Saturday, 29 June 2013

Varlam Shalamov: A Rest

The mountains were white with a bluish sheen, like sugar loaves. Round and treeless, they were coated in a thin layer of solid snow, packed down by the winds. The snow in the ravines was deep and firm – it could hold a man’s weight, while on the slopes it seemed to bulge up in huge bubbles. These were the shrubs of the dwarf pine, sprawled over the earth, which had bedded down for their winter night before the first snow fell. It was these shrubs that we needed.
Of all the northern trees, I loved the Siberian dwarf pine the most.
I had long understood and treasured the enviable eagerness with which poor northern nature hurried to share with man, who was just as destitute, its simple riches: to bloom the faster for him with all its flowers. Sometimes in a week everything would race into blossom, and within a month of summer’s arrival the mountains bathed in rays of the almost never-setting sun would redden with lingonberries and blacken with midnight blueberries. On the low-growing shrubs – you didn’t even need to lift your arm – big, lush, yellow rowanberries burst with ripeness. The honeyed mountain dog-rose: its pink petals were the only flowers here that were scented like flowers, all the rest smelt of nothing but damp, of bog, and this accorded with the spring silence of the birds, the silence of the larch forest, whose branches were slowly donning their green needles. The dog-rose guarded its fruits right up until the frosts, and from under the snow it stretched out to us its puckered fleshy berries, whose leathery, purple skin hid a dark-yellow meat. I knew the gaiety of the vines, changing their hue over and over in the spring: now deep rose, now tangerine, now pallid green, as if sheathed in coloured kidskin. The larch trees reached out their slender fingers tipped with green nails, the pervasive fat willowherb carpeted the ground cleared by forest fires. All this was delightful, innocent, noisy and hurried, but all this was in the summer, where the dull green grass mingled with the verdant glint of the mossy rocks sparkling in the sun, which suddenly appeared no longer grey or brown, but green.
In winter all this vanished, blanketed in the crumbly, stiff snow that drifted into the gorges and was compacted by the winds, so that in order to ascend the mountain you had to hack steps out of the snow with an axe. A man in the forest could be seen from a mile off, so naked was everything. And only one tree stayed ever green, ever alive: the Siberian dwarf pine. It could predict the weather. Two or three days before the first snowfall, while the autumn days were still hot and cloudless and no one wanted to think about the impending winter, the dwarf pine would suddenly stretch out its huge, two-fathom paws along the earth, nimbly bow its straight black trunk, two fists thick, and lie down floppily on the earth. A day passed, then another, a small cloud would appear, and towards evening a blizzard would start blowing and the snow would fall. If, however, low snow clouds gathered late in autumn, a cold wind blew yet the dwarf pine did not lie flat, you could be quite certain no snow would fall.
In late March or April, when there was still no hint of spring and the wintry air was tenuous and dry, the dwarf pine all around would rise up, shaking the snow from its green, vaguely gingery, garments. Within a day or two the wind would change, the warm air streams heralding the spring.
The dwarf pine was a highly accurate instrument, so sensitive that now and again it was fooled, it would rise during a momentary thaw. Although it never rose ahead of a thaw. But before the weather could cool, it would hurriedly lie back down in the snow. Or this could happen: you started up a nice hot bonfire in the morning so that you’d have somewhere to warm your feet and hands by lunchtime, you piled on some extra firewood and left for work. Within two or three hours, from beneath the snow, the dwarf pine would stretch out its branches and slowly straighten up, thinking that the spring had come. Before the fire had gone out, the dwarf pine lay back down on the snow. The winter here was two-tone: the soaring, pale-blue sky and the white earth. In spring, the previous autumn’s dingy yellow rags were bared, and for a long time the earth would wear these beggarly clothes, until the new foliage mustered strength and everything began blossoming – hurriedly and passionately. And here, amid this dismal spring, this relentless winter, the dwarf pine sparkled, shone intensely, dazzlingly green. What’s more, nuts grew on it – little cedar nuts. This delicacy was shared among men, birds, bears, squirrels and chipmunks.
Having picked a clearing on the sheltered side of the mountain, we hauled branches, small and larger ones, we pulled up the dry grass on the mountain’s bald patches which the wind had stripped of snow. We had brought with us from the barracks some smouldering firebrands taken from the lit stove before leaving for work – there were no matches here.
We carried the firebrands in a large tin can fitted with a wire handle, taking great care not to let them go out along the way. After pulling the brands out from the can, blowing on them and holding their glowing ends together, I kindled a flame and, putting the brands on the branches, I heaped up a bonfire – dry grass and small branches. Then I covered all this with the larger branches, and soon a plume of blue smoke was tentatively drawn by the wind.
I had never before worked in the teams which gathered the needles of the dwarf pine. The work was carried out by hand: we plucked the dry green needles like feathers from game birds, grabbing handfuls, we stuffed the sacks with the needles, and in the evening we delivered our produce to the foreman. Then the needles were taken away to the mysterious vitamin plant, where they were boiled up into a dark-yellow, thick and sticky extract with an indescribably repulsive taste. We were forced to drink or eat this extract (whichever we could manage) every day before lunch. The taste of the extract spoiled not only lunch, but dinner too, and many saw in this treatment one more source of stress in the camp. Without a shot of this medicine in the dining rooms it was impossible to obtain dinner – they kept a strict watch over this. Scurvy was everywhere, and the only medically approved remedy was the dwarf pine. Faith conquers all, and despite the fact that this “medicine” was later proven completely ineffective as an anti-scorbutic and it was abandoned and the vitamin plant shut down, in our time people drank this foul-smelling muck, spitting it out, and they recovered from scurvy. Or they didn’t recover.
Or they recovered without drinking it. Absolutely everywhere was teeming with rosehip, but it was not harvested, no one used it as a remedy for scurvy – the Moscow instructions had said nothing about rosehip. (Several years later they began delivering rosehip from the mainland, but as far as I know, they never did organise their own local supply).
The instructions treated dwarf-pine needle as the only provider of vitamin C. Now I was a gatherer of this precious raw material: I had grown weak and they had transferred me from the gold works to pick the dwarf pine.
“You can go and work on the dwarf pine,” the taskmaster had said in the morning. “I’ll give you a few days’ kant.”
Kant was a widely used expression in the camps. It meant something like a brief rest, not a proper rest (which was called pripukh) but work which would not wear a man out, some light, temporary work.
Work on the dwarf pine was considered not merely light: it was the lightest work of all, and on top of that, it was unsupervised.
After many months of work in the icy mines, where each stone glistening with frost would burn your hands, after the clunk of the rifle bolts, the barking of the dogs and the obscenities of the overseers standing at your back, work on the dwarf pine was an enormous pleasure, felt by each exhausted muscle. The dwarf pine team was sent out later than the ordinary posting to work in the dark.
How good it was to warm your hands on the tin with the smouldering brands, taking your time to walk to the mountains, so unfathomably distant, as I had thought earlier, and to climb higher and higher, the whole time sensing in joyful surprise your solitude and the deep winter mountain silence, as though everything bad in the world had disappeared and there was only your comrade and you, and the dark, unending, slender trail in the snow leading somewhere higher in the mountains.
My comrade watched my slow movements with disapproval. He had worked on the dwarf pine for a long time and rightly guessed in me an unskilled and weak partner. We worked in pairs, our earnings combined and divided equally.
“I’ll do the chopping, you sit down and pick,” he said. “And get a move on, or else we won’t make the quota. I don’t want to leave this place for the mines again.”
He lopped off boughs of dwarf pine and hauled a great pile of these paws to the fire. I broke off the skimpier branches and, beginning at the top ends, stripped away the needles along with the bark. They were like green fringe.
“You need to speed up,” my comrade said, returning with a new armful. “That’s no good, brother!”
I could see for myself it was no good. But I couldn’t work any faster. My ears were ringing, and my fingers, frostbitten since the start of winter, had long ached with a familiar dull pain. I tore off the needles, broke whole branches into pieces without stripping the bark, and shoved the plunder into the sack. But the sack refused to fill. An entire mountain of stripped branches like cleaned bones had already arisen near the fire, yet the sack carried on plumping and plumping and accepting new armfuls of dwarf pine.
My comrade began helping me. We were making headway.
“Time to go home,” he said suddenly. “Or else we’ll miss supper. We haven’t got enough here for the quota.” And, taking a large stone from the cinders of the fire, he shoved it into the sack. “They don’t untie it there,” he said, frowning. “Now we’ll make the quota.”
I stood up, strewed the burning branches about and raked snow onto the glowing coals with my feet. The fire hissed, went out, and at once it turned cold; evening was near. My comrade helped me to hoist the sack over my shoulder. I staggered under its weight.
“Tow it along,” said my comrade. “We’re going downhill, after all, not up.”
We barely made it in time for soup and tea. This light work did not merit a main dish.

