Yul Brynner learned to play the Russian seven-stringed guitar since he was a child, and this way, he became an accomplished guitarist and singer. During his early period in Europe he used to play and sing Gypsy songs in Parisian nightclubs with Aliosha Dimitrievitch. We can listen to some of his music in films like Anastasia, or The Brothers Karamazov, for example. Years later, in 1967, Yul and Aliosha released an LP album, called “The Gypsy and I: Yul Brynner Sings Gypsy Songs”. The following text comes from that album.
Transcription by Yul Brynner: The Magnificent King. If you’re going to copy and paste this text somewhere else, don’t forget to cite the source and a link back to this website.)
The Gypsy and I – YUL BRYNNER sings GYPSY SONGS
with Aliosha Dimitrievitch, lead guitar and vocal
Serge Camps, second guitar
“Not too loud”, said Aliosha, “only to the horizon”.
The Gypsies’ here is now, their permanent address is the present. When they move, the only baggage in their hearts’ wagons is their desperate ecstasy, their laughing ? and their musical love: all that will be needed at their next encampment. Tomorrow is their name for a new home, family means their race. Gaje means those outside the family.
Their language is Rom, and if they borrow another, it is only to tease the Gaje. They say “The truth is in Rom,” for any other language is a lie. To others, Rom is flagrantly meaningless or furtively pregnant, a gibe to the proud, a goad to the curious. Even in defeat, the Rom savour victory by teasing the Gaje who persecuted them; the Gaje for example, who destroyed a half million Rom a generation ago.
What is sung for money is not sung for themselves. They would no more pour out their souls to the nightclub Gaje than read the palm of another Rom. The difference between what they sell and what they keep forever is sharp: properly, the verb “to sing” is intransitive, “singing to” is finance, “singing out” is expression. Even when they sing to entertain, they protect their dignity with a joke. In a Russian nightclub they will intersperse Russian words throughout the songs, defying the audience to understand all the lyrics; just another way to tease the Gaje.
True singing means “singing with”; the guitar sings with the guitarist while he sings with a member of his family. For many years, Yul sang alone, but always with the memory of Aliosha’s voice and all the others Gypsy voices he had known sang with him.
When he is among Gypsies, which Paris knows as Tziganes, a Rom strives to make each song a requiem for his own love, an exaltation for his joy. The text is but a pretext for a personal sacrament, the prescribed melody and rythm measure only his departure from them.
Aliosha was 19 years old, Yul was 12, when they first met in Paris. Together with some thirty guitars they worked in nightclubs whose shadows have long since been buried. Yul became a part of their Kumpania, encompassed by the fierce love Gypsies have for their race, that reciprocal pride and adoration which more than anything separates the Gypsy from the Gaje. He learned to play the diminutive seven-string Gypsy guitar, to make it sing with him; he learned the language, to make it sing with his heart. The songs and the proverbs which constitute them were his inheritance.
The war sent all the Tziganes back to the road: Yul went with the Chekhov Theatre Company to America, while Aliosha and his sister Valia went through South America. Twenty years later, they met again, only to discover how little had changed. New depths, new departures in the old songs, were the expressions of the long roads behind them. They found that each member of their quartet, comprising two men and two guitars, could still sing independently, yet still compose a whole. To ensure some discipline to their work, they finally agreed to record, an idea which was otherwise distanteful to the nature of their art.
Their songs are dialogues upon the theme presented in the lyrics and melody, each voice echoing the regret and the rejoicing of the other, each guitar answering the other with its own rythm and rhapsody. It is particularly the complexity of the rythmic structure that eliminates any primitive quality in the music; this is the result of six generations of stubbornity refusing to express themselves in clichés and persistently developing any facet of their songs which turned stale. It is this determination to use every extension of their talents to make a song their own expression which distinguishes the Rom. Nothing is their own unless they create it. They own their songs just as they own their language, misery, and delight; nothing else belongs to them. In the several cases where they have adopted a Russian song, they have so altered its sound and meaning that a Russian will cringe at the crude consonants and take affront at the adulteration of the melody, if it is heard at all. In Two Guitars, the melody appears only in the last verse, another way to tease the Gaje.
