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Shakespeare in Music (Mikael Tariverdiev, Sonnet 102)

Your response to the Valentine’s Day article featuring Shakespeare’s sonnet no. 22 in different languages prompted me to research the subject better… and, thankfully, I didn’t have to look too far. In Russia, the Bard’s sonnets in translation by Samuil Marshak were put to music several times. One such rendition that you will see and hear comes from the film by Viktor Titov, Adam Marries Eva, a screen adaptation of the play In Sachen Adam und Eva by Rudi Strahl. You have seen the name of Viktor Titov a few times in my articles, he directed The Life of Klim Samgin and the Russian version of Charlie’s Aunt by Brandon Thomas. Now is the time to introduce Mikael Tariverdiev, a Russian/Soviet composer of Armenian origin.

Tariverdiev is famous with the majority of people thanks to his soundtracks to people’s films: Seventeen Moments of Spring and The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath! The former told the story of the Soviet spy at the Nazi service; the latter is a romcom that has been shown on TV every New Year’s eve since its release in 1975. Among other films where he was a composer are Romance, Russian Style and Adam Marries Eve. However, Tariverdiev composed a lot of classical music, having been taught by Aram Khachaturian, and for years the international organ music contest has been bearing Tariverdiev’s name.

What I absolutely adore about Soviet cinema – and which is critically rare in modern Russian cinema – are the adaptations of foreign literature. I mentioned before that my uncle, Vadim Derbenyov, brought The Woman in White and several other foreign classics to the Soviet screen. Viktor Titov, however, requires an absolutely different look at his work. As I’m working on translation of The Life of Klim Samgin the movie, I can barely get my head around the fact that Titov had to have known the entire novel by heart to even co-write the script, let alone to direct it. This might not sound like a great deal, unless we remind ourselves that Gorky spirt out four volumes of the life of an intellectual, and still died before completing the novel.

One doesn’t fail to notice how well Titov knew literature, poetry, in particular. The Life of Klim Samgin has a musical rendition of Mikhail Lermontov’s poem, I Go Out on the Road Alone, for its “soundtrack”. Hello, I’m Your Auntie featured an amazing performance of Love and Poverty by Robert Burns. And to “illustrate” Adam Marries Eve, Titov chose Shakespeare’s sonnets. Performed by Tariverdiev himself, sonnets illuminate and accentuate a story in the romantic comedy genre, adding blue yet hopeful notes to the narrative. The video below features Elena Tsyplakova (Eve) and Alexander Solovyov (Adam). And, last but not least, the film was released in 1980 – the year of the Moscow Olympics when I was also born.

William Shakespeare – Sonnet 102

My love is strengthened, though more weak in seeming;
I love not less, though less the show appear;
That love is merchandized, whose rich esteeming,
The owner’s tongue doth publish every where.
Our love was new, and then but in the spring,
When I was wont to greet it with my lays;
As Philomel in summer’s front doth sing,
And stops his pipe in growth of riper days:
Not that the summer is less pleasant now
Than when her mournful hymns did hush the night,
But that wild music burthens every bough,
And sweets grown common lose their dear delight.

Therefore like her, I sometime hold my tongue:
Because I would not dull you with my song.

A Brazilian Popular Song, Love and Poverty, To Robert Burns’s Lyrics

I have noticed over the years that, unless someone who lives abroad is a serious Cinema student, Russian (and Soviet, especially) films are largely unknown in the West. Films by Andrei Tarkovsky will be known because a few of them were made when Tarkovsky had emigrated, and can be compared to films by the nouvelle vague directors. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson couldn’t remain unnoticed, given the worldwide popularity of the sleuth’s character. Hamlet by Kosintzev is once again a part of the global fascination with Shakerspeare’s tragedy. The Cranes Are Flying by Kalatozov had won a Palm d’Or at Cannes; War and Peace by Sergei Bondarchuk, Moscow Doesn’t Trust Tears by Vladimir Menshov, and Burnt by the Sun by Nikita Mikhalkov, had all won Oscars as Best Foreign Films. Yet a massive number of films made in Russia and Soviet Union remain behind the language barrier.

What may not be known, or fully realised, is that, in spite of the “Iron Curtain” hanging, Soviet directors managed to adapt foreign authors to screen. This was one of the reasons why, during the release of 2006 version of Quiet Flows the Don, I couldn’t understand or agree with the negative attitude to “foreigners” who were playing “Russians”. Russians had played so many foreigners, with good taste, too, that it only made sense to give “aliens” a chance to prove themselves. If not adapting the actual foreign classics, Russian directors were nevertheless attracted to foreign culture, and I’d hope to show, how they managed.

One more undeniably unique trait of Russian cinema of all times is a song. It could be a single, or a series of songs, but on many occasions it was an important component in the film. Clearly understanding the metaphoric, figurative nature of a song, directors and editors used the existing, or commissioned new, songs to highlight a certain idea.

The extract below is from one of the best-loved Soviet comedies, made by Viktor Titov, Hello, I’m Your Aunt! It is a version of a hit farce Charley’s Aunt by Brandon Thomas. The play was a hit in England where it was originally performed, and was subsequently staged and adapted internationally. What you will see in the video, is a complete improvisation, led by Alexander Kalyagin who these days runs his own theatre company, Et Cetera. The music by Vladislav Kazenin was written to the poem by Robert Burns (translated by Samuel Marshak); the original text by Burns is after the video. One thing Samuel Marshak, one of the best Russian translators, was often able to do was to preserve the original metric style of the poem. Therefore, if you want you may try and sing Burns’s original poem to Kazenin’s music.

