Saturday, 31 August 2013

Gagarin, World's First Spaceman (1961) - Film about Hero's Welcome

This Soviet-made newsreel records cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (1934-68), the first man to journey into outer space, as he returns to a hero's welcome in Moscow on 12 April 1961. Following a motorcade through the city, he is personally praised by the then Communist leader Nikita Khrushchev during a mass rally in Red Square.

This film is part of the ETV collection. Amassed over half a century, it specialises in documentary footage of all aspects of life, society and history in both the UK and the former socialist world, with materials sourced from the Soviet Union, China, Eastern Europe, Cuba, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Korea, Africa and the Arab Nations, as well as the British Labour Movement and the Communist Party of Great Britain. For further information please visit

Vatslav Nizhinsky - Biography and Nijinsky in L'après-midi d'un faune, 1912

Nizhinsky entered the St. Petersburg Theatre School at the age of 11 and already at 18 he was given leading parts at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre. But it was his collaboration with the prominent impresario Sergey Diagilev that brought him international fame.

In 1909 Diagilev organised the first season of the Ballets Russes (Russian Ballets) in Paris. The performances were enormously successful with the European public, which came to know not only Nizhinsky but a whole constellation of names such as Ida Rubinshtein, Anna Pavlova and Mikhail Fokin.

The latter was the chief choreographer of the Ballets Russes from 1909 to 1912. He aimed to reform the ‘sugary, soulless’ ballet existing at that time. For him it was essential to show conflicting characters on stage and for this he needed to contrast male and female roles.

Nizhinsky proved to be ideal ‘clay’ for Fokin. The dancer, who received perfect training at the Theatre School, was able to fulfil all of his ideas. Nizhinsky starred in major ballets by Fokin such as Vision of a Rose, Petrushka and Daphnis and Chloe.

In 1912 Nizhinsky made his first attempt at choreography, staging the performance Midday Faun's Rest. The ballet was deprived of the elegance the public of that time was used to – still, the new expressive style was very much appreciated. Encouraged by his success, Nizhinsky undertook two more major works – The Games (“Jeux”) by Claude Debussy and The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky – which premiered a year later. The Games was stylistically reminiscent of Gogen and told the story of young tennis players.

They were Nizhinsky’s contemporaries but as free as Gogen’s islanders. The second ballet was the embodiment of a pagan celebration of spring. The stage became the arena for an ancient nature-conjuring ritual and offerings to deities. The performance aroused much controversy. While some hissed it off, demanding to stop the ‘outrage,’ others burst out in applause.

Nizhinsky was one of the most gifted male dancers in history, celebrated for his virtuosity and for the depth and intensity of his characterisations. His ability to perform seemingly gravity-defying leaps was also legendary. Nizhinsky also had remarkable mime and acting skills and was always able to capture the public’s attention. However, in everyday life he was timid and taciturn. ...
Russiapedia Opera and ballet Prominent Russians

Sophia Parnok - Biography

Sophia Yakovlevna Parnok; sometimes the first name is spelled Sofia or Sofya - Russian poetess and translator, close friend of Marina Tsvetaeva and Faina Ranevskaya. She entered into the history of world literature as "Russian Sappho".

Sophia Parnok was born in the city of Taganrog on August 11, 1885 in a pharmacist's family. She studied at the Empress Maria Taganrog Girls Gymnasium in 1894 - 1903, traveled through Europe, studied at the Geneva Conservatory, but lack of financial means made her return to Taganrog in 1904. She entered Saint Petersburg Conservatory in late 1904, but abandoned the studies and left again for Geneva, where she had her first experience as a playwright with the play The Dream. In June 1906, she returned to Taganrog. In 1907, she married Vladimir Volkenstein and moved to Saint Petersburg. In January 1909, Parnok divorced with her husband and settled in Moscow.

At the beginning of World War I, she met the young poet Marina Tsvetaeva, with whom she became involved in a passionate love affair that left important traces in the poetry of both women. Parnok’s belated first book of verse, Poems, appeared shortly before she and Tsvetaeva broke up in 1916. The lyrics in Poems presented the first, revolutionarily nondecadent, lesbian desiring subject ever to be heard in a book of Russian poetry.

Parnok left Moscow in late summer 1917 and spent the Russian Civil War years in the Crimean town of Sudak. There she wrote one of her masterpieces, the dramatic poem and libretto for Alexander Spendiarov's 4-act opera Anast, which was a big hit in Bolshoi Theater in Moscow in 1930, in Odessa, Tbilissi, Tashkent, Yerevan and in Paris (1952).

Sophia Parnok is the author of collections of poems Roses of Pieria (1922), The Vine (1923), Music (1926) and Half-voiced (1928).The Soviet censorship soon decided that Parnok’s poetic voice was "unlawful," and she was unable to publish after 1928. She made her living making translations of poems by Charles Baudelaire, and novels by Romain Rolland, Marcel Proust, Henri Barbusse and others.

Parnok died of a heart attack in a village near Moscow on August 26, 1933. By the end of 1930s, the Soviet Writer Publishing House issued a collection of her

from At Dawn

Upon the voluptuous chestnuts you yet again
Place Sunday’s wedding candles, dear spring.
I construct my soul as in the olden days
And aught to break into song, but only dirges
And lullabies sound – sleep’s sweet gladdeners.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Mikhail Zoshchenko: Honest Citizen

In line with official policy, I am informing you that apartment Number 10 is suspicious in the sense of moonshine which, probably, citizen Guseva cooks up, and what's more, she fleeces all the workers for it. And when, for example, you don't have any money or you're just one kopeck short, they don't trust you with any credit and, what's more, not taking into account the fact that you're a free citizen, they give you a kick in the backside.

I'm also informing you, as I'm an honest citizen, that apartment Number 3 is also no doubt suspicious for moonshine, where, for taste, they throw in I don't know what, mushrooms or maybe fruit rinds, which makes you puke your guts out way more than usual. And, of course, they don't trust you with any credit either. For crying out loud!

