Showing posts from June, 2013

Varlam Shalamov: A Rest

The mountains were white with a bluish sheen, like sugar loaves. Round and treeless, they were coated in a thin layer of solid snow, packed down by the winds. The snow in the ravines was deep and firm – it could hold a man’s weight, while on the slopes it seemed to bulge up in huge bubbles. These were the shrubs of the dwarf pine, sprawled over the earth, which had bedded down for their winter night before the first snow fell. It was these shrubs that we needed.
Of all the northern trees, I loved the Siberian dwarf pine the most.
I had long understood and treasured the enviable eagerness with which poor northern nature hurried to share with man, who was just as destitute, its simple riches: to bloom the faster for him with all its flowers. Sometimes in a week everything would race into blossom, and within a month of summer’s arrival the mountains bathed in rays of the almost never-setting sun would redden with lingonberries and blacken with midnight blueberries. On the low-growing shrub…

Vladimir Mayakovsky - Short biographies

Born 19 July (7 July, Old Style) 1893 in Bagdadi, Georgia (which was later named Mayakovsky in his honor). His father, Vladimir Konstantinovich, though of noble ancestry, was a forest ranger. The young Vladimir had two older sister--Olga and Lyudmila. He began school in Kutais in 1902, but took little interest in studies. By the time he was in third grade, Mayakovsky found himself thrilled by the excitement of mass meetings, demonstrations, and revolutionary songs. Lyudmila, now a student in Moscow, would bring home legal and illegal political pamphlets.

In 1906 the elder Mayakovsky died of blood poisoning. Mayakovsky's mother, Aleksandra Alekseevna, decided to move the family to Moscow to stay close to Lyudmila. To help support the family, Olga and the young Vladimir learned to fire and color wooden objects, such as boxes, caskets and Easter eggs, which Lyudimila would sell to stores.

Mayakovsky plunged himself into politics almost as soon as he arrived in Moscow. By the time he wa…

Mikhail Lermontov: Farewell, farewell, unwashed Russia

Farewell, farewell, unwashed Russia,
The land of slaves, the land of lords,
And you, blue uniforms of gendarmes,
And you, obedient to them folks.

Perhaps beyond Caucasian mountains
I’ll hide myself from your pashas,
From their eyes that are all-seeing,
From their ever hearing ears.

<1840 or 1841>

translated by Dmitri Smirnov

The poem was written between 1840 and 1841 in connection with his exile to the Caucasus. A literal translation is as follows: “Farewell, unwashed Russia, / land of slaves, land of lords, / and you, blue uniforms, / and you, people, obedient to them. / Perhaps beyond the ridge of Caucasus / I will hide from your pashas, / from their all-seeing eye, / from their all-hearing ears.” The following translation (see below) is an attempt to preserve the rhythm of the original.


Aram Khachaturian:Spartacus, Bolshoi Ballet

Beyond Akhmatova and Pasternak: Discovering Soviet poets

Anna Akhmatova is already known abroad, as are Osip Mandelstam, Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetaeva. Robert Chandler and his fellow translators are concerned that the intense focus on these four, with their dramatic life histories, has overshadowed other talented writers. A new Penguin anthology of “Russian Poetry from Pushkin to Brodsky,” due out by 2015, is set to bring these lesser known poets to light. Chandler, famous for bringing Soviet greats like Vasily Grossman and Andrey Platonov to English-reading audiences, has already edited two generous compilations of Russian short stories. Now, together with Russian-American poets Boris Dralyuk and Irina Mashinski, he’s overseeing an even more ambitious project, bringing together legions of translators to create an anthology, which challenges the whole idea of Russian poetry in the West. To celebrate this poetic collaboration, London’s Pushkin House hosted a “Russian Poetry week.” Stephen Capus, who is translating poems by Tsvetaeva, Bor…

Russian Ballerina Semionova Dances at NY’s Metropolitan Opera House

Polina Semionova, the Bolshoi-trained principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre is to perform in Leo Delibes’ ballet “Sylvia” at the Metropolitan Opera House on Tuesday and again on Friday.

