Life stories of great composers setting the standard in animation

Long live Belarusian animation! Soviet realism bursting with life thanks to Old Piano Fairy Tales

By Natalia Stepanova

Long live Belarusian animation! Soviet realism bursting with life thanks to Old Piano Fairy Tales.

Old-Piano-Fairy-Tales1.pngBelarusian animation is still alive and kicking, as evinced by the Golden Eagle Award in Yelena Petkevich’s hands, for Bach: last year named ‘Best Animated Film’ in Russia. The Belarusian-Russian project has even been taken up by the famous French Louvre, which included the series in its children’s programme. The Italians have three times invited the founders to festivals.

The animated series is the brainchild of Moscow scriptwriter Irina Margolina — the General Producer of MIR. Studio, which is the main partner of Belarusfilm. Directors Irina Kodyukova and married couple Vladimir and Yelena Petkevich provide the hands-on work, with the Petkevichs bringing their daughter Olga on board for Beethoven.

Yelena cannot help but praise the team, calling them ‘a rare school of animators’. She tells us, “All our directors are mature and experienced, desiring to leave their own significant legacy. When we began work on Beethoven, we never imagined we’d be able to cover his whole life story in just 13 minutes: there’s so much musical material. However, the film has been successful, so the risk was justified and has inspired us to continue. Margolina suggested that we create a film on Robert Schumann, and I agreed. The composer had an unfortunate destiny, finding it difficult to express himself. The film was also nominated for a Golden Eagle.”

Yelena continues, “Margolina took an even greater risk in choosing Bach. My younger daughter, who was graduating from the conservatoire, warned me that it was a dangerous subject to attempt, since he is such an icon. In childhood, I read about Bach and was inspired by the tragedy of his life. Everything you see on screen is drawn from my own childhood impressions. I took a risk, but would never have attempted the challenge unless I felt it was achievable. Recently, Margolina suggested we try Johann Strauss and I was delighted, as I associate him with my youth and dancing. His music was always in the background and he was an incredible composer. I began work with pleasure and fear. I’ve noticed that my fear is increasing over time.”

“I wish I’d had more diligence myself when studying,” she admits. “Both my daughters have finished music school and my younger daughter has even been to the conservatoire, being a music theorist. I’ve embodied my mother’s aspirations for myself in her. Music has always been part of my life.”

Old-Piano-Fairy-Tales2.pngI can’t help wondering how lucrative such work is, but it seems impolite to ask while discussing high art and great composers. Instead I ask if festival success brings any financial prizes. Yelena admits that none have come her way so far, although she was given a small tape player, which her daughter recommended she give to a child.

I ask what keeps her in animation and she admits that her desire to please audiences, especially children, motivates her. Yelena emphasises, “Children not only respond to the beautiful images but hear the music and learn a great deal. I’m very interested in this. Even when a scene seems impossible to create, we manage it, and it turns out just as we hoped. I’m still surprised at how ‘easy’ it looks, with no sign of the true labour behind the process. Only artists of the highest level, who know music perfectly, take part.” Even the adviser to Fairy Tales, Moscow State Conservatory Professor Yelena Dolinskaya, is surprised at the nuances of creativity embodied in the series.

Yelena Petkevich recollects a recent trip to a festival in Italy, although she usually avoids such visits, being too busy or too modest to bother. She very much enjoyed herself, answering various questions (including on the style of trees in the animations); she received a great many congratulations and much praise.

Belarusian musical critics have truly admired the series and urge the wider broadcast of the wonderful animations, lamenting that few have yet viewed them. It could be an idea to show them in schools, during music lessons. Director of Animation Igor Galinovsky assures us, “Belarusfilm has applied to the Ministry of Education, and to Pachatkovaya School Publishing House, to bring the series onto the junior school curriculum, since it is so wonderful and joyful. Everyone should watch Old Piano Fairy Tales.”
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