And the harmful citizen herself makes the consumer wait in the kitchen and doesn't let you into the premises where they brew up the stuff. And there's this dog in the kitchen, a poodle-system dog and it attacks the consumer and bites his leg. This poodle--I ought to give it a good smack, damnit--came at me and bit my leg. And when I swung a dish to, of course, smack this poodle, this lady snatched the dish away from me and starts screaming:

"You, idiot," she says, "take your money back. I'm not gonna sell anything to somebody who torments a poor, dumb animal with a dish."

But, well, if it comes to that, I wasn't tormenting the poodle; I was just swinging the dish.

"What are you talking about, you harmful citizen," I said. "I didn't touch your poodle. Take your money back." I told her, "It's unacceptable to have poodles biting legs."

But the citizen threw the money back at me, and it fell on the stove. The money was lying there on the stove and their poodle drooled all over it and wouldn't let anybody near it. 

Then I--really, I don't deny it--I kicked the poodle in the chest and beat it out of there as fast as I could.

And now this harmful citizen won't let me in her apartment and keeps the door on the chain all the time. And, what's more, the bitch spits through the crack at me if I, for example, show up. And when I swing at the spit to knock it back in her face or whatever else I can hit, she gets all scared and slams the door on my arm all the way up to the elbow.

I'm swearing and screaming bloody murder in front of the door, and their poodle starts yapping away inside the apartment. It hurts so much you want to cry. I've got a note from the doctor to prove it. And besides that, it still bleeds if, for example, I pick off the scab every day.

And besides these suspicious apartments, I inform you that the "Happy Valley" tavern is also undoubtedly suspicious. They punched me in the face over there and shoved me into the corner.

"Pay up," they say, "you dog's arse, for the broken mug!"

But I didn't break their mug, and, in general, I really should break their mug.

I tell them, "I didn't break your mug. Let me," I tell them, "finish my sandwich, citizen."

But they drag me all over the place and don't let me get back to my sandwich. They dragged me to the door and threw me out. And the sandwich is sitting on the table. It makes you want to cry.

And also, as an honest citizen, I inform you that this girl Varka Petrova is suspicious and goes out a lot. But as soon as I go up to Varka, she acts like she's all disgusted.

Such above-mentioned people you can arrest or do whatever you like with.

Now I also inform you that my statement is verified because I'm in support of the policy, against the down-with-drink, and was laid off because of cutbacks due to the truth.

And I also request that, for the time being, you don't close the "Happy Valley" tavern because I still don't feel very well and I can't move. But soon, no doubt, I'll get better and move. Sandwiches also cost money.

Translated by Eric Konkol

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Leonid Andreyev: Satan’s Diary

January 18.
On board the Atlantic.

