Ilya Shatrov: On the Hills of Manchuria, Waltz

4 pp. $4.95. Presser Order number 494-02869  (PWYS-99) ISMN-979-0-60004-158-9

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Here is a period guitar arrangement of a song that today, 104 years after it was first composed, still enjoys wide-spread popularity in Russia, in both private and public occasions. The song made a brief appearance in the West when it was used in the 1999 film Onegin, starring Ralph Fiennes. Imbued with heart-rending emotions, its performance does not fail to deeply affect both performer and listener. On the Hills of Manchuria was written by Ilya Alexeyevich Shatrov (1879-1952), based on the events of the 1905 battle of Mukden during the Russian-Japanese war of 1904-1905 (original title: Мокшанский Полк На Сопках Манчжурии [The Mokshansky Regiment on the Hills of Manchuria]). In that battle, the Mokshansky Infantry Regiment was encircled by Japanese forces for 11 days, during which it sustained considerable casualties. This was one of the most ignoble debacles of the Russian Czarist army, an event that eventually led to the humiliating defeat Russia suffered in that war. As some scholars suggest, this was the beginning of the decline of the Czarist regime and the onset of the 1917 Revolution. Ilya Shatrov, at the rank of a major, was the bandmaster of the Mokshansky regimental orchestra, and was present on the battlefield in 1905.

On returning from war in 1906, the Mokshansky regiment was stationed in the town of Samara, where the young bandmaster made the acquaintance of a local music shop owner, one Oskar Knaube (1866-1920), who helped the composer to publish his work. Knaube himself was a composer and publisher of popular music, and in a short time managed to acquire the rights to this waltz. On the Hills of Manchuria achieved colossal success soon after it was composed in 1906, and Knaube boasted of having published some 82 different editions of the song. It was also recorded on gramophone and set in Pianola rolls. The original long title, The Mokshansky Regiment on the Hills of Manchuria, could not be set across the label of the records, so it was shortened to the variant of the name with which the song is known today. A short time after its publication, descriptive lyrics were written for the song, further enabling its wide dissemination by making it available to singers. Actually, there are several sets of lyrics to the song, composed at different times during the ensuing 104 years since its composition, always reflecting a sense of national pride in the magnificent accomplishments of its armed-forces, even though the original song was a commemoration of one of its most spectacular failures.

The present edition is based on a rare copy, in my private collection, of an arrangement for the Russian seven-string guitar, made by Alexander Petrovich Soloviov (1856-1911), and published, by O. F. Knaube in Moscow, in March of 1911, several months before Soloviov’s death. Alexander Soloviov was well-known performer/teacher/arranger for the Russian seven-string guitar at the turn of the twentieth century, and assigning the arrangement to him would have been the natural action on the part of a publisher intent on promoting his editions. While presenting the user with intermediate technical demands, the arrangement, as an instrumental solo, still manages to express the intense emotions the melody induces in both performer and listener, irrespective of any nationalistic or political over-tones the title, or the circumstances of the composition, may have had for the composer. One peculiar aspect of the Soloviov arrangement, is that it was published in both standard pitch notation and in tablature.  

Matanya Ophee

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Last Modified: 11/19/2011 11:24 AM