Showing posts from April, 2013

Nicholas II - The last Emperor of Russia

Nicholas II was the last Emperor of Russia.

Born 6 May 1868, Nicholas was the oldest son of Tsar Alexander III and his wife Maria Feodorovna. His parents took particular trouble over his education. Nicholas was taught by outstanding Russian academics at home, he knew several languages and had a wide knowledge of history, and he also quickly grasped military science. His father personally guided his education, which was strictly based on religion. Nicholas ascended the throne at age 26 after the unexpected death of his father in 1894. Although a well educated man, he felt unprepared for the hard task as the ruler of the Russian empire, he was not properly prepared to officiate as a monarch and was not fully introduced to top affairs of the state. Nicholas's reign was marked by tragedy from the very beginning. A national celebration to honor the formal coronation of the new tsar turned into a disaster. Overcrowding resulted in a stampede and hundreds of people were crushed to death…

Olga Spessivtseva - Biography and Giselle's Mad Scene

The story of Olga Spessivtseva is the saddest I have known. Although she was born into a prosperous family, her father's death imposed financial hardships on the family, and Olga was sent to an orphanage. At the age of ten she became a student at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg. Here she found the order and discipline that she needed in her life. A shy, withdrawn child, Olga dedicated her existence to ballet. She graduated in 1913 and became a soloist in the ballet company in1916.

Although she did not support Serge Diaghilev's ideas about dance, in 1916 she agreed to replace Tamara Karsavina on the American tour of The Ballets Russes. When she returned to Russia in 1918, she was promoted to Prima Ballerina. Here she had her chance to dance Giselle for the first time. For many, Spessivtseva was the perfect Giselle, her flawless dancing and air of vulnerability eclipsing even the interpretation of Pavlova.

Spessivtseva's fragile health and the deprivations of t…

Grigory Sokolov: Schubert Sonata D 664

Grigory Sokolov (born April 18, 1950 in Leningrad) In the 40 years since the 16-year-old Grigory Sokolov was awarded first prize at the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1966, the world has been blessed with what one American critic recently called "a kind of pianism, musicianship and artistry one thought had vanished forever". Championed at a young age by Emil Gilels and a prominent figure on the Russian music scene since his early teens, Sokolov has gained an almost mythical status amongst music-lovers and pianophiles throughout the world. He is considered by many today to be the world's greatest living pianist. Ever since his first major piano recital in Leningrad at the age of 12, Sokolov has amazed everyone again and again with the enormous breadth of his repertoire and his huge, almost physical musical strength. Using little pedal, and thus superior finger-work, he draws from the concert grand an immense variety of sounds; he has an unlimited…

Gothic tales from Russia haunt the imagination

Obsession, possession, insanity, incest and horror wander through the pages of “Red Spectres,” an erratically brilliant collection of Gothic short stories from 20th-century Russia. In the opening tale, a woman’s reflection in a mirror “seized me by both hands and wrenched me towards her,” plunging the unhinged narrator into a terrifying world of shadows. These stories do the same to their readers, haunting the imagination on many different levels. Valery Bryusov’s pre-revolutionary gem “In the Mirror”(1903) shows that the genre was not only a response to the nightmarish phantoms of Soviet life. But most of the other stories here were written the 1920s and use images of supernatural or psychological disturbance to reflect the contemporary world. Only two of them have appeared in English before. In her conscientious introduction, Muireann Maguire explores historical and literary contexts and observes that Gothic stories often appear at times of cultural upheaval: “Russia by the mid-1920s …

Sergei Mikhailovich Lyapunov: Symphony No. 1 Op. 12 I. Andantino

Symphony No. 1 by Sergei Lyapunov. 
Conducted by Vassily Sinaisky with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

Sergei Mikhailovich Liapunov - Composer

As a pianist who champions the works of lesser-known composers, I have discovered several composers over the years whose works are not only of high quality both pianistically and compositionally, but that cause audiences to respond with gratification and surprise. Two such composers, Alkan and Medtner, have enjoyed the patronage of first-rate pianists, and good representation in recordings (though there is room for many more). Sergei Liapunov (also spelled Lyapunov), however, has not had as much attention devoted to his music as he deserves, in spite of a few fine recordings.

Sergei Mikhailovich Liapunov was born on 30 November 1859 in Yaroslavl, Russia, a town about 250 km northeast of Moscow. His father, Mikhail Vasilievich Liapunov (1820-1868) was a mathematician and astronomer who became the director of the Demidovsky Institute in Yaroslavl, while his mother, Sofya Alexandrovna (née Shipilov), an accomplished amateur pianist, did much to foster Sergei's interest in music. Ser…

In the Lava Mountains

In the Lava Mountains: Going to the mountains is fun, but going to the mountains is even more fun when it is a volcano, an active Russian volcano. Team of explorers went there and post beautiful images of a mesmerizing natural wonders. You can … Read more...

