Comedian Harmonists 3 – Ari Leschnikoff

Lately in a private conversation Snezhina Tchelebieva, a well-known Bulgarian actress and reciter mentioned how quickly an actor’s life goes on and how even quicker he gets forgotten. I would add – same applies to a musician as well.
So even though there is enough biographical information about the members of “Comedian Harmonists” on the web, I wanted to write even if little but separately about the Bulgarian Ari (Asparouh) Leschnikoff and to give some evidence of his later musical existence.
Ari remained in Germany until about 1940 when he returned in Bulgaria to join the army. After the war he was able to continue to sing, recording a good deal for the Bulgarian label Balkanton.
Interesting is the variety of the songs he interpreted – including the Bulgarian version of the popular Russian song “Katiusha”:

Asparouh Leschnikoff – Katiusha

Then in the late 50’s he was accused being a traitor (probably because he sang some old town songs), and although it was done anonymously, he was no more allowed to work as a singer.

Such a proceeding was not an exception during the communist regime. Under the mask of politically correct behavior many less talented fellows got rid of their successful rivals. So for example in the 1950’s the phenomenal Bulgarian musician, the pianist Trifon Siljanovski spent years in a labour camp because of an “anonymous” letter by another musician, also a pianist. Even 20 years later, in 1975 the actress Snejina Tchelebieva, by then a brand name in Bulgaria, was forbidden to work – Snejina was accused to recite in foreign languages like Spanish or French, which was seen as a conduct of a traitor. This interdiction came as a result of an anonymous letter (by an actress) too.
On the other hand – how big were Leschnikoff’s musical chances as a representative of an older generation in the rapidly changing musical (and not only) world of the 60’s and 70’s?
A rare TV documentation of the aging Ari with still great voice – in a small excerpt from the song “I love the women passionately”:

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What can a musician do more except for playing or singing, especially if already over 60 years old? It seems that he worked as a cleaner or gardener and as such he certainly received a meager pension.

Asparouh Leschnikoff – Bitter coffee

On some of the Bulgarian sites the people are questioning why Leschnikoff as a member of such a famous ensemble did not receive any according remuneration in Bulgaria. But he did not represent Bulgaria during those years in Germany (partly already Nazis’ Germany) and later exposed as a betrayer, his work and recordings in Bulgaria were for sure being seen as unworthy such remuneration. Other wondered why he never received any help (in form of royalties from their recordings) he asked for Biberti in the last years. It is easily forgotten today that Leschnikoff has lived in a different world – behind the Iron Curtain, where the contacts with the Western countries were prohibited. Same Biberti helped Frommermann who was back to Germany. Or was it the old quarrel (ending eventually in a lawsuit) they had with Ari which stopped Biberti from helping his former friend and colleague? How could we know?
Unfortunately, little is known about Ari’s second marriage and the son, named Henry (who was alive in 2006) or may be even some grandchildren.
We can only hope that his granddaughter from the first marriage, the singer Jessica Leschnikoff (who has already a blog about her distant ancestry) will be able to write about him too. Even if she never met him, she is certainly the person who knows more than anybody else.
“The whisper of the waves”:

In my Bulgarian entourage there is no one who does not know Leschnikoff’s name. He is still remembered in Bulgaria and that’s all that counts.

“White stone fountain”:
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Filed under: Music

4 Responses

  1. Bill Biega Says:

    Dear Anna
    A belated Happy New Year to you.
    I enjoyed reading your sad story of Ari Leschnikoff and other Bulgarian artists, Thank God those days are over.
    All the best

    Posted on January 9th, 2010 at 14:59

  2. Jessica Lechnikoff Says:

    HI there,

    I just saw your post about my grandfather, and would like to thank you for writing such a fair account of his later life. Sadly, I learn from you – and not the other way round as you might think! I never met my grandfather, and apart from what my grandmother Delphine and my father Simeon told me, there is little known about him. He remains a mystery to me, but I would love to find out about him and his second family – and my half uncle Anri (Henry).

    The argument with Biberti, as I understand it, occurred as a result of Biberti pressuring other members of the group to accept him as their manager and leader of the Comedian Harmonists. Harry Frommermann set he group up and managed it, and so my grandfather naturally felt a lot of loyalty towards him. Biberti did manage to make himself responsible for the group’s finances, and as such had control over royalties and salaries. To punish my grandfather for refusing to accept him as leader, Biberti withheld one or two months salary from my grandfather – at which point a lawsuit was launched by Ari. This was in 1939 – approximately 2 months after war was commenced the case was held before a court in Berlin. But because Ari had already had to return to Sophia to carry out his duties as a senior officer in the Bulgarian army, he was unable to attend or send a representative. I don’t know what the outcome of the lawsuit was, or if it was settled then. I do know that Biberti somehow managed to make sure that he received all my grandfather’s royalties from the recordings of Comedian Harmonist contracts in Germany, and possibly elsewhere in mainland Europe. This meant that Ari never received the royalties he was due. It didn’t help that he was later stuck in a communist country; as you describe – it was impossible to get anything done – especially outside Bulgaria, as no-one was allowed to leave! An example of this is that my father was entered onto the citizens register in 1956 – and years later, because of this, even he (being British by birth) was advised by the British Home Office not to travel to Bulgaria because there was a strong chance he wouldn’t be allowed to come home to England!

    Referring back to Ari being accused of being a traitor to his country: it shows how little understanding or regard was shown to healthy artistic excellence at the time of the Cold War. Any decent, well trained musicians – especially singers, have to know or perform in languages other than their native tongue. Did the Communist Party outlaw all the fantastic operas from France or Italy: yes – because they were seen as bourgeois. That’s why so many opera stars that emerged from Russia and the former Soviet Union only sang Verdi in Russian! I do remember my grandmother telling me that Ari was a very stubborn man: it doesn’t surprise me that he insisted on singing songs in other languages other than Bulgarian: he hated the notion that anyone could take away your liberty or freedom to think as you choose to. In fact, I can’t think of a person who was more passionate about being Bulgarian than he was. He fought with the partisans in the mountains to prevent the Russians and the Nazis from entering Bulgaria during the war, and he smuggled Jews and gypsies out of the country during the war too. Not many people know this, and I am proud of it, since my mother is Jewish. Had it not been for people like Ari Leschnikoff, a few more Jewish people would have been murdered or used as bargaining chips.

    Thanks for the post, I hope my comment gives you more information.

    Best regards,

    Jessica Leschnikoff

    Posted on January 16th, 2010 at 15:06

  3. Anna Says:

    I’ll answer the last comment separately – in a few days.

    Posted on January 19th, 2010 at 11:28

  4. Leynia Says:

    Thank you for the posts. I was searching to learn about the beautiful singer, Mr. Leschnikoff.

    Posted on August 3rd, 2014 at 07:05

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