Showing posts from January, 2016

Russian Palaces Peterhof

Peterhof is actually a series of palaces and gardens located in Saint Petersburg, Russia, laid out on the orders of Peter the Great. These Palaces and gardens are sometimes referred as the "Russian Versailles". The palace-ensemble along with the city centre is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Anna Akhmatova: A Belated Reply

My white-fingered one, my dark princess. 
Marina Tsvetaeva

My double and my jester, unseen, You who hide at the heart of bushes, Who nestle in the house of the stare, Who flit among cemetery crosses. Who call from the Marinkina Tower: ‘Here I am, I’m home today. Cherish me, my own fields, Because of everything I suffered. My loved ones lost in the abyss, My native country despoiled.’ Today we are together, Marina, Crossing the midnight capital, With all those millions behind us, And never a more voiceless crew, Walking to the sound of funeral bells, And to the savage, Moscow moaning Of wind and snow, erasing our steps. Translations into English by A. S. Kline

Anna Akhmatova - Assessing the Russian poet and femme fatale.

Born in Odessa, educated in Kiev, and launched into poetic immortality as the beautiful incarnation of ­pre-revolutionary Petersburg, Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966) was the most famous Russian poet of her time, but the time was out of joint. Before the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Anna Andreyevna Gorenko, called Akhmatova, already wore the Russian literary world's most glittering French verbal decorations: Here work was avant-garde, and in person she was a femme fatale. Love for her broken-nosed beauty was a common condition among the male poets, one of whom, Nikolay Gumilev, she married. After the Revolution, Gumilev was one of the new regime's first victims among the literati: The persecution of artists, still thought of today as a Stalinist speciality, began under Lenin. Later on, under Stalin, Akhmatova included a reference to Gumilev's fate in the most often quoted section of her poem "Requiem": "Husband dead, son in gaol/ Pray for me." In the last gas…

The composer who was almost purged - Dmitri Shostakovich

On 9 August it will be 40 years since the death of Dmitri Shostakovich, one of the most significant musical figures of the 20th Century. Born in St Petersburg in 1906, he studied the piano with his mother from the age of nine and entered the Conservatoire aged 13, where the leading composer Alexander Glazunov kept a close eye on him. He went on to write 15 symphonies, 15 string quartets, six concertos, a piano quintet, two piano trios and two string octets. His solo piano works include two solo sonatas, and two sets of preludes, one with accompanying fugues. He also wrote operas, song cycles, ballets and film music.

Forced to live for most of his life under a totalitarian regime – one moment in favour with Soviet leaders, then just as quickly out of it again – for much of his career Shostakovich was judged by political rather than musical criteria. He once described life under Stalin's regime as “unbelievably mean and hard. Every day brought more bad news and I felt so much pain. I…

Varlam Shalamov: Someone Else's Bread

It was someone else's bread, the bread of my comrade. This comrade trusted only me - he'd gone to work on the day shift and left the bread with me in a little Russian wooden case. Nowadays they don't make cases like that - natty little cases covered in artificial crocodile-skin - but in the twenties every good-looking girl in Moscow used to have one. In the case was bread, a ration of bread. If you shook the case, the bread rolled about inside. The case lay under my head. I couldn't sleep. A hungry man sleeps badly. But what stopped me sleeping was this bread, someone else's bread, the bread of my comrade. I sat up on the boards... It seemed that everyone was looking at me, that everyone knew what I was about to do. But the orderly by the window was patching something. Another man - I don't know his name but he worked on the night shift too - was lying in someone else's place in the middle of the barrack, feet towards the warm iron stove. This warmth didn&#…

Vladislav Khodasevich: Monument

In me is the beginning, in me the end.
What’s been accomplished by me a blink!
Yet still I am a reliable chain link:
This happiness to me has been given.
In the new but greater Russia they will
erect to me a Janus-faced idol at
the broad cross-roads of two city streets
where there's sand, time, and the wind whines….

Fyodor Sologub: : When Heaving On The Stormy Waters

When, heaving on the stormy waters,
I felt my ship beneath to sink,
I prayed, "Oh, Father Satan, save me,
Forgive me at death's utter brink!

"If you will save my soul embittered
From perishing before its hour,
The days to come, the nights that follow
I vow to vice, I pledge to power."

The Devil forthwith snatched and flung me
Into a boat; the sides were frail,
But on the bench the oars were lying
And in the bow an old gray sail.

