- Vladimir Vysotsky
Infobox musical artist
Name = Vladimir Vysotsky
Img_capt = Vladimir Vysotsky
Background = solo_singer
Birth name = Vladimir Semyonovich Vysotsky
Born = birth date|1938|01|25
Died = death date|1980|07|25
Genre = Bard
Singer, bard, songwriter, actor
Years_active = 1959-1980
imdb_id = 0904584
Vladimir Semyonovich Vysotsky ( _ru. Владимир Семёнович Высоцкий, "Vladimir Semyonovich Vysotskyj") (
January 25 1938– July 25 1980) was an iconic Russian singer, songwriter, poet, and actor whose career had an immense and enduring effect on Russian culture. The multifaceted talent of Vladimir Vysotsky is often described by the word "bard" ("бард"), which acquired a special meaning in the Soviet Union. Vysotsky was never enthusiastic about this term, however. He thought of himself mainly as an actor and writer, and once remarked, "I do not belong to what people call bards or minstrels or whatever." Though his work was largely ignored by the official Soviet cultural establishment, he achieved remarkable fame during his lifetime, and to this day exerts significant influence on many of Russia's popular musicians and actors who wish to emulate his iconic status.
Vladimir Vysotsky was born in
Moscow. His father was a career army officer (colonel) of Jewish descent. His mother was a German languagetranslator. His parents divorced shortly after his birth, and he was brought up by his father and stepmother of Armenian descent, whom he called "Aunt" Yevgenia [http://spintongues.msk.ru/Vysotsky-Bio2.htm "Nina and I could not get on somehow, and when we separated we decided that our son would stay with me. Vladimir came to stay with me in January 1947, and my second wife Yevgenia became Vladimir's second mother for many years to come. They had much in common and like each other which made me really happy."] . He spent two years of his childhood living with his father and stepmother at a military base in Eberswaldein the Soviet-occupied section of post-WWII Germany(later GDR). In 1955, Vladimir enrolled in the Moscow Institute of Civil Engineering, but dropped out after just one semester to pursue an acting career. In 1959, he started acting at the Aleksandr Pushkin Theatrewhere he had mostly small parts.
Vysotsky's first wife was Iza Zhukova. He met his second wife, Ludmilla Abramova, in 1961. They were married in 1965 and had two sons, Arkady and Nikita.
In 1964, director
Yuri Lyubimov, who was to become Vysotsky's close friend and mentor, invited him to join the popular Moscow Theatre of Drama and Comedy on the Taganka. There, Vysotsky made headlines with his leading roles in Shakespeare's " Hamlet" and Brecht's " Life of Galileo". The Taganka Theatre company was subject to frequent state persecution for its presumptive ethnic impurity and political disloyalty, which inspired Vysotsky to identify himself as a “dirty Yid” (жид пархатый) [http://vysotskiy.niv.ru/vysotskiy/monologi/059.htm in interviews] . Around the same time, he also appeared in several films, which featured a few of his songs, e.g., " Vertikal" ("The Vertical"), a film about mountain climbing. Most of Vysotsky's work from that period, however, did not get official recognition and thus no contracts from Melodiya, the monopolist of the Soviet recording industry. Nevertheless, his popularity continued to grow, as, with the advent of portable tape-recorders in the USSR, his music became available to the masses in the form of home-made reel-to-reel audio tape recordings, and later on cassette tapes. He became known for his unique singing style and for his lyrics, which featured social and political commentary in often humorous street jargon. His lyrics resonated with millions of Soviet people in every corner of the country; his songs were sung at house parties and amateur concerts.
After his divorce, Vysotsky fell in love with
Marina Vlady, a French actress of Russian descent, who was working at Mosfilmon a joint Soviet-French production at that time. Marina had been married before and had 3 children, while Vladimir had two. Fueled by Marina's exotic status as a Frenchwoman in the USSR, and Vladimir's unmatched popularity in his country, their love was passionate and impulsive. They were married in 1969. For 10 years the two maintained a long-distance relationship as Marina compromised her career in France in order to spend more time in Moscow, and Vladimir's friends pulled strings in order for him to be allowed to travel abroad to stay with his wife. Marina eventually joined the Communist Party of France, which essentially gave her an unlimited-entry visa into the USSR, and provided Vladimir with some immunity against prosecution by the government, which was becoming weary of his covertly anti-Soviet lyrics and his odds-defying popularity with the masses. The problems of his long-distance relationship with Vlady inspired several of Vysotsky's songs.