This is exactly the tenth day since I have become human and am leading this earthly life.
My loneliness is very great. I am not in need of friends, but I must speak of Myself and I have no one to speak to. Thoughts alone are not sufficient, and they will not become quite clear, precise and exact until I express them in words. It is necessary to arrange them in a row, like soldiers or telephone poles, to lay them out like a railway track, to throw across bridges and viaducts, to construct barrows and enclosures, to indicate stations in certain places—and only then will everything become clear. This laborious engineering work, I think, they call logic and consistency, and is essential to those who desire to be wise. It is not essential to all others. They may wander about as they please.
The work is slow, difficult and repulsive for one 2who is accustomed to—I do not know what to call it—to embracing all in one breath and expressing all in a single breath. It is not in vain that men respect their thinkers so much, and it is not in vain that these unfortunate thinkers, if they are honest and conscientious in this process of construction, as ordinary engineers, end in insane asylums. I am but a few days on this earth and more than once have the yellow walls of the insane asylum and its luring open door flashed before my eyes.
Yes, it is extremely difficult and irritates one’s “nerves.” I have just now wasted so much of the ship’s fine stationery to express a little ordinary thought on the inadequacy of man’s words and logic. What will it be necessary to waste to give expression to the great and the unusual? I want to warn you, my earthly reader, at the very outset, not to gape in astonishment. The extraordinary cannot be expressed in the language of your grumbling. If you do not believe me, go to the nearest insane asylum and listen to the inmates: they have all realized Something and wanted to give expression to it. And now you can hear the roar and rumble of these wrecked engines, their wheels revolving and hissing in the air, and you can see with what difficulty they manage to hold intact the rapidly dissolving features of their astonished faces!3
I see you are all ready to ply me with questions, now that you learned that I am Satan in human form: it is so fascinating! Whence did I come? What are the ways of Hell? Is there immortality there, and, also, what is the price of coal at the stock exchange of Hell? Unfortunately, my dear reader, despite my desire to the contrary, if I had such a desire, I am powerless to satisfy your very proper curiosity. I could have composed for your benefit one of those funny little stories about horny and hairy devils, which appeal so much to your meagre imagination, but you have had enough of them already and I do not want to lie so rudely and ungracefully. I will lie to you elsewhere, when you least expect it, and that will be far more interesting for both of us.
And the truth—how am I to tell it when even my Name cannot be expressed in your tongue? You have called me Satan and I accept the name, just as I would have accepted any other: Be it so—I am Satan. But my real name sounds quite different, quite different! It has an extraordinary sound and try as I may I cannot force it into your narrow ear without tearing it open together with your brain: Be it so—I am Satan. And nothing more.
And you yourself are to blame for this, my friend: why is there so little understanding in 4your reason? Your reason is like a beggar’s sack, containing only crusts of stale bread, while it is necessary to have something more than bread. You have but two conceptions of existence: life and death. How, then, can I reveal to you the third? All your existence is an absurdity only because you do not have this third conception. And where can I get it for you? To-day I am human, even as you. In my skull is your brain. In my mouth are your cubic words, jostling one another about with their sharp corners, and I cannot tell you of the Extraordinary.
If I were to tell you that there are no devils I would lie. But if I say that such creatures do exist I also deceive you. You see how difficult it is, how absurd, my friend!
I can also tell you but little that you would understand of how I assumed the human form, with which I began my earthly life ten days ago. First of all, forget about your favorite, hairy, horny, winged devils, who breathe fire, transform fragments of earthenware into gold and change old men into fascinating youths, and having done all this and prattled much nonsense, they disappear suddenly through a wall. Remember: when we want to visit your earth we must always become human. Why this is so you will learn after your death. Meanwhile remember: I am a human 5being now like yourself. There is not the foul smell of a goat about me but the fragrance of perfume, and you need not fear to shake My hand lest I may scratch you with my nails: I manicure them just as you do.
But how did it all happen? Very simply. When I first conceived the desire to visit this earth I selected as the most satisfactory lodging a 38-year-old American billionaire, Mr. Henry Wondergood. I killed him at night,—of course, not in the presence of witnesses. But you cannot bring me to court despite this confession, because the American is ALIVE, and we both greet you with one respectful bow: I and Wondergood. He simply rented his empty place to me. You understand? And not all of it either, the devil take him! And, to my great regret I can return only through the same door which leads you too to liberty: through death.
This is the most important thing. You may understand something of what I may have to say later on, although to speak to you of such matters in your language is like trying to conceal a mountain in a vest pocket or to empty Niagara with a thimble. Imagine, for example, that you, my dear King of Nature, should want to come closer to the ants, and that by some miracle you became a real little ant,—then you may have some 6conception of that gulf which separates Me now from what I was. No, still more! Imagine that you were a sound and have become a mere symbol—a musical mark on paper.... No, still worse!—No comparisons can make clear to you that terrible gulf whose bottom even I do not see as yet. Or, perhaps, there is no bottom there at all.
Think of it: for two days, after leaving New York, I suffered from seasickness! This sounds queer to you, who are accustomed to wallow in your own dirt? Well, I—I have also wallowed in it but it was not queer at all. I only smiled once in thinking that it was not I, but Wondergood, and said:
“Roll on, Wondergood, roll on!”
There is another question to which you probably want an answer: Why did I come to this earth and accept such an unprofitable exchange: to be transformed from Satan, “the mighty, immortal chieftain and ruler” into you? I am tired of seeking words that cannot be found. I will answer you in English, French, Italian or German—languages we both understand well. I have grown lonesome in Hell and I have come upon the earth to lie and play.
You know what ennui is. And as for falsehood, you know it well too. And as for play —you can judge it to a certain extent by your own theaters 7and celebrated actors. Perhaps you yourself are playing a little rôle in Parliament, at home, or in your church. If you are, you may understand something of the satisfaction of play. And, if in addition, you are familiar with the multiplication table, then multiply the delight and joy of play into any considerable figure and you will get an idea of My enjoyment, of My play. No, imagine that you are an ocean wave, which plays eternally and lives only in play—take this wave, for example, which I see outside the porthole now and which wants to lift our “Atlantic”...but, here I am again seeking words and comparisons!
I simply want to play. At present I am still an unknown actor, a modest débutante, but I hope to become no less a celebrity than your own Garrick or Aldrich, after I have played what I please. I am proud, selfish and even, if you please, vain and boastful. You know what vanity is, when you crave the praise and plaudits even of a fool? Then I entertain the brazen idea that I am a genius. Satan is known for his brazenness. And so, imagine, that I have grown weary of Hell where all these hairy and horny rogues play and lie no worse than I do, and that I am no longer satisfied with the laurels of Hell, in which I but perceive no small measure of base flattery and downright stupidity. But I have heard of you, 8my earthly friend; I have heard that you are wise, tolerably honest, properly incredulous, responsive to the problems of eternal art and that you yourself play and lie so badly that you might appreciate the playing of others: not in vain have you so many great actors. And so I have come. You understand?
My stage is the earth and the nearest scene for which I am now bound is Rome, the Eternal City, as it is called here, in your profound conception of eternity and other simple matters. I have not yet selected my company (would you not like to join it?). But I believe that Fate and Chance, to whom I am now subservient, like all your earthly things, will realize my unselfish motives and will send me worthy partners. Old Europe is so rich in talents! I believe that I shall find a keen and appreciative audience in Europe, too. I confess that I first thought of going to the East, which some of my compatriots made their scene of activity some time ago with no small measure of success, but the East is too credulous and is inclined too much to poison and the ballet. Its gods are ludicrous. The East still reeks too much of hairy animals. Its lights and shadows are barbarously crude and too bright to make it worth while for a refined artist as I am to go into that crowded, foul circus tent. Ah, my friend, I am so vain that I 9even begin this Diary not without the secret intention of impressing you with my modesty in the rôle of seeker of words and comparisons. I hope you will not take advantage of my frankness and cease believing me.
More here.

Gavrila Derzhavin: Fragments from "Daily notes" , 1785.

...The settlements, except for several Russian villages, are mainly populated by Loppians and I think it is necessary to describe their way of live and special features.

Loppians do not build as Russian nearby, but are building along water shores and one household might be about a couple of miles from the other. Living quarters, hey-lofts and sheds are all made on the first floor; the ground floor is used for stables and cattle-yard...

Many of the Loppians are trading with St-Petersburg with wild game, butter, caviar and fish. Those living near the border are trading with the nearby Swedish towns - Oulu, Torneo and Kajaani. There is a customs post in the Jushkozero village and its boors shows that in the last, 1784 year, the export was for 6 793 rubles2 95½ kopeks, that, by the due tariffs gave 324 rubles of the customs fee.

...From the Swedish Lapland ... in the last year were imported goods on 6 895 rubles 14 kopeks and the customs paid was 188 rubles 25 kopeks...

...Tillage is not in a big favor with them and, as I was told, the crop can be gotten only on the forth year after beginning of field preparation.

At the first year they cut the trees at the selected place of the forest, on the second - fire the unused logs, brunches and conifer needles, on the third - clean up the roots and other wooden rubbish, gather them into piles and also fire and only on the fourth year the get a crop.

They do not grow grain for the second time on the same field and in the case of a bad crop their four-years works are lost in vain because for the new crop there is a need of another four-years labor.

Loplans grow only rye and oats, the most well to do - no more than four acres, those more poor - less than half a barrel, and some do not grow grain at all. On the fire-prepared fields they got six (and more) grains for one, on the forest lawns - not more than four to one, so the lawns are seldom used for grain. They usually have only one field in the year, used both for the rye and the oats. Those, who do not have horses, plow by the double-edged iron spade. Taking off some soil they put it aside and continue in this way.