The lyrics are a mixture of narrative and proverb; they are all in the Imagine mode. The meaning of the songs, all of which are at least 100 years old, is in the music, the words create a vertical narrative about a theme, disparate fact and details are illogically fused to indicate only the shadow of the scene which the singer is recalling. The End of the Road exemplifies this free construction.
Here our roads end, my chest is weak,
At last my heart seeks peace,
My dreams have died, now you have left,
We no more share one road.
A simple end, misunderstood:
An icy glance of hatred,
That day’s passed like the blackest cloud:
Now we are forever strangers.
The days are short but the nights seem long,
My hairs have turned gray:
Why do they say the Gypsies have changed?
We do not understand.
Aliosha is the impetuous, tough little boss; so he is also the clown. His strings and sinew are steel, yet his energy lapses with each string he breaks. How can he break two strings each song? Look at the blood that flows from his hands. It is his guitar which fans the hiccup rythm, which stings like the mosquito. Yul is the energy and inspiration, the voice that demands an echo; but Aliosha trained that energy. Yul’s words are foreign to us, the pain and bursting joy are not. Trust, all the explosions and burning pain are his own: he sings them as if he has lived them.
The Gypsies do not limit their soundings by their technique, rather they develop their technique to sound their depths. They do not sing, they complain melodiously. The voyage which is their life is no lonelier than ours; only more harmonious. If you will allow them to cross within your heart’s frontiers, they will do no harm within. For their lifelong road, like ours, is a bitter, only sometimes perhaps gay road, paved flat and smooth, into which their songs carve bas-reliefs in the silence. Silence.– Rock Brynner
1. THE LINE OF FATE: The diffused design of my palm’s line of fate brings your face as near to me as your letter. Silence the sickened heart for we must not meet again; your soul’s distortion, your cruel hand, ravaged our dreams.
2. THE END OF THE ROAD: A translation of the text is in the notes above. (This adaptation of a traditional Gypsy song was written, in words and music, by Ivan Dimitrievich, in 1920, and used in the motion picture “Anastasia” in which Yul Brynner starred with Ingrid Bergman).
3. DON’T BE ANGRY: Do not be angry or jealous; be drunk on caresses for as we drank that cup to the bottom, I fell again in love with you. My sins seek no pardon; but do not be angry, do not be jealous.
4. SOKOLOV’S GUITAR: Sokolov’s guitar at the yar still sounds in my ears; but do not go back, Aliosha. Save your money to have your own guitar, which you can play till dawn. For then the darkskinned faces still crowded about a mountainous feast, but now at the yar only memories fill the heart.
5. A HUNDRED MILES: I found no mate in in our hundred dark miles of travelling. Old woman, pray for me. Sublime woman, listen to the voices in the streets as they divide the wardrobes.
6. TWO GUITARS: The fields are dark tonight. My love has taught me torment and now I torture others. My soul is full of you as the night is full of moonlight; converse with me, my seven-stringed friend. There are two guitars behind the wall. Sweet memories rise of another; Aliosha, is it you?
1. THE PACER: Let your troika horses control their own path. Why believe what people say. Do not listen to the insults of those who aren’t worth your boots.
2. FOR THE LAST TIME: In the last kiss, I engrave your light eyes’ smile on my memory. I am learning the first suffering of love as the light in my chest is extinguished by tears.
3. WHY GET MARRIED: Why love her; why marry her if she asks. Already I am wasting away in fever as her love for another chills me.
4. THE SHAWL: Little mother, find the sublimest shawl for my beloved. This gray soul does not know how to trot; the black-browed girl fills my soul.
5. TRAVELLING GYPSIES: The Gypsies stopped under an apple tree on the way to the fair. During all the drinking, a red-shirted young blade caroused. Where is he from. Today I can be drunk, for is the autumn, I must face the days “acquiring food”.
6. I AM LOST: I am lost, father, brother; my ? has run away. Yes, last night I did not sleep; yes, I love her. (This song is about 300 years old).– Rock Brynner.