All music is poetry in one sense or another. Sometimes there’s only a hint of it in the foundation or inspiration for a given song. In other cases though, music truly emerges directly out of written poetry. It’s something we remarked on in a write-up on Sandra Booker on this very site, and it’s something we see in everyone from emerging indie artists to established stars. Whether or not this particular musical path from prose or poetry to recorded songs is definitively more powerful is difficult to say. But there is something to be said for the magnetism of excellent poetry and the way in which it can elevate music. And in this article we want to highlight a particularly fascinating piece of music that has exemplified this effect for decades without anyone really taking notice. It’s a piece of music you could hum in your sleep, and which you’d likely recognize instantly a minute from now or 50 years into your future. It’s the theme music for Tetris. Tetris is of course a game that most people are familiar with, even if they don’t spend much time on this particular sort of entertainment. This is largely because it happens to be — undeniably — one of the most successful and recognizable games in history. Not too long ago, a list written on IGN put forth one of the more comprehensive and well-reasoned breakdowns of the top 100 video games in history. And among much bigger and more ambitious titles, Tetris managed to rank seventh overall. This speaks quite clearly to the enduring appeal of the classic game. Even beyond the classic version of Tetris though, the game has proven to have staying power in the form of various adaptations that have emerged in recent years. A few different mobile developers have bought the game into app form, and a blog post by Foxy Games also highlighted Tetris as one of a handful of games that have inspired slot machine adaptations. And for the purposes of our broader conversation here, it’s worth noting that both app and casino gaming versions of Tetris have made use of the familiar, original theme tune. With Tetris proving to be so timeless and versatile, it’s no wonder that virtually everyone seems to be familiar with said tune. What very few realize however is that this isn’t just some catchy music put together as an original composition for a video game. In actuality, the Tetris theme significantly pre-dates the game. It can in fact be traced all the way back to a 19th-century Russian poem. A Boston Globe dive into the history reveals that the original poem was written in 1861 by one Nikolay Nekrasov, and was titled “Korobeiniki” (which translates to “The Peddlers”). It’s actually something of a tragic poem, about a peddler displaying his goods to a girl. She takes a turquoise ring and continues on her way, while the peddler is robbed and killed. A song adapted from the poem, however — also called “Korobeiniki” — leaves out the tragic ending. It is this song that began to appear in versions of Tetris decades ago. And while the pure version of the song may sound somewhat different to us now, the classic Tetris theme as we know it is a version of it developed by the “prolific game composer” Hirokazu Tanaka. Tanaka specifically composed his adapted arrangement of “Korobeiniki” for the Nintendo Game Boy release of Tetris in 1989 — a release that really launched the game toward the popularity it enjoys today. When we look back on this history today, it makes of an incredible testament to the power of music and poetry alike. Without even thinking about it, we can all hum along to a tune today that derives from an 1861 poem that few have ever heard of. Unwittingly, Nikolay Nekrasov inspired music subsequent generations are almost intrinsically familiar with. And what wonderful, catchy music it is.
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