SMART SUN, OR LAST SUNDAY. THE STORY OF ONE SONG
It is difficult to find a person who has never heard the song “Weary Sun”, which has become one of the nostalgic symbols of the past century. However, few people know that this fascinating tango came to the USSR from Poland, where it was known under a different name and was sung in completely different words.
Truly great art belongs to everyone, and therefore, to a certain extent, anonymous. If music or poetry “goes to the people”, their popularity and significance can overshadow the figures of the true creators of these masterpieces. But nevertheless, these people have names and personal destinies, as do those who helped their works to take root on the soil of another culture and become something very important and dear to this culture. A curious example of the “migration of a masterpiece” is the history of the famous Polish song “To ostatnia niedziela” (“Last Sunday”), the Russian version of which under the name “Burnt Sun” acquired cult status in the USSR and is still strongly associated with that incredible and terrible era, smelling of gunpowder, leather harness, perfume “Krasnaya Moskva”, pre-war stuffiness, apples from a dacha outside Moscow and sun dust on a gramophone record.
It all began in Warsaw in 1936, when the languid sounds of tango sounded on the stages of popular cabaret and variety theaters – Morskoe Oko, Qui Pro Quo, Mirage, Black Cat. One of the most sought-after creators of this “music of serene bliss” was the Polish composer and pianist Jerzy Petersburski, who was blessed by Imre Kalman himself. Petersbursky had a rare talent – the pop songs he composed, although they belonged to a light, entertaining genre, at the same time breathed such harmony and were so imbued with deep sensuality that they could compete with the works of serious composers.
He also had an amazing musical flair, and when the songwriter Zenon Friedwald showed Petersbourg his poem “To ostatnia niedziela” (To ostatnia niedziela), the musician realized that this could be a hit of the century.
What was it about in this song? The text was written on behalf of a young man whose girlfriend is leaving for another, who – literally – “richer and better.” The young man resigned himself to the impending separation, but asks his beloved to spend at least one more, last Sunday with him.
Having written a tango to these words, full of gentle lyricism and aching sadness, Jerzy Petersburski gave the song to the famous Polish pop singer Mieczyslaw Fogg. Soon Fogg recorded this song in the studio, and the records began to be bought like hot cakes – the release company, Syrena-Elektro, barely had time to churn out additional copies.
The tango “To ostatnia niedziela” was very popular in pre-war Poland, it sounded in the tragic days of the Warsaw Uprising – Mieczyslaw Fogg, a member of the anti-fascist underground, performed it for the rebels on barricades and in hospitals. And Jerzy Petersburski has written a lot of good songs since then (in particular, the famous composition “Blue Handkerchief”), but the song “To ostatnia niedziela” remained a symbol of the era, like “Farewell to a Slav”.
Begging his ex-fiancée to spend one more time with him, their last Sunday, the lyrical hero of the song by Petersburg and Friedwald vaguely and a little flirtatiously hinted that he could commit suicide: “There is only one and only way out … However, let’s not talk about mute. ” This is probably why the song “Last Sunday” was called “the tango of suicides” in Poland. By a strange coincidence, in the same year 1936, an epidemic of suicides broke out in Hungary, associated, according to legend, with a song that had a very similar name – “Gloomy Sunday” (“Szomorú vasárnap”). This melancholic and sad tango with a depressing aura was written three years earlier by the pianist of one of the Budapest restaurants, Rezho Seres, to the words of crime reporter Laszlo Javor.
Song of Hungarian Suicides has earned an international fame under the name Gloomy Sunday (performed by Billie Holiday, Mel Tormé, Paul Robson, Serge Gainsbourg – there are countless numbers) and is considered the most depressing song in the world – in Hungary and the UK it has been for many decades was simply banned for promoting suicide.
Indeed, the atmosphere of the second half of the thirties smelled of suicide: the Nazi bacchanalia in Germany, the meat grinder of Stalin’s terror, the civil war in Spain, the “Great Depression” … Humanity seemed to be teetering on the brink of self-destruction, and soon it all collapsed into the abyss of world war. And above all this sweet pop music hovered, as if trying to enchant, to speak, to delay the inevitable horror with the sounds of tango.
And three decades after the songs “Last Sunday” and “Gloomy Sunday” were created, the love rock ballad “Blue Sunday” by the American band “The Doors” appeared. It is noteworthy that the special charm of this composition, released in 1970 on the disc “Morrison Hotel”, is given by the sounds of the electric organ of Ray Manzarek, the Chicago Pole who created the trademark “space” sound “The Doors”. His parents were born in Poland and emigrated to the United States at the beginning of the 20th century.
Great music, as you know, does not recognize borders. Soon tango to music by Jerzy Petersburski from Poland came to the Soviet Union, where a Russian-language version of this song appeared, and not one, but three.
