Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Viktor Besedin:Прошла любовь - Love is over (1968)

One Of The Oldest Photos Of St. Petersburg

One Of The Oldest Photos Of St. Petersburg:   One of the oldest photos of St. Petersburg. It dates back to 1861. If you take a look at the panorama you will see that there are no people on the streets. The reason of it is too low … Read more...

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Rudolf Nureyev - Documentary

Prisoner of father’s name: Stalin’s daughter dies

Svetlana Alliluyeva, also known as Lana Peters, the only surviving child of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, has died at the age of 85. She sparked a global uproar by her high-profile defection to the West, where she denounced her father and communism. Peters died of colon cancer on November 22 in Richland County, Wisconsin, county attorney Benjamin Southwick announced Monday. The only daughter of the tyrant lived a turbulent and bewildering life that tossed her around the world. "Wherever I go," she said in an interview to the Wisconsin State Journal, "here, or Switzerland, or India, or wherever. Australia. Some island. I always will be a political prisoner of my father's name." Svetlana, who was born in 1926, was the only daughter of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and his second wife Nadezhda Alliluyeva, who committed suicide in 1932. Following the death of her father in 1953, Svetlana traveled to India in 1967 where she asked for political asylum in the US embassy. Such a move in the midst of the Cold War sparked an international uproar and caused a major embarrassment to the Soviet Union. Upon her arrival in the United States, she denounced Soviet regime and described her father as “a moral and spiritual monster.” ...

Monday, 28 November 2011

Igor Zhukov "Piano Concerto No 1" Balakirev

Vasily Vereshchagin: A Crucifixion in the Time of the Romans

Russian painting sells for $2.7 mln The picture Crucifixion by the Romans by great Russian artist Vasily Vereshchagin was sold for a record sum of $2.7mln. at the Christies’ Russian auction in London. This painting is one of three in which the artist reflected on capital punishment. (Voice of Russia)
Vasily Vereshchagin, (Russian, 1842-1904). A Crucifixion in the Time of the Romans, 1887. Oil on canvas, 116 x 156 in. (294.6 x 396.2 cm).
Crucifixion by the Romans is a wonderful example of Vereshchagin’s passion for late 19th-century European academic painting. Theatrically staged in 1st-century A.D. Jerusalem, the picture is typical of the dramatic historical spectacles—here of capital punishment under the Roman Empire—that wowed period audiences across Europe and America. Today the painting continues to impress the viewer with its monumentality and academic exoticism or Orientalism, which Vereshchagin learned firsthand in Paris from the style’s principal exponent, Jean-Léon Gérôme. In preparation for the painting, Vereshchagin completed a series of architectural and ethnographic studies on site in Palestine; this endowed his work with an awesome sense of realism. Crucifixion is not, however, an example of Russian avant-garde painting—the focus of Brooklyn’s collection— which in Vereshchagin’s own lifetime meant critical depictions of modern Russian society or Critical Realism. (The Museum owns two iconic Critical Realist paintings by Vereshchagin of the Russo-Turkish War, A Resting Place of Prisoners and The Road of the War Prisoners, both now on view in Russian Modern.) Crucifixion by the Romans is a powerful expression of Vereshchagin’s foray into Orientalism, and as such it merits greater study and exposure than it could get here, where it was last on view in 1932. ...

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Mikhail Glinka - The Lark - Evgeny Kissin

Over $400 million to be spent on Hermitage’s 250th anniversary

$413 million will be spent on events to mark the 250th anniversary of the founding of Russia's Hermitage museum in 2014, federal bank officials said on Wednesday. Buildings in the Winter Palace complex will also see large-scale repairs. The Hermitage, among Europe's largest museums, was founded by Catherine the Great in 1764. ...

 With the possible exception of the Louvre, there is no museum in the world that rivals the Hermitage in size and quality. Its collection is so large that it would take years to view it in its entirety--at last count, there were nearly three million works on exhibit. The museum is especially strong in Italian Renaissance and French Impressionist paintings, as well as possessing outstanding collections of works by Rembrandt, Picasso, and Matisse. Visitors should also take advantage of its excellent Greek and Roman antiquities collection and its exhibits of Siberian and Central Asian art. Not least among the attractions of the Hermitage is the museum itself, with its fine interior decoration and architectural detail. As the Hermitage is so enormous, its collection so strong and diverse, and its interior so attractive in its own right, many visitors find that the very best way to tour the museum is to make several briefer visits rather than one frenetic and exhausting marathon tour. While there is much to be gained by simply allowing the curiosity of one's eye to take at least occasional precedence over a list of works and collections dictated by a guidebook or even a guide. The origins of the Hermitage can be traced back to the private art collection of Peter the Great, who purchased numerous works during his travels abroad and later hung them in his residence. Catherine the Great expanded the collection considerably, and she and her successors built the Hermitage collection in large part with purchases of the private collections of the Western European aristocracy and monarchy. By the time Nicholas II ascended the throne in 1894, he was heir to the greatest collection of art in Europe. After the Revolution of 1917, the museum was opened to the public, and its collection was further augmented by the addition of modern works taken from private collections. Today, the Hermitage has embarked on a major renovation effort. Its collection is in the process of being reorganized, and many of its works have for the first time become available for travelling exhibits outside of the country. The collection of the State Hermitage includes more than three million works of art and artefacts of the world culture. Among them are paintings, graphic works, sculptures and works of applied art, archaeological finds and numismatic material. The main architectural ensemble of the Hermitage situated in the centre of St Petersburg consists of the Winter Palace, the former state residence of the Russian emperors, the buildings of the Small, Old (Great) and New Hermitages, the Hermitage Theatre and the Auxiliary House. The museum complex also includes the Menshikov Palace and the Eastern Wing of the General Staff building, the Staraya Derevnya Restoration and Storage Centre and the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Vladimir Vysotsky "Ballad of Love"

Dostoevsky and Nietzsche : The Philosophy of Tragedy

Skepticism and pessimism arouse the same mystical horror in the underground man as in Count Tolstoy, but the former has not been given the possibility of returning to commonplaceness, not even the possibility of decently pretending to himself and others that he has returned there (he might just try that). He knows that the past has long been forgotten, that granite, aere perennius, things not made by human hands - in brief, everything on which people have hitherto based their stability, all their a prioris - have been irretrievably lost for him. And with the boldness of a man bereft of hope, he suddenly decides to cross the fatal boundary, to take that fearful step against which he had been warned both by precepts of the past and his own experience gained from forty years of life. It is impossible to overcome his unhappiness and doubts by means of idealism. All attempts at struggle in this direction have come to naught: "The ‘lofty and beautiful’ has weighed so heavily on my neck these forty years," says Dostoevsky's underground man. One thing remains: to abandon the fruitless struggle and follow skepticism and pessimism in order to see where they will lead. This means saying to himself: "Everything that has been valued, everything that has been regarded as lofty and beautiful, is forbidden fruit for me in this life. But I continue to live, I shall go on living for a long time in new and terrible circumstances. Therefore I shall create for myself my own concept of the lofty and beautiful."

In other words, there begins a "revaluation of all values." Idealism, quite unexpectedly to itself, turns from the innocent judge into the accused. Dostoevsky is ashamed to recall that he himself was once an idealist. He would like to renounce his past, and because it is impossible to deceive himself, he tries to imagine his recent life in a different light; he invents extenuating circumstances for himself. "Among us Russians, generally speaking, there have never been any of those silly transcendental German and particularly French romantics on whom nothing has any effect, even if the earth were to give way under their feet, even if all France were to perish at the barricades - they are always the same, even for decency's sake they do not change, and they will go on singing their transcendental songs, so to say, to the grave, because they are fools. But with us here in Russia, there are no fools." [Dostoevsky, op. cit.. III (2), 106-107]. As if there are no "fools" in Russia! Who sang the praises of Makar Devushkin night after night? Who shed tears over Natasha, even at a time when the earth was already crumbling away under his feet? Alas, one cannot erase from the memory these pages from the past, no matter how much cunning one resorts to. Of all our romantics, Dostoevsky was the most fanciful, the most transcendental, the most sincere.

