Sunday, 31 July 2011

Dmitri Hvorostovsky: Cranes

Nikolay Gogol: May Night or The Floater

Careless and not at all worried about the pursuers, the perpetrator of this commotion was slowly approaching the old house and the pond. No need saying, it was Levko. His black jerkin was unbuttoned, his hands clutching the hat. He was drenched in sweat. Majestic and obscure was the maple wood, facing the moon. A breath of fresh air from the motionless pond wafted to the toiling strider, making him lie down on the shore to rest. All was quiet; in the thick of the woods nightingales roared. The irresistible urge to sleep closed his eyes; his tired body was ready to drift off to sleep; his head was ducking down… “Hey, I am not sleeping here!” he said, rubbing his eyes and standing up on his feet.

He ran his eyes over the plain: the night was magnificent. An unfathomable, but intoxicating glow entwined with the moonlight. Never before had he seen something like it happening. A silver fog fell all over the place. The odor of apple blossom and night flowers blanketed the ground. Astounded, he watched the still waters of the pond: an old mansion, tipped upside down, was showing out in its grandeur. Instead of dark shutters, it shone with gleeful glass doors and windows. Streaks of gild were flashing inside in the clean windows. Suddenly, he felt one of the windows opened. Totally motionless, with his eyes glued to the pond, he seemed to have plunged underwater. He saw a white elbow peeping out of the window, then came a friendly face with bright eyes, quietly glowing through waves of her fair hair; the head leaned on the elbow. He saw she was slightly nodding her head, waving her arm, smiling… His heart was pounding… The water stirred, and the window closed. Quietly he walked away from the pond and glanced at the house: the obscure shutters were open, and the glass was once again shimmering in the moonlight. “This is another proof of how wrong people’s talk is,” he thought to himself. “The house is new; the paint is fresh, like only put on today. Someone must be living in it.” Quietly, he walked up closer, but all was still silent. Loud and strong were the nightingale’s warbles, and when they seemed to die out in the languid agony, the crackling of grasshoppers or the hum of swamp birds would carry on, as they poked their slippery noses into the wide water mirror. A sweet silence and freedom, Levko felt, was entering his heart.

Translated by Ekaterina Shubnaya, RT

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Vasily Grossman, Russia's greatest chronicler, awaits redemption

Russia holds biggest ever parades celebrating defeat of Nazis but turns its back on writer who witnessed it all.When the Nazis began their invasion in the summer of 1941, Ekaterina Korotkova-Grossman was at a camp for young communist pioneers. Her father, the writer Vasily Grossman, was on his way to the front as a war correspondent for the Red Star newspaper. Both were to have miraculous escapes.
Ekaterina fled Kiev with her mother and sister just ahead of the advancing Germans. At the city of Dnipropetrovsk the enemy caught up. 'We were trying to cross the bridge across the Dnipro river. It was packed with refugees and military. The Germans had already seized the railway station. They were attacking us with bombers and artillery. My legs were going but we weren't moving forward,' she recalled. Somehow, she reached the other side.
Grossman, meanwhile, almost fell into fascist hands on several occasions – fleeing from encircling Panzer tanks as they advanced relentlessly into Soviet territory. Somewhat overweight, bespectacled, Jewish, and an intellectual, Grossman was an unlikely war correspondent. But he was to become its greatest chronicler – witnessing the battle for Stalingrad and advancing with the Red Army to Berlin and its shattered Brandenburg Gate.
This weekend Moscow celebrates the 65th anniversary of the end of the second world war and the defeat of Nazi Germany. Sunday's Kremlin parade on Red Square is the largest in history with 10,000 troops, 160 military vehicles and 127 aircraft on display. The Soviet Union's wartime allies are taking part for the first time, with British, US and French soldiers marching over the cobbles.
But Russia's bombastic celebrations have been overshadowed by accusations of historical revisionism, in particular over what role, if any, should be allotted to Josef Stalin, whose death in 1953 almost certainly spared Grossman from the gulag. Over the past decade the Kremlin has waged a subtle campaign of rehabilitation. It has portrayed the Soviet dictator not as a mass murderer but as a great and ultimately successful wartime leader. The campaign is part of Vladimir Putin's broader ideological effort to restore Russia as a mighty superpower.
Ahead of Sunday's drive-and-fly past, Stalin's image has been making a minor comeback – adorning the number 187 bus in St Petersburg this week, for example, and hanging outside several Moscow museums. He is also reappearing on photos in metro stations. Moscow's mayor Yuri Luzkhov had originally wanted to display Stalin's portrait on Red Square. The plan was dropped at the last minute.
Not everyone agrees with Stalin's insidious return. In an interview with the Guardian, Ekaterina points out that his misplaced faith in Hitler, with whom he signed a non-aggression pact, left the Soviet Union catastrophically unprepared for the Wehrmacht's attack. Despite numerous intelligence reports, Stalin refused to believe that Hitler would invade. 'Stalin wasn't prepared for war. Our borders weren't solid enough,' she said. 'The Soviet victory wasn't Stalin's personal deed.'
This week marks the publication of a new UK edition of Everything Flows, Grossman's last great work. Like his epic Life and Fate set around the battle for Stalingrad, the unfinished novel was published only in the late 1980s – more than two decades after Grossman's death in 1964. In the west, his reputation has soared in recent years, thanks in part to the 2005 publication of the writer's wartime diaries. In the autumn Robert Chandler, Grossman's translator, is publishing his short stories. Next year the BBC is broadcasting an eight-hour Radio 4 version of Life and Fate, its most ambitious dramatisation ever.
In Russia Grossman is out of fashion. His great themes – his account of the extermination of the Jews, the famine in Ukraine, the gulags and the purges, and the collaboration of Soviet citizens with the Germans – remain at odds with the Kremlin's heroic version of history. According to Ekaterina, now 80, who lives in a Moscow flat filled with her father's books and his old armchair, Everything Flows includes her father's best prose.
'His descriptions of the famine in Ukraine are the strongest things he wrote,' she says. The Kremlin still refuses to acknowledge that the 1932-33 deaths of three to five million peasants in Ukraine amounts to a genocide.
She mentions a brief, poignant chapter recounting the love a simple peasant family have for each other. All starve to death.
Ekaterina didn't meet her father during the war. She lived with her mother and stepfather in dusty Tashkent in Soviet Central Asia. Instead, they exchanged letters. She said Grossman was aware she didn't get enough to eat. 'I was surviving on 200 grams of bread a day. I was extremely thin. My father arranged me to get meals from the writers' union.'
Ekaterina got to know her father better after moving to Moscow in 1955. At this point Grossman was working on Life and Fate. He read chapters aloud to family and friends, she said. He wrote furiously, but also went to plays, concerts, and saw fellow-writers. 'He led a highly desirable way of life,' she recalled. Despite its 'sad and gloomy' theme, Ekaterina says it is an optimistic book warmed by values such as friendship and the love of family. The KGB's decision to confiscate the manuscript in 1961 was a crushing blow but at the time of his death from cancer Grossman remained optimistic it would find an audience.
'Many people lost their belief in human beings. He never did. If you compare him with today's interpreters of events he was an idealist. He believed that even in the most terrible person you can find something bright.'
What would Grossman, a Soviet realist who criticised the system from the inside, have made of post-communist Russia and Putin's bureaucratic state? 'I think he would have been very happy to see his books published in the 1980s. But I'm sure he would have seen the defects of the present society.'
• Everything Flows is published today by Harvill Secker

The funeral of Anna Akhmatova

Friday, 29 July 2011

Aram Khachaturian - Sabre Dance

Sabre dance from "Gayane" ballet of Aram Khachatryan performed by Moscow State Academic Symphony Orchestra under Pavel Kogan

Gypsum Quarrying In Novomoskovsk

Gypsum Quarrying In Novomoskovsk: "Have you ever thought that a huge mine the size of which exceeds the area of the Moscow subway system can be located right under your feet? Such a mine, which is the largest gypsum minefield in Europe, is situated … Read more..."

Ivan Turgenyev: "Faust", a story in nine letters

Entbehren sollst du, sollst entbehren.
"FAUST." (Part I.)

From Pável Alexandrovitch B*** to Semyón Nikoláevitch V***.

VILLAGE OF M....OE, June 6, 1850.