And landward once again I carried
My outcast soul, bereft of kin,
Upon its sick and vicious sojourn
My body and its gift of sin.

And I am faithful, Father Satan,
Unto my evil hour's vow,
When from my drowning ship you saved me
And when I prayed you guide the prow.

To you descend my praises, Father,
No day from bitter blame exempt.
O'er worlds my blasphemy shall tower;
And I shall tempt — and I shall tempt.

Grigory Sokolov plays Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto no. 3

Live 20 February 1998, Stockholm, with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Tuomas Ollila,

Sergei Taneyev: Tchaikovsky's Heir or the Russian Bach?

Unfortunately for Sergei Taneyev, his music has long been held in high respect. His intellectual rigour, cosmopolitan outlook and above all his mastery of counterpoint have attached a reverence to Taneyev’s name for successive generations of Russian musicians. But love for his music has remained in short supply, and engagement with Taneyev’s Romantic expression has remained distant at best. A reputation for compositional greatness is rarely founded on craftsmanship alone, but Taneyev’s technical accomplishment has even had the reverse effect, and respect for his skill has become the greatest impediment to appreciation of his music. 

Taneyev’s reputation as a teacher has been a contributing factor. He succeeded Tchaikovsky as director of the Moscow Conservatory and his pupils included Lyapunov, Glière, Scriabin and Rachmaninov. Advocates for the music of these last two composers have struggled to maintain for them reputations for academic rigour, and Taneyev’s erudition has been repeate…

Zuleikha opens her eyes: Love and survival in Siberia

Guzel Yakhina’s debut novel Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes (Elena Shubina Publishers, 2015) has won several literary prizes. In the 1930s, dispossessed Tatar peasants have been sent to Siberia; they have landed on the banks of the river Angara and left in the taiga (boreal forest) without any means of subsistence. Led by their commandant Ivan Ignatov, they make a dugout and wait for a seemingly inevitable death. here is an excerpt from the book, which has not yet been translated into other languages.

He is staring at the bluish gray, smudged horizon. This is where the next barge will come from. But when? Kuznets promised it would be soon. They spent three days getting here; it took Kuznets less than a day in his motorboat. If the journey back takes a day, plus a day or two for bureaucratic prevarication and a new barge, that’s three days to return to Ignatov. A week in total. They have to hold out for a week.

But what if Kuznets is delayed? And that bastard won’t be in any hurry. He could easy …

Osip Mandelshtam: For Akhmatova

Grief sorrowing — indifferent
glances — half-turning. Her
shawl, a pseudo-classic on her
shoulders — like stone ossifying. A dark voice — ill-omened, bitter-
tasting hops-intoxication — the soul
spirited, split heart-deep — indignantly.
In this way Rachel once played Phaedra. 3 January 1914, Petersburg
TRANSLATED BY Tony Brinkley & Raina Kostova

Leningrad & the Orchestra that Defied Hitler BBC Documentary 2016


From Voronezh Notebooks - Osip Mandelstam

When the goldfinch, in his airy confection,
Suddenly gets angry, begins to quake,
His spite sets off his scholar’s robes,
Shows to advantage his cute black cap. And he slanders the hundred bars,
Curses the sticks and perches of his prison—
And the world’s turned completely inside out,
And surely there’s a forest Salamanca
For birds so smart, so disobedient. December 1936 Osip Mandelstam, translated from the Russian by Andrew Davis

Socialism on its deathbed - Olga Grushin

Olga Grushin's first novel is the sort of book where you can see what is going to happen from page three; the only question is how. Sukhanov, successful, rich and cynical, is riding the crest of the wave in Moscow in 1985. He has just been invited to weekend in the Minister of Culture's dacha, no less. Since the texture of the writing is dense with irony so heavy it seems to have been forged on an anvil, it is a foregone conclusion he will have lost everything by the end of the book. The year 1985 is crucial to understanding this story. In its first quarter, Konstantin Chernenko, a Brezhnev protege, was in power, and the USSR apparently as incapable of progress as Lenin's embalmed corpse. Grushin quotes the phrase 'socialism with a human face' early on, and we are meant to remember that this was the slogan of the Czech liberal reformer Dubcek, which inaugurated the fragile 'Prague Spring' and brought Soviet tanks rolling into Czechoslovakia in 1968. But at…