Thursday, 31 January 2013

Russian Bookshelf: revising Joseph Brodsky's poems

Russian Bookshelf: revising Joseph Brodsky's poems
Russia Beyond The Headlines
Russian Bookshelf: revising Joseph Brodsky's poems. January 30, 2013 Alexander Ganjushin. Do you want to get more familiar with the Russian literature? We are happy to offer you audio books from our Russian Bookshelf. Enjoy the listening!

Russian Bookshelf: revising Joseph Brodsky's poems

Big Nice Mountains

Big Nice Mountains: The Caucasus are associated with snowy peaks, turbulent mountain rivers, Narzan (local mineral water), glaciers and old double-peak Elbrus. It’s where you constantly hear rockfalling sounds, crackling glaciers and see the stars which seem to be so close that you … Read more...

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Chilling Science Fiction for the Facebook age

Anyone who has ever been alarmed by the pace of the digital revolution will find Anna Starobinets’ novel disturbing. “The Living” of the title is the single entity that futuristic humanity has become: exactly three billion people connected via cerebral computers which enable them to communicate simultaneously on numerous levels even while they are asleep.

The virtually omnipresent Socio network resembles Facebook; users collectfriends and can likeshare or chat, but the resulting dystopia has more sinister features. Life is compulsorily terminated at sixty via a visit to the Pause Zone. Five seconds later the deceased will be reincarnated, often in the orgiastic Reproduction Zone of the same Festival.

A pregnant woman learns that her “festival baby” has no incode, making him the only person who is not part of the Living; he becomes known as Zero. The novel is, mostly, Zero’s story, but in true postmodern style, Starobinets has created a patchwork of text messages, letters, songs, transcripts of interrogations and diary entries, building a deliberately fragmented picture from multiple viewpoints.
James Rann’s translation admirably transfers this challenging matrix of narrative and neologism into fluid English. Some invented words, like the insult “Gopz” (“GO to the Pause Zone”), are summarized in a glossary at the end. There are even new colors with names like “inviz” or “feeling lucky.”
The basic premise of Starobinets’ dystopia is not particularly original. There is the standard vague, post-apocalyptic scenario (which has roots as far back as the legends of the flood); it is referred to in this case as theReduction and aided by the axe-wielding “Butcher’s Son,” whose subsequent incarnations are locked in a glass-walled cell.
Eugene Zamyatin’s “We” and other early sci-fi novels helped to found a literary tradition in which future autocracy controls the populace. There are shades of “Brave New World,” but also of E.M Forster’s prescient 1909 novella, “The Machine Stops,” in which people have become fatally dependent on technology and rarely leave their individual rooms, spending their time messaging each other.
Starobinets takes this now all-too-believable scenario and runs with it. Real life (known as “first layer”) has become far less interesting and appealing than the unlimited instant possibilities available in the virtual world known asluxury.
More here.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Uncle Vanya (1970)

This is a 1970 BBC television production of Anton Chekhov's 'Uncle Vanya".

Vanya - Freddie Jones
Astrov - Anthony Hopkins
Yelena - Ann Bell
Serebriakov - Roland Culver
Sonia - Jenifer Armitage
Maryia - Anne Dyson
Marina - Susan Richards
Telyeghin - John Baskcomb

Directed by Christopher Morahan

Note-Book of Anton Chekhov


My neighbor V.N.S. told me that his uncle Fet-Shenshin, the famous poet, when driving through the Mokhovaia Street, would invariably let down the window of his carriage and spit at the University. He would expectorate and spit: Bah! His coachman got so used to this that every time he drove past the University, he would stop.
In January I was in Petersburg and stayed with Souvorin. I often saw Potapenko. Met Korolenko. I often went to the Maly Theatre. As Alexander [Chekhov's brother] came downstairs one day, B.V.G. simultaneously came out of the editorial office of the Novoye Vremya and said to me indignantly: "Why do you set the old man (i.e. Souvorin) against Burenin?" I have never spoken ill of the contributors to the Novoye Vremya in Souvorin's presence, although I have the deepest disrespect for the majority of them.
In February, passing through Moscow, I went to see L.N. Tolstoi. He was irritated, made stinging remarks about the décadents, and for an hour and a half argued with B. Tchitcherin, who, I thought, talked nonsense all the time. Tatyana and Mary [Tolstoi's daughters] laid out a patience; they both wished, and asked me to pick a card out; I picked out the ace of spades separately for each of them, and that annoyed them. By accident there were two aces of spades in the pack. Both of them are extraordinarily sympathetic, and their attitude to their father is touching. The countess denounced the painter Gé all the evening. She too was irritated.
May 5. The sexton Ivan Nicolayevitch brought my portrait, which he has painted from a photograph. In the evening V.N.S. brought his friend N. He is director of the Foreign Department … editor of a magazine … and doctor of medicine. He gives the impression of being an unusually stupid person and a reptile. He said: "There's nothing more pernicious on earth than a rascally liberal paper," and told us that, apparently, the peasants whom he doctors, having got his advice and medicine free of charge, ask him for a tip. He and S. speak of the peasants with exasperation and loathing.
June 1. I was at the Vagankov Cemetery and saw the graves there of the victims of the Khodinka. [During the coronation of Nicholas II in Moscow hundreds of people were crushed to death in the Khodinka Fields.] I. Pavlovsky, the Paris correspondent of theNovoye Vremya, came with me to Melikhovo.
August 4. Opening of the school in Talezh. The peasants of Talezh, Bershov, Doubechnia and Sholkovo presented me with four loaves, an icon and two silver salt-cellars. The Sholkovo peasant Postnov made a speech.
N. stayed with me from the 15th to the 18th August. He has been forbidden [by the authorities] to publish anything: he speaks contemptuously now of the younger G., who said to the new Chief of the Central Press Bureau that he was not going to sacrifice his weekly Nedelya for N.'s sake and that "We have always anticipated the wishes of the Censorship." In fine weather N. walks in goloshes, and carries an umbrella, so as not to die of sunstroke; he is afraid to wash in cold water, and complains of palpitations of the heart. From me he went on to L.N. Tolstoi.
I left Taganrog on August 24. In Rostov I had supper with a school-friend, L. Volkenstein, the barrister, who has already a house in town and a villa in Kislovodsk [in the Caucasus]. I was in Nakhichevan—what a change! All the streets are lit by electric light. In Kislovodsk, at the funeral of General Safonov, I met A.I. Tchouprov [a famous economist], later I met A.N. Vesselovsky [littérateur] in the park. On the 28th I went on a hunting party with Baron Steingel, passed the night in Bermamut. It was cold with a violent wind.
2 September in Novorissisk. Steamer Alexander II. On the 3rd I arrived at Feodossia and stopped with Souvorin. I saw I.K. Aivasovsky [famous painter] who said to me: "You no longer come to see me, an old man." In his opinion I ought to have paid him a visit. On the 16th in Kharkov, I was in the theatre at the performance of "The Dangers of Intelligence." 17th at home: wonderful weather.
Vladimir Sloviov [famous philosopher] told me that he always carried an oak-gall in his trouser pocket,—in his opinion, it is a radical cure for piles.
October 17. Performance of my "Seagull" at the Alexandrinsky Theatre.
It was not a success.
29th. I was at a meeting of the Zemstvo Council at Sezpukhovo.
On the 10th November I had a letter from A.F. Koni who says he liked my "Seagull" very much.
November 26th. A fire broke out in our house. Count S.I. Shakhovsky helped to put it out. When it was over, Sh. related that once, when a fire broke out in his house at night, he lifted a tank of water weighing 4-1/2 cwt. and poured the water on the flames.
December 4. For the performance [of the "Seagull"] on the 17th October see "Theatral," No. 95, page 75. It is true that I fled from the theatre, but only when the play was over. In L.'s dressing-room during two or three acts. During the intervals there came to her officials of the State Theatres in uniform, wearing their orders, P.—with a Star; a handsome young official of the Department of the State Police also came to her. If a man takes up work which is alien to him, art for instance, then, since it is impossible for him to become an artist, he becomes an official. What a lot of people thus play the parasite round science, the theatre, the painting,—by putting on a uniform! Likewise the man to whom life is alien, who is incapable of living, nothing else remains for him, but to become an official. The fat actresses, who were in the dressing-room, made themselves pleasant to the officials—respectfully and flatteringly. (L. expressed her delight that P., so young, had already got the Star.) They were old, respectable house-keepers, serf-women, whom the masters honored with their presence.
December 21. Levitan suffers from dilation of the aorta. He carries clay on his chest. He has superb studies for pictures, and a passionate thirst for life.
December 31. P.I. Seryogin, the landscape painter, came. ...