I ARRIVED here three days ago, my dear friend, and, in accordance with my promise, I take up my pen to write to thee. A fine rain has been drizzling down ever since morning; it is impossible to go out; and besides, I want to have a chat with thee. Here I am again, in my old nest, in which I have not been--dreadful to say--for nine whole years. Really, when one comes to think of it, I have become altogether another man. Yes, actually, another man. Dost thou remember in the drawing-room the small, dark mirror of my great-grandmother, with those queer scrolls at the corners? Thou wert always meditating on what it had beheld a hundred years ago. As soon as I arrived, I went to it, and was involuntarily disconcerted. I suddenly perceived how I had aged and changed of late. However, I am not the only one who has grown old. My tiny house, which was in a state of decrepitude long since, hardly holds itself upright now, and has sagged down, and sunk into the ground. My good Vasílievna, the housekeeper (thou hast not forgotten her, I am sure: she used to regale thee with such splendid preserves), has quite dried up and bent together. At sight of me, she could not cry out, and she did not fall to weeping, but merely grunted and coughed, sat down exhausted on a chair, and waved her hand in despair. Old Terénty is still alert, holds himself erect as of old, and as he walks turns out his feet clad in the same yellow nankeen trousers, and shod with the same squeaking goat's-leather shoes, with high instep and knots of ribbon, which evoked your emotions more than once.... But great heavens!--how loose those trousers now hang on his thin legs! how white his hair has grown! And his face has all shrivelled up to the size of your fist; and when he talked with me, when he began to make arrangements and issue orders in the adjoining room, I found him ridiculous, and yet I was sorry for him. All his teeth are gone, and he mumbles with a whistling and hissing sound.

On the other hand, the park has grown wonderfully beautiful: the little modest bushes of lilac, acacia, and honeysuckle (you and I set them out, dost remember?) have grown up into magnificent, dense thickets; the birches and maples have all spread upward and outward; the linden alleys in particular, have become very fine. I love those alleys, I love their tender grey-green hue, and the delicate fragrance of the air beneath their arches; I love the mottled network of circles of light on the dark earth--I have no sand, as thou knowest. My favourite oak-sapling has already become a young oak-tree. Yesterday, in the middle of the day, I sat for more than an hour in its shade, on a bench. I felt greatly at my ease. Round about the grass gleamed so merrily green; over all lay a golden light, strong and soft; it even penetrated into the shade .... and how many birds I heard! Thou hast not forgotten, I trust, that birds are my passion! The turtle-doves cooed incessantly, now and then an oriole whistled, a chaffinch executed its charming song, thrushes waxed angry and chattered, a cuckoo answered from afar; suddenly, like a madman, a woodpecker uttered a piercing scream. I listened, listened to all this soft, commingled din, and did not want to move, and in my heart was something which was not indolence, nor yet emotion.

And the park is not the only thing that has grown up; sturdy, robust lads, in whom I should never have recognised the little urchins whom I used to know, are constantly coming under my eye. And thy favourite, Timósha, has now become such a Timofyéi as thou canst not picture to thyself. Thou hadst fears for his health then, and predicted consumption for him; but thou shouldst take a look now at his huge, red hands, and the way they stick out from the tight sleeves of his nankeen coat, and what round, thick muscles stand out all over him! The nape of his neck is like that of a bull, and his head is all covered with round, blond curls,--a regular Farnese Hercules! His face has undergone less change, however, than the faces of the others have; it has not even increased greatly in size, and his cheery, 'gaping' smile, as thou wert wont to express it, has remained the same as of yore. I have taken him for my valet; I discarded my Petersburg valet in Moscow: he was altogether too fond of putting me to shame, and making me feel his superiority in the usages of the capital.

I have not found a single one of my dogs; they are all dead. Néfta alone outlived the rest--and even she did not survive till my arrival, as Argos waited for Ulysses; she was not fated to behold her former master and comrade of the hunt with her dimmed eyes. But Shávka is still sound, and still barks hoarsely, and one ear is torn, as usual, and there are burrs in his tail, as is fitting.

I have established myself in thy former chamber. The sun strikes on it, it is true, and there are a great many flies in it; but, on the other hand, it has less of the odour of an old house about it than the other rooms. 'T is strange! that musty, somewhat sour and withered odour acts powerfully on my imagination. I will not say that it is disagreeable to me--on the contrary; but it evokes in me sadness, and, eventually, dejection. Like thyself, I am very fond of the pot-bellied chests of drawers with their brass fastenings, the white arm-chairs with oval backs and curved legs, the glass chandeliers covered with fly-specks, with the huge egg of purple tinsel in the middle,--in a word, all sorts of furniture belonging to our grandfathers; but I cannot look at all this constantly: a sort of perturbed tedium (precisely that!) takes possession of me. In the room where I have settled myself, the furniture is of the most ordinary description, homemade; but I have left in one corner a tall, narrow cupboard with shelves, on which, athwart the dust are barely visible divers old-fashioned, pot-bellied vessels, of blue and green glass. And I have given orders that there shall be hung on the wall,--thou wilt recall it,--that portrait of a woman, in the black frame, which thou wert wont to call the portrait of Manon Lescaut. It has grown a little darker in these nine years; but the eyes look forth as pensively, slily, and tenderly as ever, and the lips smile in the same frivolous and mournful way as of old, and the half-stripped rose dangles as softly as ever from the slender fingers. The window-shades in my room amuse me greatly. Once upon a time they used to be green, but have grown yellow in the sunlight. Upon them, in black, are painted scenes from d'Arlincourt's 'Hermit.' On one shade, this hermit, with the biggest sort of a beard, staringly-prominent eyes, and in sandals, is dragging off to the mountains some dishevelled young lady or other; on the other shade, a fierce combat is in progress between four knights in skull-caps, and with puffs on their shoulders; one is lying, en raccourci, slain--in short, all the horrors are depicted, and all around reigns such undisturbed tranquillity, and such gentle reflections are cast on the ceiling from the shades themselves.... A sort of spiritual quietude has descended upon me since I have established myself here. I do not want to do anything; I do not want to see any one, to meditate about anything. I am too indolent to speculate; but not too indolent to think; but thinking is not indolence; they are two separate things, as thou art well aware.

"Faust", a story in nine letters (1855, 1905 ed.) by Ivan Turgenyev

Evgeny Grishkovets: The Shirt

"I feel terrible! Lord!! Why did I fall in love?!
“Why are you so green, did you fall in love or something?” Maks obediently jogged behind me. “Can you hear me at all?!”
“I don’t like your beard!”
“It’s a wonderful beard, three weeks and it’s ready!”
“Shave it off immediately… Where is it, dammit?!”
We finally found the car.
“Do you ever wash it?” Maks deliberately opened the door squeamishly.
“Do you ever brush your teeth?”
He covered his mouth with his hand like a kid.
“I’m scared to fly! Scared horribly! Sasha, I would really like a coffee, a roll and a shower!”
Maks put on a pleading face, like only he could do.
And my name is Sasha.
Maksim – is not fat but rather just… solid. He never grows fat, he just puts on some weight. In other words, he becomes more and more regular. If Maks would ever lose weight, nobody would say to him that he’s in great shape. Everybody would be asking if he was feeling well or not. You could never imagine him skinny. Maks is one of those people who never changes. Everybody straight away recognizes him in school and even kindergarten group photos. But this beard was just vulgar!
We were already on our way to the city when Maks asked:
“So, not a good beard?”
“Just horrible! Nothing can be worse!”
“And I thought, for an Ernest Hemingway this would be a great beard!”
“Ernest?! You look more like a Siberian toreador.” I looked closely at Maks’s beard one more time. “A nightmare, simply terrifying!”
“Come on, I just haven’t shaved for three weeks, and then standing next to the mirror I thought that maybe I looked like some sort of a merchant or a bandit.”
“Better a bandit or a merchant. A Siberian gold miner or a hitman, but one that is also sweet and mysterious. But this is some sort of a theatrical character, and a drinking one at that.”
“But I just did slightly…”
“Until you shave it off, I’m not even going into the petrol station with you.”
“I just wanted to make you laugh” Maks turned the mirror towards him and began examining his beard, sticking his chin forward. “So you think I should not wear a beard?”
“Do whatever you want! But can’t you see what I see also? You are looking in the mirror! And, are you happy? It’s just… Just look – you made your face a cross between a skipper and a musketeer. And a cross between a skipper and a musketeer is a fool! And a cheap fool at that.”
“Sasha, it’s growing in wisps, I wanted to try, and that’s it. As soon as we arrive somewhere I will shave it off. Don’t worry that much.”

