Showing posts from January, 2014

Platonov's Chevengur - The Ambivalent Space

Platonov is a kind of half-hidden writer for aficionados who took the risk of trudging through the narrows of his phraseology and an even greater risk of taking an interest in him during the period of what was once known as “Soviet 20th-century literature”. Readers are all doubtless familiar with the famous text by Joseph Brodsky that served as an afterword for Platonov’s The Foundation Pit since it is now almost a classic of the genre. In that work, Brodsky is not so much the philosophizing critic, pondering style from the perspective of a philologist, poet, and literary scholar, but the social anthropologist. When discussing Platonov’s phraseology, he refers to the inversion of his language as the main principle permitting him to shift away from the use of abnormal, non-standard literary language in order to describe the abnormal and non-standard situation in the country that gave rise to such language:
[Platonov’s] language fails to follow his ideas and suffocates from the overuse…

Andrey Platonov - Two Extracts from Chevengur

The following chapters take place in 1920-21, as the Russian Civil War is ending.
Sasha [or Aleksandr] Dvanov is a young man whose father commited suicide as a child.
Zakhar Pavlovich is his adoptive father.

Dvanov opened the wicket gate into his yard and was glad to see the old tree growing beside the entrance-room. The tree was covered in cuts and wounds, an axe had repeatedly been put to rest in it while chopping firewood, but it was still alive, still keeping the green passion of foliage on its sick branches.

‘You back, Sasha?’ asked Zakhar Pavlovich. ‘It’s good you’ve come back – I’ve been here on my own. With you gone, I didn’t feel like sleeping. I just lay there listening and listening: could that be you I heard? I didn’t even lock the door because of you – so you could come straight in.’ 

During his first days at home, Aleksandr shivered and tried to get warm on the stove, while Zakhar Pavlovich sat down below and dozed as he sat. 

‘Sash, maybe there’s something you want?’ Zakhar P…

Anna Akhmatova: To Death

You’ll come regardless – why not today? I await you – life is very hard. I’ve killed the lights, cleared the way For you, so simple, such a marvel. Take on any shape you wish, Burst in like a poisoned shell, Sidle in like a slick bandit, Or a typhus germ from hell. Or a fairy-tale you’ve invented, Always sickeningly familiar – Where I see policemen’s heads, And a concierge white with fear. It’s all one now. The Yenisey swirling, While the Pole star’s alight. And in final terror closing Blessed eyes, blue and bright.
19th August 1939                               The House on the Fontanka, Leningrad.

Writers and their wives: Together in love, work and legacy

Behind every great Russian writer, as the adage goes, there is a great woman who acted as literary agent, editor and scribe: Sofia Tolstoy, Anna Dostoevsky and Vera Nabokov supported their larger-than-life husbands even during the hardest of times.

The marriage of Sophia Bers to Leo Tolstoy lasted 48 years and her support helped him produce the epics “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina.” It was Sophia who encouraged him to give up the habits and addictions of his youth. Prominent writer, hero of the siege of Sevastopol, Tolstoy was also a drinker, gambler and womanizer. He confessed it all to Sophia, promising “not to have any women in our village, except for rare chances, which I would neither seek nor prevent” – a witty excuse!

The poverty of Tolstoy’s estate, Yasnaya Polyana, shocked the young Sophia. The bed was without blankets, the dinnerware was old and the rooms in disrepair. Sophia ultimately restored and maintained the rural estate, adding to the chores of wife and mother. But …

Anniversary Exhibition on Ballerina Yekaterina Maksimova

The exhibition Everything Began with a Fouettй is timed to the 75th anniversary since the birth of the famous ballerina Yekaterina Maksimova.

The exposition dedicated to the prima of the Bolshoi Theatre will be opened in the Bakhrushin Theatre Museum in Moscow from January 25.

 The exposition starts from her childhood:  there are photos and other archive materials about her studies in the Moscow Choreography School.  They also tell about her participation in performances and concerts of the Bolshoi Theater in the course of her studies.  The next stage is mature creative life of the ballerina, including her ballet tours and repertoire. Among the rare exhibits there is the only oil painting made by Yekaterina Maksimova in all her life.  The painting created in the 1960s is titled Behind the Scenes before Taking Stage in Don Quixote.  The exhibition closes with the ballerina’s make-up room.