By the mid-1970s, Vysotsky had been suffering from
alcoholismfor quite some time. Many of his songs from the period deal – either directly or metaphorically – with alcoholism, insanity, mania, and obsessions. This was also the height of his popularity, when, as described in Vlady's book about her husband, walking down the street on a summer night, one could hear Vystotsky's recognizable voice coming literally from every open window. Unable to completely ignore his musical phenomenon, Melodiyadid release a few of his songs on vinyl in the late 1970s, which represented only a small portion of his creative work, which millions already owned on tape and knew by heart.
At the same time, Vysotsky gained official recognition as a theater and film actor. He starred in a hugely popular TV series "Mesto Vstrechi Izmenit' Nel'zya" ("The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed") about two cops fighting crime in late 1940s Stalinist Russia. In spite of his successful acting career, Vysotsky continued to make a living with his concert tours across the country, often on a compulsive binge-like schedule, which, it is believed, contributed to the deterioration of his health. He died in Moscow at the age of 42 of heart failure.Vysotsky's body was laid out at the Taganka Theatre, where the funeral service was held. He was later buried at the
Vagankovskoye Cemeteryin Moscow. Thousands of Moscow citizens left the stadiums (as it was the time of the Olympics) to attend the funeral. Although no official figure was released, it was later estimated that over one million people attended Vysotsky's funeral [http://movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/filmography.html?p_id=181746&mod=bio] , almost as many as that of Pope John Paul IIin 2005. The Soviet authorities, taken aback by the unexpected impact on the masses of the death of an underground singer, ordered troops into Moscow to prevent possible riots. Vysotsky was posthumously awarded the title Meritorious Artist of Soviet Union.
In years to come, Vysotsky's flower-adorned grave became a site of pilgrimage for several generations of his fans, the youngest of whom were born after his death. His tombstone also became the subject of controversy, as his widow had wished for a simple abstract slab, while his parents insisted on a realistic gilded statue. Although probably too serious to have inspired Vysotsky himself, the statue is believed by some to be full of metaphors and symbols reminiscent of the singer's life. One of the more obvious symbols is the angel-like wings that wrap the statue's body. The angel wings are supposed to symbolize Vysotsky's importance to all oppressed peoples; they are wrapped around his body to represent the fact that he was never allowed to fully spread his talent and flourish during his lifetime due to the oppressive regime. Another symbol is the two horse heads, which might refer to his landmark song "Koni Priveredliviye". Shortly after Vysotsky's death, many Russian bards wrote songs and poems about his life and death. The best known are
Yuri Vizbor's "Letter to Vysotsky" (1982) and Bulat Okudzhava's "About Volodya Vysotsky" (1980).
Every year on Vysotsky's birthday, festivals are held throughout Russia and in many communities throughout the world, especially in Europe. Vysotsky's impact in Russia is often compared to that of
Bob Dylanin America, or Brassensand Brelin France..
Years after her husband's death, urged by her friend
Simone Signoret, Marina Vlady wrote a book about her years together with Vysotsky. The book pays tribute to Vladimir's talent and rich persona, yet is uncompromising in its depiction of his addictions and the problems that they caused in their marriage. The book was written in French and translated into Russian in tandem by Vlady and a professional translator. It is widely read in Russia by fans seeking to understand the man who gave them so many beloved songs.
2374 Vladvysotskij, discovered by Lyudmila Zhuravleva, is named after Vysotsky ().
Russian singer Grigory Lepsreleased two cover albums of songs by Vladimir Vysotsky, "Parus" (2004), and "Second" (Vtoroy, 2007).