Anton Chekhov - Documentary

Anton Chekhov: Old Age

UZELKOV, an architect with the rank of civil councillor, arrived in his native town, to which he had been invited to restore the church in the cemetery. He had been born in the town, had been at school, had grown up and married in it. But when he got out of the train he scarcely recognized it. Everything was changed. . . . Eighteen years ago when he had moved to Petersburg the street-boys used to catch marmots, for instance, on the spot where now the station was standing; now when one drove into the chief street, a hotel of four storeys stood facing one; in old days there was an ugly grey fence just there; but nothing--neither fences nor houses--had changed as much as the people. From his enquiries of the hotel waiter Uzelkov learned that more than half of the people he remembered were dead, reduced to poverty, forgotten.

'And do you remember Uzelkov?' he asked the old waiter about himself. 'Uzelkov the architect who divorced his wife? He used to have a house in Svirebeyevsky Street . . . you must remember.'

"I don't remember, sir."

"How is it you don't remember? The case made a lot of noise, even the cabmen all knew about it. Think, now! Shapkin the attorney managed my divorce for me, the rascal . . . the notorious cardsharper, the fellow who got a thrashing at the club. . . ."

"Ivan Nikolaitch?"

"Yes, yes. . . . Well, is he alive? Is he dead?"

"Alive, sir, thank God. He is a notary now and has an office. He is very well off. He has two houses in Kirpitchny Street. . . . His daughter was married the other day."

Uzelkov paced up and down the room, thought a bit, and in his boredom made up his mind to go and see Shapkin at his office. When he walked out of the hotel and sauntered slowly towards Kirpitchny Street it was midday. He found Shapkin at his office and scarcely recognized him. From the once well-made, adroit attorney with a mobile, insolent, and always drunken face Shapkin had changed into a modest, grey-headed, decrepit old man.

"You don't recognize me, you have forgotten me," began Uzelkov. "I am your old client, Uzelkov."

"Uzelkov, what Uzelkov? Ah!" Shapkin remembered, recognized, and was struck all of a heap. There followed a shower of exclamations, questions, recollections.

"This is a surprise! This is unexpected!" cackled Shapkin. "What can I offer you? Do you care for champagne? Perhaps you would like oysters? My dear fellow, I have had so much from you in my time that I can't offer you anything equal to the occasion. . . ."

"Please don't put yourself out . . ." said Uzelkov. "I have no time to spare. I must go at once to the cemetery and examine the church; I have undertaken the restoration of it."

"That's capital! We'll have a snack and a drink and drive together. I have capital horses. I'll take you there and introduce you to the church-warden; I will arrange it all. . . . But why is it, my angel, you seem to be afraid of me and hold me at arm's length? Sit a little nearer! There is no need for you to be afraid of me nowadays. He-he! . . . At one time, it is true, I was a cunning blade, a dog of a fellow . . . no one dared approach me; but now I am stiller than water and humbler than the grass. I have grown old, I am a family man, I have children. It's time I was dead."

The friends had lunch, had a drink, and with a pair of horses drove out of the town to the cemetery.

"Yes, those were times!" Shapkin recalled as he sat in the sledge. "When you remember them you simply can't believe in them. Do you remember how you divorced your wife? It's nearly twenty years ago, and I dare say you have forgotten it all; but I remember it as though I'd divorced you yesterday. Good Lord, what a lot of worry I had over it! I was a sharp fellow, tricky and cunning, a desperate character. . . . Sometimes I was burning to tackle some ticklish business, especially if the fee were a good one, as, for instance, in your case. What did you pay me then? Five or six thousand! That was worth taking trouble for, wasn't it? You went off to Petersburg and left the whole thing in my hands to do the best I could, and, though Sofya Mihailovna, your wife, came only of a merchant family, she was proud and dignified. To bribe her to take the guilt on herself was difficult, awfully difficult! I would go to negotiate with her, and as soon as she saw me she called to her maid: 'Masha, didn't I tell you not to admit that scoundrel?' Well, I tried one thing and another. . . . I wrote her letters and contrived to meet her accidentally--it was no use! I had to act through a third person. I had a lot of trouble with her for a long time, and she only gave in when you agreed to give her ten thousand. . . . She couldn't resist ten thousand, she couldn't hold out. . . . She cried, she spat in my face, but she consented, she took the guilt on herself!" ...

