Vertinskij and the Bards: An Exploration of Musical Influence

J. Martin Daughtry, University of California, Los Angeles

Of the many musicians who graced the diminutive stages of late-imperial Petrograd's teatry-miniatjur, singer-songwriter Aleksandr Vertinskij (1889-1957) has remained the most salient for contemporary Russians, as his substantial presence on websites dedicated to Russian popular music attests. His influence on the generations of musicians that followed him was confirmed most recently by Boris Grebenshchikov's (largely humorless) 1994 album of Vertinskij compositions. Another, perhaps more compelling, dimension of Vertinskij's legacy can be discerned in the pronouncements of musicians (most notably, Vladimir Vysockij) and music scholars (most recently, Izalij Zemcovskij), characterizing him as a proto-bard, the principal inspiration of the avtorskaja pesnja movement that reached its apex in Vysockij, Okudzhava, and Galich.

In this paper, I will attempt to more fully situate Vertinskij's oeuvre, first by looking backward to illuminate the cosmopolitan musical traditions from which he borrowed, and then by looking forward in an exploration of the musical (as distinct from the poetic) relationship between Vertinskij and the bards. In doing so, I hope to contribute an ethnomusicological perspective to the growing body of scholarship that focuses on the poetic dimension of Russian song.