Listen to the grandmaster sing

4/21/2007 – Last week Emil Sutovsky, Israeli grandmaster, just missed winning the European Championship by a hair. Weighing in at 2648 Elo points, Emil is also an accomplished bass-baritone singer. During the recent Poikovsky tournament he gave a small recital, which was filmed by a chess fan. We bring you Emil Sutovsky singing an aria from Mozart's Don Giovanni and a famous Russian folk song.

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Emil tells us that the recital was very impromptu, and he didn't have any time to practice with the local "Konzertmeister". He also feared that he was a bit rusty, having only trained chess and not singing for many weeks. "Still it was great fun," says Sutovsky.

The first song is quite famous and deals with the exploits of a 17th century Russian hero. Stenka Timofeyevich Razin, born in 1630, died in 1671, was a Cossack leader who headed a major uprising against the Tsarist bureaucracy in southern Russia. He started off as a diplomat, a pilgrim and then a robber chief who extracted fees from vessels passing up and down the Volga. He sailed into the Caspian Sea, ravaged the Persian coasts and massacring the inhabitants.


Stenka Razin sailing in the Caspian Sea
(painting by Vasily Surikov in the Russian Museum, St Petersburg)

He established a Cossack republic along the whole length of the Volga, and then advanced against Moscow. Razin was ultimately routed and fled down the Volga. In 1671 he was captured and taken to Moscow, where, after torture, he was quartered alive in the Red Square. The whole story reminds one of William Wallace. Stand by for a new Mel Gibson extravaganza.

Common people were fascinated by the adventures of Stenka Razin. He became the subject of a symphonic poem by Alexander Glazunov and a cantata by Shostakovich. But most famously Stenka Razin is the hero of a popular Russian folk song, written by Dmitri Sadovnikov.


GM Emil Sutovsky, 2648, sings Sten'ka Razin

Sten'ka Razin (Стéнька Разин)

Russian (transcription)

Iz-za ostrova na stryezhyen',
Na prostor ryechnoy volny,
Vyplyvayut raspisnyye,
Ostrogrudyye chyelny.

Na pyeryednyem Styen'ka Razin,
Obnyavshis' sidit s knyazhnoy,
Svad'bu novuyu spravlyayet,
On vyesyolyy i khmyel'noy.

Pozadi ikh slyshyen ropot:
"Nas na babu promyenyal,
Nochku s nyeyu provozilsya,
Sam na utro baboy stal."

Etot ropot i nasmyeshki
Slyshit groznyy ataman,
I on moshchnoyu rukoyu
Obnyal pyersiyanki stan.

Brovi chyornyye soshlisya,
Nadvigayetsya groza,
Buynoy krov'yu nalilisya
Atamanovy glaza.

"Vsyo otdam, nye pozhalyeyu,
Buynu golovu otdam,"
Razdayetsya golos vlastnyy
Po okryestnym byeryegam.

A ona, potupya ochi,
Ni zhiva i ni myertva,
Molcha slushayet khmyel'nyye
Atamanovy slova:

"Volga, Volga, mat' rodnaya,
Volga, russkaya ryeka!
Nye vidala ty podarka
Ot donskogo kazaka!"

"I chtob nye bylo razdora
Myezhdu vol'nymi lyud'mi,
Volga, Volga, mat' rodnaya,
Na --- krasavitsu primi!"

Moshchnym vzmakhom podymayet
On krasavitsu-knyazhnu,
I za bort yeyo brosayet,
V nabyezhavshuyu volnu.

"Chto-zh vy, chyerti, priunyli?
Ey ty, Fil'ka, shut, plyashi!
Gryanyem, brattsy, udaluyu
Na pomin yeyo dushi!"

Iz-za ostrova na stryezhyen',
Na prostor ryechnoy volny,
Vyplyvayut raspisnyye
Styen'ki Razina chyelny.