1956, Translated from Russian by Anna Gunin

Vladimir Mayakovsky - Short biographies

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

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

Mayakovsky plunged himself into politics almost as soon as he arrived in Moscow. By the time he was 14, he was a full-fledged member of the Moscow Bolshevik Party, serving as a messenger, distributor of leaflets, and lookout. On 1 March 1908, Mayakovsky was expelled from school for non-payment of fees. And on 29 March 1908 he was caught with a stack of revolutionary proclamations and arrested. Mayakovsky was released on probation, and on 30 August 1908 he was admitted to the Stroganov School of Industrial Arts.

Mayakovsky was arrested again on 21 January 1909--this time by mistake. He was seen in the company of some Social Revolutionaries who were accused of exproriations (bank robberies). Mayakovsky's innocence was apparent, and was released.

However, by summer of 1909 Mayakovsky was back in the slammer, this time because he walked into a stakeout aimed at a Georgian revolutionary involved in expropriations and the organization of a successful prison break. Mayakovsky was an uncooperative prisoner. A warder's report in August 1909 states:

Vladimir Vladimirovich his behavior incites other prisoners to disobedience toward prison officers, persistently demands free access to all cells, purporting to be the prisoners' "spokesman"; whenever let out of his cell to go to the toilet or washroom, he stays out of his cell for half an hour, parading up and down the corridor.

Mayakovsky was moved from prison to prison and eventually wound up in solitary confinement in cell 103 of Butyrki Prison. It was here that he wrote his first poem.

Mayakovsky was tried in September 1909 and found guilty. However, being a minor, he again got off with probation.

Having already shown a talent for drawing, Mayakovsky dropped out of politics and decided to study art. In 1911 he gained admission to the Moscow Institute for the Study of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture. And this time, his studies were successful. Here he met and fell under the influence of the avantgard painter David Burliuk, who introduced Mayakovsky to modernist painting and poetry. In September of 1912, after abandoning a boring program of Rakhkmaninov music, Mayakovsky penned and read for Burliuk a poem. Burliuk supposedly exclaimed, "Why, you're a poetic genius!" And at this moment, Mayakovsky claims, he decided to pursue only poetry.

In December 1912, Mayakovsky, Burliuk, Khlebnikov, and Kruchenykh published a Futurist manifesto entitled , A Slap in the Face of Public Taste. In it, they demanded that Pushkin, Tolstoy, etc., be thrown overboard. After all, "The Academy and Pushkin are less intelligible than hieroglyphics.". Blok, Gorky, Kuprin, Remizov, Bunin and others also come in for scorn, being labeled as "insignificant". The manifesto "orders" respect for the poets' rights:

* To enlarge the scope of the poet's vocabulary with arbitrary and derivative words.
* To feel an insurmountable hatred for the language existing before their time.
* To push with horror off their proud brow the Wreath of cheap fame that You have made from bathhouse switches.
* To stand on the rock of the word "we" amidst the sea of boos and outrage.

Mayakovsky's first two published poems, Noch ("Night") and Utro ("Morning") also appeared in 1912.

To advertise their "happenings", the futurists engaged in various stunts: Mayakovsky appearing in a yellow jacket, and Burliuk with a tree branch and bird painted on his cheek. These stunts got to the two expelled from the Institute. ...