Now that Judgment Day had come, and he saw that the ways of its court differ from those promised by Socrates and Plato, and that, despite his virtues, he had been driven into outer darkness along with a multitude of people like him, he wanted to vindicate himself, at least a little. Perhaps he recalled - in such cases, as we know, memory is always tediously obliging - perhaps he recalled that, after all, people had warned him. They had told him that this court rejoices more over one repentant sinner than over a hundred righteous men. He must have understood that the righteous, all those "transcendental romantics," are considered ordinary, and that on Judgment Day, in their capacity as ordinary people, they cannot expect to be pardoned. Formerly, he had not heard or had not comprehended the warning voice, and now - now it is almost too late; now, remorse and sell-torture are of no avail. He is doomed, and, of course, for all eternity. On Judgment Day, there are no other sentences. It is not the same as with Count Tolstoy and his dealings with conscience, which imposes humane, suspended sentences in which there is justice, mercy, and, above all, a promise of pardon. In this case, there is no pardon. But even worse is the fact that resignation, on which moralists always rely so heavily, does not help.

Here is the testimony of the underground man, who is well versed in these matters: "Confronted by a wall, the direct people give up in all sincerity. For them, the wall is no evasion, as it is, for example, for us - no pretext to turn aside. No, they throw up their hands in all sincerity. For them, the wall has something soothing, morally assuaging, and final - perhaps even something mystical." [Ibid., 77] The language is, of course, different, but who would fail to recognize in this wall the Kantian a priori standing before the Ding an sich? They were a great satisfaction to philosophers, but Dostoevsky, who needed this "soothing, morally assuaging, and final" thing more than all else in the world, consciously preferred to dash his head against the wall rather than to reconcile himself to its impenetrability. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!" You see that "eternal" truths were devised by the sages not so much for the people needing consolation as for the consolers, i.e., for themselves. This thought horrifies Dostoevsky. After all, his entire life, his entire past, had been the personification of the idea of the consoler. He was a novelist who taught people to believe that the horrible fate of the humiliated and insulted is expiated by the tears and good sentiments of the readers and writers. His happiness, his inspiration was nourished by the "humblest man, our brother. Only when man sees for himself that for years on end he had been able to cherish such a hideous lie in his soul and revere it as a great and sacred truth, only then does he begin to understand that "ideas" must not be believed, to understand what splendid and alluring forms our basest impulses can assume if they need to gain ascendance over our souls. And indeed, what can be more terrible than a singer of "poor folk" watering his poetic flower garden with the tears of Makar Devushkin and Natasha?

Now it is clear why Dostoevsky cannot return to his former state of tranquillity, to the wall that contains so much that is morally assuaging and final for direct people. Better any truth at all than such a lie, he says to himself - and thence the valor with which he looks reality in the face. Do you remember the almost nonsensical, but brilliant, statement of Shakespeare's Lear: "Thou’dst shun a bear; but if thy flight lay toward the roaring sea, thou’dst meet the bear i’ th’ mouth." [Act II, Scene 4]. Dostoevsky fled reality, but he met idealism on the way and turned back: all the horrors of life are not so terrible as the ideas invented by reason and conscience. Rather than shedding tears over Devushkin, it is better to tell the truth: let the world go to pot, as long as I can have my tea. It was not easy for Dostoevsky to accept such a "truth." And what is a man to do with it whose past included Makar Devushkin and penal servitude, and whose present includes epilepsy and all the delights of the life of a struggling, middle-aged Petersburg writer who is practically just beginning his career?

At one time it was thought that "truth" consoles and strengthens man and bolsters his spirits. But the truth of the underground is of an entirely different breed than its magnanimous predecessors. It does not think of man at all, and if, metaphorically speaking, any intentions can be attributed it, they are not, at any rate, benevolent ones. Its business is not to console. Perhaps to ridicule, to offend - it is still capable of that. "More than anything else, the laws of nature have constantly offended me throughout my life," says the underground man. Is it any wonder then that he can feel no tenderness either for truths or ideals, if both of them, now in the form of the laws of nature, now in the form of lofty doctrines of morality, do nothing but offend and humiliate a childishly trusting and totally innocent being? How is one to respond to such masters? What feeling other than perpetual, implacable hatred can one have for the natural order and for humanity? Spencer preached accommodation, the moralists - submission to fate. But that is all very well if one assumes that accommodation is still possible and that submission can at least bring peace. "If one assumes!" But psychology has already shown us that all assumptions are devised solely for the assumers, and that even Count Tolstoy participated in the conspiracy against the humiliated and insulted. ...

Lev Shestov

Friday, 25 November 2011

Princess Olga of Kiev June 5, 925 - July 11, 969

Princess Olga’s life was full of great deeds described in numerous historical records, as well as legendary facts that are still disputed by historians today. According to the most traditional theory, recorded in the Primary Chronicle, Olga was born in Pskov (currently a city in the northwest of Russia) into a family of Varyag origin. Varyags were also known as Vikings or Norsemen, who came to the territory of current Russia, Ukraine and Belarus during the 8th and 9th centuries. This theory about Olga’s birth also explains the origin of her name, which is derived from the Scandinavian “Helga.” Other historical versions state that Olga was either a daughter of Oleg Veshchy, the founder of the state of Kievan Rus, or had Bulgarian roots. Oleg Veshchy initiated Olga’s marriage with Prince Igor, who was the son of the Novgorod Prince Rurik, a founder of the Rurik Dynasty of Russian tsars. After the death of Oleg in 912, Igor became the ruler of Kievan Rus. In 945 Prince Igor went to the Slavic tribe of the Drevlyans to gather tributes. After he demanded a much higher payment, the Drevlyans killed him. The death of the Kievan Prince raised a question about the next ruler of the country. Igor’s son, Svyatoslav, was only three years old, and hence Olga took the power into her hands. Interestingly, she had the full support the Rus army, which attests to the great respect she held among the people. After killing Igor, the Drevlyans sent their matchmakers to propose that Olga marry their Prince Mal. The Princess took revenge upon her husband’s death, killing all of the ambassadors. The Old Russian annals describe four types of vengeance organized by Olga. First, she ordered the capture of the 20 matchmakers who had come to Kiev and had them buried alive. The Princess then asked the Drevlyans to send better ambassadors to her, but as soon as they arrived, they were burned in a bathhouse. Soon after that Olga went to the land of the Drevlyans, supposedly to have a funeral feast in memory of her murdered husband. Having made her enemies drunk during the feast, the governess then ordered them all killed. The annals report about five thousand victims in this third act of revenge. The last vengeance took place in the year 946 when Olga traveled around the land of the Drevlyans in order to gather tributes. She besieged the town of Iskorosten, which refused to pay her. According to legend, the Princess asked that each household present her with a dove as a gift. Then she tied burning papers to the legs of the doves and let them fly back to their homes. As a result, the entire town was destroyed by fire. Olga’s rule over Kievan Rus officially lasted until her son reached his full age. Having grown up, Svyatoslav preferred to spend most of his time abroad, organizing military campaigns in order to widen and strengthen the borders of his state. Olga, left in charge of the internal policies of Kievan Rus, became known for establishing the system of tribute gathering, which is sometimes considered to be the first legal tax system in Eastern Europe. She ordered the creation of centers of trade and taxation. The lands subjugated to Kiev were divided into administrative units, which were controlled by the Princess’s representatives. Olga set fixed amounts of tributes, with a detailed schedule for their gathering. Princess Olga is also thought to have been the initiator of the first stone city building in Kievan Rus, especially in the cities of Kiev, Novgorod and Pskov. One of the most well-known among Olga’s actions was her conversion to Christianity. She was one of the first to bring this religion to the pagan society of Kievan Rus. According to the Primary Chronicles, Olga was baptized in Constantinople either in 955 or 957. Her son Svyatoslav didn’t support his mother’s decision and was worried about losing the respect of the army because of Olga’s new faith. Apparently, she had a big influence on her grandson, Vladimir the Great, who in 988 made Christianity the official religion of Kievan Rus. In 957 Olga paid an official visit to the Byzantine emperor, Constantine VII, in Constantinople. Presumably, the negotiations didn’t bring the expected results, since the historical records describe a cold greeting for the Byzantine ambassadors during their return visit to Kiev. ...