Monday, 28 January 2013

Rereading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

What is it about Anna Karenina that gives it special status among the great novels? How is it that a sensational romantic tragedy of tsarist high society, interspersed with digressions into 19th-century Russian agricultural policy, written in a seemingly plain, straightforward style across 900 pages, still provokes both excitement and respect from readers as diverse as JM Coetzee, Jonathan Franzen and Oprah Winfrey, and lures Tom Stoppard to write the script for the latest of a dozen film adaptations? The book floats in some charmed section of the lake of literary opinion where the ripples from modernism and the ripples from Hollywood overlap without merging.
It is more admired than learned from. Anna Karenina couldn't be less like a conventional modern novel. Instead of a barrage of metaphors describing things in terms of other things that they resemble, Lev Tolstoy seeks the precise word for the thing itself. Instead of the solipsistic modern mode of events being experienced from the point of view of a single character, Tolstoy slips in and out of the consciousness of dozens of characters, major and minor. At one point he tells us what a character's dog is thinking.
Tolstoy doesn't believe in "show, don't tell". He likes to show and tell. The teller, the narrator of the book, is a formless, omniscient voice with no elaborate Rothian construct to justify his role. No first-person or free-indirect speech here. Even while we're in a character's head, it's the narrator who recounts the character's experiences through liberal use of such unfashionable phrases as "she thought", "he felt" and "it seemed to him that".
Tolstoy creates a space for the narrator's independence – the narrator is close enough to the characters to rely on them for his existence, but free enough to pass unchallenged judgment on their actions, and to tell us things about them that they don't know about themselves. The most powerful passages are those where Tolstoy slows time down to note each thought, gesture and feeling of Anna and her lover Vronsky, with a third entity present – the narrator – not only lodged deep in the two psyches, but standing back to tell us the ways in which one is misunderstanding the other.
Each time I reread Anna Karenina, picking my way past the attics and cellars and rusting machinery of Tolstoy's obsessions and prejudices, a new layer of his craft emerges, to the point where, for all my admiration of Joyce, Beckett and Kelman, I begin to question whether the novel form isn't too artisanal a medium for the surface experimentation of the modernist project ever to transcend the flexing of space and time that apparently conventional language can achieve in the hands of a master.
I'd noticed before that Tolstoy, whose characters spend so much time in Moscow and St Petersburg, barely describes these cities. Reading Anna Karenina again, I see that it's more extreme than that; urban buildings and landscapes are practically invisible, whereas the countryside is described in exquisite detail.
To Tolstoy the city is a static, artificial place. It is as if he does not believe cities are permanent, as though he feels that if he ignores them, they'll go away. It turns out that everything Tolstoy cares about, everything he describes taking place outside the character's heads, is alive and moving, in the non-human world of dogs and horses and leaves as in the human world. No human action is too small to be recorded: Karenin's knuckle-cracking, Anna screwing up her eyes, Vronsky touching the ends of his moustache. The characters are always smiling, frowning, blushing, twitching, fidgeting, touching, kissing, bowing, sobbing, and deconstructing these signs in each other. They come to us alive with intentionality, describing themselves in movement, waltzing through the ballroom, trudging through the marsh after wildfowl, racing horses, cutting hay.
As busily as Tolstoy's creations move through space, so plausibly they move through time. How hard it is in narrative fiction, be it novel or film, to represent the chaotic reality of the passage of time, when the way a person acts or thinks one moment doesn't necessarily have a direct connection to the way that person acts or thinks 10 minutes later, or the next day, or for the rest of their life. No other novelist I can think of takes the risks Tolstoy does with the readers' understanding of what his characters are by allowing the characters to be so true to the emotions of each particular moment, even when those emotions contradict the overall portrait. The most odious characters are never beyond momentary redemption, and the most admirable characters must endure patches of vileness.
One harsh, simplistic, but not entirely inaccurate reading of Anna Karenina is as Tolstoy's justification of his life up to the moment when he wrote it, through the character of his alter ego, the chippy, idealistic landowner Levin (Levin = little Lev), whose journey to faith, family and contentment down on the farm acts as a counterpoint to Anna's path of extramarital passion and death in the Babylon of the urban beau monde. Yet Tolstoy doesn't spare Levin, the character with whom he is most in sympathy.
More here.

Vladimir Sorokin shortlisted for Man Booker Prize

Russian novelist Vladimir Sorokin has been shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, along with 10 other novelists: U. R. Ananthamurthy (India), Aharon Appelfeld (Israel), Lydia Davis (U.S.), Intizar Husain (Pakistan), Yan Lianke (China), Marie NDiaye (France), Josip Novakovich (Canada), Marilynne Robinson (U.S.), and Peter Stamm (Switzerland).
Vladimir Sorokin received a Man Booker Prize nomination for his novel “Day of the Oprichnik” (2006), which was published in English in late 2011. Apart from Russian and English translations, the novel has also been translated into almost 20 other languages.
In this novel by the “Russian provocateur” and “enfant terrible of the Russian literature” (as Sorokin has been called), critics have searched for parallels with what is known as “the Putin-era Russia,” Kommersant newspaper observed.
The Man Booker International Prize is awarded once every two years to distinguish a body of works by a living author of any nationality, as long as the author’s works are generally available in English translation. The British Man Booker prize, on the other hand, is open only to citizens of the Commonwealth, Ireland and Zimbabwe. The winner of the Man Booker International Prize is chosen by a panel of judges, which this year includes author and translator Tim Parks.
According to Izvestia, Vladimir Sorokin's chances of winning the Prize may be slightly increased by the fact that Elif Batuman, a specialist in Russian literature and the author of “The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them,” is also on the jury.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Rereading: Doctor Zhivago

The Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva once said that Boris Pasternak looked like an Arab and his horse. In the 30s a Soviet cartoon turned him into a long-jawed sphinx, paws curled over a lectern. As a public speaker he was incomprehensible. His work is notoriously hard to translate.

In his increasingly difficult times, it also became safer not to be easily understood. When Stalin startled the life out of him with a "friendly" midnight phone-call – Well? What can you say about that poem of Mandelstam's? – Pasternak replied with a deflective discussion of what was, for him, the fundamental issue of human right over life and death. Questioning a homicidal despot's power to his face carries some risks. Fortunately, Stalin was too impatient to understand, and cut off the call. This time, the sentence for Mandelstam's anti-Stalinist poem was a mild form of exile – but in the great purge of 1937 he was one of the 44,000 liquidated. Beside Pasternak's name, Stalin reputedly scribbled the instruction "Don't touch this cloud-dweller".
Pasternak's work is also difficult because his mind-set is unpredictably complex, evocatively associative, synaesthetic and polysemous. His vocabulary is exceptionally wide, and his intellect has a pronounced metaphysical cast. In an uncollected letter to TS Eliot, Pasternak explores their shared aesthetic in ambitiously faulty English. Eliot's art, he writes, like his own, is "a casually broken off fragment of the density of being itself; of the hylomorphic matter of existence . . ." Pasternak became much more accessible in his later work. Doctor Zhivago was suicidally vivid and forthright. The poems that accompany it are translucent.
From his schooldays, Pasternak tells us, Yury Zhivago had dreamed of writing "a book of impressions of life in which he would conceal, like sticks of dynamite, the most striking things he had so far seen". Doctor Zhivagowas that book. It was packed with dynamite and, as Pasternak expected, it blew up in his face.
Pasternak was the first writer of the Soviet regime who dared convey the truth about Russia's recent history. In the space of 40 years the Russians of his generation suffered two world wars; three revolutions; civil war and famine; the disasters of collectivisation and famine; the purges of the intelligentsia, the military, the Soviet political elite and the kulaks. Starvation, cannibalism, murder, reprisals, legitimised slaughter – nothing is glossed over in the novel's unflinching particularity. It ends withKhruschev's Thaw, tentatively celebrating "a new freedom of spirit" embodied in the book Zhivago wrote before his death.
Pasternak's hopes were denied when the forthcoming Russian edition ofZhivago was withdrawn from the Soviet press. In 1958 its publication in the west coincided with the Nobel prize, awarded for Pasternak's poetic achievements and his work "in the great Russian epic tradition", clearly linking Doctor Zhivago to Tolstoy's War and Peace. The Soviet response was to denounce Pasternak as a traitor. He was expelled from the writers' union, robbed of his livelihood and vilified in the press. He refused to seek exile in the west, and declined the Nobel prize. Within two years he was dead.
More here.

