Thursday, 28 February 2013

Kyra Nijinsky interviewed about her father, Vaslav Nijinsky

This is an interview with Kyra Nijinsky (1914-1998), daughter of legendary Ballets Russes dancer Vaslav Nijinsky.

She talks with by Dame Margot Fonteyn about her father.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

What a Fabulous Place!

What a Fabulous Place!: Today you have a chance to see Moscow from above in summer. We are going to have a flight in a little helicopter with dismantled doors. So let us put some warm clothes on and start our tour. It’s the … Read more...

How to brand great Russian literature

The newly appointed director of the Literature Museum, Dmitry Bak,recently put forward his vision of future plans for the museum. He noted that it was crucial for the museum to “revert toward normal people,” stressing that interaction between museum specialists and the general public was not a simple objective.
Bak’s outlined objectives for the museum included developing links with literature museums abroad, exchanging ideas, establishing grants, and setting up projects with both international and domestic aspects. Bak also called on his staff to give due attention to contemporary literature.
“In their own time, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Pushkin were not ‘classics,’ but just normal men. No one who picked up a copy of Dostoyevsky’s ‘Poor Folk’ would ever have guessed that he bore in hand a work by the future author of ‘The Brothers Karamazov.’ We can only grasp this classic literature through its contemporaneity,”Bak told Izvestia.
The State Museum of Literature was founded in 1934. Today it remains the sole large-scale museum in Russia that is dedicated to literature. Its collections include many documents, manuscripts, graphic materials, photographs, memoir items, applied-art objects, books, and sound recordings.
The catalog totals more than 700,000 items related to the output and lives of Russian authors over the years — from the Middle Ages to the present day.
Dmitry Bak was named as the new director of the Literature Museum in late January, although his predecessor, Marina Gomozkova, claims she only learned of plans to appoint a new director through the mass media. Bak is a professor of philology and the rector of the Russian University of the Humanities (RGGU).
The new director plans to transform the image of the museum into a space for literary discussions, involvement in book fairs and festivals, and literature awards.
“When it comes to the Literature Museum, we are dealing with a kind of pyramid whose broad base is the richest imaginable corpus of national heritage — a treasure-house of incalculable extent,” says Bak. “A top that same pyramid is a kind of cliché we call ‘Great Russian Literature.’
However, between the learned work in the archives (which is understood by only a small handful of specialists) and the displays that bring these treasures to the general public’s view, there exists a vast gulf.
More here.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Leningrad Siege: When poetry helps survive

Berggolts lived in the city during the blockade and broadcast her poems to bolster the populace. Knowing that she was on the other end of a microphone, barricaded like them, gave Leningraders something resembling hope.
After all, amid shelling and starvation, she was still writing poems. And she would recite these poems, about the suffering, about the fear, about the horror of death, and the unbearable lives they were living.
 In a film called “Day Stars,” (Igor Talankin, 1968) Berggolts is depicted as reciting to soldiers: “Mother worries, grieves/ What should I write my distant mother?/ How to reassure her/to lie?”
By the end of the poem, however, she shows no fear, only resolve. Berggolts decides not to protect her mother. Rather, she decides to tell “the truth.”
The poet, a charismatic beauty in her early thirties, broadcast her poems over the only radio station operating during the Siege.
Her grave but mellifluous voice flowed straight into their homes during one of the worst wartime ordeals for citizens in history, yet it is almost impossible to find her poems today in English.
Berggolts was inspired and influenced by the already revered Anna Akhmatova, who also wrote poems from Leningrad and bore witness to the first artillery shelling of the city.
 “A rainbow of people running around/And suddenly everything changed completely,” Akhmatova wrote. (The full poem is included in Anna Akhmatova’s “Poems,” translated by Lyn Coffin with an introduction by Joseph Brodsky.)
Many less famous women also acted as scribes for the city, keeping diaries and journals and writing poems, partly to save themselves from insanity, and in part to make sense of the horror around them.  
Some of them are published in English, including, Vera Inber’s “Leningrad Diary.” Inber almost died of starvation, but still managed to describe her life.
More here.

Kazimir Malevich

Kazimir Malevich (Russian: Казимир Малевич, Polish: Kazimierz Malewicz,  (February 23, 1879, previously 1878: see below May 15, 1935) was a painter and art theoretician, pioneer of geometric abstract art and the originator of the Avant-garde Suprematist movement.

1. On the Boulevard (1903)
2. Spring. Garden in Blossom (1904)
3. Summer Landscape (1905)
4. Spring (1906)
5. Sketch for fresco. Triumph of the Skies (1907)
6. Rest. Society in Top Hats (1908)
7. Carpenter (1908 1910)
8. Reapers (1910)
9. Still-Life (1911)
10. Province (1912)
11. Lady on a Tram Station (1913)
12. Lady at the Poster Column (1914)
13. Suprematism (1915)
14. Suprematism (Yellow and Black) (1916)
15. Suprematism (1917)
16. Sketch for the back Cover for the Portfolio of the Congress fo the Committees on Rural Poverty (1918)
17. Speakers on Tribune (1919)
18. Black Square (1920)
19. Suprematism (1921)
20. Peasant Woman (1927)
21. Peasant in the Fields (1928-1932)
22. Landscape with White House (1930)
23. Red House (1932)
24. Self-Portrait (1933)
25. Portrait of Artist's Wife N.A. Malevich (1934)

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto n.1 - Nikita Magaloff

Nikita Magaloff plays the Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto n.1
Karl Martin conducts Rai Turin Symphony Orchestra. 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Revealing the mundane horrors of the Russian family

No writer captures the mundane horrors of domestic despair quite like Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. Taken together, her new collection of short stories, written between 1972 and 2008, reveals more about Russian family life in the 20th century than any non-fiction. Sober and grim, these seventeen stories eschew the supernatural twists and scary magical realism employed in her earlier, acclaimed collection, “There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby.”

