Dmitri Hvorostovsky sings Ochi Chyornye (Dark Eyes)

Dmitri Hvorostovsky sings Ochi Chyornye (Dark Eyes), a very famous Russian-Ukrainian folk song. Live in Japan, 2005.

Ochi Chyornye (Dark Eyes) is probably the most famous Russian romance. The lyrics of the song were written by the Ukrainian poet and writer Yevhen (Evgeny) Hrebinka[1]. The first publication of the poem was in Hrebinka’s own Russian translation in Literaturnaya gazeta on 17 January 1843.

The words were subsequently set to Florian Hermann’s Valse Hommage (in an arrangement by S. Gerdel’) and published on 7 March 1884.

Although often characterized as a Russian-Romani song, the words and music were written respectively by a Ukrainian poet Evheniy Grebenka. The composer of the song is not well known. All that is known is the composer’s name, some F. Hermann. Pianist Alexander Zlatkovski tells two story about the composer:

“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).”

Half a century later, the famous Russian opera singer (bass) Feodor Ivanovich Chaliapin rewrote the lyrics, dedicating it to his future wife, and popularized the song abroad in a version in his own adaptation.

Hvorostovsky is singing Chaliapin version here.

Dark Eyes Lyrics (Chaliapin version)

Russian Transliteration (Latin alphabet)

Ochi chyornye, ochi zhguchie
Ochi strastnye i prekrasnye
Kak lyublyu ya vas, kak boyus’ ya vas
Znat’ uvidel vas ya ne v dobryi chas

Ochi chyornye, ochi plamenny
I manyat oni v strany dal’nye
Gde tsarit lyubov’, gde tsarit pokoi
Gde stradan’ya nyet, gde vrazhdy zapryet

Ochi chyornye, ochi zhguchie
Ochi strastnye i prekrasnye
Kak lyublyu ya vas, kak boyus’ ya vas
Znat’ uvidel vas ya ne v dobryi chas

Ne vstrechal by vas, ne stradal by tak
Ya by prozhil zhizn’ ulybayuchis’
Vy zgubili menya ochi chyornye
Unesli na vek moyo schast’ye

Ochi chyornye, ochi zhguchie
Ochi strastnye i prekrasnye
Kak lyublyu ya vas, kak boyus’ ya vas
Znat’ uvidel vas ya ne v dobryi chas

English translation

Dark eyes, burning eyes
Passionate and splendid eyes
How I love you, How I fear you
Verily, I saw you at a sinister hour

Dark eyes, flaming eyes
They implore me into faraway lands
Where love reigns, where peace reigns
Where there is no suffering, where war is forbidden

Dark eyes, burning eyes
Passionate and splendid eyes
I love you so, I fear you so
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 away forever

Dark eyes, burning eyes
Passionate and splendid eyes
I love you so, I fear you so
Verily, I saw you at a sinister hour

NOTES


[1] Yevhen Pavlovych Hrebinka, also known as Evgeny Pavlovich Grebyonka (2 February 1812, Ubizhyshche, Poltava gubernia – 15 December 1848, Saint Petersburg) was a Ukrainian romantic writer and poet. He wrote in both the Ukrainian and Russian languages.

In 1843 he wrote a poem Dark Eyes that would later become a famous Russian song with the same name.

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