Dark Eyes (Gipsy Moon)

2015. Dark Eyes (Gipsy Moon)
Written by: See below.

This is a song with a complicated history. And you may very well know the melody even if you don’t recognize the title.

The lyrics were written by the poet and writer Yevhen Hrebinka, born in Poltava, now in Ukraine. The first publication of the poem was in Hrebinka’s own Russian translation in 1843. We know that a song using these lyrics existed as far back as the 1870s, but we don’t know what melody was used.

The melody now associated with the lyrics was likely borrowed from the “Valse hommage”, Op. 21 for piano, written by Florian Hermann, a composer of German-Polish origin in the Russian Empire, 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”.
In Rebeca Chávez’s 2010 documentary, ‘Cuando Sindo Garay visitó 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 Dark Eyes 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.

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 Pathé film from 1934 of Alfredo and his Gypsy band playing “Dark Eyes”, sitting in the orchestra behind the lead Alfredo.

Gipsy Moon, from Colorado, says this on their BandCamp page: “Gipsy Moon is a four-piece group of artists on an endless musical journey, sharing songs with the hopes of planting inspiration into the soul, starting a fire in the heart, and building community that invokes love in its wildest manifestations.”

Despite finding the English translation on several websites, I was unable to determine who actually translated from Russian to English. And I don’t know if the English lyrics have the same meaning as the Russian. Perhaps Jonnie Pekelny might be able to say?