The poet accompanied himself on a Russian seven-string guitar, with an intense voice singing ballads of love, peace, war, everyday Soviet life and of the
human condition. He had the ring of honesty and truth, with an ironic and sometimes sarcastic touch that jabbed at the Soviet government, which made him a target for surveillance and threats. In France, he has been compared with French singer Georges Brassens. In Russia, however, he was more frequently compared with Joe Dassin, in part because they were the same age and died in the same year; however, their ideologies, biographies, and musical styles are very different. Vysotsky's lyrics and style greatly influenced Jacek Kaczmarski, a Polish songwriter and singer who touched on similar themes.
The songs—over 600 of them—were written about almost any imaginable theme. The earliest were outlaw songs. These songs were based either on the life of the common people in Moscow (criminal life, prostitution, and extreme drinking) or on life in the
Gulags. Vysotsky slowly grew out of this phase and started singing more serious, though often satirical, songs. Many of these songs were about war. These war songs were not written to glorify war, but rather to expose the listener to the emotions of those in extreme, life threatening situations. Most Soviet veterans would say that Vysotsky's war songs described the truth of war far more accurately than more official "patriotic" songs.
Nearly all of Vysotsky's songs are in the first person, although he is almost never the narrator. When singing his criminal songs, he would adopt the accent and intonation of a Moscow thief, and when singing war songs, he would sing from the point of view of a soldier. In many of his philosophical songs, he adopted the role of inanimate objects. This created some confusion about Vysotsky's background, especially during the early years when information could not be passed around very easily. Using his acting talent, the poet played his role so well that until told otherwise, many of his fans believed that he was, indeed, a criminal or war veteran. Vysotsky's father said that "War participants thought the author of the songs to be one of them, as if he had participated in the war together with them." The same could be said about mountain climbers; on multiple occasions, Vysotsky was sent pictures of mountain climbers' graves with quotes from his lyrics etched on the tombstones.
Many film soundtracks, especially those featuring the singer, incorporated Vysotsky's songs. One of the most notable examples is "
Vertikal", a movie about mountain climbers.
Not being officially recognized as a poet and singer, Vysotsky performed wherever and whenever he could - in the theater (where he worked), at universities, in private apartments, village clubs, and in the open air. It was not unusual for him to give several concerts in one day. He used to sleep little, using the night hours to write. In his final years, he managed to perform outside the USSR and held concerts in
Paris, Toronto, and New York City.
Despite Vysotsky's anti-establishment bent, the Soviet leader Brezhnev (who was alleged to be a fan of Vysotsky, himself) allowed Vysotsky to perform live on Soviet television. This was the first time anyone or anything so cynical towards the regime was allowed on Soviet TV. One of the songs he played was "I do not like," which he would later perform on American television in an interview with "60 Minutes".
With few exceptions, he wasn't allowed to publish his recordings with "
Melodiya", which held a monopoly on the Sovietmusic industry. His songs were passed on through amateur, fairly low quality recordings on vinyl discs and magnetic tape, resulting in his immense popularity. Cosmonauts even took his music on cassette into orbit. — His writings were all published posthumously except for one poem printed in 1975.
Musically, virtually all of Vysotsky's songs were written in a
minor key, and tended to employ from three to seven chords. Vysotsky composed his songs and played them exclusively on the Russian seven string guitar, often tuned a tone or a tone and a half below the traditional Russian "Open G major" tuning. This guitar, with its specific Russian tuning, makes a slight yet notable difference in chord voicings than the standard tuned six string Spanish (classical) guitar, and it became a staple of his sound. Because Vysotsky tuned down a tone and a half, his strings had less tension, which also colored the sound.
His earliest songs were usually written in C minor (with the guitar tuned a tone down from DGBDGBD to CFACFAC), using the following chord shapes:
Songs written in this key include "Stars" (Zvyozdy), "My friend has left for
Magadan" (Moy drug uyekhal v Magadan), and most of his "outlaw songs".