Vladimir Mayakovsky: The Surrender of Lviv by the Austro-Hungarian Army to the Russian Army in September 1914

Mikhail Lermontov: Farewell, farewell, unwashed Russia

Lermontov: Tiflis

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

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

<1840 or 1841>

translated by Dmitri Smirnov

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


Friday, 28 June 2013

Aram Khachaturian:Spartacus, Bolshoi Ballet

Beyond Akhmatova and Pasternak: Discovering Soviet poets

Anna Akhmatova is already known abroad, as are Osip Mandelstam, Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetaeva. Robert Chandler and his fellow translators are concerned that the intense focus on these four, with their dramatic life histories, has overshadowed other talented writers.
A new Penguin anthology of “Russian Poetry from Pushkin to Brodsky,” due out by 2015, is set to bring these lesser known poets to light. Chandler, famous for bringing Soviet greats like Vasily Grossman and Andrey Platonov to English-reading audiences, has already edited two generous compilations of Russian short stories.
Now, together with Russian-American poets Boris Dralyuk and Irina Mashinski, he’s overseeing an even more ambitious project, bringing together legions of translators to create an anthology, which challenges the whole idea of Russian poetry in the West.
To celebrate this poetic collaboration, London’s Pushkin House hosted a “Russian Poetry week.” Stephen Capus, who is translating poems by Tsvetaeva, Boris Slutsky and others for the new anthology, told a packed audience of poetry-lovers last week: “We still understand Soviet poetry in terms of an abstract, binary opposition we’ve inherited from the Cold War. There were the ‘good’ poets who lived in opposition to the Soviet Union and ‘the others’ who managed to find places for themselves.”
This divide is over-simple, argues Capus, and leads to great poets being overlooked: “The reality is that actual lives don’t fit that pattern. Slutsky’s biography was complicated. Yes, he supported the denunciation of Pasternak; yet he wrote critical, denunciatory poems about Stalin.”
Slutsky was one of a generation of poets who fought in World War II and his poems reflect this as well as his experience of anti-Semitism and war’s aftermath (“from the rubble we built prisons of our own”). His poem “German Losses” expresses a poignant ambivalence. It describes a prisoner, cheerfully playing tunes for Russian soldiers and the poet’s grief for “that man alone/ who played those German waltzes far from home.”
This excellent translation by Stephen Capus shares the regular rhyme scheme and rhythm of the original. These techniques, Boris Dralyuk, who lectures in Russian literature at UCLA, explained, were not “superficial decoration” for Slutsky: “they are bound up with the very structure of his thought.”
Discussion of this and similar issues is crucial for translators of poetry. An unexpectedly large group of translators gathered in Oxford in mid-June to talk about literary translation. 
More here.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Russian Ballerina Semionova Dances at NY’s Metropolitan Opera House

Polina Semionova performing at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia

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

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

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

RIA Novosti

Monday, 24 June 2013

The Dostoevsky Archive

After you decapitate someone, might their severed head continue thinking? Prince Myshkin holds his audience spellbound with this macabre inquiry in The Idiot, a great novel whose author, Fyodor Dostoevsky, was once called the Shakespeare of the lunatic asylum. Each of his great novels concerns a murder (one a parricide); most also touch upon the sickening theme of the rape of a child. The writer Lafcadio Hearn warned that reading him might actually drive you mad: it can certainly invoke pity and terror, embarrassment and laughter.
Dostoevsky’s life was even weirder than his fiction. He was born in 1821, the son of a surgeon whom he believed to have been killed by his own serfs. He was often poor, and so he is the only great Russian writer of his generation whose first language was Russian rather than French: there was no money for the requisite governess. After writing the sentimental Poor Folk (1845), he joined the socialist Petrashevsky’s circle, was arrested and spent six months in solitary. On 22 December 1849 he and others were given long peasant blouses as shrouds and condemned to death by firing squad.
They were tied to stakes, summoned to repentance by a priest, and blind-folded. Tsar Nicholas I loved to be seen as all-powerful, and personally supervised the sacking of all schoolmasters whose pupils slouched in class. That day he
choreographed a mock-execution with an aide-de-camp galloping onto the scene to reveal the true sentences: hard labour in Siberia. Dostoevsky, heavily shackled, took into his eight years of exile The Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield and a Decembrist Bible. Of all writers he best loved Dickens, whose novels calmed him down and cheered him up. Like Dickens, Dostoevsky was a great reader and performer of his own work.
The novels he wrote on his return from exile, after a change of political heart, rank in any league table among the greatest. Dostoevsky was now a monarchist and the arch-enemy of radicals. The title of The Devils (1871)— aka The Possessed — refers to socialists crazed by spite and envy. It is a novel that with hindsight seems to prophesy the age of Stalin, under whose rule — although Poor Folk stayed in the syllabus — Dostoevsky’s later work went out of favour and out of print.
When, in 1971, the Soviet Academy opened a subscription list for the first new edition of his work for half a century, crowds of Russians queued patiently through the night to enter their names. But even then, two decades after Stalin’s death, much about Dostoevsky was still censored. It was, for example, too embarrassing to be mentioned by Soviet biographers that Dostoevsky visited Petersburg’s Winter Palace and developed a close relationship with the Royal Family. Rather oddly, this book’s eccentric index gives the enticing entry ‘tutoring Tsar’s children’ with no following page reference. We are, however, told that he was once seen hanging on to one of the Tsarina Maria Fyodorovna’s buttons while she tried unsuccessfully to retire and that she cried. His habit of buttonholing you was quite literal.
That is not a bad analogy for the experience of reading his novels. It recalls being addressed by a complete stranger with unnerving and soul-piercing intimacy. And it may be why the composer Tchaikovsky — who wept when he read The Brothers Karamazov as he had never wept at any other book — nonetheless recorded: ‘Author of genius. But the more I read, the more he weighs me down.’ Tchaikovsky attended Dostoevsky’s rapturously applauded Pushkin Speech with its mystical summons to love of the Russian people.
Many such small, beguiling anecdotes are to be found in Peter Sekirin’s Dostoevsky Archive, whose subtitle ‘Firsthand Accounts of the Novelist from Contemporaries and Rare Periodicals‘ is exact. Sekirin recently made available to English-speaking readers a quarry of original Russian material on Chekhov; he has now performed the same service for serious scholars of Dostoevsky.
The book is — inevitably — a mixed bag, stuffed with information of varying interest to the non-specialist. It is cheering to discover that Dostoevsky could not stand Wagner. He preferred the music of Mendelsohn, Mozart, Beethoven and Rossini.
Tolstoy so admired Dostoevsky’s The House of the Dead that he wrote ‘I don’t know a better book in all literature’ and  asked a mutual friend to ‘please tell him that I love him’. It was to Tolstoy that the writer Strakhov, who worked with Dostoevsky on literary journals during the 1860s and 1870s, spread the wicked rumour that Dostoevsky had sexually assaulted a nine-year-old girl in a public bathhouse. It is good to find that Sekirin gives this tale no credence.
Dostoevsky in his turn expressed great admiration for Anna Karenina, in his own widely read and influential Writer’s Diary. Both passionate — and heterodox — Christians, the two giants were very aware of each other but never met. Dostoevsky acknowledged that he was jealous of his rival’s wealth and equally of his success, and once referred rudely to ‘landlord literature’ with its patrician and pastoral calm. One month before he died in January 1881 Dostoevsky again showed himself ambivalent when announcing that ‘Tolstoy is powerful. He is a great talent. He did not say all he could.’
More here.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Ivan Turgenev - Short Stories