Semionova, 29, made her debut with the American Ballet Theatre in 2011 after serving as principal dancer for the Berlin State Opera for 10 years.

“Sylvia” could be a challenge for Semionova and the rest of the company - the dancers will perform steps created by the English choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton as a star vehicle for Dame Margot Fonteyn in 1954, but the ballet has not been performed since 1965 and the choreography was never officially notated. It has been reconstructed from old film footage.
Semionova, who graduated from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in 2002, has danced in “Swan Lake” and “Romeo and Juliet” for the American Ballet Theatre this season.

RIA Novosti

The Dostoevsky Archive

After you decapitate someone, might their severed head continue thinking? Prince Myshkin holds his audience spellbound with this macabre inquiry in The Idiot, a great novel whose author, Fyodor Dostoevsky, was once called the Shakespeare of the lunatic asylum. Each of his great novels concerns a murder (one a parricide); most also touch upon the sickening theme of the rape of a child. The writer Lafcadio Hearn warned that reading him might actually drive you mad: it can certainly invoke pity and terror, embarrassment and laughter. Dostoevsky’s life was even weirder than his fiction. He was born in 1821, the son of a surgeon whom he believed to have been killed by his own serfs. He was often poor, and so he is the only great Russian writer of his generation whose first language was Russian rather than French: there was no money for the requisite governess. After writing the sentimental Poor Folk (1845), he joined the socialist Petrashevsky’s circle, was arrested and spent six months i…

Ivan Turgenev - Short Stories

When Gogol died in 1852, Ivan Turgenev, the man whom many in Russia were calling his successor, was arrested for writing an obituary in praise of the great writer. In fact, the official reason was a pretext. Turgenev had already displeased the tsarist authorities with his series of sketches of rural Russian life, published in the journal the Contemporary between 1847 and 1851, and collected in 1852 as Sketches from a Hunter's Album.

This book, which it is claimed influenced Tsar Alexander II's decision to emancipate the serfs in 1861, comprises vignettes of peasant life as observed by a landowning hunter much like Turgenev. Not even Gogol had presented such rounded portrayals of serfs before. As the translator Richard Freeborn notes, while Turgenev would go on to greater things in both the short story and the novel, he was quite aware of the book's merits. At the time of publication he wrote:
"Much has come out pale and scrappy, much is only just hinted at, some of it…

100 years on: Igor Stravinsky on The Rite of Spring

It is scarcely believable that The Rite of Spring, and before it The Firebird andPetrushka, were written by a composer still in his twenties, and that this was only slightly more than a decade after the death of Johannes Brahms. The unanticipated creation of Petrushka (1911), written in seven months, intervened between the conception and the composition of The Rite, which Igor Stravinsky had envisioned while completing Firebird in 1910. The theophanic experience likely dates from December 1909, when Alexandre Benois and Nikolai Roerich persuaded the composer of the merit of Mikalojus Ciurlionis’s paintings. At their urging Stravinsky visited the St Petersburg exhibition of the Lithuanian artist’s temperas. Roerich, himself a painter, ethnographer and authority on pre-Christian rituals of Slavic Russian tribes, had compiled a book on Ciurlionis. Mesmerized by the paintings, Stravinsky purchased one, the “Sonata of the Pyramids” (1908). 

