Saturday, January 16, 2016

BBC's new War and Peace: where is the music?

(The Hussars' Ballad)

A hussar hero of 1812, Denis Davydov

I know what I really-really miss in BBC's new TV adaptation of Tolstoy's 'War and Peace', it's the music.

Many greatest scenes in the novel, and in previous screen versions, are accompanied by great musical background: Natasha singing and dancing, armies marching and the great ball with the Emperor. In the first two episodes of the BBC series there is hardly any music, if at all.

BBC's guide to War and Peace and the new TV series has a dedicated page here. Don't get lost in Russian names and complicated narrative.

The lack of music on the one hand, and the obvious 'sexing-up' of Tolstoy in the new adaptation reminded me of a tremendously popular Soviet musical comedy 'The Hussars Ballad' ("Гусарская баллада", Wikipedia article in English here). Eldar Ryazanov's film is based on a play 'A Long Time Ago' ("Давным-давно") by Alexander Gladkov with original score by Tikhon Khrennikov.

The story is a comedy of errors. Shurochka (Alexandra), a young patriotically minded girl runs away from home dressed up as a hussar cornet (second lieutenant, like the young Churchill) and joins the Russian army fighting Napoleon's invasion in 1812. There, she finds her own true love, gets decorated with a medal, meets field-marshal Kutuzov and the hussar hero of the war Denis Davydov (Davyd Vassiliev in the film and Vassily Denisov in Tolstoy's novel). All along she and others sing beautiful songs.

The film and the musical numbers are still very popular and Poruchik (lieutenant) Rzhevsky, the main male character, since the film has started a folk lore life of its own as a hero of numerous bawdy jokes. This is where the 'sexing-up' reference comes in.

Story lines in the film are reminiscent of Tolstoy's many subplots and there really was a woman in 1812 who sneaked in disguise into the Russian cavalry during the war.

The film is available in full on the Mosfilm's YouTube channel here. (no subtitles, but you won't need them). And here is the Song of King Henry IV from the film, the whole Napoleonic invasion of 1812 in 100 seconds (lyrics unrelated to the story).


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