Dark Eyes Waltz
Dark Eyes Waltz (Russian song “Ochi Chernie”) by Feodor Hermann
The composition I play is little known. The main melody of it, though, is known all over the world: it is the melody of the Russian song “Ochi Chernie” (known in English as “Dark Eyes” or “Black Eyes”).
By now you are already familiar with the pattern – of “Gypsified” Russian songs with non-Gypsy origins. The lyrics were written by Ukranian poet Yevhen Hrebinka. In 1843 he met his future wife, fell in love, and dedicated a short poem called “Dark Eyes” to her. Originally it was romantic and quite cheerful (they got happily married within a year). Half a century later, the famous Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin rewrote the lyrics, dedicating it to his future wife. Now it became fervent and heart-rending – filled with “Gypsy passions”, as they say in Russia:
Dark eyes, burning eyes,
Passionate and splendid eyes.
How I love you, how I fear you
Verily, I saw you at a sinister hour.
If I hadn't met you, I wouldn't be suffering so –
I would have lived my life smiling!
You have ruined me, dark eyes,
You have taken my happiness forever.
So the text of the song has two well-known authors. It is a much more uncertain with the music: all that is known is the composer’s name, some F. Hermann. I first saw this name when browsing the sheet music of Old Russian waltzes. There were no comments, no biography – nothing. Curious, I searched further, and got some confounding results. One version said that the tune’s author was a French composer Florian Hermann, who lived at the beginning of 19th century. According to this version, he was an army bandleader, invading Russia with Napoleon’s army to the tune of his own military march. Napoleon was banished from Russia, but the music stayed. Later, with a slightly changed rhythm, it became the melody of “Dark Eyes”.
The other version gives the composer a different first name – Feodor – and calls him a Russified German. It also speaks of a waltz rather than a march. Although less flamboyant, this version seems closer to the truth: the introduction to the waltz sounds very Russian indeed... The waltz itself, by the way, has a couple of other names: “Recollection Waltz” and “Hommage Valse” (I call it Dark Eyes Waltz in my programs to emphasize the connection with the famous song).
Anyway, whatever the title and whoever the composer might be, the music is beautiful, exciting – and Gypsy. I hope you will enjoy it!
* * *
This story is just a tidbit from Alexander's "Songs of Exiles" concert program. To hear the full story, together with Alexander's virtuoso performance, come see him at his next concert! To buy this track, or the full CD of the music from "Songs of Exiles", follow the link on the left.