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Valentina Lisitsa : interview and playing Rachmaninoff/Warenberg Concert...

Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Prison Life in Siberia

In the midst of the steppes, of the mountains, of the impenetrable forests of the desert regions of Siberia, one meets from time to time with little towns of a thousand or two inhabitants, built entirely of wood, very ugly, with two churches—one in the centre of the town, the other in the cemetery—in a word, towns which bear much more resemblance to a good-sized village in the suburbs of Moscow than to a town properly so called. In most cases they are abundantly provided with police-master, assessors, and other inferior officials. If it is cold in Siberia, the great advantages of the Government service compensate for it. The inhabitants are simple people, without liberal ideas. Their manners are antique, solid, and unchanged by time. The officials who form, and with reason, the nobility in Siberia, either belong to the country, deeply-rooted Siberians, or they have arrived there from Russia. The latter come straight from the capitals, tempted by the high pay, the extra allowance for travelling expenses, and by hopes not less seductive for the future. Those who know how to resolve the problem of life remain almost always in Siberia; the abundant and richly-flavoured fruit which they gather there recompenses them amply for what they lose.

As for the others, light-minded persons who are unable to deal with the problem, they are soon bored in Siberia, and ask themselves with regret why they committed the folly of coming. They impatiently kill the three years which they are obliged by rule to remain, and as soon as their time is up, they beg to be sent back, and return to their original quarters, running down Siberia, and ridiculing it. They are wrong, for it is a happy country, not only as regards the Government service, but also from many other points of view.

The climate is excellent, the merchants are rich and hospitable, the Europeans in easy circumstances are numerous; as for the young girls, they are like roses and their morality is irreproachable. Game is to be found in the streets, and throws itself upon the sportsman's gun. People drink champagne in prodigious quantities. The caviare is astonishingly good and most abundant. In a word, it is a blessed land, out of which it is only necessary to be able to make profit; and much profit is really made.

It is in one of these little towns—gay and perfectly satisfied with themselves, the population of which has left upon me the most agreeable impression—that I met an exile, Alexander Petrovitch Goriantchikoff, formerly a landed proprietor in Russia. He had been condemned to hard labour of the second class for assassinating his wife. After undergoing his punishment—ten years of hard labour—he lived quietly and unnoticed as a colonist in the little town of K——. To tell the truth, he was inscribed in one of the surrounding districts; but he resided at K——, where he managed to get a living by giving lessons to children. In the towns of Siberia one often meets with exiles who are occupied with instruction. They are not looked down upon, for they teach the French language, so necessary in life, and of which without them one would not, in the distant parts of Siberia, have the least idea.

I saw Alexander Petrovitch the first time at the house of an official, Ivan Ivanitch Gvosdikof, a venerable old man, very hospitable, and the father of five daughters, of whom the greatest hopes were entertained. Four times a week Alexander Petrovitch gave them lessons, at the rate of thirty kopecks silver a lesson. His external appearance interested me. He was excessively pale and thin, still young—about thirty-five years of age—short and weak, always very neatly dressed in the European style. When you spoke to him he looked at you in a very attentive manner, listening to your words with strict politeness, and with a reflective air, as though you had placed before him a problem or wished to extract from him a secret. He replied clearly and shortly; but in doing so, weighed each word, so that one felt ill at ease without knowing why, and was glad when the conversation came to an end. I put some questions to Ivan Gvosdikof in regard to him. He told me that Goriantchikoff was of irreproachable morals, otherwise Gvosdikof would not have entrusted him with the education of his children; but that he was a terrible misanthrope, who kept apart from all society; that he was very learned, a great reader, and that he spoke but little, and never entered freely into a conversation. Certain persons told him that he was mad; but that was not looked upon as a very serious defect. Accordingly, the most important persons in the town were ready to treat Alexander Petrovitch with respect, for he could be useful to them in writing petitions. It was believed that he was well connected in Russia. Perhaps, among his relations, there were some who were highly placed; but it was known that since his exile he had broken off all relations with them. In a word—he injured himself. Every one knew his story, and was aware that he had killed his wife, through jealousy, less than a year after his marriage; and that he had given himself up to justice; which had made his punishment much less severe. Such crimes are always looked upon as misfortunes, which must be treated with pity. Nevertheless, this original kept himself obstinately apart, and never showed himself except to give lessons. In the first instance I paid no attention to him; then, without knowing why, I found myself interested by him. He was rather enigmatic;to talk with him was quite impossible. Certainly he replied to all my questions; he seemed to make it a duty to do so; but when once he had answered, I was afraid to interrogate him any longer.

After such conversations one could observe on his countenance signs of suffering and exhaustion. I remember that, one fine summer evening, I went out with him from the house of Ivan Gvosdikof. It suddenly occurred to me to invite him to come in with me and smoke a cigarette. I can scarcely describe the fright which showed itself in his countenance. He became confused, muttered incoherent words, and suddenly, after looking at me with an angry air, took to flight in an opposite direction. I was very much astonished afterwards, when he met me. He seemed to experience, on seeing me, a sort of terror; but I did not lose courage. There was something in him which attracted me.

A month afterwards I went to see Petrovitch without any pretext. It is evident that, in doing so, I behaved foolishly, and without the least delicacy. He lived at one of the extreme points of the town with an old woman whose daughter was in a consumption. The latter had a little child about ten years old, very pretty and very lively.

When I went in Alexander Petrovitch was seated by her side, and was teaching her to read. When he saw me he became confused, as if I had detected him in a crime. Losing all self-command, he suddenly stood up and looked at me with awe and astonishment. Then we both of us sat down. He followed attentively all my looks, as if I had suspected him of some mysterious intention. I understood he was horribly mistrustful. He looked at me as a sort of spy, and he seemed to be on the point of saying, "Are you not soon going away?"

I spoke to him of our little town, of the news of the day, but he was silent, or smiled with an air of displeasure. I could see that he was absolutely ignorant of all that was taking place in the town, and that he was in no way curious to know. I spoke to him afterwards of the country generally, and of its men. He listened to me still in silence, fixing his eyes upon me in such a strange way that I became ashamed of what I was doing. I was very nearly offending him by offering him some books and newspapers which I had just received by post. He cast a greedy look upon them; he then seemed to alter his mind, and declined my offer, giving his want of leisure as a pretext.

At last I wished him good-bye, and I felt a weight fall from my shoulders as I left the house. I regretted to have harassed a man whose tastes kept him apart from the rest of the world. But the fault had been committed. I had remarked that he possessed very few books. It was not true, then, that he read so much. Nevertheless, on two occasions when I drove past, I saw a light in his lodging. What could make him sit up so late? Was he writing, and if that were so, what was he writing?

