Artur Gold & Jerzy Petersburski Orchestra
Petersburski : April 20, 1897, Warsaw, Poland - October 7, 1979, Warsaw, Poland
Jerzy Melodysta ( He was born into the well known Warsaw 'klezmer' family Melodysta); George Petersburski
Gold : 1897, Varsovie - 1943, Treblinka
Petersburski studied piano and composition at Warsaw's Conservatory, and later
studied conducting in Vienna, Austria, and also with famed operetta composer
Emmerich Kalman, who convinced the young composer to give up "serious" music and
compose "popular" songs. Between the two world wars (I and II), this Polish (Jewish)
composer, was one of the major figures in Warsaw's Popular music scene. In 1921,
he worked with the Russian singer Aleksander Vertinskii (sometimes: Vertinsky).
In 1926, Petersburski, together with his cousin Artur Gold, co-founded the Petersburski & Gold Orchestra,
(Gold is on the left in the back row and Petersburski is in the back row center
(photo: uncredited). Petersburski played piano and Gold was the violonist. At
the turn of 1920s/1930s, it was perhaps the most popular dance orchestra in
Warsaw, which performed in the most fashionable restaurant "Adria". (A well
known refrain of one of the songs of that time had "When Petersburski plays with
Gold, you will not sleep through the night till dawn").
In 1939, Petersburski served as a sergeant in the Polish Air Forces. In 1940, with the fall of Poland to the German invaders, he managed to flee to the Soviet Union and continued his career in Russia where he again founded the Petersburski & Gold orchestra, this time together with Artur Gold's brother Henryk, a composer who also managed to flee to the Soviet Union. In USSR, Petersburski composed one of the finest war songs "Sinii platochek" ("The Blue Handkerchief"), first sung by Klavdya Shulzhenko (polish title "Blekitna chusteczka"). From the USSR, he moved back to a Polish Army unit formed by General Anders.
In 1947, after World War II ended, he traveled, via Palestine, to settle in Brasil, where he first worked as one half of a piano duo with his friend from pre-war Poland, also a Jewish composer, Alfred Schuetz. Between 1948 and 1968, he lived in Argentina, and worked with 'Radio El Mondo' in Buenos Aires. During this time, be composed the hit song "All Roads Lead to Buenos Aires". (Eight bars of this song became a famous radio jingle.)
While In Buenos Aires, he also coled, with the famous Polish-Jewish cabaret actor, who had also managed to escape from Warsaw, Kazimierz Krukowski ("Lopek"), the 'El National' theatre orchestra. After the death of his wife, Maria Minkowska - during the earthquake in 1967 - Petersburski moved to Caracas, Venezuela, and in 1968 returned to Poland. In 1968, after returning to Poland and resettling in his beloved Warsaw, he married again with singer Sylwia Klejdysz.
It is perhaps worth noting that Poland's "entertainment industry" was, until the onset of World War II, dominated by Polish Jews. Along with the film producers, most composers of popular music and film scores were also Jewish. There were such men as Henryk Gold, and his brother, Artur Gold (who composed the beautiful tango "Jesienne Róze"). Henryk Wars, and pianist-composer Zygmunt Bialostocki. Szymon Kataszek's and Zygmunt Karenski's jazz orchestra helped to introduce Jazz to Polish audiences in 1929, while cellist and banjo player Fred Melodysta offered the latest Jazz melodies. Another prominent musician was Ada Rosner The names of all of these men often appeared among the film credits of films produced in Poland during the 1920s-'30s.
