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"'Dark Eyes'" is a well-known and popular Russian romance song.
The lyrics were written by the poet and writer Yevgeny Grebyonka (Yevhen Hrebinka) who was of Ukrainian origin. The first publication of the poem was in Hrebinka's own Russian translation in 'Literaturnaya Gazeta' on 17 January 1843. A song using these lyrics is attested already in the 1870s, but its melody is not known.
The melody now associated with the lyrics is substantially identical to "Valse hommage", Op. 21 for piano, by Florian Hermann and published in 1879. In 'The Book of World-famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk' (2000) James Fuld reports that a Soviet musicologist told him that the song is not "a Russian traditional song but a cabaret song", published in 1884 and reprinted as number 131 in a songbook by A. Gutheil in 1897, where it is described as a "Gypsy romance based on the melody of Florian Hermann's 'Valse Hommage'".[https://books.google.com/books?id=EVninY59ul0C&pg=PA417 James J. Fuld. The book of world-famous music: classical, popular, and folk] Courier Dover Publications, 2000. P. 417 (the note at p. 684 says Fuld did not locate a copy of Hermann's piece: :de:Schwarze Augen (Lied) names an S. Gerdel as the first arranger, without giving any reference.
In Rebeca Chvez's 2010 documentary, 'Cuando Sindo Garay visit a Emiliano Blez', Sindo Garay gives his own account of the origin of the song. The melody of 'Ojos negros que fascinan', a bolero, was composed upon request by Garay to a Russian choir girl with beautiful and expressive eyes when an Opera company from Russia came to visit Cuba in the early to mid-1890s. Garay stated that the melody of 'Ojos negros' (Dark Eyes) went back to Russia with the musicians and it was not until many years later that he found out through a friend that the song was part of the soundtrack of a Russian film playing at the local theatre. Garay was pleased knowing his music was worthy of such a merit.
The most renowned and played version of this song was written by Adalgiso Ferraris, and published, when still in Russia in 1910, with German editor Otto Kuhl, as "Schwarze Augen" (Black Eyes). Ferraris then published it again in 1931 by Paris Editions Salabert, as "Tes yeux noirs (impression russe)" and with Jacques Liber, on 9 October 1931.
Ferraris, an Italian-born British composer, had spent many years in Russia before 1915. The song became one of his major successes in the 1920s and 1930s, being also played by Albert Sandler, by Leslie Jeffries in 1939, and sung by Al Bowlly as "Black Eyes" in 1939 with words of Albert Mellor. Max Jaffa also recorded it.
Ferraris himself can be seen in a British Path film from 1934 of Alfredo and his Gypsy band playing "Dark Eyes", sitting in the orchestra behind the lead Alfredo.
Poem (original version by Grebyonka )
Lyrics (Chaliapin version)
In popular culture
The song is featured in the 1940 film 'The Shop Around the Corner', in which employees of a store (played by James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, and Frank Morgan) argue over whether to sell a cigarette box that plays the song when opened. Part of the tune is also used at the very beginning of the orchestral score before the opening credits.
The 1961 film 'Swingin' Along' includes a jazz piano performance of the song.
The 2018 TV series 'Killing Eve' includes an instrumental version of this song.
* 'The Red Army Choir', compilation album that includes 'Dark Eyes'
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