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

This book, which it is claimed influenced Tsar Alexander II's decision to emancipate the serfs in 1861, comprises vignettes of peasant life as observed by a landowning hunter much like Turgenev. Not even Gogol had presented such rounded portrayals of serfs before. As the translator Richard Freeborn notes, while Turgenev would go on to greater things in both the short story and the novel, he was quite aware of the book's merits. At the time of publication he wrote:
"Much has come out pale and scrappy, much is only just hinted at, some of it's not right, oversalted or undercooked – but there are other notes pitched exactly right and not out of tune, and it is these notes that will save the whole book."
Of these, perhaps the one pitched most perfectly of all is Bezhin Lea. This masterful story begins with a description of a July day, and close rendering of the natural world represent one of the deep pleasures of Turgenev's writing. As Edmund Wilson writes, in Turgenev "the weather is never the same; the descriptions of the countryside are quite concrete, and full, like Tennyson's, of exact observation of how cloud and sunlight and snow and rain, trees, flowers, insects, birds and wild animals, dogs, horses and cats behave, yet they are also stained by the mood of the person who is made to perceive them".

Returning home at the end of this glorious day the hunter becomes lost, and as night falls he passes through a landscape of endless fields, standing stones and terrifying gulfs. The mood is that of fairytale, but rather than supernatural beings, the hunter eventually finds only a group of boys guarding a drove of horses. They are gathered around a fire telling ghost stories. Throughout his story Turgenev, the committed realist, repeatedly balances the unreal, the ghostly, with the simply human, fantastical terror with everyday pathos and empathy. The little ring of storytellers, gathered in a small patch of flickering light on a vast plain, effortlessly coexists as concrete setting and existential symbol. At the story's end, when the narrator reports that one of the boys died the following year, he moves quickly to defuse any supernatural tension. As Frank O'Connor notes, Turgenev did not want "the shudder of children sitting over the fire on a winter night, thinking of ghosts and banshees while the wind cries about the little cottage – but that of the grown man before the mystery of human life".

Although Turgenev did occasionally explore supernatural themes, particularly towards the end of his life, his greatest achievements in the short story have love and youth as their main themes. He was at his best when writing autobiographically, and two of his finest stories, the novella First Love (1860) and Punin and Baburin (1874), draw deeply on his own memories. Near the end of his life, Turgenev said of First Love: "It is the only thing that still gives me pleasure, because it is life itself, it was not made up … First Love is part of my experience." This long and beautiful story powerfully evokes both a teenage boy's experience of love, and the complex sorrow of an older man looking back on his youth. The story unfolds over a summer when the narrator, Vladimir Petrovich, becomes one of a number of suitors clustered around Zinaida, whose mother is an impoverished princess using her daughter as bait to lure a wealthy husband. This story sees the first full flowering of Turgenev's ability to create and move between distinct, remarkably vivid characters and points of view, displaying what VS Pritchett calls the "curious liquid gift which became eventually supreme in Proust".

More here.

Friday, 21 June 2013

100 years on: Igor Stravinsky on The Rite of Spring

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

Bernard Berenson classified Ciurlionis simply as an abstractionist, which is of no help in understanding his use of strange forms, geometric conglomerations, quasirealistic trees, and, primarily, the sense of skyward movement. In July 1961 Stravinsky wrote to a Lithuanian art critic, emphasizing the difficulty in conveying the originality of the art: “It is not easy to describe a picture of this flight of growing-upwards extending rows of pyramids toward the horizon, the subject of this powerful work”. Perhaps in the upward thrusting Stravinsky felt an affinity with his musical germinations at the time. But, then, only a few years before his marriage in 1906 he was still contemplating whether to become a painter or a composer. His early landscapes are technically accomplished in many aspects and distinguished by the richness of his palette. Certainly Ciurlionis’s work influenced the Rite, and surely it is not mere chance that the first bars of the ballet are almost a note-for-note transcription of a popular Lithuanian folk song.

From the sustained opening note (The Sun), the whole of the Introduction to the Rite could be interpreted as musical symbolism for the reawakening of life. Other instruments join in, singly or in small groups, all suggesting, without imitating, the bursting of buds and the beginning of plant life; Homo sapiens does not appear until the second piece, the “Augurs of Spring”. Stravinsky has told the world that the most joyous event of every year was the thunderous cracking of the ice in the Neva River, and the Rite remains the mightiest tribute in music to the return of spring. No composer before him had portrayed an ancient ritual, starting with the Sun God and ending with human sacrifice, a chosen virgin dancing herself to death.