At around 1970, Vysotsky began writing and playing exclusively in A minor (guitar tuned to CFACFAC), which he continued doing until his death. The main chord shapes he based his songs on were:
Vysotsky used his fingers instead of a pick to pluck and strum, as was the tradition with Russian guitar playing. He used a variety of finger picking and strumming techniques. One of his favorite was to play an alternating bass with his thumb as he plucked or strummed with his other fingers.
Often, Vysotsky would neglect to check the tuning of his guitar, which is particularly noticeable on earlier recordings. According to some accounts, Vysotsky would get upset when friends would attempt to tune his guitar, leading some to believe that he preferred to play slightly out of tune as a stylistic choice. Much of this is also attributable to the fact that a guitar that is tuned down more than 1 whole step (Vysotsky would sometimes tune as much as 2 and a half steps down) is prone to intonation problems.
Vysotsky had a unique singing style. He had an unusual habit of elongating consonants instead of vowels in his songs. So when a syllable is sung for a prolonged period of time, he would elongate the consonant instead of the vowel in that syllable.
Below you can find a few (out of about 600) songs that Vysotsky has written,translated into English.
The Common Graves
(Translated from the Russian by Alec Vagapov) :Am Dm :They don't put up crosses on communal graves, :E Am :And widows don't come to shed tears; :Dm :But flowers are laid and eternal flames :E Am :Will never be quenched, it appears.
:The earth that was shaking and heaving of late :With granite and marble is plated. :There isn't a single separate fate, :All fates are in one integrated.
:We see in the flame our burning tank, :A house on fire and smoulder, :The burning Smolensk and the burning Reichstag, :The burning heart of a soldier.
:The tearful widows don't visit the place, :To give and receive the blessing. :They don't put up crosses on communal graves :But does it make less distressing?
The lyrical song
Russian title: Liricheskaia Translation: Genia Gurarie
:The boughs of the spruce shaking over the ground,:The birds apprehensively tweeting...:You live in a wildwood forever spellbound:From which not a pathway is leading.:Let the cherry be drying her leaves in mid air,:Let the lilac her bounty be spilling --:All the same I am going to fetch you from here:To a palace where reedpipes are trilling.
:Sly shamans are keeping you under a spell:Secluded from me and from sunlight.:You fancy no land would become you so well:As this of a thousand-and-one-nights.
:Let no dew on the grass of a morning appear,:Let the moon fear a cloudy commotion --:All the same I am going to fetch you from here:To a tower with a view of the ocean.
:O when will you break through the tangle of charms:Right out to the spot of our meeting?:O when will I carry you off in my arms:To where not a track will be leading?:I will steal you! If stealing appeals to your heart -:Or in vain have I spent so much power?!..
:Come, agree to a warm little heaven in a hut,:If there is no more palace or tower.
:Russian title: "Ballada o Vol'nyh Strelkah.":Vadim Astrakhan (from the 2007 album "Singer, Sailor, Soldier, Spirit: Translations of Vladimir Vysotsky," [http://www.sentinelreviews.com/vysotskytr.html] )
:If they hunt for that rebellious and unruly head of yours:To make your neck at the gallows even thinner than it was.:You can find yourself a shelter in the woods; you won’t regret!:It is definitely better than the whip you always get!:All you paupers and you beggars, born to live the life of rats:And the vagabonds and stragglers who have nothing but their debts.:If you find yourself in trouble, seek your freedom in the wood,:It’s the kingdom of the noble King of Rebels, Robin Hood!
:They’re happy with each other, not afraid of edgy jokes.:They accept and treat with honor all the crazy rough neck rogues.:Even knights sometimes are hiding in the forest for a time:Those that aren’t law-abiding never have a silver dime.:Looking out for deer and merchants that may take the forest route.:They were slaves and they were servants, but free archers they are now.:Those who’ve lost all of their fortune, given shelter, given food.:On the forest path is walking King of Rebels, Robin Hood!
:So they live without a care and against all sheriff’s laws.:And they’re happy in their lair, with their arrows and their bows.:They’re sleeping barely covered, underneath the rustling trees.:By the cold they aren’t bothered, glad to be alive and free!:Yet at times they miss their homes, then the wistful mood prevails,:And they tighter grip their bows so in battle they won’t fail.:But tomorrow they will march – a mighty freemen’s brotherhood.:At their helm – the king of archers, King of Rebels, Robin Hood!
