Yves Montand and The Bones of Bremen

We were very pleased to be contacted recently by  Manuela Putz at The Research Centre for East European Studies * at the University of Bremen with regard to various x-ray records in their archive. 

The records are part of the personal papers of the Polivanov-familiy and were donated by the philologist Anastasia Alexandrovna Baranovich-Polivanova (born 1932). They have an interesting Samizdat connection and musical history.

Courtesy of Research Center for East European Studies, Bremen, F. 01-137

Anastasia’s husband, the mathematician Michail Konstantinovich Polivanov, was active in samizdat circles and she is the daughter of Marina Kazimirovna Baranovich, a member of the underground Soviet Anthroposophical Movement, who helped to publish early samizdat works by authors such as Antoine St. Exupery. Study of anthroposophy, a mystical philosophy founded by Rudolf Steiner, was made illegal in the Soviet Union in 1923 and subsequently many Russian practitioners ended their lives in the gulag. The movement remained underground until the more open climate of the 1970s.

Courtesy of Research Center for East European Studies, Bremen, F. 01-137

Courtesy of Research Center for East European Studies, Bremen, F. 01-137

The music on the discs is by French-Italian singer and actor Yves Montand. The first time Anastasia heard Montand’s music was at a "French evening“ (she was studying languages) at the Moscow State University around 1954/55. She was able to obtain an actual original Montand vinyl album but it was stolen in 1957 - such records would be very desirable and valuable. She was unable to find a replacement but a generous and resourceful friend somehow managed to find Montand songs recorded on x-ray and presented them to her as a consolatory gift.  

Courtesy of Research Center for East European Studies, Bremen, F. 01-137

Courtesy of Research Center for East European Studies, Bremen, F. 01-137

Montand and Signoret in the film "Yves Montand sings" a documentary about the singer's 1957 Russian tour.

Yves Montand is an interesting case in relation to x-ray bootleg culture. Under the influence of his wife Simone Signoret he had become part of the radical crusading French left in the mid-1950s and both he and Signoret were subsequently feted in Moscow. He performed concerts there to great acclaim and  the couple even spent time debating freedom with Khruschev.

Given that, and the cultural ties between the Russia and France, his repertoire did not fall prey to the Soviet censor in the way that other Western music did  - well, not until he become a critic of the USSR's foreign policy after the invasion of Hungary and the execution of Imry Nagy in 1958.   

Program for Yves Montand's Moscow concerts 1957

Program for Yves Montand's Moscow concerts 1957

As such, these x-ray discs may be examples of more conventional 'bootlegs'  - that is, privately made copies of records that were, or had been, officially available but were expensive or difficult to find.

The rather beautiful unusual picture disc below containing the song 'A Paris' is also from the Research Centre's archive and is an interesting one. It is obviously not an x-ray but is an example of one of the other types of film used to create privately-made bootlegs -  in this case, the music is cut onto the printers' photographic film used in the making of the cover of a book. We have come across several records made using this kind of film - which, like x-rays, must have been suitable for holding the grooves of music written using a recording lathe. 

Image Courtesy of Research Center for East European Studies, Bremen, F. 01-137

Image Courtesy of Research Center for East European Studies, Bremen, F. 01-137

* During the years of the Eastern Bloc, censorship and repression, The Research Centre for Eastern European Studies acted as a depository of cultural memory for dissenters and members of the opposition in Eastern Europe. Documents from the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the GDR arrived in Bremen via various routes.*

The Research Centre came to be a place of refuge for dissidents and their work in spite of the Iron Curtain. As a result, during the 1980s, the Research Centre concentrated on manifestations of independent artistic activity and intellectual creativity in the underground. It looked for the unofficial streams and dissenting thoughts behind the facade of official politics that gave a view into the internal workings of these societies.For more information on the work of the centre go  HERE