Translated by Maria Aprelenko, RT

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Crucifixion XV c., Andrej Rublev Museum, Moscow

Aleksandr Pushkin - Biography

Aleksandr Pushkin is considered Russia's greatest poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. Pushkin was the first to use everyday speech in his poetry, fusing Old Slavonic with vernacular Russian. This blend gave his works their rich, melodic quality.
Aleksandr Pushkin was born in Moscow on 6 June 1799 into a cultured but poor aristocratic family, with a long and distinguished lineage. On his father's side, he was a descendant of an ancient noble family; his mother was a great granddaughter of Gannibal, the legendary Abyssinian, who served under Peter the Great. Pushkin's mother took little interest in the upbringing of her son, entrusting him to nursemaids and French tutors. Pushkin got acquainted with the Russian language through communication with household serfs and his nanny, Arina Rodionovna, whom he loved dearly and was more attached to than to his own mother.
In 1811, along with 30 other distinguished young men, Pushkin was admitted to the Lyceum, an exclusive school for the nobility, located outside St. Petersburg in Tsarskoe Selo. It provided the best education available in Russia at the time. An unofficial laureate of the Lyceum, in no time, Pushkin drew the acclaim of his teachers and peers for his poetry. His first publication appeared in the journal The Messenger of Europe in 1814. In 1815, at the public examination at the Lyceum, the audience was swept by his poem "Recollections about Tsarskoe Selo," which was highly praised by Gavriil Derzhavin, the most influential poet of the time. At the Lyceum, Pushkin formed rock solid friendships with many other students, and cherished this "Lyceum brotherhood" for the rest of his life.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Vladimir Vysotsky: Thankful for being alive

The 25th of July is the day of memory of Vladimir Vysotsky, an outstanding Russian singing poet and actor. In an interview for The Voice of Russia, his son Nikita Vysotsky speaks about the first feature film dedicated to his father. The title is “Vysotsky. Thankful for Being Alive” and Nikita is the scriptwriter and producer of the film.

Nikita says that the premiere of the film will take place on the 1st of December. During the five years of making the film he heard a lot of talk about which facts from the poet’s life the plot will be based on and who will play the part of Vladimir Vysotsky, an idol of the 1970s and 80s who passed away at the age of 42 during the Moscow Olympic Games of 1980. People seemed to forget the grand sports event and mourned their idol paying their last tribute to him. This generation is still alive and a new generation has come for which Vysotsky is a historical figure having nothing to do with contemporary life. For the new generation it would be absolutely acceptable to recreate the image of Vysotsky with the help of computer graphics. According to the press, this idea was put forward once but was rejected by the filming crew. Moreover, Nikita Vysotsky says that viewers will not see any real characters in the film:

“There is only one real person in the film, Vysotsky, - the poet’s son says. – All the rest are generalized characters. I am sure that people will try to identify them but it makes no sense. However, the story on which the plot is based is absolutely real. It has completely changed my attitude towards my father”.

Voice of Russia

Anton Chekhov on Writing

"When you describe the miserable and unfortunate, and want to make the reader feel pity, try to be somewhat colder — that seems to give a kind of background to another's grief, against which it stands out more clearly. Whereas in your story the characters cry and you sigh. Yes, be more cold. ... The more objective you are, the stronger will be the impression you make. — To Lydia Avilova, March 19, 1892 & April 29, 1892
I will begin with what in my opinion is your lack of restraint. You are like a spectator in a theatre who expresses his enthusiasm so unrestrainedly that he prevents himself and others from hearing. That lack of restraint is particularly noticeable in the descriptions of nature with which you interrupt dialogues; when one reads them, these descriptions, one wishes they were more compact, shorter, say two or three lines. — To Maxim Gorky, December 3, 1898
Another piece of advice: when you read proof cross out as many adjectives and adverbs as you can. You have so many modifiers that the reader has trouble understanding and gets worn out. It is comprehensible when I write: 'The man sat on the grass,' because it is clear and does not detain one's attention. On the other hand, it is difficult to figure out and hard on the brain if I write: 'The tall, narrow-chested man of medium height and with a red beard sat down on the green grass that had already been trampled down by the pedestrians, sat down silently, looking around timidly and fearfully.' The brain can't grasp all that at once, and art must be grasped at once, instantaneously. And then one other thing. You are lyrical by nature, the timber of your soul is soft. If you were a composer you would avoid writing marches. It is unnatural for your talent to curse, shout, taunt, denounce with rage. Therefore, you'll understand if I advise you, in proofreading, to eliminate the 'sons of bitches,' 'curs,' and 'flea-bitten mutts' that appear here and there on the pages of Life. — To Maxim Gorky, September 3, 1899
Critics are like horse-flies which hinder the horses in their ploughing of the soil. The muscles of the horse are as taut as fiddle-strings, and suddenly a horse-fly alights on its croup, buzzing and stinging. The horse's skin quivers, it waves its tail. What is the fly buzzing about? It probably doesn't know itself. It simply has a restless nature and wants to make itself felt — 'I'm alive, too, you know!' it seems to say. 'Look, I know how to buzz, there's nothing I can't buzz about!' I've been reading reviews of my stories for twenty-five years, and can't remember a single useful point in any of them, or the slightest good advice. The only reviewer who ever made an impression on me was Skabichevsky, who prophesied that I would die drunk in the bottom of a ditch. — Quoted by Maxim Gorky in 'Anton Chekhov,' On Literature
If there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it must fire in the last.
... only he is an emancipated thinker who is not afraid to write foolish things.
But if you had asked him what his work was, he would look candidly and openly at you with his large bright eyes through his gold pincenez, and would answer in a soft, velvety, lisping baritone: 'My work is literature.' — 'Excellent People'
I think descriptions of nature should be very short and always be à propos. Commonplaces like 'The setting sun, sinking into the waves of the darkening sea, cast its purple gold rays, etc,' 'Swallows, flitting over the surface of the water, twittered gaily' — eliminate such commonplaces. You have to choose small details in describing nature, grouping them in such a way that if you close your eyes after reading it you can picture the whole thing. For example, you'll get a picture of a moonlit night if you write that on the dam of the mill a piece of broken bottle flashed like a bright star and the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled by like a ball, etc. ... In the realm of psychology you also need details. God preserve you from commonplaces. Best of all, shun all descriptions of the characters' spiritual state. You must try to have that state emerge clearly from their actions. Don't try for too many characters. The center of gravity should reside in two: he and she. — To AP Chekhov, May 10, 1886
A writer is not a confectioner, a cosmetic dealer, or an entertainer. He is a man who has signed a contract with his conscience and his sense of duty.I long to embrace, to include in my own short life, all that is accessible to man. I long to speak, to read, to wield a hammer in a great factory, to keep watch at sea, to plow. I want to be walking along the Nevsky Prospect, or in the open fields, or on the ocean — wherever my imagination ranges. — Anton Chekhov
NCW--Anton Chekhov on Writing

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Nikolay Nekrasov

November 22, 1821 - January 8, 1878

Nikolay Nekrasov, one of Russian poetry's most eloquent voices, became a successful publisher and author of some of the most mellifluent verses about women. Nekrasov, being the most influential literary entrepreneur of the day, assembled works ranging from ethnography to fiction to literary criticism, all written by leading authors and thinkers of the time. He is also well remembered as the long-standing publisher of the almanac, “Sovremennik” (The Contemporary) from 1846 to 1866. The journal was shut down by the government in connection with the arrest of its radical editor Chernyshevsky.
Nekrasov was born into the family of a petty Russian officer. His mother, Aleksandra Zakrevska, was from Warsaw and belonged to the Polish gentry. She was well-educated and her parents were against her marriage to a poor and uneducated officer. Their marriage was not a happy one.
Nikolay was abused by his tyrannical father. His father’s drunken rages against both his serfs and his wife determined the subject matter of Nekrasov's major poems—a verse portrayal of the plight of the Russian peasant, using his language and ideas. Thanks to his mother's love and support, young Nekrasov managed to survive through the traumatic experiences of his childhood and youth. Nekrasov admired his mother and expressed his love and empathy to all women through his poetry. As he grew up on his father's estate, Greshnevo, in the Yaroslavl province, near the banks of the Volga River, he was also able to observe the hard labor of the Russian barge haulers.
Read more in RT .