For the seventh year already heavy rains do not aloe them to fire up new fields, the sown perish from the frosts and local inhabitants had a great need in the bred. To get it they are going to Pomor's Kem and other places to work as "jacks-on-all- trades" or live on charity, some are going abroad as season workers - to make winter cloths, cut wood and so on.

There is a grain warehouse in the Jushkozero village that has about 1 200 barrels of rye to be lend to the peasants.

The poor Loppians make bread from the pine bark or straw and those eating that way swell up and seem to be very stout but really are very weak.

The bread from the pine bark is made as follows: the bark is cleaned, dried in the air, roasted in the oven and pounded. From this "flour" with addition of some rye flour they bake the bread. For the straw bread they take upper parts of the straw, cut them, dry and then mill. The bread from the straw "flour" is also baked with addition of some rye.

In the spring they bake the flat cakes from the grass called here "veckha". It grows along small brooks and its root is about the little finger and the length sometimes up to 2 feet. It has leave similar to those of the birch-tree, but with something resembling pine-tree cone at the ends. When those cones become reddish, then the grass roots are not eatable any more. Usually this grass is dug in the early spring, when the leaves just show up. The grass roots are dug out just after the snow melts, dried and beaten. From the mixture of this substance with the pine bark flour they bake from this dough green bitter cakes.

The local soup, called "rokka" is very popular there. It is prepared as follows: in the boiling water they add fish, add or rye flour (or pine bark one, of the flour is missing), boil to the readiness and put on the table.

The usual set of the kitchen utensils consists of two different copper vessels, which are served on the table after the food is ready. For keeping food and water they make vessels from the birch-tree bark. Dippers, hand-wash and other vessels are also done from it.

They do not have mills, but have in the ground floors small hand millstones, that are used for everyday milling.

The cattle breeding is not big - horses, cows and sometimes pigs present all home breed. They do not breed any poultry. The wealthiest of them has no more than two horses, two cows and half a dozen of lams. They are fed by the aspen leafs with cat straw. The mix it put in the hot water that is boiled by the red-hot stones.

Due to the deep winter snows the Loppians do not ride on horses at that time. Instead for the long runs they use wooden "shukshas" (skies). One of them is about 9½ feet long and 6 inches wide is always dome from the birch, another one, of the same width and about 7 feet long may be done of any wood. The birch "shuksha" is put on the left leg. Its bottom is neatly planed and in the middle there made a groove along the whole length. This ski is used for gliding. The bottom of the other "shuksha" is covered with the fur from the elks feet, with the nap looking back, to make it easy to go uphill. In the middle of the skies there is made a kind of fixture to keep the feet straight and leather or twig loops to fix the feet. These "shukshas" are similar to the skates, used on the ice with that difference that the one going on "shukshas" also use one stick with the ring at the end. This stick helps not to sink in the snow. In the sunny frosty day they can do up to 60 miles.

They say that Peter the Great called these people "flying on wooden wings and living on the wood bark".

For carrying goods they use reindeers harnessed into "kereshki"3. This "kereshki" looks quite as a small boat, cut in half. It length is about 3½ feet and width about 2 feet. A Loppian that sits inside ruled the reindeer by one rein, tied to the reindeer nose. On the turns she swaps it from one side to another. The harness consists of the single leather rope, looped around reindeer neck and going between the legs to the "kereshki" nose. If the "kereshki" tries to turn over, the rider correct it position by hand. On such sledges they can do up to 50 miles per day. Most reindeers are kept in the forest and, when needed, they take the one breaded near home and goes with it to the forest. Forest-kept reindeers comes up to the "novice" and are caught for use. They are fed by the white moss (Iceland moss) called here "yagel" and by the horsetail, growing on swamps.

Loppians wear the cloths quite similar to those that are in use among the nearby Russians, except for footwear. Here they used to wear high-boots with long bent up noses, called "kenga" on local language. The women covers the head with "soroka", similar to Russian "povoinik", differing only with small "horns" at front. On the breast well to do bear silver eight-ended cross, less wealthy bear copper crosses. The dress is similar to Russian "sarafan" and belted by the cloth belt. On the feet they wear "stupni", similar to Russian "kot"s.

The girls have on the head a bandage, embroidered with pearls. They do not make plaits and wear their heirs free. The dress and boots are similar to women's.

. . .

The Loppian language is very poor and to explain something above usual things they need to make long roundabout explanations. All words are stressed at the first syllable and are pronounced very softly. The near-border Loppians speaks almost Olonian Karelian language, with some small differences. It is very difficult to understand the language construction, as many of the cases differ by the prefixes, other by suffixes, still other have special words for the case. They do not distinguish times and faces but use the same word for them, changing, when necessary, suffixes.

All Loppians belongs to the Orthodox church...

The Loppians use to play on five-string "gusli" (kind of harp), made of pinewood... There is a saying that the pine warms them, the pine feeds them, the pine amuses them.

Gavrila Romanovitch Derzhavin

"The daily notes"
, written during the inspection of the gubernia

by the governor of the Olonets vicegerency Derzhavin, 1785.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Boris Asafyev - Biography

Russian musicologist and composer (b. 17/29 July 1884 in Saint Petersburg; d. 27 January 1949 in Moscow), born Boris Vladimirovich Asafyev (Борис Владимирович Асафьев), also known by his literary pseudonym Igor Glebov (Игорь Глебов).

The son of a humble official, Boris had a rather dreary childhood, marred by poverty. His mother, a peasant's daughter, had to take on sewing jobs in order to make ends meet. However, when Boris's love of music manifested itself very early on (aged 5 or 6, he was already improvising on the family's piano), his father began taking him to concerts in Saint Petersburg. As a child he often spent the summer months near Pavlovsk, where his grandfather was a night-watchman at the palace, and Boris would regularly walk the four kilometres from their hut to the Pavlovsk railway station to attend the free concerts there. Thanks to these he had the chance to hear a wide repertoire of music, but his first love was Tchaikovsky, as he later recalled: "In early childhood the first music that caressed me was Tchaikovsky's: my mother would hum to me Lullaby in a Storm [No. 10 of the Sixteen Songs for Children]. The evenings at the Pavlovsk station near Petersburg, unforgettable for so many Russian musicians of former generations, trained my ear, especially with regard to Tchaikovsky's music" [1]. Boris also remembered how in the autumn of 1893 the long cortège at Tchaikovsky's funeral had processed past their house on Nevsky Prospekt.