Bernard Berenson classified Ciurlionis simply as …

Getting back to basics: Russian classics no longer lost in translation

Nikolai Leskov is one of those great names in Russian literature that has somehow been lost in translation. He was Chekhov’s favorite author and Maxim Gorky described him as the equal of Gogol, Turgenev and Tolstoy. But most foreigners who know his name at all usually hear of him because Shostakovich based an opera on one of Leskov’s short stories, “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.” His idiomatic language has scared some of the best translators. Until now. A new collection of short stories and novellas, translated by award-winning husband-and-wife team, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, is set to rectify Leskov’s “neglected classic” status. The volume opens with “Lady Macbeth” (1864), one of Leskov’s earlier works, a tale of provincial lust and murder. From the bored merchant’s wife, romping with a servant by the samovar under moonlit apple blossom, to a chilling denouement near the “dark, gape-jawed waves” of the leaden Volga, the story showcases Leskov’s masterful evocation of place and…

Favorite Artists: Aleksandr Golovin

Aleksandr Golovin (also spelled Alexander Golovin) was born in Russia in 1863. He studied architecture and painting, but he had little money when he graduated and was forced to enter trade as an interior painter and decorator. He tried his hand at other artistic endeavors, including a stint in furniture design. In 1900, he and his fellow artist friend Konstantin Korovin joined in the design of the Russian pavilion for the Paris World's Fair, and a year later he found his niche when he moved to St. Petersburg and became a stage designer. He worked with well-known innovators of the Russian stage until his death in 1930.

Odessa: City of Writerly Love

Walking along Pushkin Street on the kind of dazzling spring day the Odessan writer Aleksandr Kuprin warned visitors to avoid—the smell of acacias in bloom, he wrote, can induce newcomers to fall in love and take foolish steps, like getting married—I crossed Bunin Street, named for the Nobel Prize-winning short-story writer, then Zhukovskogo, a street named after the romantic poet said to have been Pushkin’s mentor. Near the opera, a golden sign announced the Odessa Literary Museum. Writers fall in love with cities all the time. But ever since Pushkin spent thirteen months here in 1823, Odessa has been a city infatuated with its writers. At the Odessa Literary Museum—housed in a dilapidated palace in the city center, it is one of the largest shrines of its kind in the world—docents can tell you the number of days a given writer was here (Chekhov, who once spent half his paycheck on Odessan ice cream, came four times and stayed a total of sixteen days) and who wrote which chapters of the…

Chekhov’s story mirrors Russia’s own

“Chekhov,” V.S. Pritchett’s now-classic biography of the 19th century Russian story writer, physician, and playwright, is newly available in an audiobook edition beautifully narrated by Antony Ferguson.

This is a cause for celebration, because Anton Chekhov has in many ways become an abstraction useful for describing the work of other writers. There is no higher superlative, in some quarters, than to say a writer is “the American Chekhov” or “our Chekhov” or “Chekhovian.” What this seems to mean is that the writer is attuned to the subtleties of human behavior, that the writer does not proclaim loudly upon everything all the time, that the writer is restrained in the use of language, that the writer is civil and just, that the writer is measured, that the writer is in some way indescribable, that there is a magic somewhere in the flat surface that is best left unexamined, because to describe it mechanically would be to diminish it.

Sometimes, though, when a writer’s prose is describe…

Anna Akhmatova: A charismatic poet who expressed the despair of a generation

When her son Lev was arrested in 1938, Anna Akhmatova burned all her notebooks of poems. From then on, she memorized everything she wrote, to recite afterwards only in private readings with trusted friends. Lev’s father, Akhmatova’s first husband Nikolai Gumilev, had been killed for his supposed role in an anti-Bolshevik conspiracy. But Akhmatova knew her son was probably also targeted because of the uncompromising nature of her own verse. Her transition to the oral tradition also meant a change in her style: more fragmentary, more visual and, above all, more resonant.  That was her strategy for surviving and safeguarding the collective memory of her people.  As a poet, she could not save the victims of Stalin’s Terror, the purges, or the Siege of Leningrad during World War II. But her transparent verses could preserve memory, and save it from a second death: Oblivion. As the terrible events mounted in Russia and the suffering of her people grew, Akhmatova’s voice became stronger and more…

Remembering Moscow of the 90s

Remembering Moscow of the 90s: What was Moscow of the 90s like? Long lines, sports suits, denim jackets. Alcohol and cigarettes advertising. Constant strange meetings and actions. Kiosks, kiosks, kiosks. First supermarkets and fast-food restaurants. And Slavic faces prevailing in the streets. “McDonald’s restaurant is … Read more...

