The Russian romance is a type of sentimental art song that is inspired by a number of different musical traditions, including Italian opera, Russian folk music, and the musical culture of other ethnic groups in the Russian empire. A number of poems by famous Russian writers were later adapted into romances by equally famous composers.  Here is a small selection of the most popular Russian romances.

Dark Eyes (Очи чёрные) 

Dark Eyes song is perhaps the best-known Russian romance in the western world and is often described as a Gypsy romance. The singer laments the fact that he will spend his whole life being bewitched by the dark, passionate eyes of his beloved. The song has been covered by many western musicians including the Glenn Miller Band and the Three Tenors. 

This version from the great Russian baritone Fyodor Chaliapin:

I remember that wonderful moment (Я помню чудное мгновенье) 

Perhaps the most famous love poem in the Russian language is set to music by Mikhail Glinka in this romance. Pushkin dedicated the poem to Anna Petrovna Kern, with whom he had a brief liaison in 1825. In the same way that Pushkin is celebrated as the father of Russian literature, Glinka is regarded as the father of Russian classical music.

This version from famous Russian tenor Sergei Lemeshev:

 

Do not sing, my beauty, for me (Не пой, красавица, при мне)

This romance is another one which was inspired by Pushkin's poetry. Pushkin addresses his mistress Anna Alexeevna Olenina, who would sing at social gatherings. The Georgian melodies reminded Pushkin of 'another life and a faraway shore', referencing Pushkin's time in the Caucasus in the early 1820s. A setting of the poem was composed by Glinka, but the subsequent composition by Sergei Rachmaninov is far more popular. 

This version from contemporary Russian soprano Anna Netrebko:


Not for me (Не для меня)

This is a famous Cossack romance which first appeared in the 1840s, but was forgotten about until the beginning of the 20th century when it formed part of Chaliapin's repertoire. The song describes a Cossack who laments that the joys of life are 'not for me,' and is instead destined to die young.

This version from the Kuban Cossack Choir:


Alone I walk down the road (Выхожу один я на дорогу)

Mikhail Lermontov's poem of the same name was set to music by a number of different composers, but the most popular adaptation is from 1861 by the amateur composer Elizaveta Shashina. In the poem the narrator wonders at nature and longs for a peaceful eternal sleep, soothed by sweet voices singing of love. 

This version from contemporary Russian baritone Dmitry Hvorostovsky:

Shine, shine my star (Гори, гори моя звезда) 

This romance was especially popular during World War One, as soldiers far away from home sung of their loved ones. The singer's loved one is compared to a bright star which shines forever. 'If I should die, over my grave you will/Shine, shine, my star!' For many years it was believed that Admiral Alexander Kolchak composed the song, but later it was discovered that the song dated from 1846 and was composed by Pyotr Bulakhov.  

This version from Russian bass Boris Shtokolov:

By the long road (Дорогой длинною)

The melody of this Russian romance will be immediately familiar to western audiences in the form of the song 'Those Were the Days' performed by Mary Hopkin among other musicians. The original Russian text is full of nostalgia about the days of youth when everything was possible.  

This version from popular Russian singer Vika Tsyganova:

By Jimmy Chen

 

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