Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

Homage to Alexander Vasilyevich Alexandrov

Alexander Vasilyevich Alexandrov was born 130 years ago, on the 13th of April 1883. The composer wrote the music for the National Anthem of the Soviet Union, which later became the National Anthem of the Russian Federation, in 2001. He furthermore founded the Alexandrov Ensemble, also known as Red Army Choir.

by Olivia Kroth

Alexander Alexandrov was born in a peasant family of Plakhino, a village in the Zakharovsky District of Ryazan Oblast, southeast of Moscow. He grew up with five brothers and sisters.

Alexander had a beautiful voice and loved to sing, memorizing melodies quickly and easily. Because he sang so well, the boy was often invited to sing at village festivities and weddings.

Alexander Alexandrov had absolute pitch. He was able to recreate any given musical note without external reference. In 1898, a music professor from Saint Petersburg heard the boy sing and convinced his parents to give him a good musical education. Thus Alexander Alexandrov became a pupil at the Court Chapel of Saint Petersburg and a choir boy in the Kazan Cathedral on Nevsky Prospekt.

After graduating from classes at the Court Chapel, he entered the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. In 1902, he fell in love with a girl from his choir, Ksenia Morozova. They got married in 1904. Boris, their first son, was born in 1905. Later, two more sons, Vladimir and Alexander, who died in 1942, and daughter Olga followed.     

In 1908, the family moved to Moscow, where Alexander Alexandrov studied at the Conservatory and graduated in 1913. He won two silver medals, one in composition, the other in singing.

Afterwards, he worked as soloist at the Bolshoi Theatre, and from 1918 to 1922, in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, upon invitation of Patriarch Tikhon.

Beginning in 1918, Alexander Alexandrov taught as professor of music at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. He became truly famous, however, as founder of the Alexandrov Ensemble, which is named after him. 

Today, the A.V. Alexandrov Russian Army twice red-bannered Academic Song and Dance Ensemble serves as the official army choir of Russia's Armed Forces. It consists of a choir, orchestra and dance ensemble. The singers and instrumentalists are all men. The choir comprises tenor, baritone and bass voices. 

The orchestra uses a mix of modern and old instruments. Some of them are traditional Russian instruments: bayan, a chromatic button accordion, developed in Russia, in the early 20th century; balalaika, a three-stringed instrument with triangular body; domra, a four-stringed instrument with round body.

The repertoire includes army songs, folk songs, church hymns and popular music. The dancers perform typical Russian dances, like the Cossack's Cavalry Dance, Soldier's Dance, Sailor's Dance or the Festival March.

The Alexandrov Ensemble continues singing in the great male Russian choral tradition, epitomizing Russia's rich cultural heritage. Today, the Alexandrov Ensemble is the most famous military ensemble in the world, giving concerts on all continents.      

The musicians have acquired a characteristic style of their own, which has been described in international press reviews as "a truly militaristic level of comradeship and discipline" or "a steely, harmonically rich, masculine sound." The soloists have been praised as "uniformly excellent, each demonstrating formidable technique, rooted in the classic Slavic sound." 

About the selection of songs on international tours, some reviewers wrote, "Every Slavic selection is thoroughly idiomatic, performed with trademark Russian sentiment and pure, undiluted nostalgia."

The ensemble's website, ensemble-alexandrova.en, informs, "Today, the A.V. Alexandrov Russian Army Academic Song and Dance Ensemble is a renowned Russian trademark, just like the Russian sights of the Bolshoi Theatre, the Hermitage, the Tretyakov State Gallery and the Moscow Kremlin Diamond Fund."

The Alexandrov Ensemble is always invited to Government ceremonies and performs in the State Kremlin Palace on Defenders of the Fatherland Day, where the President of the Russian Federation is present.

During his lifetime, Alexander Alexandrov acted as the ensemble's artistic director, choir master, conductor and teacher. The ensemble first consisted of members coming from the Frunze Red Army Central House, in 1928. The Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, enjoyed listening to their music and asked them to relocate to Moscow.

In 1929, the ensemble toured the Soviet Far East, entertaining the troops who worked on the Far Eastern railway. By 1933, the ensemble had grown to include 300 performers. They sang compositions by Anatoly Novikov, Boris Mokrousov and Vasily Solovyov-Sedoy. In 1935, the ensemble received the Order of the Red Banner.

