The singer Vasily Smyslov

by ChessBase
3/29/2010 – Although Vassily Vassilievich Smyslov, who died last Saturday, was best known as a chess player and World Champion, he had a great love for music. "My study of chess was accompanied by a strong attraction to music," he wrote, "and it was probably thanks to this that from childhood I became accustomed to thinking of chess as an art." Listen to Smyslov sing Stenka Razin.

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Vasily Smyslov, 1921 – 2010

Vasily Smyslov died on 27th March 2010 in Moscow, just three days after his 89th birthday. He had checked into the Botkin Clinic earlier in the week, complaining of heart problems.

Smyslov in Reykjavik

"The news of our dear friend Vasily Vasiliyevich passing made me very sad," writes Einar S. Einarsson from Reykjavik. "Although it was perhaps not completely unexpected, it still came as a shock. He was for sure one of the greats and leaves a big vacuum in the chess world. I send his family and Russian chess friends my deepest sympathy and condolences. There will be one minute silence as a tribute to his memory at the KR Chess Club this evening while the chess clocks will tick." Einar sent us the following pictures from his personal album:

In the picture you may have some doubts about the "B.Spassky" label in the upper image...

... but it is true – take a look at a full frontal with with young, long-haired Boris Vasilievich

"Because of our close acquaintance and friendship I often thought about him and could feel his gentle presence in remote watching his cartoon (by Masec Oto) on the wall of my study. I bought the original in Novi Sad in 1990, looking at his games or listening to his singing from the CD he presented me with some years ago.

Smyslov the singer

Here are two articles in the New York Times blog by Dylan Loeb McClain:

In the second on McClain tells us that although Smyslov was clearly best known as a chess player, he had a great love for music. He believed that the two were interrelated. In his book, “Smyslov’s 125 Selected Games” he wrote:

My study of chess was accompanied by a strong attraction to music, and it was probably thanks to this that from childhood I became accustomed to thinking of chess as an art, and have never regarded it as anything else, for all the science and sport involved in it. And, moreover, an art which in some ways is closer to music than it is customary to think. Perhaps chess and music are drawn together by laws of harmony and beauty which are difficult to formulate and difficult to grasp, or perhaps by something else.

At parties and informal gatherings, he was known to suddenly start singing and he had a powerful voice, having tried out (and almost been accepted) at the Bolshoi Opera. The video below was posted on YouTube last October and purports to be a recording of Smyslov singing Stenka Razin.

Baritone Vasily Smyslov. At the age of 75 he produced his first CD of Russian romances.

The 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, the Scottish independence hero of the Mel Gibson extravaganza Braveheart. 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.

Russian Transliteration English
Из-за острова на стрежень,
На простор речной волны,
Выплывают расписные,
Острогрудые челны.
Iz-za ostrova na strezhen',
Na prostor rechnoy volny,
Vyplyvayut raspisnye,
Ostrogrudye chelny.
From beyond the wooded island
To the river wide and free
Proudly sailed the arrow-breasted
Ships of Cossack yeomanry.
На переднем Стенька Разин,
Обнявшись, сидит с княжной,
Свадьбу новую справляет,
Сам веселый и хмельной.
Na perednem Sten'ka Razin,
Obnyavshis', sidit s knyazhnoy,
Svad'bu novuyu spravlyaet,
Sam veselyi i khmel'noy.
On the first is Stenka Razin
With his princess by his side
Drunken holds in marriage revels
With his beauteous young bride
Позади их слышен ропот:
Нас на бабу променял!
Только ночь с ней провозился
Сам наутро бабой стал . . . .
Pozadi ikh slyschen ropot:
Nas na babu promenyal!
Tol'ko noch' s nej provozilsja
Sam nautro baboy stal . . . .
From behind there comes a murmur
"He has left his sword to woo;
One short night and Stenka Razin
Has become a woman, too."
Этот ропот и насмешки
Слышит грозный атаман,
И могучею рукою
Обнял персиянки стан.
Etot ropot i nasmeshki
Slyshit groznyi ataman,
I mogucheju rukoju
Obnjal persijanki stan.
Stenka Razin hears the murmur
Of his discontented band
And his lovely Persian princess
He has circled with his hand.
"Волга, Волга, мать родная,
Волга, русская река,
Не видала ты подарка
От донского казака!
"Volga, Volga, mat' rodnaya,
Volga, russkaya reka,
Ne vidala ty podarka
Ot donskovo kazaka!
Volga, Volga, Mother Volga
Wide and deep beneath the sun,
You have never seen such a present
From the Cossacks of the Don.
Мощным взмахом поднимает
Он красавицу княжну
И за борт ее бросает
В набежавшую волну.
Moshchnym vzmakhom podnimaet
On krasavitsu knyazhnu
I za bort eyo brosaet
V nabezhavshuyu volnu.
Now, with one swift mighty motion
He has raised his bride on high
And has cast her where the waters
Of the Volga roll and sigh.

Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register