On the Day of Gogol's Death
(How blessed's the good-natured poet ...)

How blessed's the good-natured poet,
With little bile and much emotion:
All lovers of the gentle arts
Send him sincerest greetings;

The admiration of the crowd
Sounds in his ear like rippling waves;
He is a stranger to self-doubt-
That torture of creative souls;

Lover of comfort and tranquility,
Shunning audacious satire,
He firmly dominates the crowd
With his peace-loving lyre.

He is not cursed nor driven out
But worshipped for his splendid mind,
While all his countrymen prepare
A monument to him in life.

But fate will show no mercy
To one whose noble genius
Has led him to unmask the crowd,
Expose its passions and mistakes.

His heart abrim with hate
His lips all clad in satire,
He wanders down a thorny path
His wrathful lyre in hand.

He is reviled at every step:
He catches sounds of admiration
Not in sweet murmurings of praise
But in wild cries of enmity.

With disbelief and new belief
In his high calling's dream,
He preaches love to all
Through venomous denial.

His speech's every syllable
Engenders for him cruel foes,
And all men, whether smart or dull,
Are quick to vilify him.

They curse at him from every side,
And only when they see his corpse
They'll understand how much he did,
And that in hate, he was yet full of love!

© A. Wachtel, I. Kutik and M. Denner

Solzhenitsyn's short stories

Collection of innovative short stories reveals that the Russian writer was still experimenting in his final years

A collection of nine short stories by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, described by scholars as ranking alongside his best work, is to be published in English for the first time. In one of the publishing events of the autumn, the collection will appear under the title Apricot Jam and Other Stories, fulfilling a long-held desire of the author that the work be available to the English-speaking world.

The collection reveals that Solzhenitsyn was still experimenting with literary form towards the end of his life. Eight of the stories have two parts, which are conceived as pairs. Daniel J. Mahoney, a Solzhenitsyn scholar, said: 'This was a new form that Solzhenitsyn, always a pioneer of new genres… called binary tales. They're two-part stories that are connected by a theme, even though there's a sharp contrast. They [each] range from 20 to 50 typed pages. Many of them highlight the moral dilemmas and choices of people under a totalitarian regime. A few deal with the dilemmas of post-communist Russia.'

Solzhenitsyn's widow, Natalia, told the Observer that her husband, who died three years ago, 'always wished' the stories would be accessible in English. 'He would undoubtedly have been pleased to see this new publication, had he lived to this day. He began to write these stories in the first half of the 1990s, which coincided with our return home to Russia. Each of these stories was published in Russian immediately upon writing.'

The author's son, Ignat, said: 'I am sure my father would be pleased to see these stories appear in English. I think he felt their special binary form to be somewhat of a serendipitous discovery of his old age – one that stimulated him unexpectedly to produce several beautiful stories.'

Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel prize for literature in 1970 after the publication of classics such as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Cancer Ward. His works – which have sold 30 million copies – opened the world's eyes to the horrors of Stalin's prison camps, where the writer's own incarceration shaped his searing political observations. Solzhenitsyn's masterpiece, The Gulag Archipelago – written in secrecy in the Soviet Union and published in Paris in 1973 – is the definitive account of Stalin's political penal system. The author spent eight years in labour camps after being denounced in 1945 for criticising Stalin. Expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974 and condemned to 20 years in exile, during which he lived in the US, he became synonymous with moral courage and defiance.

Many of the stories in the new collection continue to deal with Soviet life. In one of them, The New Generation, a generous engineering professor helps a student who is struggling to pass an exam, only to find, years later, that he has been arrested and the student has become his KGB interrogator. Another, called Ego, is set at the time of the brutal suppression of tens of thousands of peasants in Tambov province in the 1920s. Amid the violence, a rebel leader is compelled to betray his comrades in the face of threats against his family.

Mahoney said of the collection: 'It's some of Solzhenitsyn's very best writing.' He added: 'These are really impressive works of literature… They deal with matters of great historical, moral and political import.'

The English translation is to be published this autumn by Canongate in the UK and Counterpoint in the US. Francis Bickmore, Canongate's senior editor, described it as a 'really significant discovery' from a master of prose, who was also the most eloquent and acclaimed opponent of totalitarianism of the 20th century.

'What hit me was the power of the writing,' said Bickmore. 'They're stunning pieces of literature, reaffirming Solzhenitsyn's position as one of the great literary writers.'

Although the stories were published in a prominent Russian literary journal, Novy Mir, and one appeared in English in a 2006 collection of his writings, the other eight were overlooked until now by English-language publishers. Jeremy Beer, representing the Solzhenitsyn estate, said: 'No one knew these stories really existed because they'd only been published in Russian.'

The collection takes its title from the first story, Apricot Jam, in which a seriously ill prisoner writes to a famous writer describing the horrific injustices he has suffered and appealing for help. Its second part sees the famous writer in a luxurious dacha and only impressed by the prose in the prisoner's letter, ignoring the suffering within its lines.

Mahoney said that Solzhenitsyn's own writing has 'a wonderful tautness and clarity of expression'.

'People think of Solzhenitsyn writing these huge books… with a thunderous voice. [With these stories], it's a different voice. It's not heavy-handed, even though these stories are full of moral import. They're not preachy. They're not didactic. They let the story convey certain historical and moral messages… We see a great literary craftsman and an historian at work.'

Solzhenitsyn's short stories in

Marina Tsvetaeva: The Demon in Me

The demon in me's not dead,
He's living, and well.
In the body as in a hold,
In the self as in a cell.
The world is but walls.
The exit's the axe.
("All the world's a stage,"
The actor prates.)
And that hobbling buffoon
Is no joker;
In the body as in glory,
In the body as in a toga.
May you live forever!
Cherish your life,
Only poets in bone
Are as in a lie.
No, my eloquent brothers,
We'll not have much fun,
In the body as with Father's
Dressing-gown on.
We deserve something better.
We wilt in the warm.
In the body as in a byre.
In the self as in a cauldron.
Marvels that perish
We don't collect.
In the body as in a marsh,
In the body as in a crypt.
In the body as in furthest
Exile. It blights.
In the body as in a secret,
In the body as in the vice
Of an iron mask.

5 January 1925
Translated by David McDuff, 1987

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Fedoskino Miniature Painting

Fedoskino miniature is one of the types of traditional lacquered miniature painting. Painting is made in oils on papier-mache articles. This handicraft was developed in the late 18th century in the Fedoskino Settlement under Moscow. The art owned its appearance to popularity in Europe of snuffboxes, made of pressboard (i.e.papier-mache). The boxes were covered with black ground, varnished, and then painted with classical topics. Such snuffboxes became fashionable in Russia as well, and in the late 18th century a merchant Korobov organized their production in this country.
Initially the snuffboxes were decorated with prints, pasted on the lids and covered with transparent varnish. In the first half of the 19th century they gave place to oil painting miniatures. After the death of Korobov the factory was owned by his daughter for some time, and then went to merchants Lukutins, who owned it for 85 years. ...

Ivan III the Great - Biography

Ivan III the Great was the grand prince of Moscow and the grand prince of all Russia. During his reign, the Russian state gained independence from the Mongol Tatars, finally ending 200 years of their rule. Ivan also made Moscow the centre of the Russian world by considerably expanding its borders.

Ivan III was born in Moscow in 1440. He came from a generation of Moscow's grand dukes. His father was Vasily II the Dark, a name he was given during the civil war when he was blinded by his cousin Dmitry Shemyaka in his attempt to acquire power. In order to secure his son's succession Vasily declared Ivan co-ruler at only six years of age. At twelve Ivan was married to Maria, princess of the principality of Tver. Their marriage facilitated the annexation of Tver, which had been Moscow's major rival since 1300. During the ten years before his father's death, Ivan stayed by his side, participating in all his dealings and crusades. He was already an experienced prince, with strong character and the capacity to deal with complex governmental questions when he took the throne at the age of 22. However, the first five years of his reign were uneventful.

In 1470 Ivan launched a war against the Novgorod princedom, which he conquered and annexed in 1478, thereby acquiring all of northern Russia from Lapland (now Finland) to the Ural Mountains. He further increased his domain either by conquest, purchases of surrounding sovereign territories or by using his diplomatic talent in exacting allegiance from weaker princes. As a result of two wars with Lithuania (1492 and 1500), he forced Alexander I, the ruler of that country and king of Poland, to give up a score of towns. Ivan III became the 'gatherer' of Russian land and tripled the territory of his state.

