Heavenly Slug: A Return to the Skies

Heavenly Slug (1945)

Following the end of the 900-day Siege of Leningrad (1941–1944), Joseph Stalin ordered into production a lighthearted musical comedy. Filming soon commenced at Lenfilm, then the Soviet Union’s 2nd-largest film studio, on what would come to be known as “Heavenly Slug.” Lenfilm had been idled during the siege, with much of the studio’s personnel dispersed to locations in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, so there was great enthusiasm for the new project.

The movie opens with Major Vasily Bulochkin, a fighter pilot of the Soviet Air Force, bailing out of his damaged and burning airplane. Bulochkin parachutes to safety, but is injured when he lands in a tree. During his subsequent convalescence, he is visited by his fellow pilot officers and friends, Senior Lieutenant Semyon Tucha and Captain Sergei Kaisarov. As they stroll through the gardens of the sanitarium, they vow not to fall in love for the duration of the war.

Polikarpov Po-2 and friends during production of Heavenly Slug

It doesn’t take long, however, before their plans are thwarted; first by the pilots and staff of a women’s air squadron, and then by a young journalist, Valya Petrova. At the same time, Major Bulochkin, not yet fully recovered from his injuries, must come to terms with his new machine: the slow, old-fashioned and ungainly Polikarpov Po-2.

Vasily Pavlovich Solovyov-Sedoi (1907–1979), among his many accomplishments as one of the greatest songsmiths of the Soviet Union, composed the full score to “Heavenly Slug.” The creative output of this People’s Artist, Laureate of Lenin and the State Prize, and Hero of Socialist Labour remains well-known in the former USSR and abroad.

Vasily Pavlovich Solovyov-Sedoi

Solovyov-Sedoi was born on 25 April, 1907, in St. Petersburg, to a peasant family that had come to the city from the Vitebsk region to earn a living. Folk music surrounded Vasily Pavlovich in his childhood. He himself learned to play balalaika and picked out tunes he heard the adults singing. After the Bolshevik Revolution, when family circumstances were improved, he began his studies on piano. It was then that Vasily Solovyov revealed his astonishing gift for improvisation. Following the advice of composer Aleksey Semyonovich Zhivotov, he entered a musical college and was later transferred to the Leningrad conservatory. The young composer tried his hand at various genres, but songwriting appealed to him most.

Solovyov-Sedoi

Solovyov-Sedoi’s gift for the composition of popular songs achieved its greatest recognition during the Great Patriotic War (1941–1945). After the war Vasily Pavlovich dedicated himself to the composition of new songs, musical comedies, two ballets, a symphony, chamber works, and scores to more than thirty motion pictures. Among the best remembered of these works was “Let’s Go!”, written for the 1956 Lenfilm production, “Maxim Perepelitsa.” The song would eventually earn for Solovyov-Sedoi the coveted Lenin Prize in 1959.

Yakovlev Yak-3M, © Classic Aircraft Photography

The language of the composer is distinguished by the vastness of melodic inspiration at his disposal. At the same time the way in which these melodies are interpreted is purely unique. Sincerity, ease of lyrical expressiveness, rhythmical liberty and improvisation make the distinctive style of Vasily Pavlovich Solovyov-Sedoi extremely charming, and have endeared him to generations of loyal fans.

In anticipation of the 2017 Flying Proms at the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, VA, Dr. Andrey Kasparov was invited to prepare a suite for orchestra. The basis for the project was Solovyov-Sedoi’s original themes from “Heavenly Slug.”

The completed “Orchestral Suite after Vasily Solovyov-Sedoi” is comprised of five movements, each inspired by music from the 1945 motion picture:

    1. Before We Fly
    2. Because We Are Pilots!
    3. Behind German Lines
    4. Waltz: Planes First, Love Later
    5. Spell of Lady Aces

Polikarpov Po-2

It was intended that airworthy examples of two of the many airplanes featured in the original Lenfilm production would fly to accompany the premiere performance of Dr. Kasparov’s suite. These included a veteran Polikparpov Po-2 and a genuine Yakovlev Yak-3M, both resident to the Military Aviation Museum.

Vasily Pavlovich Solovyov-Sedoi

The effort to prepare this music for performance was undertaken over a period of several months and required a considerable amount of research. A breakthrough was achieved when a rare six-volume compendium of Solovyov-Sedoi’s body of work, encompassing songs from “Heavenly Slug” and many other obscure scores, was uncovered at the Library of Congress, Music Division, Washington, D.C.

Dr. Kasparov visited the Performing Arts Reading Room at the James Madison Memorial Building of the Library of Congress on 13 January, 2017, to make a thorough review of this archive. The successful extraction of Solovyov-Sedoi’s musical structures from these six volumes of material enabled the accurate and authentic reconstruction of Vasily Pavlovich’s stirring melodies from “Heavenly Slug.”

Dr. Kasprov’s finished suite for orchestra was premiered by Symphonicity, under the direction of Dennis Zeisler, on Saturday, 10 June, 2017, at the Military Aviation Museum’s 7th-annual Flying Proms.

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