Yekaterina Maksimova is an illustrious Russian ballerina, well-known in Russia and abroad. A student …

Shostakovich, Leningrad, and the greatest story ever played

The horrors of the Leningrad siege — the 900 Days of Harrison Salisbury’s classic — have been pretty well picked over by historians; and meanwhile the story of
Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, the improbable circumstances of its composition and first Leningrad performance in August 1942, is well known from the extensive, and still growing, literature on the composer. But Brian Moynahan’s book is the first to my knowledge — in English at least — to interweave these narratives to any significantly detailed extent. Moynahan is not a musician, and this is not really a book about music. It’s about an event which symbolises and personalises a history that, en gros, is virtually beyond our comprehension — those of us who live peaceful, well-fed, well-warmed, secure lives in a free society unmenaced by tanks on the one hand or secret police on the other. The technique, if not the scale, is Tolstoyan. Moynahan’s narrative frame — his Borodino — is the German invasion itself, the first part of the…

Lev Yudin - Biography

Painter, graphic artist, sculptor, illustrator, designer. Cousin of the pianist Maria Yudina (1899–1970). Born in Vitebsk in the family of a salt-mining agent called Alexander Yudin (1903). Learnt the art of cutting silhouettes from his mother. Studied under Vera Yermolaeva, Kazimir Malevich, Janis Tilbergs and David Jakerson at the Vitebsk School of Art (1919–22). Member of UNOVIS (1920). Decorated trams, buildings and the streets of Vitebsk and Smolensk on Communist holidays (1920–21). Accompanied Kazimir Malevich and a group of other students to Petrograd (1922). Studied at the VKhUTEIN in Petrograd (1922–23). Worked under Kazimir Malevich at the formal and theoretical department of the Institute of Artistic Culture (1923–26) and the Institute of the History of the Arts (1926–27). Member of the Group of Painterly-Plastic Realism, which met at his room in a wooden house on Shamshev Street on the Petrograd Side and at Vera Yermolaeva’s apartment on the 10th Line of Vasilyevsky Island…

Tatiana Nikolayeva talks about Shostakovich

Anna Akhmatova: In every day there...

In every day there is such A murky and irksome hour. I speak loudly to melancholy, Not having opened my sleepy eyes. And it pulsates like blood, Like the sigh of warmth, Like happy love, Smart and evil.
Poem from Plantain (1921)
Translated by Ljubov V. Kuchkina

Rachmaninoff Documentary - The Harvest Of Sorrow

Documentary about the life story of Sergei Rachmaninoff through the use of home movies, concert footage, and interviews. Valery Gergiev as narrator and John Gielgud voices Rachmaninoff's diaries, directed by Tony Palmer.

Ivan Kozlovsky: The man who refused to sing for Stalin

Ivan Kozlovsky (1900-1993) was a legendary opera tenor and a soloist at the Bolshoi Theater. He sang more than 50 operatic roles, and was particularly famed as Lensky in “Eugene Onegin,” Simpleton in “Boris Godunov,” and Berendey in “The Snow Maiden.”
Kozlovsky was probably more popular in the 1940s that the current pop stars today are. His fan base mostly comprised girls from families of modest means. These young ladies, who often lived in communal apartments, were pining for an opera singer. He was the symbol of everything beautiful in their life.

Another famed opera tenor of the time was Sergei Lemeshev, who also had numerous female admirers. The two singers' fans would wait for them in the street, crowd outside their homes, and attempt to get into their dressing rooms. They faithfully attended each of their idols' concerts and plays, and clashes between the two camps sparked up from time to time. Some even committed suicide over their unrequited love. Now that both singers ar…

Vlas Doroshevich What The Emperor Cannot Do, Tales and Legends of the Orient

These tales could be written by and for modern, rebellious “anti-establishment” youth of today. The anti-establishment feeling is probably universal, timeless, and starts with Adam and Eve. Whatever their subject, Doroshevich’s tales are unexpected, exciting, colorful, and tremendously readable. They are a mixture of fantasy, irony, and often despair, caused by the fact that between men in power living in the complete isolation of an “ivory tower” and the ordinary people there exists a corrupt bureaucracy – an “establishment.” Any effort by a man in power – an “Emperor of China” or a “Caliph” – is always thwarted by his own “establishment” created to execute his orders. The “Emperor” or “Caliph” are kept so far from reality by their own underlings that the most obvious solution of a problem often escapes them. Any chance for a better solution devised by the ruler himself or his corrupt “establishment” results in greater suffering of the very people the change was supposed to help.

Baryshnikov, still making artistic leaps

Who knew Baryshnikov was a theater kid?

Growing up in Riga, Latvia, little Misha was introduced to the world of drama by his culture-vulture mom, Alexandra. “When I was 5 or 6, my mother used to drag me around to the theater,” the world’s most celebrated living male ballet dancer is saying, as he settles into a chair in a conference room inside his Manhattan operational base, the Baryshnikov Arts Center.

At the Leningrad ballet school at which he trained, and where the intimations of his star power were noted early, “We were forced to read Russian plays: Turgenev and Gogol,” he explains in a heavy accent, still formidable nearly 40 years after his defection to the West. Theater tickets were dispensed to the students, “and I went every night when I was free.”

In his social connections, he gravitated to those who orated rather than pirouetted. “I was drawn more to the theater,” he says. I had friends who were actors, theater directors. My first girlfriend was an actress. They were more int…