April 09, 2010

How Roger Doucet Wrote the Soviet National Anthem

Hockey fans of a certain vintage will remember Roger Doucet. the legendary Montreal anthem singer in the 1970s. With his unmistakable voice, he was as recognizable at Canadiens games (and CFL Alouette and MLB Expos games, too) as any of the players.

But did you know he wrote lyrics for the Soviet national anthem - perhaps the most stirring anthem ever - too?

In the summer of 1976 Doucet was asked to sing the national anthems at the new Canada Cup tournament. He was familiar with the American and of course Canadian anthems, but needed to learn the songs of the four European countries.

He contacted the Department of External Affairs and they easily got him the lyrics for Sweden, Finland and Czechoslovakia, but there was a problem with the Soviet Union anthem - there were no words!

It seems the original words in The Hymn Of The Soviet Union were quietly dropped after 1956 because of all the references to dictator Josef Stalin. Doucet was advised to "hum the anthem very loudly."

That didn't sit too well with the proud singer. Somehow he unearthed a copy of the Stalinist lyrics. Since he could not speak nor read Russian, he handed it to the Russian department at the University of Montreal, and asked them to "fix them up."

Before the Soviet Union-Czechslovakia game at the Canada Cup, Doucet showed Soviet team officials the rewritten lyrics. They had no objections, and Doucet sang the all new Hymn of the Soviet Union. With the game being broadcasted back home, the Russian fans must have been shocked to hear the new anthem.

In 1977 the Soviet Parliament adopted the new lyrics.


JeffB said...

Fascinating story. I can't believe the Canadians wrote the lyrics for the Soviet anthem.

Rayzor said...

I'll have to check my Canada Cup DVD collation to c if that game is there....great story, keep u the good work Joe.

Anonymous said...

I actually remember quite well that game and indeed, as a Soviet citizen, was absolutely stunned to hear the Soviet national anthem sung. I had never heard the words before. Indeed, the lyrics had been dropped after Stalin's death because of the references to the dictator.

However, I'm not sure about the second part of the story. I think Doucet sung the old Stalinist lyrics. I don't believe he had rewritten anything. Is there a video of him singing it somewhere? It is true, the lyrics were rewritten in 1977, but changes were relatively minor.


Anonymous said...

David is correct - the second part is just lore. The Stalinist lyrics weren't especially different from the 1977-91 lyrics as the first verse was basically the same, the second verse changed a line or so to remove Stalin, and the third verse about WW2 was dropped and rewritten - by Sergei Mikhailov, one of the original lyricists.
The chorus changed the end lines referring to the Red Banner/glory of the people into Party of Lenin/strength of the people.

The 1972 Doucet recording is of the first verse sung twice, and the original chorus. This wasn't the first time since 1956 that the lyrics were used; in 1965, the Red Army Choir recorded the first verse/chorus of the Soviet anthem while on tour in France (this version was used in Rocky IV).