Yet they still read like fairy tales of a sort, small parables that occur in fetid apartments, soiled beds, dank doorways and kitchens stocked with moonshine, stale bread and bologna. When the stories end with a shred of hope, or even a numbing of the pain, the poignance can be hard to bear. Yet you keep reading. Surprising expressions of love and simple acts of loyalty stand out in relief, surrounded by the chaos of fear.
“In reality, life doesn’t stop with a wedding, heroic action, or with happy coincidence, as in films, when a certain person misses his boat (Titanic) or, as in this case, when an unmarried woman of thirty-five decides to keep the child born of a random tryst with a boy of twenty.”  This first line of “Two Deities,” one of her gentler and forgiving stories, remonstrates authors who tie narratives up in a classic bow.
Petrushevskaya's story, “A Happy Ending” is almost a tongue-in-check reaction to her disgust for the grand finale. Yet the story provides the closest she allows herself to a happy ending: Polina, a long-suffering caretaker, chooses her abusive spouse, compromised by illness, over an ordered loneliness.
Another story, “Give Her to Me,” arguably ends happily. Quirky and singular, it tells the rich and entertaining story of a skinny playwright living in desperate squalor; she writes a theatrical hit with a married man who gets her pregnant and she manages not to lose her baby. 
More here.

Yury Olesha (1899 - 1960) - Biography

Writer, journalist, and playwright, whose best-known novel, Zavist' (1927, Envy) painted a prophetic picture of the clashing values in the early years of the Soviet Russia. Writing in expressionistc style, Olesha's work differed radically from the school of the Socialist Realism. When the authorities realized that Olesha was more ambiguous than was permissible, he fell from favor. After Stalin's death, Olesha was rehabilitated.
-"How sweet is my life ... ta-rá! ta-rá ... my bowels are flexing ... rá-ta-tá-ta-ra-rí ... the juices are flowing just right, straight through ... ra-tí-ta-doo-da-tá ... squeeze, bowels, squeeze ... tram-ba-ba-boom!" (in Envy)
Yury Olesha was born in Elizavetgrad, Ukraine, into a middle-class family. His father, Karl Antonovich, was an excise officer, an impoverished member of the gentry. In 1902 the family moved to the cosmopolitan port of Odessa, where Karl Antonovich was employed as as a tax inspector in a vodka distillery. According to Olesha, he should have avoided drinking himself: "... I do remember an episode when he put me on a windowsill and aimed a revolver at me. He was drunk, and Mama fell down on her knees, pleading with him to 'stop that.'" His early education Olesha received at home, where his Polish grandmother taught him Russian and mathematics. His contemporaries have recalled that he always spoke Russian with an imperceptile Lithuanian accent. In 1908 Olesha entered Rishelevskii gymnasium, graduating in 1917 with a gold medal in language and literature. He then studied law for two years at Novorossiikii University, Odessa.
Olesha began to write verse under the influence of Alexander Blok and Igor Severyanin. His ballad called 'Clarimonda' appeared in the newspaper The Southern Herald. In Odessa he participated in the activities of the Green Lamp, a literary discussion group, and the politically engaged literary circle, the Poets Collective, whose members also included Ilya Ilf. With Valentin Kataev he was inseparable. Kataev portrayed later his bohemian friend in My Diamond Wreath (1978).
Olesha's sister Wanda died of typhoid in 1919, at the height of civil strife in Ukraine. Rejecting his parents' monarchist sympathies, Olesha joined the Red Army for a year, serving as a telephonist in a Black Sea naval artillery battery. While working as a propagandist at the Bureau of Ukrainian Publications in Kharkov, he published his first story in the Kharkov newspaper Proletarian.
In 1922 Olesha went to Moscow, where he was employed by the railway journal Gudok, which had such writers as Isaak Babel, and Ilf and Petrov. "... my job consisted of stuffing envelopes with letters written by the section head to the various addresses of the worker correspondents," he later recalled. Olesha soon became a leading member of the editorial staff. His columns he published under the pseudonym of Zubilo (the Chisel). However, finding it difficult to adjust himself to boring routines, Olesha spent more time writing in restaurants than in his office. One of his favorite places was  a Georgian restaurant on Tverskoi Bulevard, opposite the Telegraph Building.  
In the 1920s Olesha published satirical verses, which became very popular, and sharp, critical articles. He stressed the freedom of expression, saying "The invisible realm is the adobe of attention and imagination. In it the wayfarer is not alone; two sisters walk at his side, leading him by the hand; they are Attention and Imagination." ...

Monday, 18 February 2013

Moscow Destroyed By the Revolution

Moscow Destroyed By the Revolution: Revolution of 1917 is mostly associated with Saint-Petersburg. Many people do not know that hard and long battles took place in Moscow too. Bolsheviks were shooting at the Kremlin and many other buildings in the center of the city. Hundreds … Read more...

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Fyodor Sologub: Hide and Seek

Everything in Lelechka's nursery was bright, pretty, and cheerful. Lelechka's sweet voice charmed her mother. Lelechka was a delightful child. There was no other such child, there never had been, and there never would be. Lelechka's mother, Serafima Aleksandrovna, was sure of that. Lelechka's eyes were dark and large, her cheeks were rosy, her lips were made for kisses and for laughter. But it was not these charms in Lelechka that gave her mother the keenest joy. Lelechka was her mother's only child. That was why every movement of Lelechka's bewitched her mother. It was great bliss to hold Lelechka on her knees and to fondle her; to feel the little girl in her arms – a thing as lively and as bright as a little bird.

To tell the truth, Serafima Aleksandrovna felt happy only in the nursery. She felt cold with her husband.

Perhaps it was because he himself loved the cold – he loved to drink cold water, and to breathe cold air. He was always fresh and cool, with a frigid smile, and wherever he passed cold currents seemed to move in the air.