In the autumn of 1894, Boris began attending a gymnasium in Saint Petersburg, but soon the family's economic situation meant that he could not carry on there, and, two years later, thanks to a relative he was sent as a state-aided pupil to a gymnasium in the seaport town of Kronstadt. As a boarder at the school he was very homesick at first, but on Sundays he was often invited to the houses of school friends whose families lived in Kronstadt, and as a result his cultural horizons were widened considerably. Recognizing Boris's musical abilities, the school bought a piano so that he could practise in the evenings. During his time in Kronstadt he was in high demand as an accompanist in various houses and also learnt to play the flute. After taking his school-leaving exams in the spring of 1903 he returned to Saint Petersburg, eventually enrolling, in September, at the Faculty of History and Philology at the city's university, even though his dream was to become a composer.

In March 1904, he finally mustered the courage to call on Rimsky-Korsakov. The great composer, whose lyrical opera May Night was a lifelong favourite of Asafyev's, tested the young man's knowledge of Russian music and listened to the piano pieces and songs that he had brought with him. At the end of this meeting Rimsky-Korsakov encouraged him to apply to the Saint Petersburg Conservatory.

A few months later, in August, another important encounter took place when he met Vladimir Stasov. The veteran champion of the "Mighty Handful" invited Asafyev to visit his dacha every Sunday, where they would go through Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila and other works on the piano, and he gave Asafyev the opportunity to work under his supervision at the Imperial Public Library. At Stasov's dacha he also met Glazunov, the painter Ilya Repin, Maksim Gorky, and the great bass Fyodor Chaliapin. Stasov's enthusiasm and vitality had an invigorating effect on Asafyev, who would later describe these years as his "artistic university". In particular, he gained first-hand experience of the traditions of the "Mighty Handful", because Stasov introduced him to the house of Aleksandra Molas (née Purgold, 1845–1929), the sister of Rimsky-Korsakov's wife Nadezhda. Musorgsky and Borodin had composed many of their songs for Aleksandra, and the young Asafyev had the chance to accompany her on the piano as she performed these and other vocal works of the "Mighty Handful" at her soirées. Stasov also entrusted him with the task of copying the score of Musorgsky's comic opera The Marriage.

In September 1904, Asafyev, while still continuing his studies at the History Faculty, passed the entrance exams at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory and was awarded a full scholarship. It was also during these exams that he met the 12-year-old Sergey Prokofiev, who became his fellow student and friend. At the Conservatory Asafyev studied in the theory and harmony class of Anatoly Lyadov and in the instrumentation class of Rimsky-Korsakov. Another fellow student of Asafyev's was the composer Nikolay Myaskovsky, with whom he played through many 4-handed piano arrangements. Throughout 1906 Asafyev worked on his children's opera Cinderella, the idea for which had been suggested to him by Stasov. The latter's death in October that year was a bitter blow for him, but in the winter of 1906/07 he did succeed in staging Cinderella with a cast drawn from the children of acquaintances, as well as with the assistance of Vaslav Nijinsky, then in the final year of his studies at the Imperial Ballet School, who choreographed the dance numbers in the opera. Although a revised version of Cinderella would later be performed in music schools and clubs, this opera, like all of Asafyev's subsequent works in that genre (11 operas in total), never made it onto the repertoire of a professional theatre, much to his disappointment. In 1907 he composed another children's opera, The Snow Queen, based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale, and this was premièred at a Saint Petersburg music school in January 1908, again with Nijinsky responsible for the dances. Shortly afterwards, though, Nadezhda Rimskaya-Korsakova told Asafyev that her husband was angry with him for daring to compose operas and have them performed in public without his teacher's permission!

Asafyev obtained top grades in his graduation exams at the History Faculty in the spring of 1908, but this success was clouded by the death of Rimsky-Korsakov in June. For, despite his disapproval of Asafyev's unauthorised composing, some months earlier he had hinted that he would soon allow him to join his free composition class. After Rimsky-Korsakov's death Asafyev decided to leave the Conservatory without completing his course, although Glazunov persuaded Lyadov to allow Asafyev to come to his house for private lessons. Glazunov also helped Asafyev to find occasional work as an accompanist at the Conservatory. It was just enough to live on, and in April 1909 he was able to marry Irina Stepanovna Khozyasheva (1885–1969), whom he had first met as a gymnasium student in Kronstadt.

More here.

