Nizhny Novgorod City Council announced a composition by Alexander Vaynberg, a former guitarist for the popular Russian band Lyube-turned-senator, the winner of the anthem contest held in the runup to the 800th anniversary of the city. Nizhny Novgorod residents are outraged.
Not only the song stays with people
City folk complained that there had been no competition at all as the winner’s name was known in advance and one of the contestants was a member of the jury. The winning song’s lyrics are a collection of outdated clichés, put together into absurd semblance of rhymed lines.
“The metaphors are horrible. ‘The Volga and the Oka joined the braids as a token of love.’ What does it mean? The Volga and the Oka symbolize women. Have you ever seen two women, in a show of love for each other, weave their hair together? What kind of nonsense is this? What trip is the deer inviting us on again? Where? The lyrics are bad. There is no spark of talent in it,” said Alexander Ostrovsky, a well-known musician and cultural activist from Nizhny Novgorod.
Oddly, the “anthem” mentions not only the deer, the symbol of Nizhny Novgorod, and the Volga and Oka rivers but also Kuzma Minin, [a Russian merchant from Nizhny Novgorod, Russia], Dmitry Pozharsky, [a Russian prince known for his military leadership during the Polish–Muscovite War from 1611 to 1612] and for some reason Seraphim of Sarov, one of the most renowned Russian saints, who had no direct connections with the city. The lyrics sound overly bombastic and ridiculous.
Some professional songwriters did not take part in the contest. “My friends used to ask me why I hadn’t participated in the contest,” Evgeny Afraimovich said. “Yes, I have written songs for almost all the shopping centers in the city and lots for companies and events. It would seem that here it is, the moment of glory! Why not?
The fact is that a mall “anthem” is a song that has a clearly defined application. Its task is to sell. A commercial jingle doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. It has to help sell a product well. The consumer remembers commercial songs not because they are great music, but because he is forced to hear them all the time, and because there are certain patterns in them. Therefore, the composer's skill to use stylistic tricks is very important when writing these songs. He does not have to be incredibly talented or write something completely new, because if he does, it might be difficult for a large audience to understand.
The texts of jingles very often consist of clichés, too. For the same reason. They are not verses. They are marketing phrases or scripts if you like.
When I think of a song that could be the anthem of my city, I cannot take that approach. Alexander Morozov once wrote a shoddy piece of music of this kind, absolutely talentless, and we are “lucky” to hear it through the efforts of Russian Railways (RZD) all the time.
Let us make a small digression. ‘Sormovskaya Lyricheskaya’ was also written by Mokrousov-Dolmatovsky for a contest. It became the national anthem of the city, although it was originally written for a factory.
Do you know why it is still so popular with Nizhny Novgorod’s residents? The song is not about the city or the plant. It is about the people, their feelings and experiences. The characters in the song are generalized, but Dolmatovsky managed to describe them so realistically that we can clearly imagine them. The melody of the song is wonderful. It is tender but at the same time, very vivid. The melody flows softly and vivaciously, like the very Oka and the Volga. People feel the music in different ways, and music creates different images in their minds. In my case, thanks to Mokrousov, the Volga flows in the rhythm of a waltz.
History has preserved different versions of how and why the authors abandoned the template hymn in marching style and wrote a lyrical waltz. Cheers to the factory officials who felt that this song would be popular for a long time. It is very rare when a client has a good scent for it.
Nizhny Novgorod inhabitants also doubt that the voting was fair. Some people claimed that a large number of bots helped Vaynberg’s song to win.
Anthem performed more than once
There is another consideration that is far more serious than the mediocre lyrics full of clichés. According to the terms of the contest, only new compositions that have never been performed (p. 3.5), can compete. The winner of the creative contest for the best anthem dedicated to the 800th anniversary of Nizhny Novgorod does not meet this criterion at all.
It is known that the Internet never forgets. So, people from Nizhny Novgorod easily found the video posted on YouTube, dated November 26, 2018. On that day, the Nizhny Novgorod Governor's Orchestra celebrated its anniversary at the Kremlin Concert Hall. This is where Alexander Vaynberg's composition was performed as "the anthem of the Nizhny Novgorod region." Later, the song was performed by a man who looked like Nikolai Rastorguev, the lead singer of the Russian band Lyube.
It is exactly this composition, without the slightest changes, that took part in the competition for a new Nizhny Novgorod anthem and won it.
Nikolai Rastorguev is expected to perform the "anthem" at the celebration of the anniversary of Nizhny Novgorod. He will travel to the city from Germany where he moved several years ago from his beloved Russia which he praises in his art.
Neither city authorities nor Alexander Vaynberg commented on these words of the anthem: "Minin, Seraphim of Sarov, all together for one goal, Russia is invincible."
Probably, most people will like both the lyrics and Rastorguev's folk-chanson singing. However, the song will never best the famous ‘Sormovskaya’ or ‘It is Called Nizhny Novgorod.’
We are proud of our modern era’s achievements such as street art, IT clusters, new public spaces, and higher education institutions, but we still sing about the year 1612. Almost all the songs of the contest are a set of historical clichés about Nizhny Novgorod mixed up with bombastic lyrics.
P.S. I am not suggesting we choose this song as an anthem, but just listen to it. This is a duet of Nizhny Novgorod musicians Pasha Pikovsky (I was together with him on the jury at the Forum of Young Writers in Boldin) and Sergey Chigrakov from Dzerzhinsk. Here’s the line that touched my heartstrings: “If I suddenly find out the date, I'll come to you to die...”