The Nesletyevs, Sergey Modestovich and Serafima Aleksandrovna, had married without love or calculation, because it was the accepted thing. He was a young man of thirty-five, she a young woman of twenty-five; both were of the same circle and well brought up; he was expected to take a wife, and the time had come for her to take a husband.

It even seemed to Serafima Aleksandrovna that she was in love with her future husband, and this made her happy. He looked handsome and well-bred; his intelligent grey eyes always preserved a dignified expression; and he fulfilled his obligations of a fiancй with irreproachable gentleness. more...

Fyodor Sologub (1863-1927)  
Russian poet, novelist, translator, and playwright, a pessimist with a morbid sense of humour, and a significant figure of the Symbolist movement. Sologub became in Russia one of the four best-known writers in his time with Andreev, Kuprin, and Gor'kii. A central symbol in Sologub's poetry is the Manichean dual image of Dulcinea-Aldonsa from Cervantes's Don Quixote, in which the beauty is hidden behind ugly and vulgar reality. Satanism, sadism, perversity, and general rejection of life were his recurrent themes.

Fyodor Sologub: The joining of souls

In vexation, Sonpolev paced up and down the study room. He stopped in front of a wall and began to speak. In our days, there are many people who carry on long conversations with a wall – a truly interesting company! And a reliable one at that. Sonpolev was saying: “We can only hate something with such agonizing hate, something that is very close to us. But what is the secret behind this diabolic closeness? Which demon, and using which evil spells, linked our souls? Souls that are so unlike each other! Mine, that is of a person with a stirring life and an aim towards soothing, and his soul, a soul of a big-mouthed youngster, cunning like a conspirator and sluggish like a coward. And why does his character portray this strange discrepancy to his outside appearance? Who had stolen the most necessary, the best part of the soul, from this sucker?” He spoke quietly, almost mumbling. Then loudly, annoyed, cried out: “Who did this? A human being or its enemy?” He heard a strange response: “I did” Somebody had yelled this in a sharp, high-pitched voice. As though rusty steel ringed out brusquely, albeit dimly. Sonpolev nervously flinched. He looked around. There was nobody else in the room. He sat down in a chair, sullenly examined the table, buried in books and papers, and waited. Waited for something. The waiting became awful. He said out loud: “Why are you hiding? If you started talking, you should come out. Tell me what you wanted to say. What do you need to say?” He listened. His nerves were so strained it seemed that the slightest noise would astound him, like archangel's trumpet. And suddenly, laughter. Sharp, rusty-metal laughter. As if the spring of a clockwork toy began to uncoil, and it trembled and rang in the calm silence of the evening. Sonpolev pressed his palms against his temples. He leaned against the table. Listened out. The laughter faded with mechanical slickness. It was obvious that it was coming from somewhere close, as if straight from under the table. Sonpolev waited. Eyes strained, he looked at the bronze inkpot and asked in mockery: “Ink cadaver, is that your laughter?” A sharp voice, unlike the dark murmur of ghosts, answered with the same mocking tone: “No, you're mistaken, and are rather unfunny. I'm not the ink. Don't you know what the sticky voice of ink cadavers sound like? Are you are a bad observer?” And again laughter, again the rusty spring rang, and uncoiled. Sonpolev said: “I don't know who you are, and how can I know that! Because I don't see you. I only think that you are the same as your entire fraternity: you are always next to us, you poke us and bring us anguish and cast other evil spells, and you don't dare to show yourself.” The springy voice replied: “That is why I came – to talk to you. I just love to talk to ones like you – the halves.”
Translated by Maria Aprelenko, RT

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Alexander Brailowski - Chopin, Valse Brillante in A flat

Alexander Brailowsky (16 February 1896 - 25 April 1976) was a Russian pianist who specialized in the works of Frédéric Chopin. He achieved most of his fame between the two world wars.

Brailowsky was born in Kiev, (although some sources suggest he was Polish) and later became a French citizen in 1926.

He made his concert debut in Paris in 1919. His first recordings were done in Berlin from 1928 to 1934 (78 rpm discs). In 1938 he recorded in London for HMV. Later discs were produced for RCA Victor and finally in the 1960's, for CBS. Besides his huge output of Chopin, he also included in his repertoire Rachmaninoff, Saint-Saëns, Liszt, Debussy and others.

Brailowsky gave the first complete Chopin cycle in history in Paris in 1924, using the composer's own piano for part of the recital. He then went on to present a further thirty recitals of Chopin's music, including New York in 1938 and then in Paris, Brussels, Zurich, Mexico City, Buenos Aires and Montevideo. In 1960 he decided to repeat the cycles in Brussels and Paris, although his playing by now was past its best but nonetheless still delivered some superb nuances and an overall mastery.

Alexander Brailowsky died in New York aged 80, of complications brought on by pneumonia.


Thursday, 14 February 2013

Tamara Platonovna Karsavina (1885-1978)

Tamara Karshavina - Petruska - 1911.

Tamara Karsavina, one of the greatest dancers of the Ballets Russes of Serge Diaghilev was born in St. Petersburg on March 10, 1885, the daughter of dancer Platon Karsavin. Tamara became a legend in her own life time. Her technical perfection, wit, rare intelligence, and deep feeling made her a prima ballerina for all times.

Karsavina graduated from St. Petersburg's Imperial Ballet School in 1902 and immediately entered the Maryinsky Ballet as a soloist. From 1909 to 1918 she was given starring roles with the rank of Ballerina. She was a ballerina with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes from its beginnings in 1909. ...

I do not know any other dancer who practices the art of shaping lyricism - the tenderest virtue of the human soul, the source of purest intimate pleasure - into a more perfect form of dance than Tamara Platonovna Karsavina does. The secret of the charm exuded by the ballerina lies in her exclusive gift for turning the dance she performs into poetry.