Rachmaninov - Prelude in g sharp minor op 32 - Elisabeth Leonskaja

Sergei Rachmaninov - Prelude in g sharp minor op 32
DR Symphony Orchestra - Dmitrij Kitatjenko -
Piano: Elisabeth Leonskaja

Largest Exhibition of Mikhail Nesterov to be Opened in Moscow

On April 24 the Tretyakov Gallery in Krymsky Val opens the largest exhibition of the year dedicated to the outstanding artist Mikhail Nesterov (1862-1942).

His creations convey and reflect the most important features of national character and the nature of Russia. The contents and depth of Nesterov’s art is in accord with religious quest of the Russian literature and domestic philosophical thought at the turn of the 19th- 20th centuries.

About 300 works from 24 museums of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and 9 private collections will present a wide range of the artist’s creative interests: paintings on religious subjects, portraits, landscapes, and sketches of church frescoes.

Many works presented at the exhibition, are displayed for the first time after carrying out of most complicated restoration works.


Leo Tolstoy and Father John: The rivalry of an age

The memoirs of Ivan Zakhar’in, playwright and author appearing under the pseudonym Yakunin, chronicle a curious conversation. It arose between Russian Emperor Alexander III and the Countess Alexandra Andreyevna Tolstaya, the renowned Alexandrine, first cousin once removed of Leo Tolstoy, lady-in-waiting and governess of the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna.  At the imperial court,Alexandrine had acquired a reputation for her impeccable piety, philanthropic leanings, exceptional intellect and literary taste, and for her independence of character, that most distinctive trait of the Tolstovian line. The Emperor was able to reach the lady-in-waiting’s chambers via a separate elevated glass gallery connecting the Winter Palace with the Hermitage. One day, he paid her a visit to discuss the possible publication of Leo Tolstoy’s “The Kreutzer Sonata,” which had been banned by the Church censors. “I allowed myself to express my support for the idea, and told the Emperor that the whole of Russia …

Princess Yekaterina Romanovna Vorontsova-Dashkova, a writer, autobiographer, journalist

Born on March 17, 1743, Dashkova was the third daughter of Count Roman Vorontsov, a member of the Senate.

Unlike most European females during the eighteenth century, she received an exceptionally good education. She studied mathematics at the University of Moscow and enjoyed the literary works of Montesquieu, Boileau, Voltaire, and Helveticus. In her youth, she became connected to the Russian court and became one of the leaders of the party that supported Grand Duchess Catherine (later Catherine II, the Great). Dashkova was a very close friend of Russian Empress Catherine the Great as well as a major figure of the Russian Enlightenment of the eighteenth century.

Unfortunately, once Catherine had her throne, she cooled her friendship with Dashkova, though the latter remained loyal to her sovereign. The estrangement made Dashkova uncomfortable enough to request that the Empress allow her to travel abroad. Permission was granted, and Dashkova departed on an extended tour of Europe. As a wi…

Oligarchs and Graphomaniacs

In the Soviet Union, literary prizes were awarded in the Kremlin, the proceedings broadcast on the national television channel. Writers could be honored with the Lenin Prize, the State Prize of the USSR or the Award of the Komsomol. The editor of a major literary journal could be a member of the Supreme Soviet, with a rank equivalent to that of a field marshal. Literature, like the other arts, was either official or unofficial. Official literature was written by unionized writers, approved by the government and published by state presses. Unofficial literature could not be published and could not receive awards; it could, however, carry a lengthy prison sentence. Writers were important people.

When the Soviet Union dissolved, the government lost its monopoly on literary prizes, among other commodities. Russia's first independent arts award, the Triumph Prize, was sponsored by the newly minted oligarch Boris Berezovsky (who, after a decade-long exile in London, died in an apparent s…

Balakirev: Islamey

Played by Cziffra.

Ivan Bunin: Russian Spring

IN the valley the birches are bored.
On the meadows, fog billows and weighs.
Sodden, with horse-dung floored,
The highroad blackens in haze.

Rich on the steppe’s sleepy air, 5
The odor of freshly-baked bread.
Bent to their packs, slowly fare
Two beggars to look for a bed.

Round puddles gleam in the streets.
The fumes of the ovens stun. 10
Thawing, the bleak earthen seats
Smolder and steam in the sun.