I was absent from our town for about three months. When I returned home in the winter, I learned that Petrovitch was dead, and that he had not even sent for a doctor. He was even now already forgotten, and his lodging was unoccupied. I at once made the acquaintance of his landlady, in the hope of learning from her what her lodger had been writing. For twenty kopecks she brought me a basket full of papers left by the defunct, and confessed to me that she had already employed four sheets in lighting her fire. She was a morose and taciturn old woman. I could not get from her anything that was interesting. She could tell me nothing about her lodger. She gave me to understand all the same that he scarcely ever worked, and that he remained for months together without opening a book or touching a pen. On the other hand, he walked all night up and down his room, given up to his reflections. Sometimes, indeed, he spoke aloud. He was very fond of her little grandchild, Katia, above all when he knew her name; on her name's-day—the day of St. Catherine—he always had a requiem said in the church for some one's soul. He detested receiving visits, and never went out except to give lessons. Even his landlady he looked upon with an unfriendly eye when, once a week, she came into his room to put it in order.

During the three years he had passed with her, he had scarcely ever spoken to her. I asked Katia if she remembered him. She looked at me in silence, and turned weeping to the wall. This man, then, was loved by some one! I took away the papers, and passed the day in examining them. They were for the most part of no importance, merely children's exercises. At last I came to a rather thick packet, the sheets of which were covered with delicate handwriting, which abruptly ceased. It had perhaps been forgotten by the writer. It was the narrative—incoherent and fragmentary—of the ten years Alexander Petrovitch had passed in hard labour. This narrative was interrupted, here and there, either by anecdotes, or by strange, terrible recollections thrown in convulsively as if torn from the writer. I read some of these fragments again and again, and I began to doubt whether they had not been written in moments of madness; but these memories of the convict prison—"Recollections of the Dead-House," as he himself called them somewhere in his manuscript—seemed to me not without interest. They revealed quite a new world unknown till then; and in the strangeness of his facts, together with his singular remarks on this fallen people, there was enough to tempt me to go on. I may perhaps be wrong, but I will publish some chapters from this narrative, and the public shall judge for itself.  ...

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Tolstoy, Poet and Rebel

Tolstoy has passed his eightieth birthday and now stands before us like an enormous jagged cliff, moss-covered and from a different historical World.

A remarkable thing! Not alone Karl Marx but, to cite a name from a field closer to Tolstoy’s, Heinrich Heine as well appear to be contemporaries of ours. But from our great contemporary of Yasnaya Polyana we are already separated by the irreversible flow of time which differentiates all things.

This man was 33 years old when serfdom was abolished in Russia. As the descendant of “ten generations untouched by labor,” he matured and was shaped in an atmosphere of the old nobility; among inherited acres, in a spacious manorial home and in the shade of linden-tree alleys, so tranquil and patrician.

The traditions of landlord rule, its romanticism, its poetry, its whole style of living were irresistibly imbibed by Tolstoy and became an organic part of his spiritual makeup. From the first years of his consciousness he was, as he remains to this very day, an aristocrat, in the deepest and most secret recesses of his creativeness; and this, despite all his subsequent spiritual crises.

In the ancestral home of the Princes Volkonsky, inherited by the Tolstoy family, the author of War and Peace, occupies a simple, plainly furnished room in which there hangs a hand-saw, stands a scythe and lies an ax. But on the upper floor of this same dwelling, like stony guardians of its traditions the illustrious ancestors of a whole number of generations keep watch from the walls. In this there is a symbol. We find both of these floors also in the heart of the master of the house, only inverted in order. If on the summits of consciousness a nest has been spun for itself by the philosophy of the simple life and of self-submergence in the people, then from below, whence up the emotions, the passions and the will, there look down upon us a long gallery of ancestors.

In the wrath of repentance Tolstoy renounced the false and worldly-vain art of the ruling classes which glorifies their artificially cultivated tastes and envelops their caste prejudices in the flattery of false beauty. But what happened? In his latest major work, Resurrection, Tolstoy still places in the center of his artistic attention the one and the same wealthy and well-born Russian landlord, surrounding him just as solicitously with the golden cobweb of aristocratic connections, habits and remembrances as if outside this “worldly-vain” and “false” universe there were nothing of importance or of beauty.

From the landlord’s manor there runs a short and narrow path straight to the hut of the peasant. Tolstoy, the poet, was accustomed to make this passage often and lovingly even before Tolstoy, the moralist, turned it into a road of salvation. Even after the abolition of serfdom, he continues to regard the peasant as his – an inalienable part of his material and spiritual inventory. From behind Tolstoy’s unquestionable “physical love for the genuine toiling people” about which he himself tells us, there looks down upon us, just as unquestionably, his collective aristocratic ancestor – only illumined by an artist’s genius.

Landlord and moujik – these are in the last analysis the only people whom Tolstoy has wholly accepted into his creative sanctuary. But neither before nor after his spiritual crisis, was he ever able or strove to free himself from the purely patrician contempt for all those figures who stand between the landlord and the peasant, or those who occupy positions beyond the sacred poles of this ancient order – the German superintendent, the merchant, the French tutor, the physician, the “intellectual”, and finally, the factory worker with his watch and chain. Tolstoy never feels a need to understand these types, to peer into their souls, or question them about their faith. And they pass before his artist’s eye like so many insignificant and largely comical silhouettes. When he does create images of revolutionists of the Seventies or Eighties, as for example in Resurrection, he simply adapts his old landlord and peasant types to a new milieu or offers us purely external and humorously painted sketches.

At the beginning of the Sixties when a flood of new European ideas and, what is more important, of new social relations swept over Russia, Tolstoy, as I said, had already left a third of a century behind him: psychologically he was already molded.

Needless to recall, Tolstoy did not become an apologist for serfdom as did his intimate friend Fet (Shenshin), landlord and subtle lyric poet, in whose heart a tender receptivity to nature and to love was coupled with adoring prostration before the salutary whiplash of feudalism. But imbued in Tolstoy was a deep hatred for the new social relations, coming in the place of the old. “Personally I fail to see any amelioration of morals,” he wrote in 1861, “nor do I propose to take any one’s word for it. I do not find, for instance, that the relation between the factory owner and the worker is more humane than that between the landlord and the serf.”

Everywhere and in everything there came hurly-burly and turmoil, there came the decomposition of the old nobility, the disintegration of the peasantry, universal chaos, the rubbish and litter of demolition, the hum and ding-dong of city life, the tavern and cigarette in the village, the factory limerick in place of the folksong – and all this repelled Tolstoy, both as an aristocrat and as an artist. Psychologically he turned his back on this titanic process and forever refused it artistic recognition. He felt no inner urge to defend feudal slavery, but he did remain wholeheartedly on the side of these ties in which he saw wise simplicity and which he was able to unfold into artistically perfected forms.

His whole heart was fixed there where life is reproduced changelessly from one generation to the next, century after century. There where sacred necessity rules over everything; where every single step hinges on the sun, the rain, the wind and the green grass growing. Where nothing comes from one’s own reason or from an individual’s rebellious volition and, therefore, no personal responsibility exists, either. Everything is predetermined, everything justified in advance, sanctified. Responsible for nothing, thinking nothing, man lives only by hearing and obeying, says Uspenky, the remarkable poet of The Dominion of the Land. And this perpetual hearing and obeying, converted into perpetual toil, is precisely what shapes the life which outwardly leads to no results whatever but which has its result in its very self ... And lo, a miracle! This convict-labor dependence – without reflection or choice, without errors or pangs of repentance – is what gives rise to the great moral “ease” of existence under the harsh guardianship of “the ears of rye” Mikula Selyanovich, peasant hero of the folk epic, says of himself: “I am the beloved of raw mother earth.”