During that time Moscow was still a part of the Mongol Tatar Empire of the Golden Horde and for over two centuries was nominally expected to pay tribute to the Tatar rulers. Though the Mongol Horde was already weakened by this time, it was Ivan who formally refused in 1480 to pay further tribute. The Mongols did not have the strength or even the will to respond. The Horde's last khan, Amed, made a token attempt to make Ivan comply, but the two armies just stood opposite each other on the Ugra River and no battle was ever fought. Instead both sides retreated and the tribute was never again demanded.

Ivan' first wife Maria of Tver died in 1467. He later married the Byzantine princess Zoe Palaeologa, who took the Orthodox name of Sofia. She brought with her customs of the Byzantine court and more openness to European culture. The new political position of Moscow gave rise to the idea of Moscow as the Third Rome (Rome and Constantinople being first and second). Sofia had an enormous influence on Ivan. In 1497 he took as Russia's emblem the double-headed eagle, a Byzantine symbol, and granted Sofia's request that Italian architects rebuild Moscow. Under Ivan III, a code of law known as Sudebnik was compiled in 1497. It was the first time that the laws of Moscow were written down in one place. ...

Anton Chekhov:The Lottery Ticket

Ivan Dmitritch, a middle-class man who lived with his family on an income of twelve hundred a year and was very well satisfied with his lot, sat down on the sofa after supper and began reading the newspaper.

'I forgot to look at the newspaper today,' his wife said to him as she cleared the table. 'Look and see whether the list of drawings is there.'

'Yes, it is,' said Ivan Dmitritch; 'but hasn't your ticket lapsed?'

'No; I took the interest on Tuesday.'

'What is the number?'

'Series 9,499, number 26.'

'All right . . . we will look . . . 9,499 and 26.'

Ivan Dmitritch had no faith in lottery luck, and would not, as a rule, have consented to look at the lists of winning numbers, but now, as he had nothing else to do and as the newspaper was before his eyes, he passed his finger downwards along the column of numbers. And immediately, as though in mockery of his scepticism, no further than the second line from the top, his eye was caught by the figure 9,499! Unable to believe his eyes, he hurriedly dropped the paper on his knees without looking to see the number of the ticket, and, just as though some one had given him a douche of cold water, he felt an agreeable chill in the pit of the stomach; tingling and terrible and sweet!

'Masha, 9,499 is there!' he said in a hollow voice.

His wife looked at his astonished and panicstricken face, and realized that he was not joking.

'9,499?' she asked, turning pale and dropping the folded tablecloth on the table.

'Yes, yes . . . it really is there!'

'And the number of the ticket?'

'Oh yes! There's the number of the ticket too. But stay . . . wait! No, I say! Anyway, the number of our series is there! Anyway, you understand....'

Looking at his wife, Ivan Dmitritch gave a broad, senseless smile, like a baby when a bright object is shown it. His wife smiled too; it was as pleasant to her as to him that he only mentioned the series, and did not try to find out the number of the winning ticket. To torment and tantalize oneself with hopes of possible fortune is so sweet, so thrilling!

'It is our series,' said Ivan Dmitritch, after a long silence. 'So there is a probability that we have won. It's only a probability, but there it is!'

'Well, now look!'

'Wait a little. We have plenty of time to be disappointed. It's on the second line from the top, so the prize is seventy-five thousand. That's not money, but power, capital! And in a minute I shall look at the list, and there--26! Eh? I say, what if we really have won?'

The husband and wife began laughing and staring at one another in silence. The possibility of winning bewildered them; they could not have said, could not have dreamed, what they both needed that seventy-five thousand for, what they would buy, where they would go. They thought only of the figures 9,499 and 75,000 and pictured them in their imagination, while somehow they could not think of the happiness itself which was so possible.

Ivan Dmitritch, holding the paper in his hand, walked several times from corner to corner, and only when he had recovered from the first impression began dreaming a little.

'And if we have won,' he said--'why, it will be a new life, it will be a transformation! The ticket is yours, but if it were mine I should, first of all, of course, spend twenty-five thousand on real property in the shape of an estate; ten thousand on immediate expenses, new furnishing . . . travelling . . . paying debts, and so on. . . . The other forty thousand I would put in the bank and get interest on it.'

'Yes, an estate, that would be nice,' said his wife, sitting down and dropping her hands in her lap.

'Somewhere in the Tula or Oryol provinces. . . . In the first place we shouldn't need a summer villa, and besides, it would always bring in an income.'

And pictures came crowding on his imagination, each more gracious and poetical than the last. And in all these pictures he saw himself well-fed, serene, healthy, felt warm, even hot! Here, after eating a summer soup, cold as ice, he lay on his back on the burning sand close to a stream or in the garden under a lime-tree. . . . It is hot. . . . His little boy and girl are crawling about near him, digging in the sand or catching ladybirds in the grass. He dozes sweetly, thinking of nothing, and feeling all over that he need not go to the office today, tomorrow, or the day after. Or, tired of lying still, he goes to the hayfield, or to the forest for mushrooms, or watches the peasants catching fish with a net. When the sun sets he takes a towel and soap and saunters to the bathing shed, where he undresses at his leisure, slowly rubs his bare chest with his hands, and goes into the water. And in the water, near the opaque soapy circles, little fish flit to and fro and green water-weeds nod their heads. After bathing there is tea with cream and milk rolls. . . . In the evening a walk or vint with the neighbors.

Fiction: The Lottery Ticket

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Dinara Alieva: Tosca

The Concert-Congratulation to Jubilee of Elena Obraztsova. Saint-Petersburg, 30 August 2009.
Conductor - Giuseppe Sabbatini.

Vladivostok in pictures

More pictures from Vladivostok here.

Maksim Gorky: My Childhood

IN a narrow, darkened room, my father, dressed in a white and unusually long garment, lay on the floor under the window. The toes of his bare feet were curiously extended, and the fingers of the still hands, which rested peacefully upon his breast, were curved; his merry eyes were tightly closed by the black disks of two copper coins; the light had gone out of his still face, and I was frightened by the ugly way he showed his teeth.

My mother, only half clad in a red petticoat, knelt and combed my father’s long, soft hair, from his brow to the nape of his neck, with the same black comb which I loved to use to tear the rind of watermelons; she talked unceasingly in her low, husky voice, and it seemed as if her swollen eyes must be washed away by the incessant flow of tears.

Holding me by the hand was my grandmother, who had a big, round head, large eyes, and a nose like a sponge a dark, tender, wonderfully interesting person. She also was weeping, and her grief formed a fitting accompaniment to my mother’s, as, shuddering the while, she pushed me towards my father; but I, terrified and uneasy, obstinately tried to hide myself against her. I had never seen grown-up people cry before, and I did not understand the words which my grandmother uttered again and again:

“Say good-by to daddy. You will never see him any more. He is dead before his time.”

I had been very ill, had only just left my bed in fact, and I remember perfectly well that at the beginning of my illness my father used to merrily bustle about me. Then he suddenly disappeared and his place was taken by my grandmother, a stranger to me.

“Where did you come from?” I asked her.

“From up there, from Nijni,” she answered; “but I did not walk here, I came by boat. One does not walk on water, you little imp.”

This was ludicrous, incomprehensible, and untrue; upstairs there lived a bearded, gaudy Persian, and in the cellar an old, yellow Kalmuck who sold sheepskins. One could get upstairs by riding on the banisters, or if one fell that way, one could roll. I knew this by experience. But where was there room for water? It was all untrue and delightfully muddled.

“And why am I a little imp?”

“Why? Because you are so noisy,” she said, laughing.

She spoke sweetly, merrily, melodiously, and from the very first day I made friends with her; all I wanted now was for her to make haste and take me out of that room.

My Childhood, by Maksim Gorky

Kuskovo Manor: Entertainment House of Russian Elite

Kuskovo Manor: Entertainment House of Russian Elite: "Welcome to Kuskovo Manor, the summer entertainment country-house of count Peter Sheremetiev which was intended for parties, celebrations and entertainments. For more than half a century beginning with 1739 and ending with 1792 count P. B. Sheremetiev, son of Peter … Read more..."