Each ballet role, independent of its purely technical ulties, or whether it belongs to the world of classical dance, or is a new creation - is always enveloped in the weightless, transparent veil of a dream, a poetic mist that muffles glaring outlines and avoids any angularities

The dance performed by Karsavina, imbued with charming softness and endlessly attractive womanhood, swaddled with the freshness and the purity of youth is alien to any bravura, to any tricks which often only conceal the void of inner feelings by means of the effects of dazzling brilliancy. It remains always and everywhere on plane of finished technical mastery. It cannot be otherwise, because it is only through mastery that on artist gains an understanding of all the mysteries of beauty. Karsavina's dance is congenial to the finest poem, to the most delicately formed sonnet,in which every line is a tribute to the altar of poetry and rejoices the soul. Her dance pours out tunes of pure lyricism, which contrast the stern fanfares of the stern, lacerating drama.

The lines of this dance are pure, soft, flowing and musically flexible, noble and at the same time sincere. This sincerity is just the supreme beauty in the creative genius of Karsavina, as well as in art in general; in her atmosphere blossoms the tenderest flowers of the poetry of dance, which the ballerina scatters around the whole world, flying above the forests, valleys, mountains and seas like a magic fairy with a radiant smile on her lips.

Edward Stark

Maria Volkonsky

Maria Volkonsky

When Maria - beautiful, highly cultivated, daughter of famous general Raevski married prince Volkosnkii her family was thrilled. Although they came from a rich, well known family and close to the tsar family themselves, the fact of their daughter marrying wealthy prince was very honorable and alluring. She was set to live in splendor in one of the magnificent palaces. 

Twenty-one year-old Maria was married only for year when her husband was arrested. She wrote to her husband: “One thing I can assure you of: what ever your fate I will share it.” Her family was very upset and objectected to her decision to follow her husband into exile, pleading to consider her infant son. The Tsar prohibited the taking of any children along. “My son is happy, but my husband is not and he needs me”. In her defense, she never expected that it would be separation for ever. However, after her long trip to Siberia and not long before she finally reached her husband, Maria was presented with the document that she had to sign. Maria had to renounce all her rights, titles, possessions and acknowledge the understanding that she would never be allowed to return, even upon death of her husband. That was one way ticket, journey of no return. She signed it and so did the rest of those women. With a flash of her pan, this young woman left everything and everybody except her husband behind.

When she saw her husband at last she knelt on the filthy floor and kissed his chains. Then came long years of brutal reality. However her spirit never was broken for long. She learned how to perform basic chores, negotiated with prison’s guards to allow wives to deliver food and clothing to their husbands, pleaded with authorities to ease conditions, maintained contact with families back home for many prisoners and supported other wives that followed their husbands. Many years later, under her influence a theater and concert hall were opened in Siberia. She became involved in the local hospital: reorganized staff, introduced measured of hygiene and helped to open new a wing. Maria was well respected and adored by the community in which she lived.

Unfortunately, her marriage to Sergey was not perfect, with time they drifted apart. As Maria stayed strong and active, Sergey let himself go. He lost interest in life, did not take care himself and eventually turned into eccentric old farmer. Biographers find a lot of indication of Maria having a long lasting romance with another Decembrist, however there is no proof that it went beyond of friendship. Even when all those marriage troubles took place, divorce was never discussed. Maria and Sergey stayed together until her death.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Boris Akunin - Paradise Lost: Confessions Of An Apostate Translator

My mother wanted me to become a doctor. If not a doctor – then a literary translator. She would start speaking about my future and say with conviction that in our country there were only two “clean” professions – firstly, medicine, secondly, literary translation. She wouldn’t be more specific, so I took it as an axiom.
When she saw that I was hopeless at chemistry and physics and that I showed little interest in biology, she started pushing me towards the second option. She was a schoolteacher, she knew how to manipulate people.
Just one example of her scheming. At home there was a bookshelf up very high where, mother told me, were the books for adults. I was not to touch them until I was old enough to understand them. Of course when I was alone I read them all, to the last page. I was probably the youngest living creature in the world to read the two volumes of “Anna Karenina” and the four volumes of “War and Peace”. I didn’t understand much, but I developed a lifelong habit of reading difficult books.
To interest me in reading books in English (the language I was studying at school without enthusiasm), my mother took me to the Moscow Library of Foreign Literature, recently reopened after renovation. The building was brand new, all glass and steel. In socialist Moscow of 1969 it looked like a miracle of modernity, a temple of light. Even the compulsory Lenin statue was not like the one at school, 3-meters high and gilded, but small, sort of cubist, very chic. And there were no kids, as no-one under 16 could get a subscription.
I immediately felt that I wanted to belong to that world. Even the queue behaved differently from all other Soviet queues: everybody was so polite, so patient, so soft-spoken. They are all translators, I thought. I also thought I understood why translation was a profession second only to medicine in its sterile attire. I demanded that mother take out a subscription for me in her name, then I was allowed to take a book. Not knowing what to order I chose the thickest volume from the display and promised myself I would read it to the end no matter what. Hadn’t I read “War and Peace”, after all?
Unfortunately the book turned out to be “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. In the beginning I had to write out at least 50 unknown words from each page. I did force my way through it, I had to keep my word, but I’ve never touched a Steinbeck book since then. An adolescent trauma.
The second English book, “Scaramouch” by Raphael Sabatini, was a relief, a treat. I started translating it immediately for a friend who was unlucky enough to have to study German at school. After a couple of pages I found it easier to tell the story in my own words, embellishing it along the way – a premonition of what was to become of me eventually. But at thirteen I didn’t want to be a writer, I wanted to translate.
The real meaning of what my mother had in mind when she called literary translation “a clean profession” and why it was less “clean” than medicine became clear to me later as I was growing up and learning the art of adjusting to the real world.
Here I must digress in order to explain the rather specific position of writers and philologists in the Soviet Union.
Adolf Hitler was a failed painter. Joseph Stalin was a failed poet.
Stalin must have envisaged his dictatorship as some sort of epic poem, the beauty of which should be admired. And it was admired, genuinely or falsely, voluntarily or otherwise. In any case, no criticism of that great work of poetry was tolerated.
It was bad luck for Russian literature that Stalin thought highly of literature. For him it meant that literature was politically important. The dictator grew up in an era when Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov were iconic figures in Russia, influencing not only Russian literature but the whole of society.
Stalin evidently despised all three of them for their uselessness and even harmfulness. He needed his own socialist Tolstoys. And with his arithmetical practical-mindedness, his endless contempt for human nature, he was sure that he knew how to achieve this goal.
The chaotic and uncontrollable world of literary creation had to be put in order. Stalin directed and organized the process as it was called then.
More here.