Kremlin Luxury Inside Photos

Kremlin Luxury Inside Photos: We are in the main palace of Russia – in the Kremlin of Moscow. Adult citizens of the city still remember its marble staircases, labyrinths of endless corridors and halls, red carpets on the floor. They used to run there, … Read more...

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Tribute to Ilya Ehrenburg by Aleksandr Tvardovsky

... Ilya Ehrenburg was not bypassed by praise, by the recognition of millions of readers--fellow countrymen and foreign friends alike. The literary and social activity of this renowned writer was acknowledged with many awards, from the International Lenin Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples to the French Legion d'Honneur.

A writer-humanist, he was among those who, together with Gorky, recognized the danger that fascism posed to peace, culture, and democracy. An indefatigable fighter against all ideologies of barbarism and obscurantism, Ehrenburg, even before the Great Patriotic War, had won the recognition and respect of wide circles of readers not only in his homeland but also among the leaders of the world's intelligentsia. His word, hardened by experience during the struggle for republican Spain, began to resound with extraordinary force when it was turned to the defenders of his native Soviet soil. They cherished his words on the bitter path of retreat as well as on the difficult path of victory from Stalingrad to Berlin. With good reason, even the enemy took note of this voice. You just have to recall how the Hitlerites in their leaflets threatened any Soviet war writer with furious rage: '...just you wait, Ilya.'

In the post-war years, Ehrenburg turned all his mature talent as an artist and publicist and his far-reaching connections with leading members of European society to the task of establishing peace for the whole world; his voice sounded with unrelenting passion and conviction. The name of this fighting writer, this champion of the ideas of humanism and internationalism, was deservedly renowned throughout the entire world.

Ehrenburg's fate as a writer can be called fortunate. It happens only rarely that a writer in his declining years creates his most significant book, as if in summary of his entire creative life. One can have varying opinions about various pages in People. Years. Life.*, but no one can deny the great significance of this work, not only in terms of Ehrenburg's creative work, but also in relation to all of our literature in its new stage of development in the years following the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

First among literary men his age, Ilya Grigorevich Ehrenburg addressed contemporaries and future generations with this story "about time and himself", a confession of his life intertwined in one way or another with the great and complicated half-century history of our revolution. He boldly stepped out from behind the cover of conventions, exaggerations, and assumptions that are characteristic of the generally accepted literary form of fiction. In this book he found a breadth of content and a natural ease that is highly valued by the reader. We have had nothing comparable up to this point.

When his book appeared on the pages of Novy Mir, some of Ehrenburg's critics advised him to recall in his memoirs those things which he could not remember and to forget those things which he could not forget; but the writer remained true to himself. And despite the inevitable drawbacks of the "subjective genre" of memoirs, the novelist, publicist, aesthete, and poet Ilya Ehrenburg, in my view, as a result of the confluence of the various aspects of his literary talent and life experience, achieved a great creative victory precisely in this genre, engaging the reader with the sincerity and spontaneity of a direct witness to the past. This book, which has already circled the world in many translations, is undoubtedly assured a firm longevity. ...

Friday, 25 January 2013

Commemorating Vladimir Vysotsky - Russia's best-loved bard poet

His records used to be swapped under the counter in the days of the Soviet Union. Today, more than 30 years since his death in 1980, Vladimir Vysotsky continues to draw crowds in Moscow. Russia Beynd the Headlinesmet his son and several other Russian performers at the Jan. 19 tribute concert at Crocus City Hall, which commemorated what would have been his 75th birthday. They talk about their memories of this timeless icon and the legacy he left.
“When people ask my father what he wanted most, he would always reply: ‘I want people to remember me.’” Nikita Vysotsky did not know his father well, since he divorced and remarried the French actress Marina Vlady in 1969. Still, he has honored his father’s wishes to the letter. For what would have been his father’s 75th birthday, Nikita has brought together a sprinkling of famous performers to sing, reminisce and revive Vysotsky’s art on stage at Crocus City Hall.
Vladimir Vysotsky made an appearance, speaking on a huge screen that dominated the Hall. Of his exceptional voice he recalled: “When I recited poetry at the age of six, my parents’ friends said that I had the voice of a real drunkard. That’s how it has always been, I never forced it. My imitators had quite a difficult task...”
He also recalled the first time he made a recording, when he was still an actor at the Taganka Theatre in Moscow: “I was with a group of performer friends and one of them wanted to record me. So we did. Then the cassette was passed around.” Vysotsky’s songs were never officially permitted in the Soviet Union; he was only recognized officially as a theatre and cinema actor.
On stage, wearing a pullover, he gave a revolutionary performance of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” and he made a lasting impression on the big screen with “The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed” (1979).
More here.

Владимир Высоцкий - Кони привередливые 

Revolution in Pictures

Revolution in Pictures: Ivan Vladimirov (1869-1947) was a painter of battle scenes of Russian-Japanese war, the revolution of 1905 and WWI. He worked in police and painted not from someone’s words but from what he saw with his own eyes. Unfortunately I. Vladimirov … Read more...

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Galina Stepanenko -Yuri Klevtsov -"Don Quixote" Grand Pas Act 3

BBC News - Bolshoi ballet theatre appoints temporary director: "Bolshoi ballet theatre appoints temporary director"

The Novel in Russia

PROSE fiction has a more prominent position in the literature of Russia than in that of any other great country. Turgenev, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy occupy in their own land not only the place of Dickens, Thackeray, and George Eliot in England, but also to some degree that of Carlyle, Matthew Arnold, or Ruskin. 

Their works are regarded as not merely diverting tales over which to spend pleasantly an idle hour, but as books full of suggestive and inspiring teaching on moral and social questions. “Fathers and Children” and “Crime and Punishment” are discussed and read not merely for their artistic merit, as reflections of Russian life, but as trenchant criticisms of that life. The difference is of course one of degree not of kind: Dickens and George Eliot have a definite attitude towards social questions, and in Russian literature there are writers who may be compared to Carlyle and Matthew Arnold. The fact remains, however, that while Turgenev and Dostoevsky find readers by their power as artists, discussion of them is less apt to turn on their purely Æsthetic qualities than on the ethical and social point of view which, in part unconsciously, they show in their work. 

