Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Many Versions of Polyushko Pole Полюшко-поле

Polyushko Pole, Полюшко-поле, (the speaker is speaking to and of the field -- his motherland -- with such tenderness expressed through the use of the diminutive полюшко, and "O, Field, My Little Field" is probably the closest dynamic translation that captures that sentiment) is a song about the Russian Red Army.

It must be noted, however, that this song, composed by Lev Knipper and Viktor Gusev in 1934, has nothing to do with politics or political ideology as those who are not familiar with it often assume. On the contrary, it talks about how war tears loved ones apart and how the women, though overcome with sadness, have to be brave along with their men in the army who are departing and may never return.

[The lyrics in Russian, both in Cyrillic and Roman scripts can be found here along with an (awkward) English translation.]

In order to understand how this song is often arranged for live performances, one must take into consideration the intended Sitz im Leben. At the very beginning, the singing is very, very soft -- so soft that most people think there's something wrong with their speaker. Within a few seconds, the singing becomes gradually louder and louder. Sometimes, horse's hoof beats can be heard in the background. Then the singing and the hoof beats grow soft again, going from barely audible to completely silent.

Imagine standing in an open field with a horse-borne army coming from afar, approaching you, then departing into the horizon.

Like this.

Or this.

This version by the late Ivan Rebroff has some fun man-made hoof beats:
This is a modern version by the Russian singer Origa who works in Japan. Her version of Polyushko Pole is often used as background music for various anime movies. The references to the Red Army have been all but eliminated, and the result is simply a love song.
This is an instrumental version by Ahmet Koç, Turkey's top Bağlama player, whom I like mostly because he's a talented musician with facial hair. But anyway ... It's a nice arrangement, and I like it a lot in spite of the pointlessness of that dancing chick.
Lastly, this is a version by the man I want to marry, Michael Palin, who performs with the Pacific Fleet (Тихоокеанский флот) choir. It is the best version. You. Must. See. This.