Boris Asafyev - The Fountain of Bakhchisaray

A Writer Invites Russia to Engage Its Painful Past - Elena Chizhova

NOT long ago, Yelena S. Chizhova was engaged in what has become a standard winter pastime for Russia’s middle class: taking the sun at a giant resort hotel in Egypt. She and a girlfriend, who also grew up in St. Petersburg, joined the river of people flowing into the warehouse-size dining hall, its tables heaped with steaming meat and pastries.
And then something passed over them like a shadow. The women felt so uneasy that they had to step away for a moment, and Ms. Chizhova asked her friend what she was thinking about. But she did not need to ask. What the two women had in common was relatives who starved in the 872-day siege of Leningrad, as St. Petersburg was then known, when army engineers set off explosives in the fields and shoveled corpses into the craters.
For a moment, Ms. Chizhova had the strange feeling that she was seeing the piles of food through the eyes of her dying relatives. Born in 1958, she learned the official version of the siege from Soviet textbooks, which cast it as a patriotic triumph. The truly terrible facts sifted down to her when she eavesdropped on her mother and great-grandmother, who lost most of their family in the siege, as they talked quietly over cups of tea.
These snatches of conversation are at the core of her novel, “Time of Women,” which won last year’s Russian Booker Prize, the country’s most prestigious literary award. Ms. Chizhova tells the story of three elderly women raising a small girl in a communal apartment in the early 1960s, where the ordinary business of dishes and laundry is interrupted by memories of purges and famine.
It is an earthbound and frankly emotional novel, especially in a literary scene long dominated by the cerebral trickery of postmodernism. Ms. Chizhova is hoping that Russian artists are ready — finally — to address the good and evil of the Soviet past. Under Brezhnev, people averted their eyes from that past out of fear; under Vladimir V. Putin, she said, it was replaced by apathy. “For the vast majority of people, it simply is not interesting,” said Ms. Chizhova, 52, who smokes and talks with the energy of a coiled spring. “They do not have the feeling that history continues. It seems to them that in the 1990s, we just started over. As if we were all born then.”
But St. Petersburg is a city where blotting out history is difficult. Ms. Chizhova’s mother watched two brothers die of hunger while profiteers were taking fistfuls of gold jewelry in exchange for bread. Her father was forced into a detachment of irregular fighters who were sent against German tanks in groups of five, provided with only one rifle. Neither would have dreamed of explaining this to their daughter. But Ms. Chizhova’s great-grandmother was different; she turned over the memories absently, almost as if she was talking to herself. When Ms. Chizhova, then 5, recited a poem about cannibals in Africa, her great-grandmother explained matter-of-factly how the starving residents of Leningrad resorted to eating bodies.
“I would ask, ‘Where did they get it?’ ” Ms. Chizhova said. “For me it was like a fairy tale. She said some of them bought it in the market, thinking it was just meat. And then she would explain that when she worked in the hospital, they would store the bodies near the hospital gates, and by the time they went home in the evening, some of the soft parts were cut off.
“She would talk about that calmly,” she said. “And I heard it calmly.”
THOUGH the conversations stopped abruptly when Ms. Chizhova turned 6, they had already engraved something on her. When her teachers told her, “All Leningrad, like one person, stood in defense of the city,” her private thought was: It was a crime not to evacuate the children. And 40 years later, the insistent voices of old women began to declaim in Ms. Chizhova’s head, and she sat down to write a novel.
A slender 95 pages, told in a sometimes cryptic stream of conversation, “Time of Women” was not favored to win the Booker Prize, and some critics dripped contempt. Summing up the books of the year for the magazine Literaturnaya Rossiya, Kirill Ankudinov sneered at “literature sitting on grandmother’s trunk and becoming drunk on memories of how well people behaved under Brezhnev,” and Yevgeny Yermolin bemoaned the popularity of “cemetery erotica.”
There is no question that the past is exerting a pull on Russian art. All the novels short-listed for the prize vibrated with the feel of the 20th century, noted Elena Dyakova, a critic at the newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
“AFTER the period of post-modernism, people are searching for some moral bearings, and it’s easiest to find that in the lives of your own grandmothers,” she said. “Theoretically, we consider that there are no decent people in Russia, but empirically, we can show that they used to exist, in any case.”
So it is with Ms. Chizhova’s fictional grandmothers, hardly dissident types, who find themselves at war with the Soviet system as they struggle to keep the girl, Sonia, who is mute, out of a state home for the handicapped. At a moment of despair, knowing too well the bleak life that awaits Sonia in state custody, one of them tries to prepare her.
“You may be locked up and we may not be allowed to see you,” the grandmother whispers fiercely to the girl. “You will have to manage alone. But you should know — wherever you are locked up — I am with you. Any day I am outside the fence. I will keep walking as long as God gives me life. You may not see me, but you should remember — my granny is there.”
Last month, Ms. Chizhova was still adjusting to her victory, raising her eyebrows when a stranger called to invite her to join his literary circle. (“Now that I have won a prize,” she remarked dryly, “it seems I have changed a great deal.”) As the Soviet Union began to fall, she bounced from an economics department — her thesis was on regulated costs in machine-tool building enterprises — to English instruction to the wobbly business world of the 1990s. The last bounce took place on a burning cruise ship off the coast of Turkey, when she spent six hours shut in her cabin, waiting to see if help would come.
“I sat by myself and tried to answer the question of what would be better — to explode or to throw myself into the sea,” said Ms. Chizhova, who is married and has two grown daughters. “I understood that I had done a lot in my life, but none of it was right. And when we were saved, I decided to throw it all away and sit and write.”
More here.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Shostakovich Against Stalin - Documentary

Boris Pilnyak: Tales of the Wilderness


The tinkling of postillion-bells broke the stillness of the crisp winter night—a coachman driving from the station perhaps. They rang out near the farm, were heard descending into a hollow; then, as the horses commenced to trot, they jingled briskly into the country, their echoes at last dying away beyond the common.

Polunin and his guest, Arkhipov, were playing chess in his study. Vera Lvovna was minding the infant; she talked with Alena for a while; then went into the drawing-room, and rummaged among the books there.

Polunin's study was large, candles burnt on the desk, books were scattered about here and there; an antique firearm dimly shone above a wide, leather-covered sofa. The silent, moonlit night peered in through the blindless windows, through one of which was passed a wire. The telegraph-post stood close beside it, and its wires hummed ceaselessly in the room somewhere in a corner of the ceiling—a monotonous, barely audible sound, like a snow-storm.

The two men sat in silence, Polunin broad-shouldered and bearded,
Arkhipov lean, wiry, and bald.

Alena entered bringing in curdled milk and cheese-cakes. She was a modest young woman with quiet eyes, and wore a white kerchief.

"Won't you please partake of our simple fare?" she asked shyly, inclining her head and folding her hands across her bosom.

Silent and absent-minded, the chess-players sat down to table and supped. Alena was about to join them, but just then her child began to cry, and she hurriedly left the room. The tea-urn softly simmered and seethed, emitting a low, hissing sound in unison with that of the wires. The men took up their tea and returned to their chess. Vera Lvovna returned from the drawing-room; and, taking a seat on the sofa beside her husband, sat there without stirring, with the fixed, motionless eyes of a nocturnal bird.

"Have you examined the Goya, Vera Lvovna?" Polunin asked suddenly.

"I just glanced through the History of Art; then I sat down with

"He has the most wonderful devilry!" Polunin declared, "and, do you know, there is another painter—Bosch. He has something more than devilry in him. You should see his Temptation of St. Anthony!"