This serious character of Russian fiction is due in some degree to the development of Russian literature under a despotism that forbade or at least hampered open discussion of public questions. Russians could not discuss with any freedom, either on the debating platform or in the periodical press, such questions as the emancipation of the serfs or the relations of church and state. But in a novel a writer could at least indicate his point of view; he could show the callousness and inhumanity bred by serfdom, as Turgenev did in “A Sportsman’s Sketches”; he could give a sympathetic portrait of the radical young nihilists (who in the beginning were not terrorists, but materialistic skeptics, with a passion for natural science), as he did in “Fathers and Children”; or, on the other hand, he could show the havoc wrought in the minds of such young radicals by alienation from the national religion and the national traditions, as Dostoevsky did in “Crime and Punishment.” Thus the censorship, while it compelled public discussion to turn on sympathy and sentiment rather than on accurate study of social facts, really deepened the content of Russian fiction.

Governmental repression merely strengthened the innate tendency of the Russians to vague, half-philosophic half-sentimental discussion of national problems. “When ten Englishmen meet,” Turgenev tells us in “Smoke,” “they immediately start talking about the submarine telegraph, the tax on paper, or methods of tanning rat skins; that is, of something positive and definite. But when ten Russians meet, the question immediately arises of the significance, the future, of Russia, and in the most general terms, without proof or result. They chew and chew on that unfortunate question, like children on a piece of rubber, without juice or sense.” Lavretsky, debates with Mihalevitch and Panshin. Raskolnikov’s meditations in justification of the crimes of gifted men, Levin’s arguments with Serge Koznyshev, are all examples of this tendency. For such discussion fiction offered a free field.

Thus Russian novels are apt to have a political background. In “Fathers and Children” (1862) Turgenev draws a picture of a representative of the younger generation who boldly casts aside all political, social, and religious traditions, and, a skeptic to the core, devotes himself to science as the key to all truth. Though he does not identify himself with Bazarov, though he pitilessly portrays his crudity and intolerance, he nevertheless even against his will, arouses sympathy for the movements that he represents. Dostoevsky, when he exalts the infinite humility and submissiveness of Sonya in contrast to the moral arrogance of Raskolnikov, makes an attack on that same movement.

Yet Russian novels rarely present their social message in so direct and uncompromising a form as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” or Sinclair’s “Jungle”; such plain speaking would be impossible in Russia. They are rather of the type of “David Copperfield” or Mr. Herrick’s “A Life for a Life,” presenting the ills of the social order without any very definite suggestions for its betterment. Hence the novelists have often been misunderstood and misinterpreted. Gogol, the founder of Russian realism, became the idol of the Liberal party through his satiric portraits of venal officials; he later showed his true character by an ardent defense of the autocracy and the state church and by an attack on all attempts at popular education. Tolstoy, because of his fervent support of the sanctity of marriage in “Anna Karenin,” was hastily denounced as a reactionary; the young radicals had rejected marriage as an outworn institution along with the autocracy and the state church, and were ready to distrust any man who might speak in its defense.

Thus a foreign reader may safely neglect the social implications of Russian fiction over which Russian critics wrangle so fiercely. He will be more impressed by the moral earnestness of this literature. For Turgenev, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy regard the men and women whom they create with such marvelous skill, not as animals, actuated merely by greed and lust and restrained from crime merely by fear of punishment, but as responsible moral beings, whose whole existence is affected by moral impulses, for whom conduct is the central part of life. This does not warp their judgment or make them untrue to the facts of life; their characters are not the puppets of the Sunday-school book, created to enforce a moral lesson, but stumbling, aspiring individuals, half clay and half something finer that animates it. They present moral forces because without them no true picture of men and women can be drawn.

The ethical point of view of Russian writers is, however, far different from that familiar to men of Anglo-Saxon stock. With the word good we associate instinctively the idea of self-command, self-mastery, control over one’s animal nature. Along with our admiration for self-command we have an equally instinctive respect for practical success: a man must be virtuous, but he must so shape his virtue as to win the regard of his fellow men; if he be a reformer, he must be guided by common sense as well as by moral fervor. The brave and thoughtless heroes of Scott’s novels are only an exaggeration of the English ideal; David Copperfield is a type of it. Colonel Newcome is overtaken by misfortune in his old age, but he too is of English stock; in his earlier years he commanded respect by his energy and capacity as well as by the fine essence of a gentleman’s character.

The heroes of the Russian novels, on the other hand, win our hearts by geniality and kindliness, without any Puritanic sternness, and they are usually failures in practical life. Lavretsky in “A House of Gentlefolk” is a truly Russian type; gentle and sweet of disposition, he possesses small vital force, and he sinks into oblivion without gaining any outward triumph. In “Fathers and Children” Nikolay Petrovich and his brother Pavel are likewise types of the ineffective Russian nobility, who gain our affections either by a timid gentleness or by a chivalric refinement of nature. Turgenev, speaking of his own book, remarks characteristically (in a letter of April 14, 1862) that Æsthetic feeling made him choose good representatives of the nobility as a class, that it would have been coarse and untrue to select “officials, generals, plunderers, and the like.” And when Turgenev tried to create in Bazarov a character marked by crude energy, he was not wholly successful. Bazarov’s energy is in aspiration rather than performance; like the Antony of tradition, he allows his passion for a woman to wreck his life, and his creator kills him at the close of the book rather than let him continue an ineffective, blighted existence. 

In Dostoevsky the case is still stronger. Raskolnikov, the hero of “Crime and Punishment,” is a weak and vacillating murderer, whose native sympathy and generosity make the reader find him a higher type of humanity than the callous business man Luzhin. Absolute humility and self sacrifice make the prostitute Sonya the most ideal figure in the volume. 

The Russian adulation of kindliness rather than energy, of aspiration rather than performance, is at first sight not so prominent in the works of Tolstoy. For Tolstoy was himself a man of fiery passions and of strong will. In “War and Peace” he created in Prince Andrey Bolkonsky, a hero of somewhat the English type. Yet the hero of “Anna Karenin” is not the vigorous officer Vronsky, nor the cold politician Karenin, both of whom know how to win success among men of the great world, but the clumsy farmer Levin, who attracts us by his kindly nature, and by his obstinate search for a moral ideal that shall guide him through life. His story at first reading may seen mawkish and commonplace, but as we review the novel, perhaps after the lapse of years has added to our own experience, it acquires an enduring charm. Levin loves his farm and his family; he is happy in the respect paid him by neighbors and still happier in that of his peasant laborers—but his real triumph is in his own heart; he knows that, no matter how blundering and imperfect his conduct may be, his moral ideals, the ethical philosophy by which he guides his life, are constantly becoming broader and deeper. 