Such is the religious myth of Russian Populism which ruled for decades, over the minds of the Russian intellectuals. Stone deaf to its radical tendencies, Tolstoy always remained personally and represented in the Populist movement its aristocratic conservative wing.

Tolstoy was repelled by the new and in order to create artistically Russian life as he knew, understood and loved it, he was compelled to withdraw into the past, back to the very beginnings of the 19th Century. War and Peace (written in 1867-69) is his best and unsurpassed work.

Leon Trotsky

Friday, 18 November 2011

Ilya Mashkov

Ilya Ivanovich Mashkov was born on July, 29th, 1881 in Mikhailovskaya-on-Don village near Volgograd (nowadays Uryupinsk District of the Volgograd Region). His parents were peddlers. When Ilya was yet a pupil of a three-year parish school, he revealed an interest and talent for inventing various mechanical devices and drawing. But at the age of eleven he was already sent to work. At first he served as an errand boy for a fruit seller, and then worked for a merchant, the owner of shops and factories in the town of Borisoglebsk of the Tambov Province. Later Ilya Mashkov recalled: “Day after day from 7 am till 9 pm I had to be on feet. 14 hours! I hated it all”. The only joy for the boy was to copy icons, painting reproductions, popular prints (see Russian lubok) and make commercial posters. The boy ordered a box of oil paints from a newspaper ad. However, when the art teacher of the Borisoglebsky man's grammar school asked him if he wanted to study drawing, the boy enquired: “Does one learn it?” In 1890 he entered the Moscow school of painting, sculpturing and architecture, where he studied under V. Serov, K. Korovin, and A. Vasnetsov. As a student Mashkov showed his eccentric character and finally was expelled from the school. In his student years the artist traveled a lot and visited a number of countries of the Western Europe, as well as Turkey and Egypt. He adjoined the Russian fauvist artists. In 1910 he took an active part in organization of the first exhibition of Bubnovy Valet and was the member of this famous association of artists and participated in all the later exhibitions. “We wanted our paintings to be mighty, satiated with plentiful colors” - Mashkov said about the purpose of Bubnovy Valet. Apart from that Ilya Mashkov actively participated in the renewed association of Mir Iskusstva (Realm of Art). Mashkov’s main genre was still-life, but he also resorted to landscape and portraiture. ...

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Tolstoy: Resurrection

During the second half of 1899 the atmosphere of the Tolstoy household was tense over the mighty effort to complete 'Resurrection' which was then appearing serially in a magazine. Racing against time in the face of pressing telegrams from the editor for next week's copy, the seventy-one-year old author, deserting his family, shut himself up in his study for days on end, taking his meals at odd hours, and refusing to see visitors. Always the exacting artist, he kept mangling successive sets of proof, repeatedly rewriting whole sections, and hurrying off last-minute changes for an instalment just about to go to press. Fresh manuscript chapters in his almost illegible handwriting were cleanly copied by members of the family and their guests. Duplicate sets of corrected proof had to be prepared for translators for foreign publication. Urgent cablegrams and letters from abroad offered huge sums for first publishing rights. Finally, on December 18, Tolstoy noted in his diary: "Completed Resurrection. Not good, uncorrected, hurried, but it is done with and I'm no longer interested."

Tolstoy's sense of relief may be partly attributed to the fact that he had been working away intermittently on 'Resurrection', the last of his three great full-length novels, for more than ten years. The theme had been supplied by his good friend, the eminent jurist and writer A. F. Koni. He told Tolstoy the story of a man who had come to him for legal aid. As a youth this man had seduced a pretty orphan girl of sixteen who had been taken into the home of a relative of the young man when her parents died. Once her benefactress observed the girl's pregnant condition, she drove her away. Abandoned by her seducer, the girl, after hopeless attempts to earn an honest livelihood, became a prostitute. Detected in stealing money from one of her drunken "guests" in a brothel, the girl was arrested. On the jury that tried the case fate placed her seducer. His conscience awakened to the injustice of his behaviour, he decided to marry the girl, who was sentenced to four months in prison. Koni concluded his story by relating that the couple did actually marry, but shortly after her sentence expired, the girl died from typhus.

The tale deeply moved Tolstoy, and its effect may well have been connected with an acute stirring of conscience. For shortly before his death he told his biographer of two seductions in his own life which he could somehow never forget. "The second," he said, "was the crime I committed with the servant Masha in my aunt's house. She was a virgin. I seduced her, and she was dismissed and perished." At first he urged Koni, a very talented person, to publish the account for Intermediary, the firm that Tolstoy established to market inexpensive moral booklets for the masses. Koni agreed to do this. When a year passed and he failed to fulfil his promise, Tolstoy asked to be allowed to make use of the story.

Tolstoy's efforts to cast this incident of real life into literary form were repeatedly interrupted by the manifold activities and extensive polemical writings growing out of his spiritual revelation. Only with some reluctance did he devote his few free hours to the creation of fiction, and it is possible that 'Resurrection' might never have been finished if it had not been for a special set of circumstances. The government's long and cruel persecution of the Dukhobors, a peasant sect that practiced a form of Christian communism not far removed from Tolstoy's own preaching, and among other things rejected military service, had reached a crucial stage. For several years he and his followers had been aiding the Dukhobors. Now it was decided that the most practical remedy for their misfortunes was to have them emigrate. The Russian government was willing, and Canada agreed to accept them pretty much on their own terms. The problem was to obtain money to transport and settle in Canada some twelve thousand sectarians. Tolstoy helped to organize a campaign to raise funds. Although he had surrendered the copyrights of all his works written since his spiritual change and allowed anyone to publish them free, he now decided to sell a novel and devote the proceeds to the fund to aid the emigration of the Dukhobors. Going over his portfolio of unfinished manuscripts, he settled upon 'Resurrection' as the one calculated to earn the most money, and he set to work with a will to complete this long novel.

Before the serial publication had got well under way in the magazine Niva, Tolstoy began to regard his compact with the publisher as one with the devil—he had sold his soul for an advance of twelve thousand roubles, even though the money went to the fund for the Dukhobors. This only instance of violating the repudiation of his copyright privileges to the extent of accepting money for the initial publication of a novel caused him endless trouble. Niva at first attempted to run the lengthy work in weekly instalments. With his painstaking correction of proof and the constant introduction of new matter, Tolstoy found it extremely difficult to keep up this pace. Finally his health broke down and he virtually decided to end the novel with Part II, omitting the brilliant third part. Only the willingness of the editor to forego his demand for weekly instalments persuaded Tolstoy to continue.

Tolstoy had calculated correctly. The first full-length novel in twenty years from the celebrated author of 'War and Peace' and 'Anna Karenina', and also a man now universally known as a religious reformer and moral thinker, was an event of intense international interest. While 'Resurrection' was appearing serially in Russia, simultaneous publication in translation was arranged in England, France, Germany, and the United States. Partly because of the previous public repudiation of his copy-right privileges, much pirating went on which caused Tolstoy a great deal of embarrassment—he had sold first publication rights to various foreign firms in an effort to realize the maximum income on behalf of the Dukhobors. Pirated copies of the novel quickly appeared in Russia; twelve different translations came out in Germany alone in 1900; and fifteen editions, under authorized and unauthorized imprints, accumulated in France during 1899 and 1900. Extreme liberties were often taken in these foreign versions. When French readers of the serialized translation in 'Echo de Paris' characteristically complained that the love scenes, which they relished, were too infrequent, the businesslike editor had no scruples about omitting the next regular instalment and substituting for it one in which the hero and heroine were again occupied with each other. On the other hand, the editor of 'Cosmopolitan', which had bought first serial rights in the United States, did not hesitate to tone down or delete love passages which he thought might offend the sensibilities of this magazine's respectable middle-class readers. In the end, Tolstoy was happy to revert to his rule of not taking money for his writings, unwilling perhaps to realize that the rule itself had been the cause of all his trouble.

