Showing posts from March, 2014

Queen Alexandra in Russia

Princess Alexandra of Denmark was born on 1 December 1844. Her younger sister, Dagmar, was born three years later, on 26 November 1847. Throughout their lives, much of what they did followed a pattern. They were born within three years of one another, married within three years of one another, and died within three years of one another. Something else that the two Danish princesses had in common was their great beauty, which soon had the royal families of Europe competing for their hands in marriage. Both Queen Victoria and Tsar Alexander II hoped to marry Alexandra to their eldest sons. The British side was victorious and, in 1862, Alexandra became engaged to Edward, Prince of Wales. They were married at St George’s Chapel in Windsor on 10 March 1863. The following year, Alexander II’s eldest son and heir, Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich, proposed to Dagmar. The first to whom Dagmar broke the news was the Prince and Princess of Wales. Edward said: “The wedding will, of course, be in S…

How the Horrors of Crimea Shaped Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy was 26 years old when he first saw the ramparts of Sevastopol. The weather in Crimea in the early winter of 1854—subtropical, cool but not cold—was a paradise compared with the harsh snow and ice farther north. The city itself, though, was in chaos. The heights above the port were ringed with earthworks of woven saplings and packed dirt and stone. Below, the narrow entrance to the harbor was blocked by the hulls of wooden ships deliberately sunk by the Russian navy, placed there to block the invaders. “There are thousands of different objects,” Tolstoy wrote, “thrown in heaps here and there; soldiers of different regiments, some provided with guns and with bags, others with neither guns nor bags, crowd together; they smoke, they quarrel.”

A junior officer in an artillery brigade, Tolstoy already knew something of the exhilaration and horror of battle. For nearly three years, he had been in the Caucasus, the Russian empire’s mountainous southern frontier, in the middle of a …

Yevgeny Zamyatin's We: A dystopian novel for the 21st century

The 20th century was haunted by literary visions of a future dystopia. In 1905, Robert Hugh Benson published Lord of the World,in which the Earth is governed by the Antichrist. Later dystopias would be more political: George Orwell's1984(1949) featured a cold, merciless, Party-dominated tyranny, while Aldous Huxley'sBrave New World(1932) posited a drugged, manipulated, and productive society. The point of writing a dystopian novel is rather straightforward: for the best authors, it is a way of critiquing current trends and actors by drawing out their ideals and actions to their extreme conclusion. I've loved all of the above, but the dystopian novel most relevant to our time is Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, which predated Orwell and Huxley, and obviously inspired the former. Zamyatin wrote We within a few years of the Russian Revolution in 1917The novel is set 1,000 years after a revolution that brought the One State into power. Citizens are known only by their number, and th…

Ekaterina Mechetina - Biography

Ekaterina Mechetina’s voyage as a professional artist is relatively young but already rich in events, and one is struck not only by the swift impetuosity of her upward flight to the musical Olympus, but also by her gradual but irresistible advance to the summits of musical mastery. However, there is one factor that stands out in Mechetina’s journey; although she can boast many successful performances at international contests, she does not owe her well-deserved reputation to these. Her secret lies not only in her constantly maturing talent, but also in her keen interest in the broader musical field – and a relentless desire to expand her demanding music well beyond the limits of the typical competition repertoire. This is rare amongst today’s performers.

Her upbringing was typical of many of her contemporaries; she was born into a family of musicians, and very early it became clear that she had inherited the inclinations and gifts of her parents. Her flair for music became evident when…

Ekaterina Mechetina plays Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3

Vladimir Makanin: On writing as chess play

We found Makanin at his quiet family home, his second residence, outside Rostov-on-Don. The country house is complete with newly created garden, swings and a cozy veranda, the perfect spot to discuss literature.  Rossiyskaya Gazeta: You are a mathematician. Does the ability to think methodically help a writer? VM: Mathematics is beautiful, perfection even, although for me it is also a little cold. I was a diligent and distinguished pupil, but the subject still didn’t touch my heart. My personality was not formed by university, but during my school days and in those warlike games of chess I used to play with grown-ups when I was just a fifth grader. Close to the moment I had beaten my opponents, they’d start to sweat, wriggle in their chairs and smoke (which was allowed at competitions in those days). Meanwhile, the boy who sat quietly opposite them-me-enjoyed the game and that unique sense of meeting a challenge, which has served me so well in life. Mostly I mean here the demands of writ…

Valentin Yudashkin: opening new frontiers in Russian fashion

Designer Valentin Yudashkin is the only Russian couturier who has managed to remain at the cutting edge for more than 20 years, surprising the fashion world with each and every new collection. It appears Yudashkin can handle everything: working on the couture line and prêt-à-porter, releasing jeans, jewelry, and furniture lines, tableware and linens. He regularly presents his collections in Paris and at Moscow Fashion Week, and his boutiques are found all over the world: from France to Hong Kong, America to Moscow. Yudashkin’s couture creations are housed in the Fashion Institute and Design Museum in Los Angeles,  the State Historical Museum in Moscow and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. His services in the sphere of fashion earned him the Order of Arts and Letters of the French Republic. And recently, the tireless Yudashkin has taken on the training of novice designers.  

