Category Archives: Pesnyary

Robert Burns – The Jolly Beggars. A Cantata (In Russian)

Several years ago I was presented with a CD containins all albums by the VIA Pesnyary. I shared their song Oh early on Ivan’s Day in my early blogging days. However, the tracks from Birch-tree Juice contained a true gem: the entire Jolly Beggars Cantata by Robert Burns translated into Russian by Samuil Marshak and set to music by Igor Polivoda. To mark Burns’s birthday this year, I uploaded the Cantata in full to Soundcloud. Don’t lose time to listen to this brilliant work!

RobertBurns.org tells us that

‘The Jolly Beggars’ presents difficulties in staging, because each of the characters has only one song to sing. Arrangements popular in their day were those of Sir Henry Bishop (1786 — 1855) and John More Smieton (1857 — 1904), but by far the most successful realisation is probably the stylised arrangement for four voices and chamber instrumental ensemble which Cedric Thorpe Davie made for the Scottish Festival at Braemar in 1953, and which was subsequently staged at the Edinburgh International Festival, televised, broadcast, recorded and performed in local halls throughout Scotland by the Saltire Singers and others.

I don’t know if the Russian version has ever been staged but the score ranges from a rock’n’roll tune to a ballade through some recitativos. A penultimate song is not, in fact, from the Cantata but a shortened version of Is There For Honest Poverty poem. The Cantata was originally called “Love and Liberty“, and although the mentioned website lists any number of possible inspiration sources, the lower social strata had increasingly begun to surface in the 18th c., with The Beggar’s Opera appearing in English as early as in 1728. I mentioned it before; it later became the basis for Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera. It seems quite likely that John Gay who wrote The Beggar’s Opera helped to popularise the use of the word “beggar” in the title: Merry Beggars and The Happy Beggars were also the source of inspiration for Robert Burns and no doubt influenced the choice of the name.

The tracks in the playlist follow one after another in the same order as in the English Cantata, the final track preceded by the extract from Is There For Honest Poverty.

Robert Burns – The Jolly Beggars autograph, page 1
(Courtesy of Burns Scotland)