It is characteristic of his infinitely broad range of sympathies that Tolstoy, who of all the great Russian novelists seems in “War and Peace” (1865-69) closet to our point of view, developed in his later years an ethical system founded on the principle of nonresistance to evil. This is illustrated by his parable “Ivan the Fool” (1855), in which the submissive hero wins by his humility the triumph denied to his vigorous elder brothers.

No moral or social enthusiasm could have won the three classic Russian novelists their enduring fame were not each of them in his own way a great artist. No finer master of literary form in prose fiction ever wrote than Turgenev, no greater master of psychological analysis than Dostoevsky; and no man has ever possessed so perfect a command of realistic portraiture of human life in its most varied aspects as Tolstoy.

“A House of Gentlefolk” and “Fathers and Children” are the each short novels, yet what a wealth of emotion, of poetic insight into the finer and more tender sides of human character they contain! Turgenev builds each of his books around a love story; the events of his plot cover but a few weeks and deal with but few people. His method is that of French classic tragedy, of Corneille and Racine. By portraying a man and a woman at the moment when their whole being is concentrated on one great passion he lets us see the inmost springs of their characters. He tells of the ancestry of Lavretsky, describing briefly those crude squires, his great-grandfather and grandfather, and picturing at greater length his doctrinaire father, who brings up his son in an atmosphere of bookish dreams, and his gentle peasant mother, who passes to her son the sincerity and simple kindliness of the Russian common people. The boy grows up unworldy but emotionally sound. His life is ruined by the marriage into which his inexperience leads him, then happiness seems to open before him in the love of the sweet, pure Lisa; at last disaster overtakes the lovers and they bow their heads before it in resignation; for them the moral law is more potent than the supreme passion of their lives. Bazarov, in “Fathers and Children,” spurning emotion as foolish sentimentalism, dedicates himself to the study of science. But nature is stronger than intellect, and he yields to a passion for a woman whose selfish force will not submit to even his strength of personality; his tragedy, with its anguish of thwarted powers, is more profound than that of the gentle Lavretsky. Each of these plots is developed in the Russian countryside, with poetic pictures of quiet natural beauty, amid types of Russian gentlefolk, each drawn with a few fine strokes. 

Like Turgenev, Dostoevsky bases each of his novels on the events of a few weeks, in order to give an atmosphere of tense, concentrated emotion. But in all else he is in direct contrast to his rival. His novels deal with city life and with actual physical misery and suffering. Each of his most important works of fiction centers about a murder. Reading “Crime and Punishment,” one becomes weary of the long analysis of Raskolnikov’s agonies and determines to skip a few paragraphs, only to find some fifty pages later, that he has missed some essential point in the close-knit narrative. An awful, uncanny power pervades this story of a diseased mind. Here the most obscure windings of self-concentrated reflection, on the downward path toward insanity, are laid bare. We may reject the author’s quiescent point of view, his prescription of suffering as a panacea for the ills of humanity, but we are spellbound by the skill with which he portrays the special cases that interest him. 

Far different from either of these writers is the healthy, energetic Leo Tolstoy, the man of loftiest individuality among Russian authors. No supreme author was ever so independent of literary conventions and traditions and in such close touch with the varied life around him. His “Sevastopol,” are almost formless, bits of reminiscence method is to select with unerring instinct concrete details of everyday life that throw light on character. He deals with small emotions, exposing the thoughts and feelings of which each of us has been conscious, but which each of us has fancied unknown to anyone but himself. His masterpiece, “War and Peace,” is at the other pole from the dainty work of Turgenev; it is a vest chronicle of the fortunes of five families during seven years, from 1805 to 1812; it with whom it makes us acquainted as with brothers and sisters, and by the surpassing interest of each individual incident. 16
Even “Anna karenin,” Tolstoy’s most widely read novel, is far more than the story of the heroine’s love for the handsome officer Vronsky. Any one of the dozen French novelists could have told that story in one-third the number of pages that Tolstoy uses, and in one sense more effectively. Tolstoy aims not merely to tell that story, but to draw a picture of a whole world of conflicting interests, cares, and ambitions. Dolly’s anxieties over her children’s clothes in preparation for the communion service are as close to his heart as Anna’s struggles between her love for her son and her passion for Vronsky. ...

Maxim Gorky, Prince of Russian literature

Undoubtedly the greatest paradox in world literature, sort of a marvel: Russian workman Alexi Maximovich Peshkov with only a second-rate knowledge of the Psalter that too drummed into him during an agonising Oliver Twist childhood rises to become Maxim Gorky, a pseudonym he adopted as he began to write his first story. Despite world fame literary critics in an uncharitable display of snobbishness continued to call Gorky "the workman" who lived virtually on the banks of the river Volga.

Maxim Gorky, as it were, defied literary tradition and intellectual pomposity of the orthodox literati and even as a humble member of the proletariat in bourgeoisie Tsarist Russia wrote his way up to be acclaimed a unique, literary genius in the world of letters - what made him unique was he was self-made; characteristically it was an odd accomplishment - from virtual illiterate slavery and abject poverty to reach the summit of authorship unaided.

His life story reads like fiction, a story like a novel that inspires the hopeless to be hopeful, a fantastic journey of a writer from destitution to world recognition. He made himself, single-handed the great writer he became.

Some years ago before the break-up of the Soviet Union I was strolling down the Elizabeth Quay in the Colombo harbour. There was a Soviet ship docked and across its bow painted in bold letters was the ship's name GORKY.

I was pleasantly overwhelmed, for, it is not often that you witness a ship named after a writer - perhaps such an honour is reserved only to a politician in these modern philistine times.

Maxim Gorky wrote lyrical prose; it rings like music, sonorous on the pages of his work, interwoven with rustic Russian humour and wisdom; in places Gorky drops a philosophical gem, an odd remark that sometimes startles you and make you think about life of men and women of the world so cruelly contrived. But there is no pontificating - it sounds and reads as simple as the expressions of the Russian peasant in those pre-revolution days of poverty.

We read Gorky in the English translation. Even so it is breathtaking poetry, euphonic like a scintillating melody; if the translation is such you wonder what a marvel the original must be.

Gorky imbued the vicissitudes of life early in his childhood, experiencing at first hand its enormous hardships in poverty, growing up without parental love and care solely dependent on his beloved grandmother Akulina Ivanovna whose tender devotion and understanding he captures with such brilliance and affection in his first memoir titled Childhood which was followed by My Apprenticeship and My Universities. Gorky spent ten years - from 1913 to 1923 - writing the autobiographical trilogy which describes the author's childhood and youth from 1871 to 1888. Childhood translated into English by Margaret Wettlin was compared to Tolstoy's own life story under the same name.