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Arkady Averchenko: Eleven elephants

Stryapukhin grabbed my hand and quickly said: “Which of the two ears is ringing? Heh! Heh! Quickly!!

“Whose ear is ringing?” I said, surprised.

“Mine! Hoot. Lord! Mine, mine!! Quickly! Tell me!”

I listened carefully. “Which? I really can’t hear…Can’t you figure it out by yourself?”

“You have to guess, understand? Guess! You’re so clueless!”

“Well it’s not hard to guess,” I agreed. “If you had many ears, then it would be a different matter. But there are only two – that’s nothing. Is it your left one?”

“Correct! Good man!”

I smirked. “You bet! I can do that and much more…Why did you need me to guess?”

“Why else? It’s a superstitious belief…I thought of something. If you guess it correctly, it means my wish will come true”

“What did you wish for?”

“I can’t tell you. If I do it won’t come true.”

“How do you know that?”

“It’s just a belief.”

“Ok then, goodbye,” I grumbled, slightly offended. “I’m going home.”

“Leaving already? What time is it now?”

“I can’t tell you that,” I stubbornly grinned.

“Why not?”

“It’s a superstitious belief”

His face showed unrest. “Is it really?”

“Of course…And it’s the truest one. It brings bad luck.”

“You know, I have responded many times to the question, ‘What time is it?’”

“You see?” I smiled sullenly. “Blame yourself. Something bad is sure to happen”

He set to thinking: “Wait, wait…It is true! Yesterday my hat was stolen in the theater.”

“Was it made out of astrakhan?” I asked.

“No, seal fur”

“Then, it’s ok.”


“It’s just a belief. The loss of a seal fur hat brings happiness to the home.”

He didn’t even bother to ask me who’s home – his or the thief’s. ...

Vladimir Vasilev: Spartacus

Valery Bryusov: The Republic of the Southern Cross

From The Republic of the Southern Cross, and other stories, G. Constable, London (1918)
Translator unknown

This story was originally published as 'Respublika Yuzhnogo Kresta' in Zemnaya Os (The axis of the Earth) (1907)

THERE have appeared lately a whole series of descriptions of the dreadful catastrophe which has overtaken the Republic of the Southern Cross. They are strikingly various, and give many details of a manifestly fantastic and improbable character. Evidently the writers of these descriptions have lent a too ready ear to the narratives of the survivors from Star City (Zvezdny), the inhabitants of which, as is common knowledge, were all stricken with a psychical distemper. For that reason we consider it opportune to give an account here of all the reliable evidence which we have as yet of this tragedy of the Southern Pole.

The Republic of the Southern Cross came into being some forty years ago, as a development from three hundred steel works established in the Southern Polar regions. In a circular note sent to each and every Government of the whole world, the new state expressed its pretensions to all lands, whether mainland or island, within the limits of the Antarctic circle, as also all parts of these lands stretching beyond the line. It announced its readiness to purchase from the various other states affected the lands which they considered to be under their special protectorate. The pretensions of the new Republic did not meet with any opposition on the part of the fifteen great powers of the world. Debateable points concerning certain islands lying entirely outside the Polar circle, but closely related to the Southern Polar state were settled by special treaties. On the fulfilment of the various formalities the Republic of the Southern Cross was received into the family of world states, and its representatives were recognised by all Governments.

The chief city of the Republic, having the name of Zvezdny, was situated at the actual Pole itself. At that imaginary point where the earth's axis passes and all earthly meridians become one, stood the Town Hall, and the roof with its pointed towers looked upon the nadir of the heavens. The streets of the town extended along meridians from the Town Hall and these meridians were intersected by other streets in concentric circles. The height of all the buildings was the same, as was also their external appearance. There were no windows in the walls, as all the houses were lit by electricity and the streets were lighted by electricity. Because of the severity of the climate, an impenetrable and opaque roof had been built over the town, with powerful ventilators for a constant change of air. These localities of the globe have but one day in six months, and one long night also of six months, but the streets of Zvezdny were always lighted by a bright and even light. In the same way in all seasons of the year the temperature of the streets was kept at one and the same height.
THE REPUBLIC OF THE SOUTHERN CROSS (1907, 1918 ed.) by Valery Bryusov

Monday, 18 July 2011

Osip Mandelstam: Petropolis

From a fearful height, a wandering light,
but does a star glitter like this, crying?
Transparent star, wandering light
your brother, Petropolis, is dying.

From a fearful height, earthly dreams are alight,
and a green star is crying.
Oh star, if you are the brother of water and light,
your brother, Petropolis, is dying.

A monstrous ship, from a fearful height,
is rushing on, spreading its wings, flying.
Green star, in beautiful poverty,
your brother, Petropolis, is dying.

Transparent spring has broken, above the black Neva’s hiss
the wax of immortality is liquefying.
Oh if you are star – your city, Petropolis,
your brother, Petropolis, is dying.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Viktor Shklovsky : Bowstring - Image and Riddles: An excerpt

Hegel wrote in his Lectures on Fine Art that 'the riddle belongs to conscious symbolism.' What is the riddle's answer? It is derivation of meaning. According to Hegel, the riddle consists of 'individual traits of character and properties drawn from the otherwise known external world and, as in nature and in externality generally, lying there scattered outside one another, they are associated together in a disparate and therefore striking way. As a result they lack a subject embracing them together [as predicates] into a unity . . .' This disparity of signs hinders the immediate solution as to which whole they all belong to.
 In veiling the whole, the riddle forces us to rearrange the signs of a given object, thus showing the possibility of diversity, the possibility to combine the previously irreconcilable in new semantic arrangements.
 The great realist Sancho Panza said that he would rather be given the answer first and the riddle afterwards.
 But Sancho Panza amused himself by constructing his own riddles and then solving them himself.

His short term of governorship itself appears to be a program of solving riddles. The riddles and their solutions are folkloric.
 The trials of Tom Canty, whom Mark Twain turned from pauper to prince, also represent a collection of folkloric riddles and solutions of a free simpleton. Tom learns the great art of solving riddles in Offal Court, one of the poorest districts of London.
 Folkloric riddle solvers—the paupers and the peasants, sometimes turn out to be great decipherers and mystery solvers when they appear on the hill where the great decipherer Solomon's throne was buried.

Translated from the Russian by Shushan Avagyan

Read more: Bowstring - Asymptote

Nina Ananiashvili – Biography

Nina Gedevanovna Ananiashvili was born in Tbilisi, Georgia. Her father, Gedevan, and two older brothers, George and Levan, were all geologists; her mother, Lia Gogolashvili, a philologist.

The family was once part of the Georgian aristocracy, but their wealth and land vanished with the Russian revolution. Ananiashvili’s father's family was almost completely wiped out in the Stalinist 1930s. He was the only male spared as he was just 2 years old. He became a geologist and married a linguist.

In 1963 their daughter, Nina, was born. She was a sickly child and at the age of 4, her parents started her ice skating in an effort to improve her health. At 10, she became champion in her age group in Georgia. A dance teacher saw how she moved on the ice – in particular her balance and how she used her arms – and had her perform The Dying Swan on skates. Then the teacher took Nina to a theatre and showed her the feathered costume she could wear if she performed it on stage, just like Maya Plisetskaya , the Bolshoi prima ballerina. Nina was hooked.

When she was 13, a Russian ballet official saw Nina perform in The Nutcracker and asked to speak with her parents. It took some prodding, but in the end, they consented to send their daughter to Moscow. Nina’s grandmother retired from her physician career to accompany her granddaughter.

“When I arrived in Moscow, I didn't understand how much I owed to my parents, now I do. When I was getting ready to leave home, my father said to me, ‘Nina, here you are number one; there you may be last, are you ready for that? You will be in a class where everyone is better than you. If you are willing to bear it and to work and get better, then go, but if not, then don't go, for it will be a waste of nerves and health.’ I told him ‘Papa, I don't know, but I have to try. But for now, I cannot tell you whether or not I can bear it,’” recalls Nina.

She remembers having great athletic stamina and always willing herself through to the end. “If I ever started anything, I had to finish it,’’ she says.

If you ask Ananiashvili today when she sensed the otherworldliness of her talent, she will tell you: “Never really.” She does, however, remember the fear of landing in a big city where school was taught in Russian, not Georgian. She got D’s and fell into such a panic that she briefly went blind – she couldn't see the blackboard. Her grandmother sent for Georgian textbooks and began teaching her in both languages, sometimes until to 2 a.m., until the D’s became A’s.