The Russian censor caused additional annoyance and not a little anguish to Tolstoy, who in some instances protested the deletions of this high executioner of words. The censor, however, could hardly be expected in those days to tolerate the author's sacrilegious barbs against the Russian Orthodox Church or his exposure of the way prisoners were treated in Siberia. In fact, very few of the many chapters of the novel escaped the censor's awful blue pencil, and it is estimated that be made four hundred and ninety-seven separate alterations or deletions in the text. Not until 1936 did the complete and unaltered text of 'Resurrection' appear in Russian, in the huge Jubilee Edition of Tolstoy's works.

In the course of writing the novel, Tolstoy did considerable research, reading many books and articles—he read six books on prostitution alone—and he consulted experts on legal procedure, visited jails and talked with convicts. Once he got fairly into the work, it absorbed him completely, and he told his wife that since 'War and Peace' he had never been so powerfully gripped by the creative urge. Koni's slender narrative served only as the initial inspiration for the erection of a huge, complex superstructure, and as in the case of Tolstoy's other two large novels, the story element grew to formidable length, with numerous ramifications. There were several quite different beginnings, and again and again he cast out themes and introduced entirely new ones. Even such a small detail as the description of the external appearance of the heroine exists in as many as twenty variants. There were six separate redactions of 'Resurrection', and before Tolstoy had finished his extensive revisions, he had piled up enough rejected material to fill a volume almost as large as the novel itself.

As in Tolstoy's previous full-length novels, there is a great deal of autobiographical matter in 'Resurrection'. In many respects the hero, Dmitri Nekhlyudov, resembles his creator, and a number of the other characters are plainly modelled on people Tolstoy knew. For example, Toporov is a thinly disguised and unflattering portrait of the sinister and celebrated Procurator of the Holy Synod, K. P. Pobedonostsev. Some of these autobiographical aspects are curiously stressed in an interesting passage in the diary of Tolstoy's wife. While wearing her eyes out over recopying his labyrinthine manuscript, she vented her spleen against 'Resurrection' largely because her husband had refused first publishing rights for her edition of his works—it may be remembered that he had previously allowed her the right to publish for money anything he wrote before his spiritual revelation, that is, before 1881. "I torment myself," she wrote, "over the fact that Leo Nikolaevich, a seventy-year-old man, describes the scene of fornication between the serving girl and the officer with the peculiar relish of a gastronome eating something tasty. I know, because he himself told me about this in detail, that in this scene he is describing his own intimate relations with the serving girl of his sister.... I'm also tormented by the fact that I see in the hero, Nekhlyudov, portrayed as progressing from his downfall to his moral resurrection, Leo Nikolaevich, who thinks this very thing about himself."

Abroad, especially in England and the United States, 'Resurrection' was enthusiastically received and enjoyed a larger sale than any other work by Tolstoy up to that time. Though some conservative foreign critics expressed indignation over what seemed an excessively frank and un-Victorian treatment of sex, as well as the novelist's contemptuous regard for the conventions of law and order and the sacredness of the church, progressive critics showered praises on perhaps the only man in Russia at that time who had the courage to expose in fiction the evils that beset his country. In Russia the publication of 'Resurrection' was an event transcending its artistic significance. Something of the widespread excitement aroused by the novel as it appeared serially is reflected in a letter to Tolstoy by his friend V. V. Stasov, a distinguished art critic: "How all of us here rejoiced when we learned that the chapters of 'Resurrection' will not be 60 or 80 but l00 or more. Without exception all are saying on every side: 'Ah, there will be more, more will be added! May God grant that there will be more and more!"'

Resurrection naturally forces comparison with those supreme works, 'War and Peace' and 'Anna Karenina', and it must be admitted that it falls below the lofty artistic achievements of these earlier novels. However, its best things, artistically speaking, belong to the narrative method of Tolstoy's earlier fiction rather than to the compressed, direct, and stylistically unadorned manner of the later period after 'What Is Art?' was written. In 'Resurrection' there is that same wealth of precise realistic detail which conveys the appearance of indubitable actuality to imagined situations, as well as roundness, completeness, and the vitality of life to his characters. In its enchanting setting, the account of the first pure love of Nekhlyudov and Katusha Maslova, certainly the finest section of the novel, is all compounded of that same wonderful elusive quality that transformed the girlish loves of Natasha in 'War and Peace' into the incommunicable poetry of youthful dreams. Tolstoy never did anything more delightfully infectious in fiction than the scene of the Easter service in the village church, where the young hero and heroine, after the traditional Russian greeting "Christ is risen," exchange kisses with the carefree rapture of mingled religious exaltation and dawning affinity for each other. ...

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Paul I - Biography

Paul I was born in the Summer Palace in St Petersburg on September 20, 1754. He was the son of the Grand Duchess, later Empress, Catherine II, but according to one scurrilous report his father was not her husband, the Grand Duke Peter, who would become Emperor Peter III, but Colonel Serge Saltykov, a lover of Catherine II. However there is probably little foundation to this story except gossip, and the cynical malice of Catherine.

During his infancy Paul was taken away from his parents and raised for the first seven years of his life at the court of his grandmother, Empress Elizabeth (Elizaveta Petrovna), who intended to appoint him her heir instead of Peter Feodorovich (Peter III).

Elizabeth’s ill-judged fondness is believed to have injured his health. In 1760, Paul began his education under a trustworthy governor, Nikita Panin, and competent tutors. One of the best minds in Russia, Panin had studied all the latest teaching methods. However, Paul’s education proved to be unsystematic; he was taught a lot in some areas and very little in others. One of his tutors complained that Paul was “always in a hurry”, acting and speaking without thinking.

During a short period from December 1761 to June 1762, Elizaveta Petrovna died, Peter III became Emperor, and Catherine II deposed him and became Empress. The shock of his father's forced abdication and death shortly thereafter left an impression on Paul.

As a boy he was reported to be intelligent and good-looking. His extreme ugliness in later life is attributed to an attack of typhus in 1771. The violent events of his childhood and his estrangement from his mother made him irritable and suspicious of those around him. It was asserted that his mother hated him, and was only restrained from having him killed while he was still a boy by the fear of what the consequences of another palace crime might be. Catherine II was generally cold to her son, since she had not had a chance to raise him and because her opposition felt that Paul should become Tsar when he came of age rather than when she died.

She did, however, name him her heir, and took great trouble to arrange his first marriage (on September 29, 1773) with Princess Auguste Wilhelmine Luise of Hessen-Darmstadt, who had converted to Orthodoxy on 14 August 1773 as Nathalia Alekseevna. She died giving birth in April 1776 and was buried in the St. Alexander Nevsky Monastery.

After his first marriage Paul began to engage in intrigues. He suspected his mother of intending to kill him, and once openly accused her of causing broken glass to be mingled with his food. The use made of his name by the rebel leader Emelyan Pugachev in 1775 also rendered his position more difficult. Pugachev claimed to be Paul’s father, the emperor Peter III, promoting a rumour that Peter had not died, but had secretly been imprisoned by Catherine II, and promised to enthrone his alleged son in case of victory.

Paul married another German princess, a beauty and a relative of the Prussian king, on 26 September, 1776. This was Sophie Dorothea Auguste Luise of Wurttemberg, who converted to Orthodoxy on 14 September 1776 as Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna. She bore him four sons and six daughters, died in 1828 and was buried alongside her husband in the St. Peter & Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

On the birth of his first child in 1777 Catherine II gave him an estate near St.Petersburg, Pavlovsk. Paul and his wife were allowed to travel through western Europe in 1781-1782. In 1783 the empress gave him another suburban estate at Gatchina, where he was allowed to maintain three battalions of soldiers whom he drilled on the Prussian model and used in mock battles. Paul’s family was under a similar strict discipline to that of his soldiers and dared not violate his slightest order.

