The Cliff: History

November 27 2009   17 Commented

The Cliff song

This song is about the fate of the 17th century Russian rebel, Stepan Razin. The lyrics were written in 1864 by novelist Alexander Alexandrovich Navrotsky who was also a member of Narodnaya Volya (Russian: Народная Воля), a secret revolutionary organization perhaps best known for assassinating Tsar Alexander II on March 13, 1881. The song was an anthem for revolutionaries of the late 19th and early 20th century in Russia; Lenin often sang it with his comrades-in-arms. The song is still culturally central to Russia. Leonid Kharitonov remembers:

“My solo career truly began with a concert in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses on April 22, 1965, dedicated to the 95th anniversary of Lenin, when I sang “There is a cliff on the Volga.” [Click here to listen to this performance.]

This was my first solo performance. Brezhnev wept. He got up from his seat and wiped away the tears with his hands then applauded, and then everyone in the room stood up as well and applauded too. I do not know what my performance stirred in the hearts of Leonid Ilyich and the other listeners, but I would like this song to be considered a monument to the Russian victorious spirit. After that performance, I continued to be a soloist with the Ensemble for seven years, and, from then on, I was regarded as a serious professional singer among the musical and political elite.”

“I remember how after the concert Marshal Voroshilov came to see me backstage. After expressions of gratitude he hugged me as a father would and told me that Stalin also considered this song to be his favorite, and often played a record of it being performed by Alexander Pirogov, whenever he was sad at heart. “If Stalin was alive, then you would be leaving this room as a People’s Artist of the USSR – because you sing it better than Pirogov,” Voroshilov told me.”

Watch this video of Leonid Kharitonov’s 1965 Tchaikovsky Hall performance of “The Cliff”. This was his soloist debut at Tchaikovsky Hall:

Still more photos and information is available here.


Lyrics:

Есть на Волге утёс,  диким мохом оброс
Он с вершины до самого края.
И стоит сотни лет, только мохом одет,
Ни нужды, ни заботы не зная.
И стоит сотни лет, только мохом одет,
Ни нужды, ни заботы не зная.

На вершине его не растет ничего
Только ветер свободный гуляет.
Там могучий орел свой притон там завел
И на нем свои жертвы терзает.
Там могучий орел свой притон там завел
И на нем свои жертвы терзает.

Из людей лишь один на утёсе том был,
Лишь один до вершины добрался.
И утёс человека того не забыл,
И с тех пор его именем звался.

И поныне стоит тот утёс и хранит
Все заветные думы Степана,
И лишь с Волгой одной вспоминает порой
Удалое житьё атамана.
И лишь с Волгой одной вспоминает порой
Удалое житьё атамана.

There is a cliff on the Volga river
covered with wild moss
From its top to its bottom
And it stands there for hundreds of years
covered with moss
Knowing neither need nor care.
And it stands there for hundreds of years
covered with moss
Knowing neither need nor care.

Nothing grows on the top of it
Just the free wind floats around
A mighty eagle made his hideout there
And there it torments its victims.
A mighty eagle made his hideout there
And there it torments its victims.

Only one man among all others was on that cliff
Only he was able to get to the top
And the cliff didn’t forget this man
And from then on it was called by the man’s name.

And that cliff is still there and it still keeps
All the cherished thoughts of Stepan (Razin)
And along with only the Volga river
it remembers sometimes
The glorious living of the rebel leader
And along with only the Volga river
it remembers sometimes
The glorious living of the rebel leader!


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17 Responses to “The Cliff: History”

  1. Paul says:

    Whatever people think about USSR, the Red Army Choir and soloists as Mr Kharitonov are unmatched folk and classical musicians… and specillay recordings from the period of socialism before 1990, in which people can clearly hear in those voices, the fabulous faith in the destiny of future of Earth and Humanity, the weight of past humiliations, and the pride of belonging to the Revolution… they are carrying heavy and deep things, and beautiful inner joy. Man can feel this inside of his body, listening this ensemble. …your voices are really speaking about the good part of socialism for ever… and we listing and learning from you for generations… don’t worry. “The Cliff” is of course one of the best songs.

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  2. Benjamin Rastrick says:

    I love this video and knowing it was, in a way, thrown together makes it all the more brilliant. I wish my voice could be as wonderful.

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  3. Brian Wiggins says:

    Wow -- just discovered this amazing music and performance,prompted by an MP3 recording. I can’t stop repeating it. I fell in love with the Soviet Army Ensemble in the 1950s, which caused me to adore male voice choirs and later to form one in Brighton, England. But one serious omission from this website: who wrote this arrangement and from which publisher can I obtain a copy? I would love to have the opportunity to perform it (though English baritones and chorus tenors don’t equate to Russian ones!)

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  4. Newtorussianmusic says:

    I feel very fortunate to have found this video.
    I must say, I am not an expert in this kind of music, but it is a joy to have the chance to hear such a wonderful singer.
    Thankyou sir.

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  5. Stephan says:

    Profoundly moved. Would like it played at my funeral, should I be worthy.

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  6. Florence says:

    I just discovered this song and I found it such a wonderful testament to the tragic bravery of man. Thank you for telling us more about it -- it is one of my favourite pieces now.

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  7. Alex Ross says:

    This performance moves me to tears every time, a beautiful rendition of a beautiful song.

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  8. Myles Hoenig says:

    I don’t speak Russian but this performance goes deep to my inner core.
    I can’t stop listening to it.

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  9. Rene Lynch says:

    I admire your work , thank you for all the interesting posts . Add article to my site.

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  10. The best of the best!!! Greeting from Houston

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    • singerlmk says:

      Thank you for this comment!

      BTW, I think that Houston is a great city! Especially the Bank of America Center and Penzoil high-rise buildings…

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  11. Fabulous ! What an outstanding bass-baritone voice !!

    Was this the famous concert when President Breshnew wept while Leonid Kharitonov performed this song ?

    Thanks for posting this masterpiece!

    Greetings from Canada.

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    • singerlmk says:

      Thank you for such a warm comment! The historical concert when Brezhnev wept while Leonid Kharitonov performed “The Cliff” was in Kremlin Hall of Congresses in Moscow on 22d of April, 1965, dedicated to the 95th anniversary of Lenin. The performance of the Cliff song on the above video took place in Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow a week later after that day.

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  12. Kievest, USA says:

    Positively magnificent! Maestro Kharitonov and the Alexandrov Ensemble could touch the soul with a whisper! They sing with one spirit, one heart! Each rounded tone they sing evokes the vastness of the Russian homeland! Grand and subtle, loud and soft, heroic and melancholy, these great performers express the world of feeling with nobility and profound understanding! Thank you for this sublime historic posting!

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    • singerlmk says:

      Thank you so much for such an interesting and detailed comment!!

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  13. Dear Mr. Leonid,

    I’ts Xmas Eve in Brazil, and I’m hearing this amazing music, wich is filling my morning whith joy. Thanks for everything, you are such a great talent. God bless you!

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