17 September 2009

Sergei Mikhalkov

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Sergei Mikhalkov, who wrote the Soviet Union's national anthem under Josef Stalin and then reworked his rousing lyrics for a new generation of Russians under Vladimir Putin, has died. He was 96. Mikhalkov, also a children's poet, died at a Moscow hospital on August 27, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported, citing his relatives. The patriotic verses he wrote in 1944, lavishing praise upon Stalin, replaced the communist "Internationale," whose call for global communist revolution sat uneasily with wartime alliances. Set to music by Aleksandr Aleksandrov, the anthem was dedicated to the might of the Soviet Union and victorious battles to come. "Great Stalin brought up to serve the people, he inspired us to work and heroic deeds," the anthem declared. The verses, written with Gabriel El-Registan, were abandoned in the 1950s when Nikita Khrushchev launched his short-lived de-Stalinization campaign. The hymn was then played without words until the 1970s when Mikhalkov reworked it to replace Stalin with the founder of the Soviet state, Vladimir Lenin. After the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union, Russia adopted a new tune based on the music of Mikhail Glinka.

Mikhalkov was born to Vladimir Alexandrovich Mikhalkov and Olga Mikhailovna (née Glebova). Mikhalkov stemmed from the noble family of Mikhalkovs and had tsarist admirals, governors, and princes among his grandparents. Since the 1930s, he has rivalled Korney Chukovsky and Agniya Barto as the most popular poet writing for Russophone children. His poems about enormously tall "Uncle Styopa" ("Дядя Стёпа") enjoyed particular popularity.

As a 29-year-old in 1942, Mikhalkov's work drew the attention of the Soviet Union's leader Joseph Stalin, who commissioned him to write lyrics for a new national anthem. At the time, the country was deeply embroiled in World War II and Stalin wanted a Russian theme for the national anthem, to replace the Internationale.

Mikhalkov penned words to accompany a musical score by the composer Alexander Alexandrov (1883–1946) that became known as National Anthem of the Soviet Union. The new anthem was presented to Stalin in the summer of 1943 and was introduced as the country's new anthem on January 1, 1944.

Use of the Soviet anthem, with Mikhalkov's lyrics, continued until 1991, when it was retired by President Boris Yeltsin after the USSR disintegrated. However, when Vladimir Putin took over from Yeltsin in 2000, he began to clamor for a restoration of Alexandrov's music in place of Yeltsin's choice.

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