By the corn-bin, dragging his chain,
The sheep-dog yawns on the sill.
Walls smoke with the charcoal stain. 15
The steppe is foggy and still.

The carefree cock will perform
Day-long for the sap-stirred earth.
In the fields it is drowsy and warm.
In the heart—indolent mirth. 20

Star Man, Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, Soviet pilot and cosmonaut was the first human to journey into outer space, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961.

George Orwell: Review of 'WE' by E. I. Zamyatin

Several years after hearing of its existence, I have at last got my hands on a copy of Zamyatin's We, which is one of the literary curiosities of this book-burning age. Looking it up in Gleb Struve's Twenty-Five Years of Soviet Russian Literature, I find its history to have been this:

Zamyatin, who died in Paris in 1937, was a Russian novelist and critic who published a number of books both before and after the Revolution. We was written about 1923, and though it is not about Russia and has no direct connection with contemporary politics--it is a fantasy dealing with the twenty-sixth century AD--it was refused publication on the ground that it was ideololgically undesirable. A copy of the manuscript found its way out of the country, and the book has appeared in English, French and Czech translations, but never in Russian. The English translation was published in the United States, and I have never been able to procure a copy: but copies of the French translation (the title is N…


The city of Odessa was founded by a decree of the Empress Catherine the Great in 1794. From 1819 to 1858 Odessa was a free port. During the Soviet period it was the most important port of trade in the Soviet Union and a Soviet naval base.

Lot of interesting photos from Odesa here.

Ivan Krylov (1769 – 1844)

Ivan Andreevich Krylov was a Russian poet, fabulist, translator and writer. He is the author of more than 200 fables.

Krylov was born in Moscow into the family of a poor army captain. He did not receive an exceptional education, but his parents paid great attention to his upbringing, and with time, he became one of the most learned people of his era. When he was six, his father resigned from the army and the family moved to Tver. There, the young fabulist impressed the local landlord Nikolay Lvov with his poetry and the landlord allowed him to study together with his children.

Krylov’s father was assigned to work for a local county court, although it was just a formality, as he almost never appeared in the office and didn’t receive any salary. In 1778 his father died, leaving a chest filled with books as Ivan’s inheritance. Krylov’s mother tried to get a pension, but was turned down and the family ended up in poverty.

Five years later Krylov moved to St. Petersburg to work as a regional …

When Dickens met Dostoevsky

Late in 2011, Michiko Kakutani opened her New York Times review of Claire Tomalin’s biography of Charles Dickens with “a remarkable account” she had found in its pages. In London for a few days in 1862, Fyodor Dostoevsky had dropped in on Dickens’s editorial offices and found the writer in an expansive mood. In a letter written by Dostoevsky to an old friend sixteen years later, the writer of so many great confession scenes depicted Dickens baring his creative soul:

 “All the good simple people in his novels, Little Nell, even the holy simpletons like Barnaby Rudge, are what he wanted to have been, and his villains were what he was (or rather, what he found in himself), his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity toward those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those whom he ought to love, being used up in what he wrote. There were two people in him, he told me: one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite. From the one who feels the…

Tauride (Tavrichesky) Palace

Tavricheskiy - or "Tauride" - Palace is one of the largest and most impressive palaces in St. Petersburg, located in the north-east of the historic centre, next to the Tavricheskiy Garden(formerly the grounds of the palace). Nowadays, the palace is home to the Interparliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and is not open for sightseeing. However, since February 2010, halls of Tavricheskiy Palace are being used to host Potemkin Evenings, concerts of 18th century music performed on authentic instruments by some of the best local ensembles.

The Tavricheskiy Palace was built between 1783 and 1789 by Ivan Starov, one of the leading court architects of the period, for Prince Grigory Potemkin, the close confidant and former lover of Catherine the Great. The palace was built and named in honour of his key role in the annexation of the Crimea, for which he was awarded the title "Prince of Tauris" in reference to the Ancient Greek name for the region.…

Anna Netrebko - Glinka - A Life For The Tsar (Ivan Susanin)


The Hermitage and Catherine the Great Collector

Catherine the Great's grandiose plans to build in St. Petersburg a gallery to rival the best in Europe were initially met with undisguised skepticism by her friend and adviser Diderot. Only with the additional aid of prints of major works, suggested the French philosopher and Encyclopedist, could the Russians hope to cover the full gamut of Western painting, "since those who do not possess the original of a book are obliged to read it in translation."