Stravinsky selected Roerich as his collaborator because he was the only painter with extensive knowledge of pagan Russia as well. At the premiere of the Rite, Roerich was harshly denigrated by Jean Cocteau as “a mediocre artist whose decor weakens the innovative nature of the ballet”. Other critics derided Roerich’s scenery as lacking the dissonances characteristic of the music: “The clouds drift like slow waves, and the line of the hills gently slope. Roerich’s stylized costumes show no sign of the brutal quality suggested by the music”. Stravinsky remained loyal to Roerich nevertheless, giving equal recognition to him in the same bold font on the first page of the four-hand score published in 1921.

More here.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

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

Nikolai Leskov is one of those great names in Russian literature that has somehow been lost in translation. He was Chekhov’s favorite author and Maxim Gorky described him as the equal of Gogol, Turgenev and Tolstoy. But most foreigners who know his name at all usually hear of him because Shostakovich based an opera on one of Leskov’s short stories, “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.”
His idiomatic language has scared some of the best translators. Until now.
A new collection of short stories and novellas, translated by award-winning husband-and-wife team, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, is set to rectify Leskov’s “neglected classic” status. The volume opens with “Lady Macbeth” (1864), one of Leskov’s earlier works, a tale of provincial lust and murder. From the bored merchant’s wife, romping with a servant by the samovar under moonlit apple blossom, to a chilling denouement near the “dark, gape-jawed waves” of the leaden Volga, the story showcases Leskov’s masterful evocation of place and restless passion.
Folk tales reverberate through these wandering pages, in the locked-up tower and high walls of the merchant’s house; the “lily-white hands” of the wife and her lover “like a bright falcon” are deliberate echoes that contrast beautifully with the more modern details of bureaucracy and commerce, “warrants and certificates,” or the “dense black shadow of the half-ruined old salt depots.”
The title story, “The Enchanted Wanderer,” is a picaresque novella about serf-born Ivan Flyagin, connoisseur of horses, who recounts his many near-death experiences. He works as coachman, soldier, actor, or nanny (“Russians can manage anything,” said the man who gives him this job); he meets alcoholic aristocrats with supernatural powers or yurt-dwelling, Tatar horse-traders, feckless princes and burning-eyed Gypsy girls.
The settings include gothic stretches of forest “swampy, unlovely, wild” or haunting descriptions of the glittering salt marshes near the Caspian Sea with their occasional bushes of “meadowsweet, wild peach or broom,” where “mist falls as dew at sunrise” and the storyteller weeps with loneliness.
Boredom and violence are recurrent themes; periods of frustration and wanderlust alternate with whippings, flaying, burial alive and crippling barbaric practices involving horsehair being sewn under the skin. The brutality and sudden changes of fortune prefigure the recent work of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya whose strange, satirical stories also combine the structure and mystique of a fable with the texture of contemporary life.
More here.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Favorite Artists: Aleksandr Golovin

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

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Odessa: City of Writerly Love

Walking along Pushkin Street on the kind of dazzling spring day the Odessan writer Aleksandr Kuprin warned visitors to avoid—the smell of acacias in bloom, he wrote, can induce newcomers to fall in love and take foolish steps, like getting married—I crossed Bunin Street, named for the Nobel Prize-winning short-story writer, then Zhukovskogo, a street named after the romantic poet said to have been Pushkin’s mentor. Near the opera, a golden sign announced the Odessa Literary Museum.
Writers fall in love with cities all the time. But ever since Pushkin spent thirteen months here in 1823, Odessa has been a city infatuated with its writers. At the Odessa Literary Museum—housed in a dilapidated palace in the city center, it is one of the largest shrines of its kind in the world—docents can tell you the number of days a given writer was here (Chekhov, who once spent half his paycheck on Odessan ice cream, came four times and stayed a total of sixteen days) and who wrote which chapters of their greatest works while in residence (Pushkin completed the second chapter of “Eugene Onegin” and half of the third here, but despite the popular claim that he began “Onegin” in Odessa, the poet actually rewrote the first chapter here, which more or less counts). They can also tell you who burned manuscripts written in Odessa (Gogol relegated most of the second part of “Dead Souls” to the flames on his return to Moscow after wintering here), whose wife was probably Odessan (Nabokov’s, Vera), which great writers passed through here yet never revisited the city in prose (maybe Nabokov, definitely Leo Tolstoy), who included Odessa in his fiction sight unseen (Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle, Balzac), who wrote in a letter to a friend of his intentions to visit but never did (Dostoevsky). And that’s just by the by: the museum’s twenty rooms feature some three hundred writers associated in one way or another with this city on the Black Sea that was, once upon a time, the glittering, cosmopolitan third capital of the Russian Empire.
Dreamed up in 1977 by Nikita Brygin, a red-headed former K.G.B. officer with a passion for literature and drink, the Literary Museum was an extraordinarily difficult project to undertake. At the time, the building was in ruins, and the repressive political climate made opening anything more than a sycophantic showcase for Soviet propaganda literature nearly impossible. Brygin, however, used his K.G.B. connections and persevered, managing to get permission for his dream museum. He engaged a team of enthusiastic young women, who gathered materials for very little pay and set to work. “He was a special character, an adventurer,” said Helena Karakina, the museum’s scientific secretary, who started work here in 1982, two years before the museum opened to the public. “He liked to involve people in business, not for money but for the soul.”
Karakina passed through the gilded green room devoted to Pushkin (who called the city “dusty” three times; today, the superlative phrase “Odessan dust” still pops up on furniture billboards), and led the way through the chronologically ordered exhibits, none of which have been altered since 1984. In a room set up like a nineteenth-century bookshop, she stopped.
“What you see in the museum, in addition to literature, is the mentality of nineteen-seventies and nineteen-eighties,” she said, pointing out that the museum’s designers, in a between-the-lines protest of the Soviet regime, built the bookshelves in the shape of a large cross. “You could not speak openly, you could speak only with symbols.”
In a room whose centerpiece is a salon table at which Chekhov may have sat, a broken violin on the wall alludes to Aleksandr Kuprin’s short story “Gambrinus,” whose main character is Sashka, an Odessan violinist whom sailors flock to, because he can play any song from any land. During a pogrom, he disappears. When he returns, both his hands are broken. The story ends with the triumph of art over the forces of destruction, as Sashka takes up the harmonica.
Next came Gorky, who spent time observing Odessa’s dockworkers; Akhmatova, who was born here; and Mayakovsky, whose love for a beautiful Odessite was unrequited. In the room devoted to the “Odessa School” of Russian writers of the nineteen-twenties, Karakina pointed at one display after another: “This is the ‘King of the Metaphor,’ ” she said, referring to Yuri Olesha. “Here is Kataev, ‘The Man Who Could Stop Time’—if you want to taste a grape in 1910, open his book and you can do it,” she said, adding, “It was a cruel time, many died young.”
Isaak Babel, Odessa’s most famous native son, has a smaller display than Vera Inber, Trotsky’s second cousin, who survived, then thrived, by praising Stalin. “The authorities said to us, ‘Forget about it, your Ukrainian pride, you can put all of Babel in four small cases,’ ” said Karakina, of the author of “Red Cavalry,” who also created Benya “The King” Krik, the good-hearted Jewish gangster from Odessa’s Moldavanka district. There is no mention of Babel’s death—he was murdered by the secret police in 1940—unless you count the cloudy pair of disembodied glass spectacles, a gift to the museum from his widow, that are displayed as though they are floating above his writings.
While the downstairs rooms devoted to postwar Soviet literature are now closed because, Karakina tells me, “it is not literature,” the next room on our tour is blocked off by chairs because the ceiling is falling in (the state-funded museum has no money for repairs). We walked through, anyway, past walls of smiling workers. The subversive in-house museum designers favored photos taken in gulags (to highlight the irony of the Soviet message), and books lined up “like soldiers.” The bookshelves themselves are brown, while other parts of the exhibit are painted Soviet red. “If you do not read symbols, it was an official wall,” said Karakina. “But the brown stood for fascism, and together with the red, it is to say that both systems are like one another.”
Among the information elided in the cinema display is the fact that the poet Joseph Brodsky, needing work, came to Odessa shortly before he went into exile—a director friend had cast him as a good Communist in a war film. (He was promptly denounced, and most, but not all, of his scenes were cut.)
In one of the last rooms, officially dedicated to a nineteen-seventies writers’ congress held in Spain, the designers almost went too far. “People from K.G.B. came, and they said, ‘What means this red frame and black ropes—like for hanging?’ ” said Karakina, standing beneath an old-fashioned typewriter that looks like a death’s head. “Usually stupid people don’t understand symbolism. But they understood.” The exhibit’s designers pointed to the Guernica reproduction on the wall, and convinced the secret police that the black ropes stood for deaths incurred in the Spanish Civil War, not the Soviet situation.
“In 1983, it was dangerous,” Karakina reflected. “It was not Stalin’s time, we would not be sent to Siberia. But you could lose the privilege to live in the city—in Odessa.”
Today, the Literary Museum holds festivals, readings, concerts, and classes for children—fulfilling an important function in a city which, as the Odessa-born American poet Ilya Kaminsky put it, “in its present incarnation, has more monuments to dead writers than actual living ones in residence.”
More here.

