Ukrainian in origins as Altai has a huge Ukrainian diaspora, counted then up to more than 100,000 people. The last major Ukrainian emigration to this part of Siberia happened at the dawn of the 1940s. So it’s more likely that Ukrainians brought this romance with their culture and the locals rewrote it as they wished. But it would be great if it was studied by professional musicologists to discover which melodica it is closer to.
The text became propaganda and it applies to today’s Russia: the mother begs the hero not to go to the Bolshevik army but to marry and live peacefully, work on fields. The young revolutionary says, “If you will be all onlookers, what will be left of Moscow, of Russia?”. Well, the meaning: Russia loses its former colonies, without which it is weak, so it is of utmost importance to bring them back. Today’s losses of the Russian army give us a hint: you need to listen to your mom, man.
The story is unclear with the riflemen song “Rifleman bids farewell to his family” (Прощався стрілець зі своєю ріднею), but we will try to explain it. So, we have a riflemen song written approximately in 1914-1916. Like every other song that became a folk one, it has many different text and melody variations. But the plot is the same: the rifleman perishes in a battle and pleads to his horse to send a message to his mother.
And then in 1924, an Estonian communist Nikolai Kool wrote the poem “Here, away from the river” (Там вдали за рекой) about how Budenovets fought Denikinists in the “wide Ukrainian steppe”. And wrote it, according to him, inspired by the rhythm and melodica of the Russian prison song “When the star will rise above Siberia” (Когда над Cибирью займется заря). And it was no obstacle for the Soviet composer Aleksander Aleksandrov to write a melody for this poem in 1928. It is no brainer that Aleksandrov stole the music from the folk song. But from which of those?
It becomes clear when you listen to it. Yes, riflemen and prison songs are similar, but not for much. Moreover, Kool’s poem keeps the theme of the horse to whom the dying soldier pleads to inform the family about his perishing.
Could Kool, a Red Army soldier in 1918-1924 himself, a veteran of the Soviet-Polish war, Ukrainian civil war, etc, and a resident of Belgorod, have been listening to the riflemen song? A rhetorical question. If you are still confused, try to find ten differences in notes.
And if the authorship of Kool is at least confirmed, then with an even more famous Soviet song, the one about the holy war, everything is even sadder: it seems that neither Lebedev-Kumach, nor Aleksandrov are authors. Recently the Ukrainian Internet was full of reveals – it is probably the song of UIA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army).
Originally, both the text (the same, in Russian) and the melody were written by a Russian school teacher of German origin, Alexander Bode born back in the Russian Empire in the territory of the then Chernihiv province (part of Ukraine), but had a very weak connection with Ukrainian people.
Moving ahead, the next song has clear origins. On the one hand, we have the humorous Ukrainian folk song “Oh what is the noise” (Ой що ж то за шум учинився) about the wedding of a mosquito and a fly (also the later version about the mosquito in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army exists). On the other hand, we have the Russian, obviously, folk song “How mother sent me away” (Как родная меня мать провожала) with Demian Biednyi’s text.
Sometimes the song is claimed to be composed by Vasiltsev-Buglai, supposedly on Biednyi’s poem at the request of the very Lenin. In reality, it is simpler – Demian Biednyi grew up in Ukraine, near Elizabethgrad (now Kropyvnytskyi), and he 100% heard this song there. And shamelessly stole it.
The text became propaganda and it applies to today’s Russia: the mother begs the hero not to go to the Bolshevik army but to marry and live peacefully, work on fields, but the young revolutionary says: “If you will be all onlookers, what will be left of Moscow, of Russia?”. Well, you understood: Russia loses its former colonies, without which it is a total zero, so it is of utmost importance to bring them back. Today’s losses of the Russian army give a hint: you need to listen to your mom.
It is a very unclear story with the riflemen song “Rifleman bids farewell to his family”, but we will try to explain it. So, we have a riflemen song written approximately in 1914-1916. Like every other song that became a folk one, it has many different text and melody variations. But the plot is the same: the rifleman perishes in battle and pleads to his horse to send a message to his mother.
And then in 1924, an Estonian communist Nikolai Kool wrote the poem “Here, away from the river” about how Budyonnists fought Denikinists in the “wide Ukrainian steppe”. And wrote it, according to him, while being inspired by the rhythm and melodica of the Russian prison song “When the star will rise above Siberia”. And it was no obstacle for the Soviet composer Alexander Alexandrov to write a melody for this poem in 1928. It is no brainer that Alexandrov stole the music from the folk song. But from which one?