But Tolstoy did not like Gorky and he did not conceal his dislike. Chekhov thought Tolstoy was jealous of Maximovich Alexi Tolstoy told Chekhov: "I don't know why but somehow I can never be myself with Gorky...Gorky's wicked. He's like a divinity student who has been forced to take monastic vows and has a grievance against the whole world. He has the soul of an emissary, he has come from somewhere to the land of Canaan, an alien land for him, and he keeps looking round, noting everything, as to report about it all to some god of his own. And his god is a monster, a wood-sprite or a water-sprite, like the ones country women fear."

Chekhov said "Gorky's a good sort." But Tolstoy disagreed, "No, no, don't tell me. He has a nose like a duck's bill, only unfortunate and bad-tempered people have such noses. And women don't like him, and women are like dogs, they always know a good man."

In 1908 Lenin was staying with the author in Capri and Gorky had said that he was finally writing an autobiography. Lenin after listening to the author's description of this childhood, youth and wanderings and especially about his grandmother told him earnestly: "You ought to write all that down, my friend, you really ought! It's wonderfully instructive, all of it, remarkable..."

After a long silence, Gorky replied: "I'll write it...some day..." Childhood was published as a separate book in Russia in 1915. An Armenian writer wrote to Gork: "In my opinion the whole book is a symbol of the life of the Russian people, of the oppression they suffer, in fact, not just the Russians, but all nations. For example, I myself am not Russian - I am an Armenian born and bred far from Russian life - and yet all you have described affects me as profoundly as anything in the life of my people. And believe me, you will be told the same by a French, English or other writer who has risen from his people or who knows it well. That it touches the whole of mankind is the most important virtue of your great book." ...


Tuesday, 22 January 2013

School In Yakutia

School In Yakutia: When it is below -45C (-49F) schoolchildren from first to fifth grade do not go to school. When iy is colder than -47C (-52.6F) eighth graders are also permitted to stay at home. When it becomes as cold as -50C … Read more...

Monday, 21 January 2013

Sergei Filin: Don Quixote, Moscow, Sept 2005.

Nabokov’s poetry: ridiculous or sublime?

Novelist Vladimir Nabokov, celebrated for masterpieces in Russian and in English including “Lolita” and “Pale Fire,” was ashamed of his juvenile attempts at poetry. He referred, in his 1970 collection “Poems and Problems” to “the steady mass of verse which I began to exude in my youth … with monstrous regularity.”
Judging by a new book, surveying six decades of Nabokov’s poetic output, he was right to be embarrassed about his early works.
Most teenage versifying is best forgotten, and to open the volume with “Music,” which Nabokov wrote when he was fifteen, gives a ridiculous impression of the writer’s skills, and of his son Dmitri’s powers of translation. The repetition of archaic verbs like “plashing” and clichéd similes “like diamonds” must have made the older Nabokov wince.
Ten years later, he still offers lines like “fleetingly shimmered ineffable echoes/ of a vibrant nightingale,” but the mature novelist’s pitch-perfect ear for tone and metaphor becomes evident in the playful, later poems, especially those written in English; even here he is hamstrung by strict rhyme-schemes and a formal conservatism at odds with the radical originality of his novels.
Dmitri Nabokov’s translations don’t always do justice to the Russian poems. To dispense with rhymes is excusable (even necessary), but to translate into lines that do not scan distorts the aural grace of the original.
Despite all this, the autobiographical intimacies in this book will fascinate Nabokov’s fans. He writes movIn “Poems and Problems” he identified the different stages of his own early poetic career, moving from verses of love and politics through nostalgia to narrative. Examples from each of these phases are represented, together with the “robust style” of his later poems.ingly and perceptively about language, memory, identity and exile.
More here.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Celebrating Stanislavsky and his method

Russian actor and director Konstantin Stanislavsky, who was born 150 years ago today, toured the United States with his actors in 1923 to great acclaim. Stanislavsky and his students trained Americans, like Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler, who would go on and teach their interpretation of “the method” to generations of American actors.
Stanislavsky was encouraged to write his autobiography, which was swiftly translated, rather roughly, into English.  The dedication to his book “My Life in Art” (1924) reads: “I dedicate this book in gratitude to hospitable America as a token and a remembrance from the Moscow Art Theatre which took so kindly to her heart.”
The early 1920s were a difficult time for Stanislavsky. His son was suffering from tuberculosis and while Stanislavsky was a giant on the stage, he still badly needed foreign currency to treat his son in a European sanitarium, according to historians. The U.S. trip assisted him in that effort.
Actors all over the world, and especially in the United States, are still inspired and nourished by the great theatrical pioneer, one of the most internationally influential figures ever to have lived in Moscow.
His handbook “An Actor Prepares”, published in 1936 two years before he died, is still a standard text for drama students around the world. His famous “method”, promoting the naturalistic style of acting that we take for granted today, broke away from the stilted traditions of 19th-century theatre. Moscow was Stanislavsky’s birthplace, lifelong home and final resting place. It was also the venue for his far-reaching discussions and experiments.
On June 22, 1897, Stanislavsky had an all-night meeting with Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, which led to the founding of the Moscow Art Theatre. The old Slavyansky Bazaar restaurant on Nikolskaya Ulitsa, where they met at 2 p.m., no longer exists; but the theater that eventually grew out of that famous dinner is still going strong a few streets away on Kamergersky Pereulok.
A year later, on June 14, 1898, the company met for their first rehearsal in the nearby town of Pushkino. Stanislavsky’s opening speech urged the new team to dedicate their lives to creating “the first rational, moral and accessible theater.” Here are some of the other Moscow sights associated with the great director and his work.

More here.

Vladislav Khodasevich: Gold

Go : now we place gold in your mouth, and we place poppy and honey in your hands. Salve aeternum. — Krasinski
A gold coin in the mouth; hands full of poppy and honey:
these are the final gifts of your earthly businesses.
And don’t let them incinerate me like a Roman:—
I want to taste my sleep in the womb of the earth.
I want to rise again as the spring corn,
circle the ancient track that the stars follow.
In the darkening grave, poppy and honey will rot,
the dead man’s mouth will swallow the gold coin…
But after many, many years of darkness
a stranger will come and dig my skeleton up,
and inside the blackening skull that his spade
smashes, the heavy coin will clang —
and the gold will flash in the midst of bones,
a tiny sun, the imprint of my soul.

Vladislav Khodasevich was born in Moscow in 1886. He wrote this poem in January 1917 when he was working on translations from the Polish, including Krasinski. He left Russia in 1922 and lived with his wife in Berlin but then mostly in Paris. As an émigré he was ignored by the Soviet authorities while he found the Russian expatriate milieu in Paris unsympathetic and often philistine. But he has now become an appreciated poet in Russia. He died in 1939.  

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Living Souls, By Dmitry Bykov

Dmitry Bykov's ambitious and sprawling book (abridged in English with the author's consent) caused a furore in Russia when published in 2006. Blending a novel of ideas with a fairy-tale and satire with lyricism, Bykov in Living Souls gives a picture of Russia in the near future and - as so many others before him - tries to understand the eternal contradictions of his country.