Chekhov’s story mirrors Russia’s own

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

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

Sometimes, though, when a writer’s prose is described as Chekhovian, it seems to be shorthand for: It’s boring, but it’s good for you. In their worst and laziest iterations, these ways of characterizing the Chekhovian—and, therefore, of characterizing Chekhov—seem rooted mostly in a small handful of his best-known short stories, among them “The Lady with the Dog,” a coy story of adultery which is often held up alongside James Joyce’s “The Dead” as the founding document of the contemporary literary short story. (The story famously ends without the lovers having resolved much except to continue in the misery of their secret love. In Constance Garnett’s translation: And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and splendid life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that they had still a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning.” It is a glorious ending, and a true one, and it has launched—and continues to launch—thousands of imitations which are neither glorious nor true, but which are infuriatingly unwilling to offer the reader a reckoning by the story’s end.)

V.S. Pritchett—a British writer best known for his own celebrated short stories, and who died in 1997—offers a welcome corrective to this pervasive idea of Chekhov-as-symbol. He writes not as a biographer from the literary-historical wing, and not as a hagiographer out to make a saint of his subject, but rather as a fellow laborer in the trenches of story-making. It’s clear from the tone of “Chekhov” that Pritchett is not engaged in an act of discovery. Instead, he is writing from the vista old age can achieve (he was eighty-eight the year the book was published.) He has lived for most of his life with Chekhov’s stories and plays (he sees the plays, even the great ones such as “The Cherry Orchard” or “Uncle Vanya,” as mere spinoffs of the stories, which he prefers and spends most of his time addressing), and he is increasingly interested in the breadth of Chekhov’s achievement. The stories that interest him most are the longer, more formally daring experiments and successes of Chekhov’s middle- and late- career, among them “The Peasants,” “In the Ravine,” and “Ward Six.”

He reserves highest praise for what I believe might be Chekhov’s greatest and most idiosyncratic story, a tale of death at sea titled “Gusev.” The story grew out of Chekhov’s strenuous 1890 journey, by train, horse-drawn carriage, and steamship, to the Russian penal colony of Sakhalin Island, just north of Japan, where he spent three months interviewing convicts for a census, and which became the subject of his only work of nonfiction, the grim “Sakhalin Island,” which is full of tales of neglect, deprivation, beatings, and forced prostitution. On his sea voyage home (he took the scenic route, stopping in Hong Kong and Singapore, and, he claimed in a letter, in Ceylon, where he “made love to a dark girl under the palm trees” and acquired three mongooses), Chekhov witnessed the burial of two men at sea. At the time he was himself ill enough to experience some delirium, as does the character he invents as the story’s object, a young soldier named Gusev who dies silently while playing cards with two other soldiers, and whose death goes mostly unnoted, perhaps because, in Pritchett’s accounting, “At sea one simply exists, outside society.” What makes the story so special is its ending, in which Chekhov jumps around among points of view one never sees in a story—the dead body as it hits the sea, the shark that chomps down upon the body, the harbor pilots that watch the shark, the evening sky at the setting of the sun, three evening clouds which take the shapes of a lion, a triumphal arch, and a pair of scissors. The most beautiful moment in the story follows, and Pritchett’s description of it is also the most beautiful moment in the audiobook. “More strangely,” Pritchett writes, “there is a moment when a cold green light shoots across the sky at the day’s beginning and again at its end—an earthly yet strangely unearthly message of birth and death, a signal: Nature is ‘other.’” It is an ending that is simultaneously cold in its description of what must simply be true, but also beautiful and warm in its embrace of the unidealized world.