The first – and most popular – Soviet interpretation of the song “To Ostatnia Niedziela” was a composition recorded in 1937 by a jazz orchestra conducted by Alexander Tsfasman. The song was performed by the soloist of the ensemble, a young singer Pavel Mikhailov, and the words were written by the poet Joseph Alvek, who in the 30s made his living by composing the lyrics of pop songs. Alvek, who was friends with Velimir Khlebnikov and even called himself his executor (which is why scandals often flared up in literary circles), reduced the original text of Zenon Friedwald in half – in the Russian version, the words appeared only in the chorus. And the love story has become completely different. Alvek did without the complaints of a young man in love and suicidal motives, making the text more restrained. Perhaps he replaced sheer despair with a slight elegiac sadness because he understood that a song with pronounced “decadent moods” in the Soviet Union had no chance. Alvek’s lovers part against the romantic scenery of the South Sea, telling the listener about the sad, but natural and therefore not too dramatic ending of the resort novel: “The weary sun / tenderly said goodbye to the sea. / At this hour you confessed / that there is no love. / I felt a little sad – without melancholy, without sadness / at this hour / your words sounded. “
Tsfasman, as an arranger and head of the ensemble, also made some adjustments, but not in the original text, but in the music. He “twisted” the arrangement, slightly accelerated and additionally accentuated the rhythm, thereby increasing the “temperature” of the composition and making it more sensual. On the disc, the song was released under the title “Parting” – though, for some reason, without specifying the name of the author of the music. The banal name did not catch on, and soon this song began to be called after the first words of the famous refrain – “Burnt Sun”.
Petersbursky’s melody very quickly became super popular in the USSR, and soon two more text versions of the song appeared. One of them, entitled Leaves Falling from a Maple, was recorded at the beginning of 1938 by a Moscow vocal jazz quartet conducted by Alexander Rezanov. The lyrics for this song were composed by the poet Andrei Volkov, who focused on describing the change of seasons: “Leaves are falling from the maple, / this means that summer is over, / and it will come with the snow / winter again. / The balcony door is blocked, / the field is covered with snow, / and under the gloomy sky / there are houses. ” Volkov almost completely abandoned the motive for his love experiences. “Almost”, since further in his text “a window is shining in a quiet house, / she is not sleeping outside the window now”, but who “she” and what is the reason for her insomnia, the listener can only guess.
And in Leningrad, the poetess Asta Galla (Anna Ermolaeva) wrote her text to the music of Jerzy Petersburski, who, like Alvek, also turned to the theme of a resort novel, specifying some details: in her version, the parting of lovers takes place on the Black Sea coast, namely in Miskhor ( apparently because of the rhyme to the word “sea”). At the same time, it is not clear from whose person the story is being told – the lyrical “I” here can be both a woman and a man, which can be called an ideal gender solution. Asta Galla’s chorus sounded like this: “Do you remember the summer in the south, / the Black Sea coast, / cypresses and roses / in the fire of dawn; / our first meeting / there, in hot Miskhor, / where the gentle lapping of the sea, / like a song of love. ” A tango to verses by Asta Galla entitled “Song of the South” performed by a young singer Klavdia Shulzhenko, accompanied by pianist Mikhail Korik, was released in 1939 at the Leningrad gramophone record factory.
And yet, only the song “Weary Sun” withstood the all-consuming action of time, with the popularity of which neither “Song of the South” nor “Leaves Falling from the Maple” could compete. Some musicologists explain this by the fact that the circulation of the Leningrad factory was much lower than the circulation of the Aprelevsky and Noginsk factories, which supplied the country with records with “Burnt Sun”. But the issue, of course, is not about the circulation. Abbreviating the text of the Polish tango, Tsfasman and Alvek made “Weary Sun” a dance piece, which predetermined its colossal success. The winner was Jerzy Petersburski’s immortal melody, which made it very convenient to dance to the tango about the tired sun. And Alvek’s laconic text reduced the love story to a simple and capacious formula, instantly engraved in the memory after the very first listening.
Tenderly, tenderly, tenderly …
Since then, the very first bars of this delightful tango, which has long become a classic of the genre, instantly immerse the listener in the atmosphere of the thirties and forties of the last century. This effect is commonly used in cinematography, when the director needs to convey the flavor of that time, to recreate a bizarre mixture of serenity and anxiety. Jerzy Petersburski’s tango sounded in the films “Tomorrow Was the War”, “Calling Fire on Ourselves”, “Schindler’s List”, “The Dawns Here Are Quiet” and many, many other places. Not without curiosities. The heroes of Nikita Mikhalkov’s Oscar-winning film Burnt by the Sun listen and hum the famous song incessantly, although the action of the film takes place in June 1936, when there was no trace of the Russian-language version of the Polish hit. However, is it so important? Another thing is more important – there is so much authenticity in this melody that it penetrates into the subconscious with the gentle persistence of an old gramophone record, the stumbling rhythm of which was remarkably played by the poet Eugene Rein in the poem “Tenderness”
Of course, this song is not forgotten in Poland either. It was difficult to compete with Mieczyslaw Fogg, the first performer of Last Sunday, but many Polish artists succeeded brilliantly – especially those who emphasized the dramatic nature of the lyrics, turning the song into a mini-performance, such as the magnificent Piotr Fronczewski. The younger generation is not lagging behind – not so long ago the Polish group Dreadsquad recorded their version of the song in the reggae style – and the pre-war tango sounded with new freshness. And the phrase “To ostatnia niedziela” (“This is the last Sunday”) has become a part of everyday speech, where it is often used in an ironic way. For example, in the spring of 2018, after the official ban on trade on the second and third Sunday of the month was introduced in Poland, a joking expression appeared “To ostatnia niedziela bez handlu” (“This is the last Sunday when shops are closed”) – they say, shopping next Sunday. And who knows what other words life will write tomorrow to the immortal melody of Jerzy Petersburski?