On the ballet front, she recalls her mother visiting the academy ‘and every time, she asked this question of my teacher: 'If she's not so good and not so hard-working tell me – because I will to take her out of the school.' Why waste a spot that could go to a more deserving youngster?“ But the teachers would have none of it. Even so, when Mama was gone, they did not go easy on her. It was the Russian scolding approach to coaching: whatever you do, it's not good enough. ...

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Mikhail Vrubel (1856-1910)

Mikhail Vrubel. Flowers in Blue Vase 1887
Water-color on paper 33*23 Museum of Russian Art, Kiev

Artists are like heralds of ancient tragedies who come from somewhere beyond into this evenly-paced life with a mark on insanity and fate on their brow.
-- Alexander Block
Mikhail Vrubel was a versatile artist who excelled in painting, graphics, sculpture, as well as in monumental and applied arts. His name is routinely associated with Russian Symbolism and Art Nouveau and perhaps rightly so.
Mikhail Alexandrovich Vrubel was born in 1856 in the city of Omsk in Western Siberia to a family of a military lawyer. His mother died when he was not yet three years old and his father remarried four years later. Vrubel’s stepmother was a good pianist and helped develop Vrubel’s musical sensibilities. In his teen years, he became a fervent theater aficionado. Later in his life, he married a prominent opera singer and was on good terms with composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. Many of his mature works were inspired by opera and music.
Russian Art

Friday, 15 July 2011

Andrey Bely - Biography

leading theorist and poet of Russian Symbolism, a literary school deriving from the Modernist movement in western European art and literature and an indigenous Eastern Orthodox spirituality, expressing mystical and abstract ideals through allegories from life and nature.

Reared in an academic environment as the son of a mathematics professor, Bely was closely associated with Moscow’s literary elite, including the late 19th-century philosopher-mystic Vladimir Solovyov, whose eschatological thought (concerning the world’s purpose and final resolution) he absorbed. Carried by his idealism from harsh reality to speculative thought, Bely completed in 1901 his first major work, Severnaya simfoniya (1902; “The Northern Symphony”), a prose poem that represented an attempt to combine prose, poetry, music, and even, in part, painting. Three more “symphonies” in this new literary form followed. In other poetry he continued his innovative style and, by repeatedly using irregular metre (the “lame foot”), introduced Russian poetry to the formalistic revolution that was brought to fruition by his aesthetic colleague Aleksandr Blok. More in Andrey Bely (Russian poet) Britannica

Russian symbolist poet and theorist, memoirist, essayist and novelist, whose best-known work is Peterburg (1916, Petersburg), a baroque evocation of pre-revolutionary capital of Russia. Bely's masterpiece, with its playful use of language and literary experiments, has often been compared to James Joyce's Ulysses. The famous political thinker and essayist Isaiah Berlin has described Bely as "a man of strange and unheard-of insights - magical and a holy fool in the tradition of Russian Orthodoxy."

Complete works in Russian (Белый Андрей: Собрание сочинений) here.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Innkenty Annensky: Poetry

The life’s chance and creative spirit
United painfully in you,
And midst the beauty’s hitting views
There’s not so airy and exquisite…

In the world desert’s sandy grounds –
Where all’s a host, you fell in love
With cosmos of the different sounds
And flowers of troubled life.

Untouchable, transparent wholly!
We’re pined by you, oh, goddess holly,
When, through pale slots, you, vaguely viewed,

Such grasp all our thought and body,
That if to fall in love with you –
Love will be mad for everybody.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Tolstoy thought Chekhov 'worse than Shakespeare'

Tolstoy's condemnation of Chekhov's plays as 'worse than Shakespeare' has been thrown back into the spotlight by a new book that draws on memories of the author from his contemporaries.

Editor Peter Sekirin has worked with previously untranslated letters, diaries and essays by Chekhov's family, colleagues and friends for his book Memories of Chekhov, which has just been published. Peter Gnedich, a novelist and playwright, recalls in the book how Chekhov once recounted a trip he made to visit Tolstoy in Gaspra.

'He was bedridden due to illness,' Chekhov told Gnedich, according to an extract from Sekirin's documentary biography published in the New York Review of Books. 'Among other things, he spoke about me and my works. Finally, when I was about to say goodbye he took my hand and said, 'Kiss me goodbye.' While I bent over him and he was kissing me, he whispered in my ear in a still energetic, old man's voice, 'You know, I hate your plays. Shakespeare was a bad writer, and I consider your plays even worse than his.''

Gnedich also reveals that, although Tolstoy 'sincerely loved Chekhov', he once told him that 'a playwright should take the theatre-goer by the hand, and lead him in the direction he wants him to go. And where can I follow your character? To the couch in the living-room and back – because your character has no other place to go.' According to Gnedich, they both laughed at this, but Chekhov told Gnedich later 'when I am writing a new play, and I want my character to exit the stage, I remember those words of Lev Nikolaevich, and I think 'Where will my character go?' I feel both funny and angry.'

Although Chekhov's play The Seagull was initially given a poor reception, his reputation as a playwright continued to grow and, with the plays Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard and Three Sisters to his name, he is acclaimed today as one of the greatest playwrights as well as a master of the short story.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Memories of Chekhov by Peter Sekirin

Memories of Chekhov, from which this excerpt is drawn, is the first documentary biography of Anton Chekhov to be based on primary sources: the letters, diaries, essays, and memories of Chekhov’s family, friends, and contemporaries that I collected from Chekhov archives in Yalta and Moscow, as well as the New York Public Library, the Russian State Library, and the Library of Congress. All of this material appears in English translation for the first time. My favorite discovery was a rare editorial by Chekhov dedicated to the life of Nikolai Przhevalsky, a famous Russian geographer. At the very end of the nineteenth century Chekhov wrote, “Reading this biography, we do not ask: ‘Why did he do this?’ or ‘What did he accomplish?’ but we say, ‘He was right!’” These words also describe Chekhov’s own life.

—Peter Sekirin, Editor, Memories of Chekhov


Ivan Bunin, “Chekhov,” from The Russian Word (1904)

I got to know Chekhov in Moscow at the end of 1895. I remember a few specifically Chekhovian phrases that he often said to me back then.

“Do you write? Do you write a lot?” he asked me one day.

I told him, “Actually, I don’t write all that much.”

“That’s a pity,” he told me in a rather gloomy, sad voice which was not typical of him. “You should not have idle hands, you should always be working. All your life.”

And then, without any discernible connection, he added, “It seems to me that when you write a short story, you have to cut off both the beginning and the end. We writers do most of our lying in those spaces. You must write shorter, to make it as short as possible.”

Sometimes Chekhov would tell me about Tolstoy: “I admire him greatly. What I admire the most in him is that he despises us all; all writers. Perhaps a more accurate description is that he treats us, other writers, as completely empty space. You could argue that from time to time, he praises Maupassant, or Kuprin, or Semenov, or myself. But why does he praise us? It is simple: it’s because he looks at us as if we were children. Our short stories, or even our novels, all are child’s play in comparison with his works. However, Shakespeare… For him, the reason is different. Shakespeare irritates him because he is a grown-up writer, and does not write in the way that Tolstoy does.”

Peter Gnedich, “Memories,” from The Book of Life (1922)

Lev Tolstoy sincerely loved Chekhov, but did not like his plays. He told Chekhov once, “A playwright should take the theater-goer by the hand, and lead him in the direction he wants him to go. And where can I follow your character? To the couch in the living-room and back—because your character has no other place to go.” They both—Tolstoy and Chekhov—laughed at these words.

Chekhov told me later, “When I am writing a new play, and I want my character to exit the stage, I remember those words of Lev Nikolaevich, and I think ‘Where will my character go?’ I feel both funny and angry.” Chekhov’s only consolation was that Tolstoy also did not like the plays of Shakespeare.

Chekhov told me once, “You know, I recently visited Tolstoy in Gaspra. He was bedridden due to illness. Among other things, he spoke about me and my works. Finally, when I was about to say goodbye he took my hand and said, ‘Kiss me goodbye.’ While I bent over him and he was kissing me, he whispered in my ear in a still energetic, old man’s voice, ‘You know, I hate your plays. Shakespeare was a bad writer, and I consider your plays even worse than his.’”

