Alexander Vertinsky

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Alexander Vertinsky
Александр Вертинский
Alexander Vertinsky
Background information
Birth name Aleksandr Nikolayevich Vertinsky
Born (1889-03-21)21 March 1889
Kiev, Russian Empire
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Leningrad, USSR
Occupation(s) singer, poet, actor, composer
Years active 1916–1957

Alexander Nikolayevich Vertinsky (Russian: Алекса́ндр Никола́евич Верти́нский , 21 March 1889 in Kiev — 21 May 1957 in Leningrad) was a Russian and Soviet artist, poet, singer, composer, cabaret artist and actor who exerted seminal influence on the Russian tradition of artistic singing.

Early years

Born out of wedlock, Vertinsky was brought up by his father's sister in Kiev, Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire. He was expelled from school in 1905 and tried a variety of jobs before starting to earn his living by contributing short stories to the Kievan periodicals. In 1912, Vertinsky and his sister moved to Moscow, where he failed in his ambition to join Konstantin Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre. During that time, he became addicted to cocaine, a habit that would claim the life of his sister.

By 1916, Vertinsky started to employ a scenic figure of Pierrot, with powdered face, singing miniature novellas-in-song known as ariettas, or "Pierrot's doleful ditties". Each song contained a prologue, exposition, culmination, and a tragic finale. The novice performer was christened the "Russian Pierrot", gained renown, became an object of imitation, admiration, vilified in the press and lionized by the audiences.

Simultaneously with his booming singing career, he played screen bit parts in Aleksandr Khanzhonkov's silent movies. From that time stems a lifelong friendship with Ivan Mozzhukhin. His famous piece "Vashi paltsy pakhnut ladanom" was dedicated to another film star, Vera Kholodnaya. Shortly before the October Revolution Vertinsky devised a stage persona of Black Pierrot and started to tour Russia and Ukraine performing decadent elegies with a touch of cosmopolitan chic, such as "Kokainetka" and Tango "Magnolia" ("V bananovo-limonnom Singapure"). In the words of the British researcher Richard Stites, "Vertinsky bathed his verses in images of palm trees, tropical birds, foreign ports, plush lobbies, ceiling fans, and "daybreak on the pink-tinted sea"[1] — precisely those things which the war-time audience craved for.

Career abroad

By November 1920, Vertinsky decided to leave Russia with the bulk of his clientele. He performed in Constantinople and toured Romanian Bessarabia, where he was declared a Soviet agent. In 1923, he performed in Poland and Germany, then moved to Paris, where he would perform before the Russian émigré clientele at Montmartre cabarets for nine years.

In 1926, Vertinsky made one of the earliest recordings of the song "Dorogoi dlinnoyu" ("Дорогой длинною" or "Endless Road"), written by Boris Fomin (1900–1948) with words by the poet Konstantin Podrevskii,[2] which, with English lyrics by Gene Raskin, was a major hit for Mary Hopkin in 1968 as Those Were the Days.

After several successful tours in the Middle East, Vertinsky followed the majority of well-to-do Russians to the USA, where he debuted before the audience which included Rachmaninoff, Chaliapin, and Marlene Dietrich. The Great Depression forced him to join the community of Shanghai Russians. It was in China that he met his wife and the oldest daughter, Marianna, was born.

Final years

In 1943 the Soviet government allowed Vertinsky to return to Russia. Despite lack of media coverage, he performed about two thousand concerts in the USSR, touring from Sakhalin to Kaliningrad. In order to feed his family, he also appeared in Soviet films, often playing prerevolutionary aristocrats, as in the screen version of Chekhov's "Anna on the Neck" (1955). His role of an anti-Communist cardinal in "The Doomed Conspiracy" even won him the Stalin Prize for 1951.

The artist died on May 21, 1957, at Hotel Astoria in Leningrad. Both of his daughters, Marianna and Anastasiya, made spectacular careers in Soviet cinema. The former conducted a much-aired liaison with Andrei Konchalovsky, while the latter married his brother Nikita Mikhalkov. Vertinsky is still influential in Russian musical culture, and has been covered by the likes of Vladimir Vysotsky and Boris Grebenshikov. There is even an album of electronic lounge covers, by the Cosmos Sound Club.


A minor planet 3669 Vertinskij, discovered by Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Georgievna Karachkina in 1982 is named after him.[3]

Discography (Official LPs and CDs)

File:Vertinsky Tango.JPG
Vertinsky's record
  • 1969 Александр Вертинский (Мелодия, Д 026773-4 | Soviet Union)
  • 1989 Александр Вертинский (Мелодия, М60 48689 001; М60 48691 001 | Soviet Union)
  • 1994 То, что я должен сказать (Мелодия, MEL CD 60 00621 | Russia)
  • 1995 Songs of love, Песни любви (RDM, CDRDM 506089; Boheme Music, CDBMR 908089 | Russia)
  • 1996 Vertinski (Le Chant du Monde, LDX 274939-40 | France)
  • 1999 Легенда века (Boheme Music, CDBMR 908090 | Russia)
  • 2000 Vertinski (Boheme Music, CDBMR 007143 | Russia)
  • 2003 Selected songs (Russia), Disk 1, Disk 2, Disk 3, Disk 4

Selected filmography

See also

Inline references

  1. Stites, Richard. Russian Popular Culture: Entertainment and Society Since 1900. Cambridge University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-521-36986-X. Page 14.
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Online references