Down the River Volga

Music: trad. Russian arr. Irina Walters. Words: trad. Russian and Sheena Phillips
performance time approx 3m 30s
Range S: c' – e'' / A: g – f' / T: e♭ – c' / B: F – e♭
Price code: D
Complexity: **

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This gorgeously sad and sonorous folk song is dedicated to the arranger's great aunt Maria Vasilievna Artamonova (known within the family as Baba Manya), who had a wonderful voice and who loved this song. She sang in the folk tradition of a very throaty voice rather than with a classical sound. Irina tells how Maria Vasilievna called her one day from a phone box; when Irina asked if her aunt would sing a song, she said “Let me make sure there is no-one around…”, and proceeded to sing a beautiful and powerful performance of Down the river Volga. Maria Vasilievna auditioned successfully for the prestigious Pyatnitsky Choir (founded in 1910 to focus on Russian folk repertoire) but her family thought that singing was not ladylike and did not allow her to join. We hope that this flowing and richly harmonised arrangement by Irina will help settle that score.

Our edition gives English lyrics (see below) and also the original Russian, with a “phonetic” transcription.


Down the river Volga,
Down from Novgorod,
There’s a fine, fast boat
Like a speedy arrow.

And aboard this vessel,
This delightful craft,
There are forty-two
Brave and hearty oarsmen.

Now there’s one among them,
Young and handsome too,
Who is blue and sad,
Who is grey and gloomy.

“Hey, my dearest brothers,
My companions, friends,
Do for me, I pray,
One last deed of kindness.

“Throw me down to die in
Mother Volga’s arms.
There I’ll drown my tears,
All my grief and longing.

“I would rather perish
In a wat’ry grave
Than live here on earth
With no love to live for.”

lyrics © Sheena Phillips 2016 (based on the original Russian)

Purchase – 2060: Down the River Volga

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