They began to discuss Goya, Bosch, and St. Anthony, and as Polunin spoke he imperceptibly led the conversation to the subject of St. Francis d'Assisi. He had just been reading the Saint's works, and was much attracted by his ascetical attitude towards the world. Then the conversation flagged.

It was late when the Arkhipovs left, and Polunin accompanied them home. The last breath of an expiring wind softly stirred the pine- branches, which swayed to and fro in a mystic shadow-dance against the constellations. Orion, slanting and impressive, listed across a boundless sky, his starry belt gleaming as he approached his midnight post. In the widespread stillness the murmur of the pines sounded like rolling surf as it beats on the rocks, and the frozen snow crunched like broken glass underfoot: the frost was cruelly sharp.

On reaching home, Polunin looked up into the overarching sky, searching the glittering expanse for his beloved Cassiopeian Constellation, and gazed intently at the sturdy splendour of the Polar Star; then he watered the horses, gave them their forage for the night, and treated them to a special whistling performance.

It struck warm in the stables, and there was a smell of horses' sweat. A lantern burned dimly on the wall; from the horses' nostrils issued grey, steamy cloudlets; Podubny, the stallion, rolled a great wondering eye round on his master, as though inquiring what he was doing. Polunin locked the stable; then stood outside in the snow for a while, examining the bolts.

In the study Alena had made herself up a bed on the sofa, sat down next it in an armchair and began tending her baby, bending over it humming a wordless lullaby. Polunin sat down by her when he came in and discussed domestic affairs; then took the child from Alena and rocked her. Pale green beams of moonlight flooded through the windows.

Polunin thought of St. Francis d'Assisi, of the Arkhipovs who had lost faith and yet were seeking the law, of Alena and their household. The house was wrapped in utter silence, and he soon fell into that sound, healthy sleep to which he was now accustomed, in contrast to his former nights of insomnia.

The faint moon drifted over the silent fields, and the pines shone tipped with silver. A new-born wind sighed, stirred, then rose gently from the enchanted caverns of the night and soared up into the sky with the swift flutter of many-plumed wings. Assuredly Kseniya Ippolytovna Enisherlova was not asleep on such a night.

The day dawned cold, white, pellucid—breathing forth thin, misty vapour, while a hoar-frost clothed the houses, trees, and hedges. The smoke from the village chimneypots rose straight and blue. Outside the windows was an overgrown garden, a snow-covered tree lay prone on the earth; further off were snow-clad fields, the valley and the forest. Sky and air were pale and transparent, and the sun was hidden behind a drift of fleecy white clouds.

Alena came in, made some remark about the house, then went out to singe the pig for Christmas.

The library-clock struck eleven; a clock in the hall answered. Then there came a sudden ring on the telephone; it sounded strange and piercing in the empty stillness.

"Is that you, Dmitri Vladimirovich? Dmitri Vladimirovich, is that you?" cried a woman's muffled voice: it sounded a great way off through the instrument.

"Yes, but who is speaking?"

"Kseniya Ippolytovna Enisherlova is speaking", the voice answered quietly; then added in a higher key: "Is it you, my ascetic and seeker? This is me, me, Kseniya."

"You, Kseniya Ippolytovna?" Polunin exclaimed joyfully.

"Yes, yes … Oh yes!… I am tired of roaming about and being always on the brink of a precipice, so I have come to you … across the fields, where there is snow, snow, snow and sky … to you, the seeker…. Will you take me? Have you forgiven me that July?"

Polunin's face was grave and attentive as he bent over the telephone:

"Yes, I have forgiven," he replied. ...


Monday, 26 August 2013

Vladimir Sorokin. A Post-Modern Russian Writer

Vladimir Sorokin, sometimes referred to as the "Russian de Sade," is one of Russia's most controversial post-modern writers. Sorokin emerged to the West as a hot, exiting writer during Perestroika, but Russia, exposed to him mainly in the post-Soviet era, has generally responded to him with reservation and often with horror. The cultural politics of glasnost allowed for a diversity in legally published literature which had not been seen since the avantgarde was crushed by the revolution in the early 1930s. Dissident works of a bygone era such as Solzhenitsin's Gulag Archipelago and Akhmatova's Requiem were published legally in Russia for the first time. The writings of 6rnigr6s such as Nabokov were finally allowed to be published. Besidethis belated publishing of works which had been written for either the desk drawer or the West, new works were being penned. Tabloid memoirs of suffering dissidents and stylizations of a waning Village Prose were churned out like crazy, but both seem backward looking and dull when compared with Russia's "new literature" of post modernism. This new literature, as claimed Victor Erofeyev in his memoriam to Soviet literature, was unlike all other recent Soviet literature as it was devoid of Russian literature's traditional hypermoralism and made no pretensions towards possessing an absolute truth which would triumph against the censor. Instead, authors focused on aesthetics, verbal play, and non-ideologically motivated depictions of various cross-sections of Soviet society. Post-modern Russian writers often dumped literature's former ideal, held both by Socialist Realists and older dissident writers such as Solzhenitsin, of cramming as much ideological truth into the work as possible and instead trafficked in ambiguity and irony. Out of this landscape came Vladimir Sorokin, a writer who has refused to be called as such despite his brilliant, contributions to Russian post-modernism's exciting absurd grotesque.
One of his few works which has been translated into English is Ochered'(The Queue), published in the U.S. in 1985 and only in Russia after Communism fell. It is the story of a group of Russians standing in an absurdly long Moscow queue, waiting for an item which is unknown, yet believed to be of the highest quality and necessity. The book features no narrator or even traditional characters. It is instead a recording of the sounds one hears in this queue, from flirtatious conversation to grunts and moans and yawns. This non-narrative, aptly described as a "Symphony of the City" by translator Sally Laird, includes blank pages representing the silence as the queuers sleep and has no qualms about filling page after page with nothing more than the names of queuers being called by police officers at "checkpoints". The recorder follows Vadirn, a young writer, as he sleeps, eats, and moves with the line. However, before reaching the front of the line, he is sidetracked by a sexual encounter with a woman who let him into her apartment to dry off from the rain. When he is about to leave her to return to his place in line, the woman informs him that she works for the department store and that no items are going to be sold that day. However, this is not written as an excuse to whine over the U.S.S.R.'s lack of consumer goods or to criticize a society that has it's citizens waiting in an endless line for nothing. Life in the queue, including the final disappointment, is an annoyance but Vadim moves on, as does the reader. In fact, the trials and mistrials of Vadim are less captivating (at least to a Western reader) than is the rich panorama of late Soviet values shown through the voices of a seemingly ordinary cross-section of the masses. Sorokin seems to have outdone the revolutionary writers of "high" Socialist Realism (if such a thing existed!) in their own goal of representing the heroes of the masses. In Sorokin's world, there is no great divide between the banal vernacular of the masses and the high art of literature. Instead of ideology, one hears popular folklore. Soviet cliches slide off the tongue only as tired or flippant remarks laced with irony. Sorokin follows Maiakovskii in the use of street slang, but unlike Maiakovskii, he has no pretensions of playing prophet or poet to the public. There is no need for an angry, self-righteous narrator to lay out all the problems of the Soviet system and lambaste the authorities for causing them when they can be showed much more succinctly through the jokes and semantics of ordinary folks.
Text by Aren ROGAL
More here
Official site. 

