Alexander Galich (Ginzburg)
Alexander Galich (Russian: Алекса́ндр Арка́дьевич Га́лич, born Alexander Aronovich Ginzburg, 19 October 1918 – 15 December 1977), was a Russian poet, screenwriter, playwright, and singer-songwriter. Galich is a pen name, a sort of acronym of his last name, first name, and patronymic: Ginzburg Alexander Arkadievich. He adopted this name to conceal his Jewish ancestry in the face of Soviet antisemitism. He also changed his patronymic from Aronovich to Arkadievich for this reason.
Alexander Ginzburg was born on 19 October 1918 in Ekaterinoslav (now Dnipropetrovsk), Ukraine into a family of Jewish intellectuals. His father, Aron Samoilovich Ginzburg, was an economist, and his mother, Fanni Borisovna Veksler, worked in a music conservatory. For most of his childhood he lived in Sevastopol. Before World War II, he entered the Gorky Literary Institute, then moved to Stanislavsky's Operatic-Dramatic Studio, and then to the Studio-Theatre of A. Arbuzov and V. Pluchek (in 1939).
He wrote plays and screenplays, and in the late 1950s, he started to write songs and sing them accompanying himself on his guitar. Influenced by the Russian city romance tradition and the art of Alexander Vertinsky, Galich developed his own voice within the genre. He practically single-handedly created the genre of "bard song". Many of his songs spoke of the Second World War and the lives of concentration camp inmates—subjects which Vladimir Vysotsky also began tackling at around the same time. They became popular with the public and were made available via magnitizdat.
His first songs, though rather innocent politically, nevertheless were distinctly out of tune with the official Soviet aesthetics. They marked a turning point in Galich's creative life, since before this, he was a quite successful Soviet man of letters. This turn was also brought about by the aborted premiere of his play Matrosskaya Tishina written for the newly opened Sovremennik Theatre. The play, already rehearsed, was banned by censors, who claimed that the author had a distorted view of the role of Jews in the Great Patriotic War. This incident was later described by Galich in the story Generalnaya Repetitsiya (Dress Rehearsal).
Galich's increasingly sharp criticism of the Soviet regime in his music caused him many problems. In 1971, he was expelled from the Soviet Writers' Union, which he had joined in 1955. In 1972, he was expelled from the Union of Cinematographers. That year he became baptized in the Orthodox Church.
Galich was forced to emigrate from the Soviet Union in 1974. He initially lived in Norway for one year, where he made his first recordings outside of the USSR. These were broadcasted on Radio Liberty, a United States Congress-funded radio station outlawed in USSR. His songs became immensely popular in the underground scene for being openly critical towards the Soviet government. He later moved to Munich, where he joined the Russian anti-communist organization NTS. He finally moved to Paris where, on the evening of 15 December 1977, he was found dead by his wife, clutching a Grundig stereo recording antenna plugged into a power socket. While his death appears to have been an accident, the consensus opinion was that it was either an assassination or a suicide. As his wife was absent the whole day, no one witnessed the exact circumstances of his death. In 1988, he was posthumously re-instated into the Writers' and Cinematographers' Unions. In 2003, the first memorial plaque for Galich was put up on a building in Akademgorodok (Novosibirsk) where he performed in 1968. That same year, the Alexander Galich Memorial Society was founded.
Alexander Galich, like most bards, had a fairly minimal musical background. He played his songs on a seven string Russian guitar, which was fairly standard at the time. He often wrote in the key of D minor, relying on very simple chord progressions and fingerpicking techniques. He had basic piano playing skills as well.
Galich had a signature cadence that he would usually play at the conclusion of a song (and sometimes at the beginning). He would play the D minor chord toward the top of the fretboard (fret position 0XX0233, thickest to thinnest string, open G tuning), then slide down the fretboard to a higher voiced D minor (0 X X 0 10 10 12).