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Putin Plays The Piano, With Perhaps Unintentional Undertones

A video of Russian President Vladimir Putin taking a turn at the ivories in Beijing is currently making the Internet rounds.

On Sunday, while awaiting a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a state residence during the "Belt and Road" trade initiative, Putin was filmed sitting down to a piano to plunk out a couple of 1950s Soviet standards: "Evening Song," by Vasily Solovyov-Sedoi, and "Moscow Windows," by Tikhon Khrennikov. The first is considered an unofficial anthem for the city of St. Petersburg, with lyrics like "Listen, Leningrad, I'll sing to you my sincere song." (During the Soviet era, the city of St. Petersburg was renamed Leningrad.)

After playing just a few notes, the Russian president visibly recoils, presumably because the piano sounds quite out of tune. But he decides to plunge ahead regardless. At his conclusion, Putin whispers something and then decisively shuts the piano's fallboard (the keyboard lid) and walks away, smiling.

Was the episode a challenge to the pianistically inclined Emmanuel Macron? A jab at a possible lack of attention to detail at China's state properties? Or just Putin passing some time by indulging in a little Soviet-era musical nostalgia?

The video was posted to YouTube by Sputnik, a digital news agency that is a state-funded sibling of RT and, like RT, is aimed at international audiences.

This isn't the first time Putin has put himself out in public, musically speaking. In 2014, he plunked out the same "Moscow Windows" at a meeting with students at the Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute. And in 2010, he played piano and sang a version of "Blueberry Hill" at a charity fundraiser — on which, it can be noted, he was just as rhythmically hesitant as in this latest musical foray.

Putin addressed the episode at a press briefing Monday in Beijing. Reuters quoted him as saying, "It's a pity that the piano was out of tune. It was quite hard to play, even for me, someone who plays with two fingers. I cannot say I played, I was just pressing the keys with two or three fingers."

He also said that the decision to tape his pianistic interlude — and then release the video — belonged to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, according to the news service.

"I thought that if Mr. Peskov is filming, it's probably for personal use, for the archive," Putin is quoted as saying. "But they decided to post it. But never mind. I think I didn't let you down."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.
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