As Paul grew his character became steadily degraded. He was not incapable of affection, nor was he without generous impulses, but he was flighty, passionate in a childish way, and when angry capable of cruelty. The affection he had for his wife turned to suspicion. He fell under the influence of two of his wife's maids of honour in succession, Catherine Nelidova (1758 -1839) and Anna Lopukhina (1757 – 1805), and of his barber, a Turkish slave named Koroissov.

Catherine II contemplated setting him aside in favour of his son Alexander, to whom she was attached. Paul was aware of his mother's intention and became increasingly suspicious of his wife and children, whom he rendered perfectly miserable. No definite step was taken to set him aside, probably because nothing would be effective short of putting him to death, and Catherine II shrank from this extreme course. When she was seized with apoplexy, he was free to destroy the will in which she had left the crown to Alexander, if any such will was ever made. ...

Sunday, 13 November 2011

‘Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman’ by Robert K. Massie

It is tempting to hurl the usual plaudits at Robert Massie, the closest thing we have to an official biographer of Russian royalty, and be done with it. “Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman,’’ which fills the gap between Massie’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Peter the Great’’ and his books about the end of the Romanov dynasty, is exhaustively researched and dramatically narrated, bridging the complexity of 18th-century geopolitics and the nuance of personal relationships. And yet the book’s very thoroughness serves at times to undermine the claims Massie seeks to make. Catherine certainly makes an entrancing subject. Born Sophia into a minor German noble family, she rose to become Russia’s great Catherine, one of the most powerful rulers of her time. As empress she commanded political and military matters with a firm hand, patronized the arts and letters to grand effect, and consorted with a dozen handsome courtiers and military men to boot. Add famously disputed questions - Who really fathered her children? How much responsibility did she bear for the coup that ended her husband’s brief reign and placed her on the throne, not to mention his subsequent assassination? What about the horse? - and you have the makings of a biographical blockbuster. Massie approaches this material definitively. He presents Catherine as a woman driven by the cruel neglect of her mother, Princess Johanna Elizabeth, who was beautiful, aspirational, “shallow,’’ and cursed with “irritability’’ and a “quick temper.’’ Johanna’s disappointment at bearing a daughter was underscored by her dramatic preference for the son who came next. According to Massie, Catherine’s “rejection as a child helps to explain her constant search as a woman for what she had missed’’ - that is, “the elemental creature warmth’’ and approval her mother failed to provide, which she sought in platonic relationships with thinkers like Voltaire and Diderot and decidedly non-platonic relationships with those dozen lovers, including, most famously, Gregory Potemkin. If Massie presents Catherine as permanently wounded, he also promotes her as exemplary. Plain as a child but increasingly attractive, highly intelligent from the earliest age, a voracious reader as she got older, “a cheerful child’’ and “a natural leader,’’ Catherine is set on an inevitable trajectory toward greatness, and Massie’s enthusiasm hardly flags, even as the events he describes do not always fit his arguments. Brought to Russia as a teenager and married off by the Empress Elizabeth Petrovna to her awkward, unattractive, and increasingly bizarre nephew and heir, Peter (who trained dogs in his private apartments, organized his servants into military parades, and refused to consummate the marriage), Catherine was at first enchanting and anxious to please: the ideal princess bride. But as her marriage disintegrated and she fell out of favor with Elizabeth, she became increasingly independent, strategically cultivating political alliances and taking the lovers Massie asserts fathered her children, though other biographers find the historical record more ambiguous. ...

Friday, 11 November 2011

Sergei Diaghilev: genius of modern ballet

A part of Leon Baksts Portrait of Sergei Diaghilev with his nanny, 1906, which is housed in the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg

In the tangled narrative of 20th century art, there is no more colourful or influential figure than Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev. The son of a bankrupt Russian vodka distiller, Diaghilev would reinvent himself as the greatest impresario of all time, conquering first Europe and then the world with the Ballets Russes. This was more than just a dance company; it was a creative movement which, from its inception, drew to itself the greatest musical, theatrical and artistic talents of the day.
The adventure began in 1909, when Diaghilev arrived in Paris with a troupe of dancers recruited on their summer break from the imperial ballet of St Petersburg. At 37 years of age, Diaghilev was a significant figure in the Russian cultural sphere, having launched a well-received art review, organised a major exhibition of historical portraits, and taken parties of opera singers to Paris.
The troupe took up residence at the city's Châtelet theatre. The pieces they danced were all new. They had been choreographed by an iconoclastic young dancer named Mikhail Fokine, and set among ravishing designs by Leon Bakst and other artists. But it was the season's star performers who really captivated Paris: Vaslav Nijinsky with his phenomenal virtuosity, Anna Pavlova with her ethereal delicacy, Tamara Karsavina with her refined, sensuous beauty. To the Parisians, Diaghilev's troupe combined the lyrical and the exotic in perfect measure, and the four-week season was a vast succès d'estime.
A year later, Diaghilev's second Paris season outdid the first. In Fokine's Carnaval Nijinsky was an enigmatic Harlequin opposite Karsavina's Columbine, and in the violent, sexually charged Scheherazade, which he danced, according to one witness, "with horrifying virtuosity", he was the exotic Golden Slave. But it was Fokine's third ballet of the season, L'oiseau de feu (The Firebird), which was perhaps the most significant, introducing as it did the music of Igor Stravinsky, a blazingly innovative young composer. Stravinsky would produce a second masterly score for the 1911 season when Fokine choreographed Petrushka, the sad, sinister tale of a puppet which provided yet another vehicle for the uncanny talents of Nijinsky. This was the year in which Diaghilev severed his links with St Petersburg, and the Ballets Russes became a permanent, itinerant European company, enjoying hugely successful seasons in London, Berlin and Monte Carlo as well as in Paris. 1912 would see Nijinsky's emergence as a choreographer, with one of the strangest, most haunting ballets of all time: L'après-midi d'un faune (Afternoon of a Faun). In this work, set to the dreamily impressionistic music of Claude Debussy, the male dancer enacts the role of a half-human, half-animal figure who happens on a party of nymphs. The piece courted controversy when Nijinsky appeared to shudder in orgasm over a scarf abandoned by one of the nymphs, but the outcry was far exceeded the following year at the premiere of Nijinsky's account of human sacrifice Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), set to Stravinsky's brutal, elemental score. The event turned into a riot, with different factions of Parisian society hurling insults at one another. The press, predictably, had a field day. "Exactly what I wanted," Diaghilev confided to Stravinsky in a restaurant afterwards.

 Read more in The Observer

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Inna Lisnianskaya: Forty Days

The whole sky enters your eyes. 
All the earth in your wrinkles. 
To start the same life over again 
There's neither cause or reason. 

But friends say that there is. 
They tell me as a noble gesture 
I should nobly bring ends together, 
Rummaging in your archive, 

I who understand what it is, 
Its scale, its look: 
Waves of the desert, surge of the seas,
Strings in David's hands 

                              27 April 2003 

* * * 

My genius of law and order, you fell asleep. 
Grass will grow on your grave 
As if the large mound. 
Which resembles an exercise book 
In which each blade sings. 

To the granite, so you may rest, 
I shall impart the contours of an exercise book, -
Let the memorial stand, a folio. 
Here the Ides of March will be apropos,
My deeply loved man of music! 

With your music, you built a road 
To temple, mosque, synagogue, 
A Christian temple, minarets. 
You knew how to wind your coat like a toga
To wear your beret as a wreath. 