Several years from now, Russia is in a terrible state. The world is enjoying the new fuel Phlogiston and is no longer buying oil. The country becomes poor, marginalised, and turns to war, the only activity apart from oil sales its rulers can conceive. War brings no tangible results, partly because Russian officers exterminate more of their own men than the enemy does.

The "Camp of the Russian Warriors" (a reference to the classic poem by Vassily Zhukovsky) is an easily recognisable picture of the routine brutality and humiliation typical of the Russian army, especially during an endless, pointless war like the one in Chechnya. Yet Captain Gromov, an erstwhile poet, senses that there is something in his country beyond the surrounding ugliness – the stirring beauty of the countryside, the generosity of nature, the kindness of women.

The scheme suggested by Bykov to explain Russia's complexity is simple: the country's past and present have been determined by three incompatible forces. Two are descendants of tribes which inhabited Russia in the middle ages – the Varangians, founders of the state, and the Khazars, a semi-nomadic Turkic people who adopted Judaism. The Varangians (Russia's rulers) are responsible for all the harshness, cruelty and contempt for the individual, while the Khazars (Jews) value human life, but corrupt human nature by trade and business.

Both believe that Russia belongs to them and fight constantly. But there is also a third force - the real native people of Russia, despised equally by both fighting parties. These down-trodden and weak-willed people preserve the country's folklore and its poetic language and can be kind and good. Many end up as vagrants, and are caught, sterilised and eventually killed by the strict Varangian state.

Bykov, half-Russian, half-Jewish, described his book as "both Russophobic and anti-Semitic", and in the preface to the Russian edition apologised to anyone whose feelings he might have hurt. The editors of the sanitised English version went further and got rid of at least half of the novel's provocative statements and offensive language, including most references to "Yids". Even the title ZhD - an abbreviation that sounds like Yid in Russian, brilliantly translated as "Jewhad" by Francis Greene - has been rendered more mildly.

More here.

Anatoly Lunacharsky: Taneyev and Scriabin

This winter the Stradivarius Quartet gave a series of chamber concerts by the famous Moscow composer Taneyev.

Taneyev is well known in Russia and Europe as the author of the most profound and comprehensive work on counterpoint. This work and Taneyev’s merits as an artist have earned him the greatest respect as a unique mathematician of music.

However, this, too, was the reason why Taneyev was grossly underrated as a composer by the general public. What I mean by this term is the public that attends concerts, is interested in music and is familiar with it, but does not belong to the small circle of highly qualified persons with an exceptionally erudite knowledge of music.

A little rumour has been circulated about Taneyev to the effect that he is a “brainy” musician who solved his musical problems as a mathematician would solve his, and that is why, they say, he can be of interest only to professionals, but leaves his audiences cold.

The Stradivarius Quartet performed in rather small halls and thus their concerts could not acquire the nature of mass propaganda for Taneyev’s achievements in a field that was possibly his forte: chamber music. But it is important to note that these concerts invariably met with enthusiastic acclaim. I know many persons, intelligent and well versed in music, who (lacking a true knowledge of his work before) have now changed their opinion of him entirely as a result of these concerts.

I believe that more should be done for a re-evaluation of Taneyev. In but the recent past it was considered quite proper to call Tchaikovsky a sentimental, tearful intellectual, whose music could allegedly be of no use whatsoever to our generation. I believe that the writer of these lines was the first to come out against such an opinion of a great composer who has a place of honour in Russian music which, as is now quite obvious, beginning with Glinka and ending with our own young composers, justly occupies a prominent place in world music.

The great Scriabin has long since been restored in favour and adopted as it were by the revolutionary epoch. I believe it is imperative that the same impetus should be given to a similar process in respect to Taneyev. It would be most rewarding to organise a performance next year of his great oratorio Upon Reading a Psalm and his laconic, stirring and truly tragic opera Orestes.

At the request of the Stradivarius Quartet I spoke on Taneyev, introducing their concert series. The present article is the edited stenographic report of my speech.


I would like to say a few words about Taneyev the man.

In both his way of life and appearance Taneyev was a typical Russian gentleman, even with something of Oblomov about him outwardly; he liked the quiet life, the provincial calm of his remote corner of Moscow; he was rather indifferent to politics, though he was not only a liberal, but a democrat with radical leanings who welcomed the 1905 revolution, for example, quite joyously and reflected it to some extent (indirectly) in several of his works.

Though apparently in possession of a well-thought-out philosophical system in which he made ends meet quite harmoniously and without the aid of a god, in whom he flatly refused to believe, he never insisted upon nor even expressed his opinions. They were undoubtedly reflected in his music but, once again, indirectly. Taneyev was a very kind man, he tutored poor pupils without remuneration, he helped them financially from his own small income; he was never concerned with his own welfare and was satisfied to lead a modest, quiet life.

However, one must never forget that this quiet, tepid way of life, calling to mind Goncharov’s Oblomov, has nothing at all in common with Oblomov’s vacuousness. Goncharov himself had very much in common with Oblomov and much of his great novel was autobiographical. Yet, a very different sort of heart beat beneath Goncharov’s robe, and a whole world of images lay concealed by the lazy, dreamy expression on his face, so far removed from the silly sentiments which encompassed the entire world of his famous character.

Taneyev was of the same breed as Goncharov, as Turgenev. The seeming sluggishness and laxness of their lives was compensated by a tremendous, forceful inner creativeness. The work of men of this type – a type soon to be relegated to the past, perhaps – is of especial value in its fruitful, contemplative nature.

A slowness, a sweet pensiveness, a journey through ideas and emotions “in a horse-drawn carriage,” so to say, is simply a poor showing in untalented persons; but with talented persons this produces an unusual soundness in everything they create, a depth and completeness in their work.

In our neurotic age, when history itself is dashing on headlong, and the commotion of city life has reached a stage of terrible confusion, and people are so high-strung that it seems their nerves have been pulled taut and are vibrating at a thousandfold acceleration, in this age art has plunged through impressionism to futurism, momentalism, etc. This process is quite natural, but it does not necessarily mean it is progressive.

Such fleet and instant art undoubtedly produces definite impressions; it can achieve that which is impossible in the carriage of transparent, viscous as honey ancient classical art; but much has been lost on the way.

Taneyev lived in a world of music, but he did not regard music as a world unto itself, a world ruled by its own strange laws. He did not regard it as a complex sphere of higher mathematics, as would a scholar in his ivory tower.

Taneyev was a musical philosopher in two respects. In the first place, he tried to set his musical forms into a single graceful structure by a profound, slow and sure process of thinking based on a tremendous knowledge of music. Secondly, he imbued this creation with the essence of his deep and sensitive intellect; his own world outlook, his thoughts about the universe, human life, etc., were expressed in his musical forms. I do not believe that anyone, even those who are indifferent to Taneyev, would ever take it into their heads to deny this forceful presence of a rather austere and compelling intellect that reigns in his music. ...