Kirill Medvedev’s “It’s No Good: poems/ essays/ actions”

Read here:
Kirill Medvedev’s “It’s No Good: poems/ essays/ actions” - Words Without Borders:

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Caucasian Canyons Preserving the History

Caucasian Canyons Preserving the History: We are going to have a trip to an interesting Caucasian place – Fiagdon gorge located in North Ossetia. The mouth of the gorge starts about thirty kilometers from Vladikavkaz, it’s where one can already observe very beautiful landscapes. There … Read more...

Monday, 11 February 2013

Feodor Chaliapin - Biography

"Chaliapin will never die; for with his fabulous talent, this marvelous artist can never be forgotten... To future generations Chaliapin will become a legend." - Sergey Rachmaninov

Feodor Chaliapin is perhaps the most influential opera singer of all times. He was an imposing figure of a man with a dark-timbered basso-cant ante voice. His rich vocal expression and excellent acting left a benchmark for later interpreters of “Boris Gudunov” and “Don Quichotte.” Both roles are considered his best. He was a superb actor whose stage presence thrilled his audience. He rose from a very humble if not miserable upbringing by sheer willpower and determination to the heights of operatic zenith. What is most remarkable is that he was mostly self-taught in both languages and music. Feodor Chaliapin, born the same year as Enrico Caruso (who also played a crucial part in changing the art form), was the first Russian singer to establish a great international career.

Feodor Chaliapin was born into a peasant family in the city of Kazan. His father, Ivan Yakovlevich, served as a clerk. In 1878 the Chaliapin family moved to the village of Ametyevo (also Ometyevo, or the Ometyev settlements, now a settlement within Kazan) and settled in a small house. Chaliapin was apprenticed to a cobbler at the age of 10. With only four years of formal schooling, Chaliapin fled a poverty-stricken and abusive home at age 17 and joined a traveling theater company. In terms of music, legend has it that he was self-taught. However, a brief engagement with a touring opera and a fortuitous meeting with his first voice teacher, Dimitry Usatov, a retired tenor, alerted the young singer, then aged 19, to the true extent of his musical potential. Usatov was, in fact, so impressed with the young man that he agreed to teach him classic vocal technique free of charge.

Chaliapin’s career began at the Tiflis (later Tbilisi) Opera. He made his debut as Ivan Susanin in Glinka's “A Life for the Tsar,” for which he received excellent reviews. In 1894 he joined the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. Two years later he was invited to sing at the Mamontov Private Opera in Moscow, where he stayed for three years until he was engaged by the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, where he appeared regularly from 1899 to 1914. By the age of 26, when he joined the Bolshoi, he was already the foremost opera singer in Russia. At 29 Chaliapin sang his first engagement abroad and his first opera in Italian, he shared the stage at La Scala with Enrico Caruso in Arrigo Boito's “Mefistofele,” redefining the title role for the composer, and becoming the foremost bass singer in Europe. Chaliapin made a sensational debut at La Scala that year under the baton of the 20th Century's most dynamic opera conductor, Arturo Toscanini. At the end of his career, Toscanini observed that the Russian bass was the greatest operatic talent with whom he had ever worked.

In 1907 Chaliapin made his Metropolitan Opera debut in that same role in New York City. His first appearance was disappointing due to the unprecedented frankness of his stage acting. But in the winter of 1907-08, at the age of 34, Chaliapin returned to New York and set the city alight. Earning a staggering $1,600 per performance (more than $33,000 in 2005 dollars), he created a furor in the operatic world and redefined the notion of dramatic performance by bringing a fiercely committed intelligence to his roles and immersing himself in them fully. A basso, before Chaliapin, was neither an artist nor a star.

"He is an elemental creature, roaring and champing like a bull, charging the poor sinners of this world with the fuss and energy of a 60 horse-power motor and leaving a trail of fire and brimstone behind him. This is the Satan resulting from the union of the Italian creator and the Russian interpreter.

"His frame, gigantic as it is, cannot contain his nature. He writhes with the emotions that convulse him. His face is drawn into expressions of the profoundest agony... All the dramatic action tending to establish this conception of Boito's Satan is accompanied by every helpful aid of light, scenery and mechanical ingenuity. Chaliapin takes the utmost pains with his make-up, which combines effectively the use of flesh lungs and bare skin. The skin is covered with shiny, metallic powder with sparkles in the calcium." - W.J. Henderson, The New York Sun

Chaliapin did not much care for the Americans' greedy pursuit of money and their general ignorance of art, though audiences embraced him. Many critics seemed unable to understand his work on stage, and there is some evidence that the Metropolitan Opera management provided him with translations of only the hostile reviews, presumably as a cost-saving measure. In his splendid biography of Chaliapin, Victor Borovsky quotes a reference from an American critic of the time who thought "the initiative was coming from the all-powerful director of the Metropolitan Opera, Heinrich Conried, who had no desire to retain in his company a bass who demanded sixteen hundred dollars a night, a high salary for a soprano or a tenor." Needless to say Chaliapin was all too glad to see the end of his American tour. He returned to the Met only in 1921 and sang there with immense success for eight seasons.

