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Conquering Fire

Photo by Cullan Smith on Unsplash

Cosmonautics Day has passed. Like every year, we, having joined the great action, despite all sorts of “descending from orbits”, having filled each other with photos of Gagarin and the ship “Vostok-1”, having listened to Levitan and “Go!”, quickly switch to the things of life, putting space on the entresol until the next appropriate occasion.

In the meantime, my old friend’s phone never stops ringing on Cosmonautics Day – it plays Andrei Petrov’s overture to “The Taming of the Fire. Andrei Petrov has written music for many films: “I’m Walking Through Moscow”, “Beware of Automobiles”, “Road to Quay”, “Zigzag Luck”, “White Bim Black Ear”, “Service Novel”, “Autumn Marathon”, “Garage”, “Cruel Romance”, “Put in a Word for the Poor Hussar”, “Station for Two”, “Battalions Asking Fire” – all this music by Andrey Petrov, and the list goes on and on. Andrei Petrov is written in our genetic code – the best fate and the most faithful confirmation of the composer’s nationality.

There is such a thing…

Words cannot express.

That’s what life is all about…

That’s what we purr to ourselves.

Petrov, from Leningrad. Born in 1930. My wartime childhood was spent in evacuation in Siberia. He saw a lot of things. Graduated from the Leningrad Rimsky-Korsakov College of Music, and then from the conservatory. Worked, taught, wrote music. Was a major Pushkinist-amateur – not as Lotman, the one academically, but in spirit and internal belonging to Pushkin’s poetry. He loved Mayakovsky and understood well what he shouted in our ears, and we did not always hear.

Petrov wrote music for the ballets “The Station Ranger”, “Pushkin. Reflections on a Poet” and the opera-fairy “Mayakovsky Begins”. And the opera Peter the First. He was a versatile man. He didn’t forget about pioneers – “Pioneer Suite”, “Poem about a Pioneer Girl” for mezzo-soprano and symphony orchestra. How many of us have heard it? It’s worth a listen. But that’s not the main thing, either.

The main thing was encapsulated in the two most important points of Andrei Petrov’s biography (life): he was a great melodist (as God showed the finger) and a great worker. He knew how to listen and hear. He did not have any bigotry about his own greatness.

Here, for example, is a very revealing story. Georgy Daneliya wanted Petrov to do the music for “Autumn Marathon”, and Daneliya formulated the task as follows: “Music, in principle, and is not needed. Why does this film need music? Let it be something like a metronome. Let it count the time senselessly lived through by the hero”. And now remember the melody. It is the metronome. Nothing extraneous. Not a single note. That’s what Andrei Petrov is all about.

He could do it. He was very good. About geniuses and villains. About our great ones, who make up “our everything”. About you and me, about the most ordinary people with petty and high-minded passions. Right? The day is like the Boxes and the Plyushkins, the day are warriors of the spirit. Such is the human race: how to remake it? How is it…? Remake it?

And I started with the Day of Cosmonautics. And not just for fun. When Petrov was invited as a composer to his film by Daniel Khrabrovitsky (I mean “The Taming of the Fire”), Petrov already understood the scale of the task: Khrabrovitsky was the screenwriter of “Nine Days of One Year” and by some unthinkable truth or untruth he obtained permission to shoot a two-part film about the nuclear missile shield of the USSR, or rather – about space, but we understand it.

This subject was top secret. The real names and surnames of the designers were known to the people of the Soviet Union only during state funerals.

It was difficult, almost impossible, to make a film about all those who created the nuclear missile shield, without highlighting anyone in particular.

Khrabrovitsky repeatedly met with Ustinov, Glushko, Mishin, Chertk. And certainly Kamanin did not know where to get away from him. It would seem that why? No permission, that’s all. A state secret! What’s not clear?!


There were a few really meaningful buts.

In 1966, we lost Korolev. In 1967, we lost Komarov. In 1968 we lost Gagarin. We had to say something, at least something about it. The information vacuum – the inability to put together a coherent picture out of scraps of gossip and rumors – was depressing. We were sick of space, angry and desperate. We wanted to go to Mars, we wanted to go to Venus, the Moon was a done deal for us, but…

In 1969 the Americans landed (or did not land) on the Moon first. It was simply impossible to tolerate it, and it did not fit into the general logic and sequence of our space steps. It did not, it’s true. Because… Because the role of personality in history, no matter who or how one may deny it, is exceptionally great. Korolev’s death brought us down. It was such a terrible and devastating blow that, by and large, we never recovered from it.

Brabrovitsky felt it. He was a man about “feeling. Look, after Taming the Fire, he was the one who would shoot A Tale of the Human Heart (cardiac surgeons are heavenly angels on earth) and A Poem about Wings (about Tupolev and Sikorsky). Back in 1968, after Gagarin’s death, Khrabrovitsky decided to create a legend, a majestic epic about a Soviet man who stepped into the sky. About the Soviet man, who overcame truly biblical hardships, who passed through fire, through water, through the firmament of the earth. And stepped into the sky!