More here.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

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

Anna Akhmatova's desk
Anna Akhmatova's Desk

When her son Lev was arrested in 1938, Anna Akhmatova burned all her notebooks of poems. From then on, she memorized everything she wrote, to recite afterwards only in private readings with trusted friends.
Lev’s father, Akhmatova’s first husband Nikolai Gumilev, had been killed for his supposed role in an anti-Bolshevik conspiracy. But Akhmatova knew her son was probably also targeted because of the uncompromising nature of her own verse.
Her transition to the oral tradition also meant a change in her style: more fragmentary, more visual and, above all, more resonant.  That was her strategy for surviving and safeguarding the collective memory of her people. 
As a poet, she could not save the victims of Stalin’s Terror, the purges, or the Siege of Leningrad during World War II. But her transparent verses could preserve memory, and save it from a second death: Oblivion.
As the terrible events mounted in Russia and the suffering of her people grew, Akhmatova’s voice became stronger and more committed to the weakest victims. She lived through the fall of the empire, the October Revolution and two world wars. Akhmatova endured the terror of Stalin and the persecution of her writer-friends who belonged to The Silver Age: Mandelstam died on route to the Gulag, Tsvetaeva hanged herself and Pasternak was persecuted till his death. Akhmatova was officially silenced in 1924, and did not publish again until 1940.
“An entire generation has passed through me as if through a shadow,” she wrote.  Despite her poverty and delicate health, Akhmatova’s generosity and solidarity with her family and friends remained a part of her character.
Between 1935 and 1940, she composed “Requiem.” In this, her most famous poem, she laments the execution of Gumilev, her first husband; the arrest of her third husband Nikolai Punin; and the imprisonment of her son Lev.  But “Requiem” was also an anthem of the people’s resistance before the power of Stalin; one of the poem’s most powerful passages was written “Instead of a Preface.”
More here.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Remembering Moscow of the 90s

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

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Pushkin's descendant keeps poet's name alive

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

How difficult is it to carry on the cultural legacy of an ancestor as important as Alexander Pushkin? RBTH talked to well-known linguist and the great-granddaughter of Pushkin, Anna Vorontzova-Velyaminova, on the 214thanniversary of the poet’s birth.
RBTH:  What does it mean to be a descendant of such a great Russian literary genius as Alexander Pushkin? Is it difficult to carry on his legacy?
Anna Vorontzova-Velyaminova: It is very difficult, and something that has always surprised me is how the descendants of Dante and Leopardi in Italy and Shakespeare in England are not as well known as we are here.
It’s amazing how the love that Russians have for Pushkin also extends to his descendants and his entire family. I find this affection they have for Pushkin very beautiful and moving – it is he, after all, that best portrays Russian culture and spirit.
RBTH: Which country, besides Russia, loves and is most familiar with Pushkin?
A.V.V: Pushkin is pretty well known in Italy, as well as in France and in the Anglo-Saxon countries. Of course, Pushkin suffers from the fact that his poetry loses a lot in translation.
So, to understand and really love Pushkin, you need to know Russian and so this limits the dissemination of his works. However, I believe that Pushkin is increasing in popularity, even among those who do not have direct knowledge of the language.
RBTH: Are there any secrets or unpublished stories about Pushkin kept by his family?
A.V.V: There is nothing new or unknown about Pushkin. There are dozens of Pushkin scholars who have studied everything there is to study and have ransacked all the files and archives, so there is no longer anything new.
RBTH: Does Pushkin’s family conserve any artifacts that belonged to him?
A.V.V: No, Pushkin’s descendants have already donated everything to museums, especially to the Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkin House) in St Petersburg.
My father owned the seal of Pushkin’s wife, Natalya Goncharova, but then gave it to the Pushkin House Museum, which is located at number 12 Moika Ulitsa in St Petersburg – the last apartment where Pushkin lived. ...

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Russian Literary Works, Art Up for Auction in New York

– A collection of rare Russian literary works, including a first edition by poet Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin and a copy of Anton Chekhov’s 1894 “Povesti i razskazy” (Stories and Tales) will go under the hammer at Bonhams auction house in New York this month along with other collectibles including postcards, theater programs and magazines, Bonhams said Wednesday.
The top lot of the 300 lots that will go up for auction on June 26 is a signed copy of the first authorized edition of the complete works of Derzhavin, considered one of pre-revolutionary Russia’s greatest poets, Bonhams said in a release.
The book of poems, which was published in St. Petersburg between 1808 and 1816, is expected to fetch between $60,000 and $80,000.
Chekhov’s collection of 11 short stories, “Povesti I razskazy”, is expected to sell in New York for $25,000-$35,000. The copy that will go up for sale was inscribed by Chekhov to Semen Ilich Bychkov, a waiter at the Grand Hotel in Moscow with whom Chekhov formed a warm and lasting friendship, even agreeing to be godfather to the waiter’s daughter.
Also on offer will be the collection of American scholar and expert on Russian avant-garde theater, Alma Law, including 256 issues, sold as a single lot, of the post-revolution theatrical magazine, Rabochi I Teatr (Workmen and Theater), and a complete set of the most important publications of Vsevolod Meyerhold, the theater actor, director and designer who in the 1930s refused to toe the line and conform to Stalin’s vision of socialist-realist theater, preferring the avant-garde, experimental productions that he had come to be known for.
Meyerhold was arrested in 1939, and the next year was tried as a spy and executed.
More here.