Translation Jacob Robbins, 1921

From beyond the wooded island
To the river wide and free,
Proudly sail the arrow-breasted
Ships of Cossack yeomanry.

On the first is Stenka Razin
With a princess at his side,
Drunken, holds a marriage revel
With his beautiful young bride.

But behind them rose a whisper,
"He has left his sword to woo;
One short night, and Stenka Razin
Has become a woman too!"

Stenka Razin hears the jeering
Of his discontented band,
And the lovely Persian princess
He has circled with his hand.

His black brows have come together
As the waves of anger rise,
And the blood comes rushing swiftly
To his piercing, jet-black eyes.

"I will give you all you ask for,
Life and heart, and head and hand,"
Echo rolls the pealing thunder
Of his voice across the land.

"Volga, Volga, mother Volga,
Deep and wide beneath the sun,
You have never seen a present
From the Cossack of the Don.

And that peace might rule as always
All my free-born men and brave,
Volga, Volga, mother Volga,
Volga, make this girl a grave."

With a sudden, mighty movement,
Razin lifts the beauty high,
And he casts her where the waters
Of the Volga move and sigh.

Now a silence like the grave sinks
To all those who stand to see,
And the battle-hardened Cossacks
Sink to weep on bended knee.

"Dance, you fool, and men, make merry!
What has got into your eyes?
Let us thunder out a chanty
Of a place where beauty lies."

From beyond the wooded island
To the river wide and free,
Proudly sail the arrow-breasted
Ships of Cossack yeomanry.

Other translations are available here

If you enjoyed Sten'ka Razin you may want to listen to Emil singing an aria "Notte e giorno faticar" from Act I, Scene I of the Italian opera, Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It is sung by Leporello, a servant of Don Giovanni, in the courtyard of the Commandatore's palace. Leporello complains that he always has to do the boring work, while his master, Don Giovanni, gets to dally with beautiful women.

Italian original

Notte e giorno faticar,
Per chi nulla sa gradir,
Piova e vento sopportar,
Mangiar male e mal dormir.
Voglio far il gentiluomo
E non voglio piu' servir...
Oh che caro galantuomo!
Vuol star dentro colla bella,
Ed io far la sentinella!
Voglio far il gentiluomo
E non voglio piu' servir...
Ma mi par che venga gente;
Non mi voglio far sentir.

Translation by Leonora McClernan

Day and night slaving away,
For someone who is never satisfied,
Rain and wind to put up with,
Eating badly and sleeping badly.
I want to be a gentleman
And I don't want to be a servant anymore...
Oh what a chivalrous gentleman!
He wants to stay inside with beautiful woman,
And I am the lookout!
I want to be a gentleman
And I don't want to be a servant anymore...
But it seems like someone's coming;
I don't want to let anyone know I'm here.

Note that both movies were filmed for the Russian Chess Federation website, and first appeared at in the Poikovsky tournament report.


Other musical grandmaster

Lajos Portish is also a bass-baritone singer. At last year's European Championship in Kusadasi, Turkey, he sang Santa Lucia for the closing ceremony audience – and to the utter delight of the Playchess.com visitors, who saw and heard it live on the chess server.


Former world champion Vasily Smyslov is also a baritone, who in his youth auditioned in the Bolschoi Theater and, at the age of 75, produced his first CD of Russian romances. In May 2001, exactly 50 years after the first audition, Smyslov sang again in the Bolshoi Theatre – in celebration of Anatoli Karpov's 50th birthday.

World championship Mark Taimanov is an accomplished concert pianist who together with his wife Lyubov Bruk played a series of concerts across the USSR and in foreign countries. Their best performances have been released by Philipps and are part of the prestigious collection that presents the 100 greatest pianists of the 20th century.

You can listen to the Taimanovs play Mozart's Concerto for two pianos in E-flat, KV 365 Rondo Allegro, with the Leningrad Chamber Orchestra. Click here to replay the MP3 wav file.


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