In 1971, work on the film was already in progress. On June 30, 1971, the crew of the ship “Soyuz-11” – Vladislav Volkov, Georgy Dobrovolsky, Viktor Patsaev – died during the descent. The country “declared” internal, perhaps, the deepest mourning – for the greatest dream of the winning generation – for outer space. It was slipping out of our hands. It was once again becoming unattainable and distant. And that is why Khrabrovitsky had nowhere to retreat (and his surname was obligatory).

Khrabrovitsky reworked the script three times (he was both director and screenwriter, and, importantly, he was a student of Yevgeny Gabrilovich at the Higher Courses of Screenwriting), and when the main people of Soviet space finally pestered him with questions about the accuracy of the characters (even though political and military accuracy remained under strict taboo), he answered:

“You all argue with me all the time because you know what really happened. I don’t have to be in awe of actual characters and biographies. The characters in the film are mine, not yours, and the audience will believe me because they will love those characters. I deliberately idealize people, I want them to be like that. They shouldn’t be polished ideals, but the audience should love each of my heroes. There will be no villains, traitors, executioners, prostitutes, spies in our film. I admire you all for who you are, but I want to make you even better. That’s what I see as my task.

Khrabrovitsky said to Petrov: “Andrei! We need music beyond compare. It needs to be like a date with heaven. My heroes are like torches. Burning, lighting the way to the future. That’s why they burn… It must be shown that everything is in spite. Contrary to war. Contrary to the logic of ordinary life. That’s the only way they could… We need such music.”

Petrov wrote just such music. And we don’t care about accuracies and inaccuracies of biographies. All the launches are real, all the accidents are real, and it’s pure truth – they were filmed live.

Khrabrovitsky got money for all this at the very top. Both in the army and in the Politburo. And the music in the movie is real.

Maybe it’s thanks to “Taming the Fire” that the spirit of Korolev and Gagarin is alive in us. Maybe it’s also thanks to the music of Andrei Petrov.

And do you remember the dialogues in it? How is shown the triumph of Korolev (in the movie he Bashkirtsev – categorically could not use his real last name) over himself, over overcoming gravity? How he talks on the day of Gagarin’s flight, the night after the flight, with his beloved woman, who has a son by him. This is… Understand this! It’s impossible to talk like this based on “social status”! It’s not about cheap jokes, it’s about the greatness of the Red Empire…

We should get it back.

We’d better get it back.

Conversation between Bashkirtsev and Natasha. At the Seagull. With a direct government connection. They say Khrabrovitsky weighed every word on the scales.

And in another minute.

Already stopped at the House on the waterfront.

And then…

Already in the apartment.

“And more, as you can see.”

So, simple as that.

Korolev was unbearable in life. Eater and ruthless. True, he also had a heart – everyone admits it. And he was the greatest passionary. Glushko and Mishin were not. Not a single cosmonaut died under Korolev, because Korolev, as the GENERAL CONSTRUCTOR, did not allow unprepared launches, was able to resist any call from Moscow, and was not afraid to talk and argue with anyone. Glushko and Mishin were afraid, and they had no idea. IDEA. Period.

Korolev, brought up by Tsiolkovsky and Zander, kept telling himself one thing after each unsuccessful launch: “I need space! You know, space! And then everything else! Because everything else will come!”

He was also said to be a gloomy cynic, who liked to repeat: “They’ll slam it without an obituary, and that’s the end of it.” But he loved the first group, all the cosmonauts, as if they were his sons. And in life he had a daughter, Natasha. She’s 88 now. She is a great doctor, scientist, professor at Sechenovka.

It was a strange conversation about music, wasn’t it?

Khrabrovitsky, that’s the legend (and our whole life is a legend, too), Petrov said after the premiere: “Such a flight control center he showed, but the labels on the borjomi are crooked and askew. Right on the chief designer’s desk”. Khrabrovitsky smiled in response.

Those who lived at that time remember – rockets were leaving for their orbit, and the labels on mineral water and lemonade, yes, were glued on crookedly.

So what do we need, sisters and brothers?

“Uniform labels”?

“Into a given orbit”?

It doesn’t all happen at once. Spirit comes first. Matter follows. Korolev in space is like Tito in socialism. But we must not fear even the worst losses. And to hell with the labels.

And lastly.

In the episode after the successful launch of the first Soviet satellite, Natasha says to Bashkirtsev (Korolev): “Work is your great joy. Your way of the cross…”

I have nothing to add to what was said.

The screenwriter has outdone himself. We are forever in love with his frenetic characters. The composer has opened the door to the sky. We light up inside, like a rocket engine, as soon as we hear the first notes of the overture.

What’s wrong with us now?

Or is everything so with us, and does it take time?

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