Mikhail Bulgakov - Biography

Mihail Bulgakov was born into a Russian family in Kiev, Ukraine on the 15th of May 1881. His father was a Russian theology professor at the Kiev Theological Academy. After graduation from the First Kiev High School Mikhail studied medicine at the Kiev University. In 1916-1918 he worked as a doctor in front-line and military hospitals. Bulgakov described his medical experience in notes of a young doctor called “Zapiski yunogo vracha” written in 1925-1926.

In 1920 Bulgakov abandoned medicine and chose a writing carrier. He organized a sub-department of the arts in the Caucasus and started with writing stories for newspapers. In 1921 Bulgakov moved to Moskow where he worked as a journalist for various groups and papers within the literary department of the People's Commissariat of Education. In 1925 he released an autobiographical novel called “Belaya Gvardia” (literary means the White Guard) depicting lives of a White family in the Ukraine during the turbulent years of 1914-1921.

In 1…

Dostoevsky by Georg Lukacs 1949

It is a strange, but often repeated fact that the literary embodiment of a new human type with all its problems comes to the civilized world from a young nation. Thus in the eighteenth century Werther came from Germany and prevailed in England and France: thus in the second half of the nineteenth century Raskolnikov came from far-off, unknown, almost legendary Russia to speak for the whole civilized West.

There is nothing unusual in the fact that a backward country produces powerful works. The historical sense developed in the nineteenth century has accustomed us to enjoy the literature and art of the whole globe and the whole past. Works of art that have influenced the entire world originated in the remotest countries and ages: from Negro sculpture to Chinese woodcuts, from the Kalevala to Rabindranath Tagore.

But the cases of Werther and Raskolnikov are very different. Their effect is not touched in the slightest by a craving for the exotic, “Suddenly” there appeared from an underdeve…

Leon Trotsky: Alexander Blok

BLOK belonged entirely to pre-October literature. Blok’s impulses – whether towards tempestuous mysticism, or towards revolution – arise not in empty space, but in the very thick atmosphere of the culture of old Russia, of its landlords and intelligentsia. Blok’s symbolism was a reflection of this immediate and disgusting environment. A symbol is a generalized image of a reality. Blok’s lyrics are romantic, symbolic, mystic, formless and unreal. But they presuppose a very real life with definite forms and relationships. Romantic symbolism is only a going away from life, in the sense of an abstraction from its concreteness, from individual traits, and from its proper names; at bottom, symbolism is a means of transforming and sublimating life. Blok’s starry, stormy and formless lyrics reflect a definite environment and period, with its manner of living, its customs, its rhythms, but outside of this period, they hang like a cloud-patch. This lyric poetry will not outlive its time or its…

The Bolshoi in Paris: An Interview With Alexei Ratmansky

The Bolshoi Ballet is one of the world's great companies, although it was not always evident from the uneven programmes shown in Paris which disappointed many. The quality of what was seen did not match the legend.

It was less the heavy-handedness of Yuri Grigorovich's production of Swan Lake, with its sad decor, but more because of the way it was danced both by the corps de ballet and by the principals themselves, in this case Nadejda Gracheva partnered by Rouslan Skvortsov, doubtless admirable in more inspiring works, but who showed a total absence of emotional intensity. Where is the style, artistry and the lyricism of this famous troupe, hitherto known for its great dancers and dramatically expressive style? Where is the passion ? Above all, what has happened to the men? The virtues of senior principals Sergei Filin and Nikolai Tsiskardze have been loudly sung by the critics, but one of them was sick, and the other injured. Is there no one else?
The current company is only e…

Elena Obraztsova "Stride la vampa" Il Trovatore

Alexander Blok: Russia

18 October 1908

Again, as in the golden age,
three breech-straps flogging at the trot
and the painted spokes of the carriage
bog down in a muddy rut.

Russia, my beggarly Russia,
your grey huts in their clusters,
your songs set to the wind’s measure
touch me like love’s first tears.

I cannot offer you my pity,
I carry my cross as I can . . .
You squander your wild beauty
on your favourite magician.

If he seduces and deceives you,
you’ll not be broken or collapse;
though suffering may overshadow
the beauty of your face perhaps . . .

But what of that? Just one more sorrow,
one more tear added to the Don,
and you unaltered – forests, meadows, and the patterned scarf pulled well down . . .

And the impossible is possible,
the highroad is light and long,
and the glint of an eye far off
glances from under the scarf
as sotto voce, sorrowful,
begins the troika-driver’s song.

Translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France (1969)