                              29 April 2003 

* * * 

You left me not so much as a shadow. 
I myself was yours. 
What maddened dove beats at the shutter 
So grey feathers fly all about? 

You left not so much as a dream of yourself.
Yet I myself was yours. 
What star stood fast even as it fell
Glittering in your window? 

Our whole world became as you, 
a dream, rejecting darkness. 
You see me as I sit and gnaw my lips 
The twenty-ninth day at the window. 

                              29 April 2003 

* * * 

I bathed your eyelids, chest and belly
With water from the tap, 
And my mouth, a burning wound,
Touched your cold mouth. 

A pillar of salt now, 
I held back my widow's wailing,
standing at your bed-head 
This late spring day. 

It can be seen by the Lord, 
Only an angel guards it, 
For strangers my day is ordinary,
Like your life. 

                              30 April 2003 

* * *

Exhausted, yet I continue to write, 
I write to you by the light of the star 
Where the birds build 
Their heavenly nests. 

And ours, wooden, with the little porch,
Where you'd sit on the steps, 
Is encircled by Saturn's rings 
And the triangles of wings 

of birds that made themselves nests 
In our pine-needly yard. 
Share a widow's grief 
Keep a minute of silence at dawn. 

                              1 May 2003 

Translated from Russian by Daniel Weissbort

Monday, 7 November 2011

Leo Tolstoy: God Sees the Truth, But Waits

Leo Tolstoy in His Study

                                   Ilya Repin. Leo Tolstoy in His Study. 1891. Oil on canvas.

 IN the town of Vladimir lived a young merchant named Ivan Dmitritch Aksionov. He had two shops and a house of his own.

Aksionov was a handsome, fair-haired, curly-headed fellow, full of fun, and very fond of singing. When quite a young man he had been given to drink, and was riotous when he had had too much, but after he married he gave up drinking, except now and then. One summer Aksionov was going to the Nizhny Fair, and as he bade good-bye to his family, his wife said to him, "Ivan Dmitritch, do not start to-day; I have had a bad dream about you." Aksionov laughed, and said, "You are afraid that when I get to the fair I shall go on a spree." His wife replied: "I do not know what I am afraid of; all I know is that I had a bad dream. I dreamt you returned from the town, and when you took off your cap I saw that your hair was quite grey."

Aksionov laughed. "That's a lucky sign," said he. "See if I don't sell out all my goods, and bring you some presents from the fair."

So he said good-bye to his family, and drove away.

When he had travelled half-way, he met a merchant whom he knew, and they put up at the same inn for the night. They had some tea together, and then went to bed in adjoining rooms.

It was not Aksionov's habit to sleep late, and, wishing to travel while it was still cool, he aroused his driver before dawn, and told him to put in the horses.

Then he made his way across to the landlord of the inn (who lived in a cottage at the back), paid his bill, and continued his journey.

When he had gone about twenty-five miles, he stopped for the horses to be fed. Aksionov rested awhile in the passage of the inn, then he stepped out into the porch, and, ordering a samovar to be heated, got out his guitar and began to play.

Suddenly a troika drove up with tinkling bells and an official alighted, followed by two soldiers. He came to Aksionov and began to question him, asking him who he was and whence he came. Aksionov answered him fully, and said, "Won't you have some tea with me?" But the official went on cross-questioning him and asking him, "Where did you spend last night? Were you alone, or with a fellow-merchant? Did you see the other merchant this morning? Why did you leave the inn before dawn?"

Aksionov wondered why he was asked all these questions, but he described all that had happened, and then added, "Why do you cross-question me as if I were a thief or a robber? I am travelling on business of my own, and there is no need to question me."

Then the official, calling the soldiers, said, "I am the police-officer of this district, and I question you because the merchant with whom you spent last night has been found with his throat cut. We must search your things."

They entered the house. The soldiers and the police-officer unstrapped Aksionov's luggage and searched it. Suddenly the officer drew a knife out of a bag, crying, "Whose knife is this?" Aksionov looked, and seeing a blood-stained knife taken from his bag, he was frightened. "How is it there is blood on this knife?"

Aksionov tried to answer, but could hardly utter a word, and only stammered: "I—don't know—not mine."

Then the police-officer said: "This morning the merchant was found in bed with his throat cut. You are the only person who could have done it. The house was locked from inside, and no one else was there. Here is this blood-stained knife in your bag, and your face and manner betray you! Tell me how you killed him, and how much money you stole?"

Aksionov swore he had not done it; that he had not seen the merchant after they had had tea together; that he had no money except eight thousand rubles of his own, and that the knife was not his. But his voice was broken, his face pale, and he trembled with fear as though he were guilty.

The police-officer ordered the soldiers to bind Aksionov and to put him in the cart. As they tied his feet together and flung him into the cart, Aksionov crossed himself and wept. His money and goods were taken from him, and he was sent to the nearest town and imprisoned there. Enquiries as to his character were made in Vladimir. The merchants and other inhabitants of that town said that in former days he used to drink and waste his time, but that he was a good man. Then the trial came on: he was charged with murdering a merchant from Ryazan, and robbing him of twenty thousand rubles.

His wife was in despair, and did not know what to believe. Her children were all quite small; one was a baby at her breast. Taking them all with her, she went to the town where her husband was in jail. At first she was not allowed to see him; but after much begging, she obtained permission from the officials, and was taken to him. When she saw her husband in prison-dress and in chains, shut up with thieves and criminals, she fell down, and did not come to her senses for a long time. Then she drew her children to her, and sat down near him. She told him of things at home, and asked about what had happened to him. He told her all, and she asked, "What can we do now?" "We must petition the Czar not to let an innocent man perish."

His wife told him that she had sent a petition to the Czar, but it had not been accepted. Aksionov did not reply, but only looked downcast.

Then his wife said, "It was not for nothing I dreamt your hair had turned grey. You remember? You should not have started that day." And passing her fingers through his hair, she said: "Vanya dearest, tell your wife the truth; was it not you who did it?"

"So you, too, suspect me!" said Aksionov, and, hiding his face in his hands, he began to weep. Then a soldier came to say that the wife and children must go away; and Aksionov said good-bye to his family for the last time.

When they were gone, Aksionov recalled what had been said, and when he remembered that his wife also had suspected him, he said to himself, "It seems that only God can know the truth; it is to Him alone we must appeal, and from Him alone expect mercy."

And Aksionov wrote no more petitions; gave up all hope, and only prayed to God.

Aksionov was condemned to be flogged and sent to the mines. So he was flogged with a knot, and when the wounds made by the knot were healed, he was driven to Siberia with other convicts. For twenty-six years Aksionov lived as a convict in Siberia. His hair turned white as snow, and his beard grew long, thin, and grey. All his mirth went; he stooped; he walked slowly, spoke little, and never laughed, but he often prayed.

In prison Aksionov learnt to make boots, and earned a little money, with which he bought The Lives of the Saints. He read this book when there was light enough in the prison; and on Sundays in the prison-church he read the lessons and sang in the choir; for his voice was still good. The prison authorities liked Aksionov for his meekness, and his fellow-prisoners respected him: they called him "Grandfather," and "The Saint." When they wanted to petition the prison authorities about anything, they always made Aksionov their spokesman, and when there were quarrels among the prisoners they came to him to put things right, and to judge the matter. No news reached Aksionov from his home, and he did not even know if his wife and children were still alive.

One day a fresh gang of convicts came to the prison. In the evening the old prisoners collected round the new ones and asked them what towns or villages they came from, and what they were sentenced for. Among the rest Aksionov sat down near the newcomers, and listened with downcast air to what was said.

One of the new convicts, a tall, strong man of sixty, with a closely-cropped grey beard, was telling the others what he had been arrested for.