The New York Review of Books

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Mikhail Nesterov - Biography

The Hermit, by Mikhail Nesterov
Mikhail Nesterov is Russian painter, follower of critical realism, master of religious painting. Even though the career of Mikhail Vasiliyevich Nesterov bridges the 19th and the 20th centuries, he is best known as a nineteenth-century painter of lyrical religious scenes and one of the fathers of the artistic movement known as "World of Art". He was born in 1862 in Ufa, in a merchant family with artistic interests. From 1877 to 1881 he studied at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture under the guidance of Vasiliy Perov, Alexey Savrasov, and Illarion Pryanishnikov. He left the Moscow Art School in 1881 and worked with Pavel Chistyakov at The Saint Petersburg Imperial Academy of Fine Arts until 1884. In 1884 he went back to Moscow. There, he met a group of influential painters at the estate of Savva Mamontov at Abramtsevo. Being a deeply religious man he sought to combine his Orthodox beliefs with the Art Nouveau style of the time. In his attempt to revive religious art he was influenced more by French Symbolism than by old Russian icon painting.

Nesterov often traveled to the most remote parts of Russia to live and study in monasteries and hermitages. This gave him the background and information necessary to accurately depict the conditions that the saints and hermits lived in. Compositionally, Nesterov's paintings were not very complex, consisting of the simplest elements, and they always depended on a lyrical synthesis between the figures and the surrounding landscape. The figures were arranged either singly or in a row in the foreground. In the background, behind the figures Nesterov placed delicate and poetic Russian landscape - birch trees, forests and groves, quaint wooden churches, fields and meadows. This allowed Nesterov to create a special aura of mysticism and spirituality, an artistic interpretation of Russian piety and medieval faith.

Throughout his life Nesterov excelled in painting frescoes and icons for renovated churches and creating oil paintings devoted to medieval Russia. When the new church of Saint Vladimir in Kiev was built in 1882, Nesterov was given the task of decorating it with various wall paintings, which he successfully accomplished. Additionally, Nesterov's originals served as models for the external mosaics and icons in the iconostasis in Saint Petersburg's Cathedral of the Savior on the Blood. The first painting to gain the critics' attention was the 'Bride of Christ' (1887), a study of a young novice in a nunnery. The painting, full of lyrical sadness, was Nesterov's response to the death of his wife. Between 1888-1889 he painted the 'Hermit', which portrays an old pilgrim against a northern landscape of trees and the still waters of a lake. After the Hermit, Nesterov, who lived close to the Saint Trinity Monastery, turned to the subject of Saint Sergius of Radonezh. The first (and the most famous) painting devoted to the topic was 'Vision of Young Bartholomew' (1890). 'Saint Sergius' Youth' (1892-97), 'The Deeds of Saint Sergius' (1896-1897), and 'Saint Sergius of Radonezh' (1891-1899) followed. Around 1900, Nesterov created 'The Holy Russia', remarkable for its portrayal of pilgrims and wanderers searching for physical and spiritual healing.

In last years of the 19th century, the realist preoccupation with social problems caused an artistic reaction. It became evident that realistic painting could not act as a social force to alleviate injustice. Another major flaw of this style was that it very rarely led to the creation of true works of art. Nesterov, who had an exquisite taste, came to the conclusion that formal elements were as artistically important as the ends they served. This attitude allowed the painter to become one of the primary artists responsible for launching the artistic movement Mir Iskusstva ("World of Art").

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Nesterov started painting portraits, for instance 'The Portrait of the Artist's Daughter' (1906) and 'Portrait of Leo Tolstoy' (1907). After the October Revolution, he had to abandon his religious painting altogether and instead concentrated on portraiture. Among his sitters were the painters Alexey and Pavel Korin (1930) and the physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1935). Two years before his death he painted the sculptor Vera Mukhina (1940). In 1941, Nesterov received a State Prize and in 1942, shortly before his death, the Order of the Red Banner of Labor. ...

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Maxim Gorky: Tales of Italy

In silence, the old man waved his hand. Both bald guys grinned as one and the old man sipped some more wine and went on, watching, as the falcon soared in the skies, “I was thirteen when he hired me, like all the others, to fetch blocks for the construction of his house. He treated us like dirt, his animals were treated with better care. When my friend, Lucchino, brought his attention to that fact, this is how he responded: ‘This mule is mine, while you are a stranger to me, why should I be sorry for you?’ These words made my heart bleed, but made me take a closer look at his life. I wasn’t thrilled by what I saw – he was nervy and cynical with everyone, be it the elderly or women – he didn’t care. When reproached for such behavior, he would just laugh, ‘When I was poor, there was no one to take pity on me, either.’ He cliqued well with priests, carabineers, and the police; other people only saw him in their bitterest misery, he knew he could take advantage of them.”

“Such people do exist,” the lame guy said quietly; the other three just gave the old man a look of compassion. One of the bald guys handed him the bottle of wine. The old man took it, checking its contents against the light, and toasted, “To the sacred heart of the Madonna!”

He used to say, “For centuries, the poor worked for the rich and the silly for the smart, this is how the world works.”

The narrator grinned and reached out for the bottle again - it was empty. He tossed it on the rocks casually, where the hammers and picks were piled, and nearby, a piece of the Bickford fuse was curled up like a snake.

“Young as we were back then, it hurt us deeply to hear such words; they destroyed our dreams, our hopes for a better life. Once me and my friend Lucchino met him in the field at dusk, riding his horse. We told him gently, but firmly, “We would ask you to be kinder to people.”

The bald guys burst out laughing, while the lame guy smirked, and the narrator sighed noisily, “Yes, it is a silly thing to do! But youth is honest. Youth believes in the power of words. I would say more: youth is the consciousness of our life…”

Translated by Ekaterina Shubnaya, RT

Ekaterina Kondaurova

Fresh-faced and smiling, her short red hair framing bright blue eyes and a porcelain complexion, Ekaterina Kondaurova arrives promptly for our meeting at the Shamrock restaurant/bar on Ulitsa Dekabristov. It’s 9:30 p.m. on a Friday night, and she apologizes unnecessarily for being late. But Kondaurova has not just come from a performance. Rather, her twelve-hour rehearsal day finished just 15 minutes ago.

At 22, the tall, lithe dancer has already been in the company for four years. Just a year ago she was promoted to Coryphée from the corps de ballet. But she’s already dancing several soloist roles that aren’t shared in the repertoire lists of fellow coryphées: the Lilac Fairy in “The Sleeping Beauty” (both the Sergeev and the reconstructed versions), Medora from “Le Corsaire”, Myrtha from “Giselle”, the grand pas de deux from the second act of “La Bayadere”, the Siren in “Apollo”. More uniquely, Kondaurova’s resume includes modern ballets. She seems to have been dubbed the master of all things modern by someone in the Maryinsky administration. She dances in Forsythe’s works (“In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated”), in Petersburg choreographer Kirill Simyonov’s avant-garde “The Nutcracker” and the title role in his “Princess Pirlipat”. Most recently she has been rehearsing the leading role in the third of the “Nut” ballet trilogy, “The Magic Nut”, choreographed by Bulgarian-born Donvena Pandurski, which replaces the badly-received “Pirlipat” in the company repertoire.

We find a table in a quieter corner of the restaurant and start to chat. I’m intrigued that from within the ranks of a company that boasts over 200 dancers, Kondaurova has already achieved so much, but she seems nonchalant about it.

“There’s a defined repertoire for each level within the company,” she explains, “and if you dance those roles well, and more than once, you’re in a good position to receive a promotion.” However, such promotions are not guaranteed. In order for a dancer to move up, someone else somewhere in the company must leave or go on their pension. Each year new Vaganova graduates compete for places in the company. When Kondaurova graduated, 11 people were taken in, but that number varies each year.

Kondaurova began her balletic journey in Moscow, where she was born. She attended a small school of music and dance, and then tried to enter the Moscow State Choreographic Institute. They refused her, and recommended she cease her pursuit of ballet. Determined, she enrolled in Leonid Lavrovsky’s school, studying under Lyudmila Sorokina, and was there advised to try the Vaganova Academy. At the age of 12, later than most, she moved to Leningrad, entered the Academy and remained until graduation.

“Once I began studying at the Vaganova Academy, I always hoped I would be able to join this company,” she says. “I never planned to leave St. Petersburg, I love it here, and essentially grew up here.” ...