"Last night nobility of acting was paired with a beautiful nobility of voice and vocal style, and his Boris stood out of the dramatic picture like one of the old time heroes of a tragedy... He sang in Russian: and though it was possible even for those unfamiliar with the language to feel some of the intimacy which must exist between the original text and the music, the effect upon the Russians in the audience was akin to frenzy. All that we have heard of the greatness of his interpretation of the character of Boris was made plain. It was heart-breaking in its pathos, terrible in its vehemence and agony." - Henry E. Krehbiel, New York Daily Tribune, 1921.

In 1908, Chaliapin began his close association with Sergey Diaghilev, the brilliant entrepreneur, in Paris, where many famous productions of Russian operas were staged. He played several Russian roles at Covent Garden, London in 1913. Introduced to London and Paris by Diaghilev, Chaliapin began giving well-received solo recitals in which he sang traditional Russian folk songs as well as more serious fare. Among these songs were “Along Peterskaya,” which he recorded with a British-based Russian folk-instrument orchestra and “The Song of the Volga Boatmen,” which he made famous throughout the world. Chaliapin was now fully acclaimed as the great artist he was. He sang to the applause of audiences, critics and himself. Chaliapin wrote, rather delightedly, in a letter: "...From good luck, I am stringing here my performances like pearls, one next to the other. Which one is better, I cannot say." Chaliapin appeared in nearly all of the great opera houses of Europe, as well as those of England and the United States. In 1935-1936 he made a world tour, including performances in China and Japan. His most famous role was the lead in Moussorgsky's “Boris Godunov,” but he also won praise as Ivan the Terrible in Rimsky-Korsakov's “Maid of Pskov,” in the title role of Boito's “Mefistofele” and as Mephistopheles in Gounod's “Faust.” ...

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Boris Pasternak: To Anna Akhmatova

I think I can call on words
that will last: you are there.
But if I can’t, no matter –
I’ll persist, I won’t care.

I hear the muttering of wet roofs,
pale eclogues from stones and kerb.
From the opening lines, that city,
is alive in each sound, each word.

You can’t leave town though it’s spring,
and your customers won’t wait.
Dawn glows, by lamplight sewing
with unbowed back, eyes wet.

Breathing the calm of far-off Ladoga,
stumbling towards the water.
There’s no relief from such trips.
The shallows smell mustier, darker.

The wind dances, it’s a walnut shell,
a glitter, the warm wind blows
branches and stars, lights, and views,
as the seamstress watches the flow.

Eyesight can be sharp, differently,
form be precise in varying ways,
but a solvent of acid power’s
out there under the white night’s blaze.

That’s how I see your face and look.
Not that pillar of salt, in mind,
in which five years ago you fixed
our fears of looking behind.

From your first verses where grains
of clear speech hardened, to the last,
your eye, the spark that shakes the wire,
makes all things quiver with the past.

Boris Pasternak Interviewed by Olga Carlisle

Fragment of a letter from Boris Pasternak to a fellow poet:

“The melodic authenticity of most of your work is very dear to me, as is your faithfulness to the principle of melody and to “ascent” in the supreme sense that Alexander Blok gave that word.

'You will understand from a reading of my most recent works that I, too, am under the power of the same influence, but we must try to make sure that, as in Alexander Blok, this note works, reveals, incarnates, and expresses thoughts to their ultimate clarity, instead of being only a reminder of sounds which originally charmed us, an inconsequential echo dying in the air.”

I decided to visit Boris Pasternak about ten days after my arrival in Moscow one January. I had heard much about him from my parents, who had known him for many years, and I had heard and loved his poems since my earliest years.

I had messages and small presents to take to him from my parents and from other admirers. But Pasternak had no phone, I discovered in Moscow. I dismissed the thought of writing a note as too impersonal. I feared that in view of the volume of his correspondence he might have some sort of standard rejection form for requests to visit him. It took a great effort to call unannounced on a man so famous. I was afraid that Pasternak in later years would not live up to my image of him suggested by his poems—lyric, impulsive, above all youthful.

My parents had mentioned that when they saw Pasternak in 1957, just before he received the Nobel Prize, he had held open house on Sundays—a tradition among Russian writers which extends to Russians abroad. As an adolescent in Paris, I remember being taken to call on the writer Remizov and the famous philosopher Berdyayev on Sunday afternoons.

On my second Sunday in Moscow I suddenly decided to go to Peredelkino. It was a radiant day, and in the center of the city, where I stayed, the fresh snow sparkled against the Kremlin’s gold cupolas. The streets were full of sightseers—out-of-town families bundled in peasant-like fashion walking toward the Kremlin. Many carried bunches of fresh mimosa—sometimes one twig at a time. On winter Sundays large shipments of mimosa are brought to Moscow. Russians buy them to give to one another or simply to carry, as if to mark the solemnity of the day.

I decided to take a taxi to Peredelkino, although I knew of an electric train which went from the Kiev railroad station near the outskirts of Moscow. I was suddenly in a great hurry to get there, although I had been warned time and again by knowledgeable Muscovites of Pasternak’s unwillingness to receive foreigners. I was prepared to deliver my messages and perhaps shake his hand and turn back.

The cab driver, a youngish man with the anonymous air of taxi drivers everywhere, assured me that he knew Peredelkino very well—it was about thirty kilometers out on the Kiev highway. The fare would be about thirty rubles (about three dollars). He seemed to find it completely natural that I should want to drive out there on that lovely sunny day.

But the driver’s claim to know the road turned out to be a boast, and soon we were lost. We had driven at fair speed along the four-lane highway free of snow and of billboards or gas stations. There were a few discreet road signs but they failed to direct us to Peredelkino, and so we began stopping whenever we encountered anyone to ask directions. Everyone was friendly and willing to help, but nobody seemed to know of Peredelkino. We drove for a long time on an unpaved, frozen road through endless white fields. Finally we entered a village from another era, in complete contrast with the immense new apartment houses in the outskirts of Moscow—low, ancient-looking log cottages bordering a straight main street. A horse-drawn sled went by; kerchiefed women were grouped near a small wooden church. We found we were in a settlement very close to Peredelkino. After a ten-minute drive on a small winding road through dense evergreens I was in front of Pasternak’s house. I had seen photographs of it in magazines and suddenly there it was on my right: brown, with bay windows, standing on a slope against a background of fir trees and overlooking the road by which we had accidentally entered the town. ...

Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 25

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Isabella Georgeva (Изабелла Юрьева) :If you can, forgive

The Obverse Of Stalinism: Akhmatova's Self-Serving Charisma Of Selflessness

     In every revolution, the main issue is power.

                                                                                                V. I. Lenin[1]

                "Poetry is power," Osip Mandelstam once said to Akhmatova in Voronezh, and she bowed her head on its slender neck. Banished, sick, penniless and hounded, they still would not give up their power.

                                                                                Nadezhda Mandelstam[2]


                The life and works of the poet Anna Andreevna Akhmatova (1889-1966) offer a sustained example of self-presentation that is grounded in historical circumstances in ways one would not have easily suspected. What follows is an attempt to reread the Akhmatova myth as a set of stories told of oneself and received, regurgitated, and institutionalized by the surrounding culture. The case of Akhmatova is especially challenging because of the poet's well-known stoic opposition to the reigning political climate of the time: her essential affinity with the totalitarian discourse of her oppressors can only be discerned through a fresh parsing of the text of her literary and personal life, usually construed in hagiographic tones.[3]

                Fortunately, the task is facilitated by the unabashed conspicuousness of Akhmatova's self-image-making. Forestalling the needs of biographers, Akhmatova used to give her visitors "guided museum tours of herself"[4] and play to them what she called "gramophone records" (plastinki)--vignettes from her life.[5] She often spoke as if "for the record"[6] and "was not above ghosting her own biography."[7]

                                She came to believe... that all her indiscretions would be divulged by her biographers. She lived... aware of her biography... "It is all in our hands," she would say, and: "As a literary critic I know..." One part of her longed for a canonized portrait without the follies and foibles inevitable in any life, especially that of a poet.[8]

                                [P]eople... said... that she "corrected her biography"... [She] declared herself... to be the chronologically first Akhmatova specialist to whose objectiveopinion all later specialists would have to give particular weight.[9]

Here is how she went about providing "objective" data.

                                She persuaded Vera Alekseevna Znamenskaia to write her memoirs, but... did not find in them what she had expected... A[nna] A[ndreevna] would get angry and even quarrel with Vera Alekseevna, but then she recalled wisely that the very initial period of her relationship with [the poet Nikolai] Gumilev [Akhmatova's former husband, executed by the Soviets in 1921 on dubious charges] should be remembered by Valia [Sreznevskaia]... Valeriia Sergeevna went ahead and wrote, but [Akhmatova] did not like her notes... although much of it was written according to her own words. Some of it they corrected together, and Valeriia Sergeevna once again copied it out in her own hand, at [Akhmatova's] insistence. This copybook written by Valeriia Sergeevna was rejected by Anna Andreevna..."[10]

With similar bias Akhmatova shaped her versions of her historic role. According to Sir Isaiah Berlin, she believed that

                                we--that is, she and I--inadvertently, by the mere fact of our meeting, had started the cold war and thereby changed the history of mankind. She meant this quite literally; and... saw herself and me as world-historical personages chosen by destiny to begin a cosmic conflict... I could not protest... since she would have felt this as an insult to her tragic image of herself as Cassandra--indeed, to the historico-metaphysical vision which informed so much of her poetry. I remained silent.[11]

Berlin identifies the fundamental connection between Akhmatova's personal fears as a subject of Stalin's regime and her charismatic self-image. The paranoia, more or less legitimate under the circumstances, develops into a mania grandiosa, which, in turn, energizes her personal myth, in an instructive instance of the paradoxical opposition/ symbiosis between dissident poet and totalitarian leader--of the sort perceptively analyzed by Gregory Freidin with respect to Osip Mandelstam.[12] Akhmatova's brooking no contradiction from Berlin, therefore, evidences not so much her unreasonableness as her adherence to the laws of charismatic mythmaking.

                Indeed, as a disciple of the Silver Age masters of "self-creation" (zhiznetvorchestvo)[13] and a witness to the production of Stalin's "cult of personality," Akhmatova had a keen understanding of these laws.

                                When [Joseph] Brodsky was tried and sent into exile... she said: "What a biography they are making for our Ginger. As if he had gone out and hired someone to do it." And to my question about the poetic fate of Mandelstam, whether it was not overshadowed by his fate as a citizen... she replied: "It's ideal."[14]

On occasion, the "hiring" metaphor would be reified. In the 1920s, Akhmatova engaged the services of a younger friend, P. N. Luknitskii, to work on the biography of Gumilev. In his diary, he noted her instructing him as follows:

                                "You mustn't forget that this biography you are compiling is perhaps a most severe indictment... You must gain an understanding of every detail, plow through all this debris... create the true image of Nikolai Stepanovich... You may overly narrow that image and make mistakes"... She realized that creating such a biography was also a work of art... an act of creation like any other.[15]

                Akhmatova considered plain wrong and punishable all biographical statements about Gumilev, herself, and Mandelstam that were not authorized by her.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

"Giselle", 1977, with Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov

Natalia Makarova is Giselle, Mikhail Baryshnikov is Albrecht and Frank Smith is Hilarion. Filmed in performance at the Metropolitan Opera House on June 2, 1977. American Ballet Theater. Production by David Blair, choreography after Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa. Settings by Oliver Smith. Music by Adolphe Adam conducted by John Lanchbery.