Pushkin's descendant keeps poet's name alive

Anna Vorontzova-Velyaminova, the great-granddaughter of Alexander Pushkin and a well-known linguist, recommends reading his works in their original language and shares a treasure trove of memories with Russia Beyond the Headlines on the 214th anniversary of his birth.

How difficult is it to carry on the cultural legacy of an ancestor as important as Alexander Pushkin? RBTH talked to well-known linguist and the great-granddaughter of Pushkin, Anna Vorontzova-Velyaminova, on the 214thanniversary of the poet’s birth. RBTH:  What does it mean to be a descendant of such a great Russian literary genius as Alexander Pushkin? Is it difficult to carry on his legacy? Anna Vorontzova-Velyaminova: It is very difficult, and something that has always surprised me is how the descendants of Dante and Leopardi in Italy and Shakespeare in England are not as well known as we are here. It’s amazing how the love that Russians have for Pushkin also extends to his descendants and his entire family. I find this …

Russian Literary Works, Art Up for Auction in New York

– A collection of rare Russian literary works, including a first edition by poet Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin and a copy of Anton Chekhov’s 1894 “Povesti i razskazy” (Stories and Tales) will go under the hammer at Bonhams auction house in New York this month along with other collectibles including postcards, theater programs and magazines, Bonhams said Wednesday. The top lot of the 300 lots that will go up for auction on June 26 is a signed copy of the first authorized edition of the complete works of Derzhavin, considered one of pre-revolutionary Russia’s greatest poets, Bonhams said in a release. The book of poems, which was published in St. Petersburg between 1808 and 1816, is expected to fetch between $60,000 and $80,000. Chekhov’s collection of 11 short stories, “Povesti I razskazy”, is expected to sell in New York for $25,000-$35,000. The copy that will go up for sale was inscribed by Chekhov to Semen Ilich Bychkov, a waiter at the Grand Hotel in Moscow with whom Chekhov formed…

Petrozavodsk: Gattway To Karelia

In trying to reach and conquer the Baltic Sea, Tsar Peter the Great declared war on the Swedish Empire in 1700. Three years into a conflict that would last more than two decades, Peter the Great sanctioned the building of a new town on the shores of Lake Onega that would be used as an iron foundry for much-needed weaponry for his northern fleet. Under the supervision of Prince Menshikov, the settlement and foundry of Petrovskaya Sloboda was established in September 1703 — the same year the construction of St. Petersburg began.
The town grew in the aftermath of Peter the Great’s victory in the Great Northern War, and its industrial heritage remains evident to this day. Several name changes occurred during these early years until eventually Petrozavodsk, which means “Peter’s Factory,” was settled upon.
Today, Petrozavodsk is a small city by Russian standards and has a friendly, European atmosphere. A leafy park in the neoclassical center leads to the grand Musical Theater and former govern…

Natalia Sergeyevna Goncharova

Goncharova was born in Negaevo, in Tula Province on June 4, 1881 and died in Paris on October 17, 1962. A descendant of the great poet Aleksander Sergeyevich Pushkin's wife, she was the daughter of Sergei Goncharov, an architect, and Ekaterina Ilinichna Belyaeva, but grew up in her grandmother's house in the Tula Province. She attended the Fourth Gymnasium for Girls in Moscow and in 1898 entered the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture as a sculpture student. At the school Goncharova met Mikhail Larionov who became her lifelong companion and encouraged her to leave sculpture for painting. Goncharova was attracted briefly to Impressionism and Symbolism, but her participation in the "Golden Fleece" exhibition introduced her to the styles of Gauguin, Matisse, Cezanne and Toulouse-Lautrec whose art would influence her development. In a series depicting the favorite theme of the Russian peasants working the land, this influence is revealed in both color a…