Petrozavodsk: Gattway To Karelia

In trying to reach and conquer the Baltic Sea, Tsar Peter the Great declared war on the Swedish Empire in 1700. Three years into a conflict that would last more than two decades, Peter the Great sanctioned the building of a new town on the shores of Lake Onega that would be used as an iron foundry for much-needed weaponry for his northern fleet.
Under the supervision of Prince Menshikov, the settlement and foundry of Petrovskaya Sloboda was established in September 1703 — the same year the construction of St. Petersburg began.

The town grew in the aftermath of Peter the Great’s victory in the Great Northern War, and its industrial heritage remains evident to this day. Several name changes occurred during these early years until eventually Petrozavodsk, which means “Peter’s Factory,” was settled upon.

Today, Petrozavodsk is a small city by Russian standards and has a friendly, European atmosphere. A leafy park in the neoclassical center leads to the grand Musical Theater and former governor’s residence. But Petrozavodsk is also the victim of the blander sides of Soviet construction. Visitors venturing off the main streets and squares — which resemble St. Petersburg — are soon surrounded by characterless housing and the remnants of an abandoned industry.

Petrozavodsk is the capital of the Republic of Karelia — a vast region of rivers and forests that fills the gap between Lake Ladoga and the Arctic Circle. Surrounded by an abundance of natural beauty, it is an ideal launch point for the exploration of hectares of forest and a number of breathtaking waterfalls.

The region’s proximity to Scandinavia has led to a unique blend of cultures and folklores. Hallmarks of this Finnish heritage are visible in the city’s cuisine, traditions and souvenirs. Dance and musical ensembles regularly perform in the Karelian language, which shares the same roots as Finnish and is also written on many road signs and notices. These links and Peter the Great’s progressive tendencies all give the town a distinctly Western feel, a fact that visitors frequently comment on.

Karelia is equally famous for its rich rock deposits. Karelian stone has been highly sought after throughout the centuries, being used in the construction of monuments and buildings in Russia and Europe. Perhaps most famous is the presence of Karelian red marble in the tomb of Napoleon I in Paris and of Karelian quartzite, noted for its dark-red hue, in the structure of Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow.

Several companies export Karelian stone to this day, as it is a popular choice for headstones in Russia’s cemeteries as well as being used in general construction. Many of the town’s own monuments reflect this diverse geology.

On the whole, Petrozavodsk is a mixed bag for the traveler. The town itself has seen better days, and it is certainly outshone by nearby St. Petersburg. In terms of business, however, the town has been growing steadily over the last five years, with city hall’s budget increasing year after year since 2006, and the average wage accordingly.

The energy sector has provided the biggest boom following a restructuring of the Russian energy sector, in which field leader Karelenergo joined the main regional companies in the surrounding area to form parent company IDGC of the North-West. This, alongside a wave of investment that led to the founding of two new companies in 2006, Energokomfort and the Karelian Power-Selling Company, has led to an increase in the sector’s yearly income by a third over five years. Karelians now enjoy some of the lowest fuel prices in the country.

More here.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Natalia Sergeyevna Goncharova

Winter. Gathering Brushwood 1911
Oil on canvas  132,3х96,7
Tretyakov Gallery

Goncharova was born in Negaevo, in Tula Province on June 4, 1881 and died in Paris on October 17, 1962. A descendant of the great poet Aleksander Sergeyevich Pushkin's wife, she was the daughter of Sergei Goncharov, an architect, and Ekaterina Ilinichna Belyaeva, but grew up in her grandmother's house in the Tula Province. She attended the Fourth Gymnasium for Girls in Moscow and in 1898 entered the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture as a sculpture student. At the school Goncharova met Mikhail Larionov who became her lifelong companion and encouraged her to leave sculpture for painting. Goncharova was attracted briefly to Impressionism and Symbolism, but her participation in the "Golden Fleece" exhibition introduced her to the styles of Gauguin, Matisse, Cezanne and Toulouse-Lautrec whose art would influence her development. In a series depicting the favorite theme of the Russian peasants working the land, this influence is revealed in both color and the approach to form. In 1910 Goncharova became one of the founding members of the "Jack of Diamond" group but later went her separate way to establish the "Donkey's Tail" group with Larionov. In 1912 the group held their first exhibition with more than 50 works from Goncharova, executed in a number of different styles. Goncharova was a connoisseur of lubki, Russian popular prints, and the titles of her works clearly betray this influence. Her use of conventions of icon painting is particularly evident in the Evangelists.

In 1913 she entered her most productive period, painting dozens of canvases. In her Neo-primitive works she continued to explore the styles of Eastern and traditional art forms, but also experimented with Cubo-futurism (see The Cyclist, painted in 1912-13), and adopted Larionov new style of Rayonism. Her famous Cats (1911-12) and Green and Yellow Forest (1912) show how confidently she was able to work in the Rayonist style, developing her own artistic idiom independently of Larionov. In August 1913, Goncharova attracted international attention exhibiting over 700 paintings in an one-woman show . During this period she was, like Larionov, associated with the literary avant-garde. In 1914 Goncharova visited Paris to make designs for Dyaghilev's production of Le coq d'or. Her designs, based on Eastern and Russian folk art, took Paris by storm. She also held a joint exhibition with Larionov at the Galerie Paul GuGoncharova N.S.illaume. She returned to Moscow after the beginning of the war. At the request of Dyaghilev, Larionov and Goncharova left Russia for Switzerland in June 1915. In 1916 they accompanied Diaghilev to Spain and Italy. Spain left an everlasting impression on Goncharova. She was especially moved by the bearing of Spanish women in their mantillas. From that moment on, Espagnoles became her favorite subject. In 1919 Larionov and Goncharova settled permanently in Paris; they were granted citizenship in 1938. During the Paris period, Goncharova became famous for her theatrical designs. In the 1920s she developed her own idiom for her series Espagnoles and for many paintings with bathers. Following Diaghilev's death in 1929, Goncharova's creative powers declined only to be briefly revitalized by the public rediscovery of Rayonism in 1948. After Larionov's stroke in 1950, Goncharova's health also started to decline, and although the couple married in 1955, their last years were spent in poverty. ...