Sverstnitsy(Сверстницы) - Mosfilm; Director: V. Ordynskii
Karyera Dimy Gorina(Карьера Димы Горина) – M. Gorkii StudioDirector: F. Dovlatyan& L. Mirskii
713-iy Prosit Posadku(713-й просит посадку) – Lenfilm; Director: G. Nikulin
Uvol'neniye na bereg(Увольнение на берег) – Mosfilm; Director: F. Mironer
Shtrafnoy udar(Штрафной удар) – M. Gorkii Studio; Director: V. Dorman
Zhivye i mertvye(Живые и мёртвые) – Mosfilm; Director: A. Stolper
Na zavtrashney ulitse(На завтрашней улице) – Mosfilm; Director: F. Filipov
Nash dom(Наш дом) – Mosfilm; Director: V. Pronin
Stryapuha(Стряпуха) – Mosfilm; Director: E. Keosyan
Ya rodom iz detstva(Я родом из детства) – Belarusfilm; Director: V. Turov
Sasha-Sashen'ka(Саша-Сашенька) – Belarusfilm; Director: V. Chetverikov
Vertikal'(Вертикаль) – Odessa Film Studio; Director: Stanislav Govorukhin & B. Durov
Korotkiye vstrechi(Короткие встречи) – Odessa Film Studio; Director: Kira Muratova
Voyna pod kryshami(Война под крышами) – Belarusfilm; Director: V. Turov
Interventsiya(Интервенция) – Lenfilm; Director: Gennady Poloka
Khozyain taygi(Хозяин тайги) – Mosfilm; Director: V. Nazarov
Sluzhili dva tovarishcha(Служили два товарища) – Mosfilm; Director: E. Karyelov
Opasnye gastroli(Опасные гастроли) – Odessa Film Studio; Director: G. Yungvald-Hilkevich
Bely vzryv(Белый взрыв) – Odessa Film Studio; Director: Stanislav Govorukhin
Chetvyorty(Четвёртый) – Mosfilm; Director: A. Stolper
Plohkoy khoroshy chelovek(Плохой хороший человек) – Lenfilm; Director: I. Heifits
Yedinstvennaya doroga(Единственная дорога) – Mosfilm& Titograd Studio; Director: V. Pavlovich
Yedinstvennaya(Единственная) – Lenfilm; Director: I. Heifits
Begstvo mistera Mak-Kinli(Бегство мистера Мак-Кинли) – Mosfilm; Director: M. Shveitser
Skaz pro to, kak tsar Pyotr arapa zhenil(Сказ про то, как царь Пётр арапа женил) – Mosfilm; Director: Alexander Mitta
Ők ketten(Они вдвоём) – Mafilm; Director: M. Mészáros
*1979 — Mesto vstrechi izmenit' nel'zya (Место встречи изменить нельзя) –
Odessa Film Studio; Director: Stanislav Govorukhin
Malenkie tragedii(Маленькие трагедии) – Mosfilm; Director: M. Shveitser
* Wladimir Wyssozki. Aufbau Verlag 1989 (DDR) : Zerreißt mir nicht meine silbernen Saiten....
* Vysotsky, Vladimir (1990): "Hamlet With a Guitar". Moscow, Progress Publishers. ISBN 5-01-001125-5
* Vysotsky, Vladimir (2003): "Songs, Poems, Prose". Moscow,
* Vysotsky, Vladimir / Mer, Nathan (trans) (1991): "Songs & Poems". ISBN 0-89697-399-9
* Vysotsky, Vladimir (1991): "I Love, Therefore I Live". ISBN 0-569-09274-4
* Vlady, Marina (1987): "Vladimir ou Le Vol Arrêté." Paris, Ed. Fayard. ISBN 2-213-02062-0 ("Vladimir or the Aborted Flight")
*** Влади М. "Владимир, или Прерванный полет." М.: Прогресс, 1989.
*Vlady, Marina / Meinert, Joachim (transl) (1991): "Eine Liebe zwischen zwei Welten. Mein Leben mit Wladimir Wyssozki." Weimar, Aufbau Verlag. ISBN
* "Алиса в стране чудес" / "Alice in Wonderland" (1977) [2 vinyls]
Musical play, an adaptation of "Alice in Wonderland",
Klara Rumyanova, Vladimir Vysotsky, Vsevolod Abdulov.