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Блокада - The Siege of Leningrad

This is a film about the siege of Leningrad during World War II. Without words, without music - just the sounds and pictures of a dying city.

Director: Sergei Loznitsa

Nikolai Myaskovsky - Biography

N. Myaskovsky, 1934

Nikolai Myaskovsky was born in the military frontier town of Novo Georgiyevsk (present day Lomze) in the Warsaw governorate of the Polish territories of the Tsarist empire on April 20, 1881. He was the second son of Yakov Konstantinovich Myaskovsky and Vera Nikolayevna.

Both parents had military backgrounds, and Nikolai’s father, Yakov was the military engineer in charge of building forts on the frontier with Prussia. The first seven years of Nikolai’s life were spent in a small military cottage in Novo Georgiyevsk where his two sisters also were born, Vera (1885) and Valentina (1887). Nikolai’s grandfather Konstantine Ivanovich had been a tutor at the military Cadet College of Orel, where Yakov had studied, and had also worked as a noted military engineer building fortresses for the Russian Empire. His maternal grandfather, Nikolai Petrakov, had been a supervisor at the military gymnasium in Nizhni Novgorod.

From his memoirs, Nikolai liked playing with his older brother, Sergei (b. 1877), but he also demonstrated a strong preference for arts and imaginative activities and was drawn at a very early age to the piano. His first piano teacher was his aunt, Yelikonida, Yakov’s sister, who had had a musical education. She also had a strong religious inclination which put off Nikolai for its “gloominess and oppressive qualities”, especially in the years after his mother’s death in 1890, when Yelikonida became the children’s guardian.

In 1888, the family moved for a spell to Orenburg, and in 1889 to Kazan, where Nikolai’s third sister, Eughenia (1890) was born. It was in Kazan in 1891 that Nikolai began serious music lessons and he also was enrolled in a Cadet College –the beginning steps of a military engineering career. His first profound musical memory was listening to a piano duet of a medley from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. He and his brother attended the local summer theatre and he had strong inspiration from Glinka’s Ivan Susanin, and Orphee aux enfers, and Verstovsky’s The Tomb of Ascold. He showed from the earliest times a very good ear and strong memory and enjoyed scales, exercises and mastered quickly Bertini’s Etudes.

It was in Kazan, and then from 1893 in Nizhni Novgorod that Nikolai began to demonstrate his strong artistic independence and intellectual drive which was to characterize him for the rest of his life. He became a prolific reader of literature and the intellectual arts journals of the day, he was a very assiduous student and was usually tops in his cadet class, and still as a teenager he began playing both classical and popular works and trying out simple composition. Although he took formal music lessons in at the College in Nizhni Novgorod, his strongest frustration was that he was frequently chased off the piano and he felt he did not get enough practice time. Perhaps this led him later to teach himself violin inspired by his cousin, Karl Bogdanovich Brandt, a violinist himself. Nikolai was good enough to play violin in the College orchestra.

In 1895 the family moved to St. Petersburg, where in addition to his studies at the Second Cadet College, he began to attend regular concerts around the capital. Brandt often took the teenaged Nikolai to operas and Sunday concerts. At one of these Nikolai was swept away by Beethoven’s Second Symphony, especially the larghetto. The family apartment on Znamenskaya Street became a lively cultural salon. Not only did Nikolai play duets with Brandt, but he also became acquainted with some distant relatives, the Gorodenskys from Helsinki. Alexandra Gorodenskaya was a composer of some accomplishment at that time and her daughter, Maria a skilled pianist. Nikolai and Maria became regular piano partners and, with the mother, the three of them played symphonies and overtures of classics from the German school of composers. In December1896, he attended a concert of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony directed by the famous Arthur Nikisch. Again this was one of the moving music memories of the young Nikolai’s life. He was presented a score of this symphony as a present, which remained one of Nikolai’s prized possessions for the rest of his life.

After his graduation from the military high school in 1899, Nikolai was enrolled in the School of Military Engineering, much against his inclination and desires. His circle of friends at the university included some fanatical followers of Russian progressive, nationalist music, at that time represented by the Big Five—Mussorgsky, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Cui, and Balakirev. Rimsky-Koraskov was the pre-eminent composer of the day and a cultural giant in St. Petersburg. Ironically he had a somewhat similar background to Nikolai, being as he also had studied as a military cadet and as a naval officer, before he could break from the military to pursue music professionally. For the next eight years, Nikolai tried to balance his studies in military engineering—which was directing him to a military career in the path of his father and grandfather—and his increasing commitment and love of music. He balanced this by very intensive work. Early in this period, when he was in the fappers battalion in Moscow, he took his first composition lessons with the young, soon to be famous composer, Reinholdt Gliere, a student of Sergei Taneyev who had recommended him.

More here.

Nikolai Myaskovsky - Kirov is With Us (1942) - live.