But Catherine, who once described herself as not so much a lover of art as "a glutton" for it, was not to be diverted from this ambition any more than from the other multiple schemes this German-born princess brought to fruition during her 17 years as grand duchess and empress in waiting, and 34 years as the absolute ruler of her adopted homeland.

The upshot was the Hermitage, which by the time of Catherine's death in 1796 had well over 2,500 canvases, many of superlative quality, and tens of thousands of other …

Kornei Chukovsky: Mayakovsky and Nekrasov (1952)

Nekrasov devoted all his powerful talent to the service of contemporaneity. "Contemporaneity" was one of his favorite words. The vast majority of his verses were topical reactions to burning questions of his day.

On this plane it is interesting to compare Nekrasov with a poet of our own era, Vladimir Mayakovsky, who, like Nekrasov, gave all his "resounding strength" to the service of contemporaneity. This is one of the most important links uniting the critical realism of Nekrasov with the socialist realism of Mayakovsky.

It is Mayakovsky's unremitting concern for the future which brings him so close to his great 19th-century predecessor. Nekrasov had no other heir who looked from the present out into the future with such passion, such avid curiosity. However, for the "peasant democrat" of the 60s only the very distant future could present itself in a rosy light whereas the immediate future loomed before his imagination in the gloomiest and most agonizin…

Vasily Rozanov - Biography

Vassily Vassilievich ROZANOV (20. 04. 1856, Vetluga — 23. 01. 1919, Sergiev Posad Monastery) — is one of the most original, important and yet under-studied turn-of-the-century Russian thinkers. Born into the family of a middle-ranking clerk, he was only five years old when his father died. He was brought up by his mother, nee Shishkina, who had a strong impact on Rozanov's personality. Rozanov's preoccupation with issues of gender and sexuality can be considered to be a result of his mother's extraordinary (for the time) second marriage to a man some fifteen years her junior. In his later years Rozanov considered this age difference to have mystical significance. When he was young, he duplicated the pattern established by his mother in his own personal life. As a student at Moscow University he married a woman who was twenty-four years older than him. This woman was Appolinaria Suslova, the former mistress of Fedor Dostoevsky and one of the first emancipated and sexually l…

Chusovoy – the beginning of Yermak trip

The history of the city begins with 1879, when near the railway station Chusovskaya a Russian-French joint-stock company there was laid a metallurgical factory. Since that time near the factory there are two-storied wooden “French houses” – memorials of the factory way of life. But long ago before the foundation of Chusovoy people lived in this region. These territories had seen a lot. Some findings say that even in the past times there were links, which connected this edge with the civilizations of the East. From here started his Siberia trip Yermak Timopheevich.

To acquaint with the cultural-historical legacy of the edge the ethnographic complex “The Museum of the River Chusovaya’s History” will help. In this museum under the open air are exported the displays, reproducing Russian olden times. From different parts of Prikamye here lordly country shop, theatre-museum of Russian wooden toys, children’s fair merry-go-round, bucket, mill, well were taken…

In the buildings you can see th…

Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli

Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli (1700–1771) went to Russia in 1716 with his father, Italian sculptor Carlo Bartolomeo Rastrelli. Russia became his second homeland where he worked for over 40 years. Empress Elizabeth appointed him to the post of senior court architect in 1730. During 1748-1756 Rastrelli was in charge of the Tsarskoye Selo residence construction. Catherine II, then a Grand Duchess, witnessed the work and compared it with that of mythological Penelope; she wrote, “The house has been pulled down six times to the foundation and then built up again.” On 10 May 1752, Empress Elizabeth ordered to completely rebuild her residence, and on 30 July 1756 Rastrelli presented the brand-new 325-meter-long palace to the Empress, her dazed courtiers and stupefied foreign ambassadors. The sumptuous edifice with a semicircle of service buildings (circumferences) enclosing a courtyard became a unique example of the Russian Baroque style. Its brilliant azure walls, snow-white columns, gold…

Found in Translation

Translators are often invisible heroes.

Their influence on the texts we read is often unnoticed and little appreciated.
But a translator's personality, and their relationship with the author, inevitably leave a mark on the final result, even if we can't always feel it.
So, do some authors work with some translators better than others?
At the Slovo literary festival earlier this month, we met Hugh Aplin and Arch Tait, who are both translators of Russian literature into English.
Hugh Aplin is renowned for His translations of 19th and early 20th-Century Classics, like Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground  Or Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita . But he says that the satirical writer Nikolai Gogol is closest to his temperament. "I think it's a humour thing as far as he's concerned. And certainly I have been asked whether I would translate Dead Souls, because again somebody else thinks that my voice would perhaps fit.
"The problem there is, although I don't…