Lyrics and music: Vladimir Vysotsky
Le Monument" (1995) [CD ]
Le Vol Arrêté" (2000) [CD]
* "Wir drehen die Erde" (1993)
* "Lieder vom Krieg" (1995) [CD]
* "Песни / Songs" (1980) [LP]
** Collection of songs published shortly after his death. [Melodiya Stereo C60-14761.2]
* "Sons Are Leaving For Battle" (1987) [double LP]
** War songs. Archive recordings from between 1960-1980. [Melodiya MONO M60 47429 008/006]
* "На концертах Владимира Высоцкого / At Vladimir Vysotsky's concerts"
** 01, 02, 03, ... 16 (1986–1990) [12" vinyl]
* "Marina Vlady / Vladimir Vysotsky" (1996) [CD] [Melodiya]
* MP3 Kollektsiya: "Vladimir Vysotsky" [SoLyd Records]
Concert and Studio recordings
** Disk 1
** Disk 2
** Disk 3
** Disk 4 (period 1979–1980) (2002) [CD:
* Platinovaya Kollektsiya: "Vladimir Vysotsky" (2003) [2 CDs]
Ethnic Russian music
* [http://vagalecs.narod.ru/Vysotsk.htm Collected Poems (Songs) by Vladimir Vysotsky. Translated from the Russian by Alec Vagapov]
* [http://spintongues.msk.ru/vysotsky3.htm "Vladimir Vysotsky - speaking in tongues"] , Collected Poems (Songs) by Vladimir Vysotsky. Bilingual Version. Translated from the Russian by Alec Vagapov
* [http://www.interlog.com/~eugeniav/vysotsky.html Eugenia Weinstein] (private site, with English translation of some songs)
* [http://spintongues.vladivostok.com/Vysotsky-Bio2.htm Speaking In Tongues] (Vysotsky's father: "This Is What Our Son Was Like")
* [http://www.wysotsky.com/1033.htm V. Vysotsky. The Monument. English translations]
* [http://www.russia-ic.com/culture_art/music/402/ Another Biography of Vladimir Vysotsky]
* [http://www.wysotsky.com/ Vladimir Vysotsky in different tongues]
* [http://spintongues.msk.ru/Vysotsky-Bio.html Vladimir VysotskyMY LIFE ON STAGE(autobiographical reminiscences)
* [http://www.kulichki.com/vv/eng/ V.S. Vysotsky Foundation (Mariya Shkolnikova) "Everything Vysotsky"]
* [http://www.sentinelreviews.com/vysotskytr.html "Singer, Sailor, Soldier, Spirit: Translations of Vladimir Vysotsky" album]
* [http://www.kulichki.com/vv/ V.S. Vysotsky Foundation (Mariya Shkolnikova) "Everything Vysotsky"]
* [http://www.bards.ru/archives/author.asp?id=78 bards.ru] (lyrics to most of his songs)
* [http://vysotsky.km.ru/rus/page/index.html vysotsky.km.ru] (scores of photographs, a wealth of information)
* [http://vv.uka.ru/ vv.uka.ru] ("fonoteka": most of his songs in
* [http://zeuhl.academ.org/ zeuhl.academ.org] (Another source for MP3 files)
* [http://www.zipsites.ru/music/vysotskii/ www.zipsites.ru] (Over 900 MP3 files from 32 disk box set)
* [http://gazeta.aif.ru/online/superstar/68/36_01 Nikita Vysotsky, Vladimir's son]
* [http://russianworld.wikispaces.com Vysotsky and Pushkin together]
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