O poortith cauld, and restless love,
Ye wrack my peace between ye;
Yet poortith a’ I could forgive,
An ’twere na for my Jeanie.
O why should Fate sic pleasure have,
Life’s dearest bands untwining?
Or why sae sweet a flower as love
Depend on Fortune’s shining?

The warld’s wealth, when I think on,
It’s pride and a’ the lave o’t;
O fie on silly coward man,
That he should be the slave o’t!
Her e’en, sae bonie blue, betray
How she repays my passion;
But prudence is her o’erword aye,
She talks o’ rank and fashion.

O wha can prudence think upon,
And sic a lassie by him?
O wha can prudence think upon,
And sae in love as I am?
How blest the simple cotter’s fate!
He woos his artless dearie;
The silly bogles, wealth and state,
Can never make him eerie,

The Life of Klim Samgin (1987)

The Life of Klim Samgin is perhaps the most dramatic, deep and fateful novel by Maxim Gorky. In 1980s Victor Titov made it into a film.

I have written about the film The Life of Klim Samgin previously in the Russian Los Cuadernos, but I don’t think I have actually mentioned it in English. Certainly, not in the way I am about to mention it now.


Meanwhile, The Life of Klim Samgin is perhaps the most dramatic, deep and fateful (even for its author) novel by Maxim Gorky. It was set out to describe the all-embracing internal tragedy of its protagonist, Klim Samgin, the offspring of the family of intellectuals, who was unable to find a place for himself in Russia’s political climate at the turn of the 19-20th cc. However, by depicting Samgin’s excruciating journey in search of a middle ground between continuous doubt and a burning desire to belong but also to dominate, Gorky somewhat unwittingly but very convincingly narrated the drama of many Russian intellectuals who upheld the revolutionary ideals, only to be repelled by the realisation thereof.

This personal journey of tremendous difficulty is precisely what makes the figure of Samgin rather appealing, especially in the liberal climate. He appears to be the one who constantly questions the world around him, wearing the mask of a dashing individualism all the while. His sense of self-worth doesn’t fail to engage the reader, as neither does his constant doubt which is in sync with how we understand an individual; with how we define our attitude to the Revolution; and even with the image of ‘a mysterious Russian soul’.

At the same time, as one reads the novel or watches the film, one can’t help feeling pity for Samgin. At one point at the very beginning of his story we see one of the characters describing an intellectual as this: “he doesn’t see the sadness of his role – the role of a child who is daydreaming while crossing the street, oblivious to the fact that in a moment he is to be crushed by the heavy cart of History, navigated by the experienced yet not very delicate whips“. As the life of Klim Samgin unravels, we understand that it is this very child, invested with a mission which he only vaguely comprehends. Often he is the hostage of events, a pawn not only for his parents or friends, but most importantly – for the people, the powers, and History, too.

I really love meditating about a few phrases that J.-P. Sartre dropped on the final page of Words. Culture neither saves nor justifies anyone; but it is the mirror for the mankind. The Life of Klim Samgin, conceived by Gorky as the vast chronicle of the Russian life and history from 1877 until 1917, can be seen exactly as this kind of a mirror that, predictably, is still of much use.

It was of very much use when back in the 1980s the now late Russian director Viktor Titov took to make a film based on Gorky’s novel. From comparing the text and the film, I can say that this was indeed a titanic work, and it is obvious that Titov had worked on the script for a very long time. Gorky’s novel was left unfinished, but even so it consists of four parts, and what a good student of the novel and the script quickly notices is that the script easily creates a succinct version of very many pages. While this is not surprising, in the context of the film that very closely follows Gorky’s language, this is an important trait. The whole work came out as a 14-episode TV series, every episode lasting just over 1 hour. In effect, it is a series of 14 features, joined together by unfailing directing, the brilliant and critically acclaimed work of the crew, and the outstanding performance of the cast.

The film was finished by 1987, and I believe it was in 1988/89 that I saw it for the first time on TV. Just like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson were my gateway into writing, so The Life of Klim Samgin opened the treasures of world’s literature – and of the home library. I was so impressed by the film that I felt compelled to go and search the bookcases for Gorky’s books. Surprisingly or not, I was able to find one of the volumes from Gorky’s collected works, quite an old book with yellowy pages; one of Klim Samgin‘s parts was included in that volume. I didn’t read it then, but I found a few more old books there, and this was a fortuitous and important discovery, considering that I wasn’t even 10 years old.

Many years later I rediscovered the leading actor in this film, Andrei Rudensky. It was pretty amazing to suddenly read an interview with him in one of Moscow’s magazines. It was in 2003, and it brought many reminiscences of my childhood, including the one I’d just mentioned, about the home library. Moreover, although by 2003 it’d be 15 years since I watched the film, I realised that I remembered it quite well.

This meant that The Life of Klim Samgin left a much deeper impression that I could myself imagine. Turned out, he was about my age now when he was working on The Life of Klim Samgin, and it was his cinema debut. Considering that he had to portray his character from the age of 17 until the age of 40, this was certainly an outstanding achievement for him both personally and career-wise.

If you are interested reading more about Maxim Gorky and have a look at the selection of his work, here is the start: Maxim Gorky – Biography and Works.



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