Petersburski was the author of numerous cabaret, revue and movie hit songs, among which the most famous was "Oh Donna Clara" (original Polish title: "Tango Milonga"), co-composed by Jerzy Petersburski with lyricist Andrzej Wlast. A German lyric was added by Fritz Loehner-Beda. The original English lyric was by Jimmy Kennedy, and later, another English lyric was added by the famed American lyricist Irving Caesar). Petersburski composed the tune in 1929 for the theatre revue "Morskie Oko" in Warsaw. (Some sources say the tune was composed in 1928, originally called "Tango Milonga, for the music revue 'Warszawa w kwiatach' --'Warsaw in Bloom'.) This big European hit show was later also an American stage play. The first performer of this tune was the popular tango-singer (called "Queen of the Tango") Stanislawa Nowicka. (b. 8 March 1905, Warsaw, d. 24 October 1990, Yorktown k/Nowego Jorku). She also made the first recording of the song. Among the other tangos she sang are "Śpiewając przebój Chodź na Pragę" (music: Artur Gold, lyric: Tadeusz Stach), "I tak mi ciebie żal" ("As it is me thee sorrow", music: Fanny Gordon, lyric: Valerian Jastrzębiec-Kozłowski, 1932), "Pragnę twoją byc" (m. Artur Gold, l. Andrew Włast), and "Nie odchodź ode mnie" ("Don't Leave me", m. Artur Gold, l. Andrew Włast, -a duet with Tadeusz Olszą). Listen now to "Oh Donna Clara", as played by the English orchestra of Jack Hylton, with an English lyric sung by Pat O'Malley. (Recorded: 14/01/31. HMV B-5963 - here digitally re-engineered.)
Another of his Tango compositions that attained international recognition was "To Ostatnia Niedziela" ("The Last Sunday") composed in 1933, with lyric by Zenon Friedwald describing the final meeting of former lovers who are parting. (In 1935, aka: "This Is the Last Sunday"). Because suicide was so strongly alluded to in the lyric (shown below), the song became widely known in Poland as the "Suicide Tango". During the 1930s, it became a real 'evergreen' in the Soviet Union, where it was played on virtually every street corner in Russian cities. It was so popular, that it was considered their own Russian tune, holding the Russian title "Utomlennoe Solncem" (English: "Burnt by the Sun". Listen now to "Utomlennoe Solnce", (aka in Russia: "Utomlyennoye solntse" -"The Weary Sun"). Petersburski's name as its composer has been forgotten. (This performance is by the Alexandre Cfansman Orchester, with a Russian vocal refrain - recorded by Noginskij Zawod in 1936. (This same tune, sung by famed Polish singer Mieczysław Fogg, can be heard below, and the comparison is interesting.)
This song was one of the symbols of pre-WWII music in the popular culture of Poland. Beside Mieczysław Fogg (aka: Fogiel), it was performed by many other singers. The tune also appeared in a number of films, including Yuriy Norshteyn's 1979 "Tale of Tales" (considered by many international critics to be the greatest animated film ever made), and the award-winning Krzysztof Kieślowski's "White" (1994). The song also became the title and the leading music theme of Nikita Mikhalkov's 1994 film "Utomlennoe Solcem" ("Burnt by the Sun") -a powerful portrait of viciousness in Russia in the 1930s during the Stalin era, which won the 1994 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. More recently, it has been sung by the popular contemporary actor Piotr Fronczewski.
But, this song also had a terribly sad fate. It became known as the 'Death Tango'. In the sadistic Nazi concentrations camps, "The Last Sunday" was often played by a small brass orchestra while Jewish prisoners were led to the gas chambers and ovens to be executed. Later, the song was often used in polish movies about the Nazi concentration camps. It was also played in the Treblinka concentration camp by a Jewish orchestra and a choir, which Artur Gold - one of the camp prisoners before he himself was killed -was forced to organize and also to lead while other Jewish prisoners were marching to the gas chambers. Each musician was dressed in a clown-like shining blue frock and an enormous bow-tie. One of the Treblinka survivors, Moses Laks, has related: "on the sunny days, the choir of the Jewish men and women gathered at the bandstand and, conducted by Artur Gold, sung among many pre-war hits also "the hymn of Treblinka fellows" - "Fester schritt", composed by the Jewish Czech prisoner Walter Hirsch, praising "the pleasures of the camp life" and the "friendliness of the guards". Listen now to perhaps the most popular version of the Death Tango ("To Ostatnia Niedziela"), as sung by Mieczysław Fogg. ( né: Mieczysław Fogiel. b. May 30, 1901, Warsaw, --then a provincial town in Imperial Russia, d. Sept. 3, 1990, Warsaw, Poland). The lyric is shown here, in both Polish and English versions.
Membres de l'Orchestra Gold & Petersburski
Artur Gold (violin, director of the orchestra), Jerzy Petersburski (piano, director of the orchestra),
Bronisław Bykowski (violin), Bazyli Jakowenko (double bass), Kazimierz Roczyński (drums), Leo Szulc (banjo).