The same as with Kool’s nativeland, as in 1916 he wrote a poem in which he called on his vast country to rise up to fight the Teutonic horde, because there were no fascists yet. Years passed, the country changed, but the teacher of the Russian language, Bode, remained its ardent patriot. And in 1937, he sent his text together with an approximate melody to Lebedev-Kumach, who promptly corrected it in June 1941 and published it on his behalf. This is if one believes the letter of Bode’s daughter, which she wrote to Aleksandrov’s son, whose authorship of the music – or rather the processing of the original motive – she did not deny, by the way.

According to a collection of Ukrainian Insurgent Army published in “Litopys UIA” (Chronicles of the UIA), a Ukrainian song with a similar motive, “Revolt, my people rise” (Повстань, повстань народе мій), was recorded by Stepan Goliash in 1943 at the youth academy of the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists). Its melody only partially coincides with Aleksandrov’s song or Bode’s one: and it’s a pity that all the recordings that can be found on YouTube today use the Soviet propaganda march instead of Ukrainian music. Most likely, the Russian song at that time was already heard from everywhere, and the Ukrainian rebels took the motive that was heard to create a new song, which now, once again, sounds topical.

Musical disintegration of Soviet times

In general, stealing from classical composers was a normal and quite widespread Soviet practice. Especially if these composers were not very famous or did not correspond very well to the spirit of socialist realism of the USSR. For example, Aleksandra Pakhmutova’s famous song “Tenderness” (Ніжність) copies note by note the third part of Simple Symphony by the British Benjamin Britten written in 1934.

Or another example: listen to an excerpt from Nico-polka by Johann Strauss Jr., who in the 1920s and 1930s in the USSR was considered as an old-fashioned bourgeois composer. Suspiciously reminiscent of the Katiusha, which was written by Matvii Blanter in the 1930s, isn’t it?

And the way Leonid Utyosov behaved with the authors of both lyrics and music of his songs is generally impressive. For example, in 1975, during the reissue of his old records, in particular the song about the samovar, the editor of the Melody vinyl company had to consult with the singer about a delicate question: whose name should be signed to the arrangement, if the real author, Simon Kagan, emigrated out of the USSR and the record would not pass the censorship with his name on it?

Utyosov, without thinking long, said the name of some of his colleagues, who had already passed away at that time: Leonid Diederichs. With the lyrics, the story is even more interesting: knowing that its real author was Faina Kvyatkovskaya-Gordon, who lived in Moscow, Utyosov said that at the time of the first recording of the song, Lebedev-Kumach had written a lot for him, so it was possible to indicate him as the author. Don’t you find it suspicious how the same names keep popping up in this topic?

Plagiarism non-stop: music stolen from the 1990s to now
Of course, one should not think that music plagiarism is an exclusively Soviet, Iron Curtain phenomenon. Russia continues to avidly steal and from stolen melodies it puts up both pop hits and disgusting propaganda works.
For example, the Ukrainian song “Your dress is from calico” (Плаття твоє із ситцю) has been around in Lviv and Volyn (Ukraine) since the 1970s, and in 1991 it was included in the album of the Barvy band, the Ukrainian one. And in 1992, the band Nancy hit the entire post-Soviet space with the song “Cigarette Smoke with Menthol” (Дым сигарет с ментолом) which is not only with an identical melody, but with the stolen chorus!
Yes, this band is from Donetsk region, so they stole, one might say, from their own, but still, their song became extremely popular in Russia, while for some reasons no one mentioned its Ukrainian origin.
Modern Russian superstars such as Instasamka or Morgenstern plagiarize openly and dishonestly, there is a lot of evidence of their dishonesty on the Internet. Moreover, they cannot invent anything fresh and original in Russia for propaganda purposes, that’s why they create something like this hybrid of the Macarena dance and a New Zealand sailor’s song.
The cherry on this whole cake is the glorification of the Russian leader based on the anthem Hitler Youth marching song (Hitler-Jugend). Such “creativity” from a country of proud denazifiers is not ironic, but frankly ridiculous.
This is what Russian plagiarism is like: brazen and unrelenting. So let’s support, remember and protect Ukrainian content, and glory to Ukraine and the Armed Forces!
This material was first published in Ukrainian in the espreso.tv media.
We translated it with the permission of the author.

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