Daniil Kharms, Master of Deadpan, Father of the Absurd

Grotesque deaths in miniature are a hallmark of the work of Daniil Kharms. In one of his short stories, several women throw themselves out of the same apartment block window, each shattering upon impact. In another, a man dies from eating too much: “One day Orlov stuffed himself with mashed peas and died. Krylov, having heard the news, also died. And Spiridonov died regardless…”
The latter, an absurdist gem, is especially poignant, since Kharms died of starvation in a psych ward of a Soviet hospital during the Seige of Leningrad in 1942. The avant-garde author had been basically imprisoned there for his artistic subversion, and according to absurdist American writer George Saunders, perhaps also "his general strangeness."
Finally, seventy years after his death, all of his scribbled short prose, poetry and theater scenes have been deciphered and published. Kharms has been catapulted into the canon of modern literature of Russia and Europe—just like that.
Many view his absurdity as a political seismogram from an evil age. "Incidences", a work replete with chain dances of death, was written in 1936, during the reign of terror known as Stalin's Great Purge. Hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens were convicted of anti-Soviet crimes, from leading uprisings to associating with known Trotskyites; many died in penal colonies or were executed.
But Kharms is so much more than a "right-place, right-time," writer. He was a playful artist who could be as terrifying as Kafka and as humorous as Beckett.
Born Daniil Yuvachev, Kharms was too late for the Silver Age of literature in St Petersburg. When Kharms founded literary circles such as the “Left Flank” and OBERIU (The Union of Real Art) in the mid-1920s, the Soviet policy on culture and education had already begun to tighten the screws.
“When verses are taken from a page and hurled at a window they should shatter glass,” Kharms once said.  An imposing bohemian figure with a stovepipe hat and pipe,  he preferred reading his poems aloud. He felt his life and art were the same. “I’m the same as all of you, just better.” 

Kharms was first arrested in 1932. His standing within the intelligentsia reached new heights in 1935, when he wrote and delivered the poetic eulogy at the funeral of his friend Kazimir Malevich, the revered suprematist painter and creator of the painting, "Black Square."
Like many artists before and after him, Kharms found a precarious sanctuary in children’s literature, which was less restrictive and censored. However, his second wife Marina Malitch admitted that he despised children. “It really is inexplicable that despite his utter contempt for children he was able to write such wonderful stories for them. When he would show up to a matinée and perform magic tricks, he held the children in the palm of his hand. In the Leningrad-based publications Yozhik (The Hedgehog), he wrote poetry that was just as ironic and subversive as what he composed for adults.
More here.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Borodin: Second Symphony

Benois, Alexandr (1870-1960) - 1939 The Bolshoi Theater in St.Petersburg in 1885 (Private Collection)

Benois, Alexandr (1870-1960) - 1939 The Bolshoi Theater in St. Petersburg in 1885 (Private Collection) by RasMarley

A photo by RasMarley on Flickr.
Gouache and watercolor; 34 x 60 cm.

Russian painter, mainly in watercolour, art historian and stage designer. Born in St Petersburg of French and Italian descent, son of Nikolai Benois, architect to the Imperial Palaces in Peterhof. Briefly attended a part-time course in stage design at the Academy of Arts 1887, but otherwise self-taught as an artist. Studied law at the University of St Petersburg 1890-4, and while still a student formed a circle with a number of friends, including Diaghilev, Somov and Bakst, for the purpose of studying art. This later developed into the World of Art (Mir Iskusstva), which held exhibitions and published a journal of the same name, 1898-1904. Travelled widely in Europe and was influenced by the art of the eighteenth century. Became very active and influential as a stage designer, including sets and costumes for Le Pavillon d'Armide 1907 and (for Diaghilev) Petrushka 1911 and Le Rossignol 1914. Edited the periodical Khudozhestvennye sokrovishcha Rossii (Art Treasures of Russia) 1901-3, and wrote several books on art and volumes of memoirs. Curator of Painting at the Hermitage 1918-25, then moved in 1926 to Paris, where he continued to paint and design for the theatre. Died in Paris.
Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.48

Vladislav Khodasevich: The Monkey

Vladislav Khodasevich
The heat was fierce. Great forests were on fire.
Time dragged its feet in dust. A cock was crowing
 in an adjacent lot.
As I pushed open
my garden-gate I saw beside the road
a wandering Serb asleep upon a bench
his back against the palings. He was lean
and very black, and down his half-bared breast
there hung a heavy silver cross, diverting
the trickling sweat.
Upon the fence above him,
clad in a crimson petticoat, his monkey
sat munching greedily the dusty leaves
of a syringa bush; a leathern collar
drawn backwards by its heavy chain bit deep
into her throat.
Hearing me pass, the man
stirred, wiped his face, and asked me for some
He took one sip to see whether the drink
was not too cold, then placed a saucerful
upon the bench, and, instantly, the monkey
slipped down and clasped the saucer with both
dipping her thumbs; then, on all fours, she drank,
her elbows pressed against the bench, her chin
touching the boards, her backbone arching higher
than her bald head. Thus, surely, did Darius
bend to a puddle on the road when fleeing
from Alexander's thundering phalanges.
When the last drop was sucked the monkey swept
the saucer off the bench, and raised her head,
and offered me her black wet little hand.
Oh, I have pressed the fingers of great poets,
leaders of men, fair women, but no hand
had ever been so exquisitely shaped
nor had touched mine with such a thrill of kinship,
and no man's eyes had peered into my soul
with such deep wisdom . . . Legends of lost ages
awoke in me thanks to that dingy beast
and suddenly I saw life in its fullness
and with a rush of wind and wave and worlds
the organ music of the universe
boomed in my ears, as it had done before
in immemorial woodlands.
And the Serb
then went his way thumping his tambourine;
on his left shoulder, like an Indian prince
upon an elephant, his monkey swayed.
A huge incarnadine but sunless sun
hung in a milky haze. The sultry summer
flowed endlessly upon the wilting wheat.
That day the war broke out, that very day.
Translated from Russian by Vladimir Nabokov
The original text of the poem «The Monkey»