During the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), the ensemble gave more than 1.500 performances at various Soviet fronts and in field hospitals. Alexander Alexandrov composed some war songs that have acquired everlasting fame. One of the best known is "The Sacred War," with lyrics written by Vasily Lebedev-Kumach (1898-1949).

1st stanza:

Get up, giant country,

Get up for mortal fight

With Nazi hordes uncounted,

With forces of the might!

2nd stanza:

Let's give repulse to oppressors

Of all our ardent thoughts!

To rapers and to murderers

Let's say the swear words!

3rd stanza:

We will not let their darkened wings

Fly over our Motherland.

The native country's spacious fields

Are not for their extent.

4th stanza:

For rotten Nazi pack we have got

A bullet and a bomb.

The fascist spawn of planet Earth

Must go into their tomb. 


Let noble anger of the soul

Boil high up, like a wave!

The people's war, the sacred war

We'll fight until the grave.

"The Sacred War" was first performed on the 26th of June, 1941, at the Belorusky Rail Terminal, where it was sung five times in succession, receiving never ending applause. The melody of this evergreen is still played during the March of the Colour Guard on Victory Day, each 9th of May.

Alexander Alexandrov wrote the music for "The Sacred War" on the 22nd of June 1941, when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. The song mirrors the terror of the people in the silences (tacets) after the line endings, but also their bravery and courage, when the choir roars the harsh and high chords. We can still hear the battles roaring, when listening to the song nowadays. Music and text together formed a strong war cry, giving the Soviet troops force to repel the fascist invaders.

In 1942, Alexander Alexandrov was commissioned by Joseph Stalin to compose the melody for the Soviet National Anthem. The lyrics were added by the poet, Sergey Vladimirovich Mikhalkov (1913-2009). The Soviet National Anthem was officially adopted on the 1st of January 1944 and became immensely popular throughout the Soviet Union.

Alexander Alexandrov also composed the official March of the Soviet and now Russian Forces, known as the "Song of the Soviet Army." Its subtitle is "Invincible and Legendary." This song was first performed towards the end of the Great Patriotic War, a triumphal melody with brass fanfares and trumpets.

Alexander Alexandrov received several orders, prizes and honorary titles during his lifetime: Order of the Red Star, 1935; People's Artist of the USSR, 1937; Order of the Red Banner, 1939; Stalin Prize, 1st class, 1942; Order of Lenin, 1943. On his 60th birthday, he was promoted to the rank of Major General.

In 1943, Alexander Alexandrov suffered a heart attack. His doctors forbade him to conduct, yet he kept going. One of his doctors wrote to him, "Alexander, take care! There are many generals in the Red Army, but there is only one Alexander Alexandrov." The conductor, however, ignored the doctor's advice, touring the fronts in Poland and Czechoslovakia with his ensemble. On the 8th of July 1946, Alexander Alexandrov died of heart failure. 

In one of his last letters before his death, he looked back on his life, "How much have I experienced since the times when I was a village boy in sandals. Life was a continuous struggle, full of work and worries, with good and bad things happening, but I do not regret anything. I am thankful for the fact that my life and my work have brought some fruit for our dear people and the Motherland. This means great happiness to me."

After the conductor's death, his son, Boris Alexandrovich Alexandrov (1905-1994), continued his work as second head of the Alexandrov Ensemble. Alexandrov scholarships were established in the Leningrad and Moscow conservatories. 

In 1970, the Ministry of Culture of the USSR established gold and silver medals AV Alexandrov as awards for composers, who contributed to the creation of patriotic and military music. The first of those gold medals was awarded to his son and successor, Boris Alexandrov.

In 2003, a statue for Alexander Alexandrov was erected in his native village Plakhino. The village school was re-named as Plakhino Alexandrov School. Another monument will be inaugurated on his 130th birthday anniversary, the 13th of April 2013. It was designed by the architect, M.V. Korsi, and sculpted by A.M. Teratynov.

The President of the Russian Federation, the Secretary of Defence, the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, the Mayor of Moscow and many personalities of culture will be present for the occasion.         

Prepared for publication by:

Lisa Karpova