Posts Tagged 'russia'

The Dog – part 2

“Well, I went with him into his hut–and a hut it certainly was: poor, bare, crooked; only just holding together. On the wall there was an ikon of old workmanship as black as a coal; only the whites of the eyes gleamed in the faces. He took some round spectacles in iron frames out of a little table, put them on his nose, read the writing and looked at me again through the spectacles. ‘You have need of me?’ ‘I certainly have,’ I answered. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘if you have, tell it and we will listen.’ And, only fancy, he sat down and took a checked handkerchief out of his pocket, and spread it out on his knee, and the handkerchief was full of holes, and he looked at me with as much dignity as though he were a senator or a minister, and he did not ask me to sit down. And what was still stranger, I felt all at once awe-stricken, so awe-stricken… my soul sank into my heels. He pierced me through with his eyes and that’s the fact! I pulled myself together, however, and told him all my story. He was silent for a space, shrank into himself, chewed his lips and then questioned me just like a senator again, majestically, without haste. ‘What is your name?’ he asked. ‘Your age? What were your parents? Are you single or married?’ Then again he munched his lips, frowned, held up his finger and spoke: ‘Bow down to the holy ikon, to the honourable Saints Zossima and Savvaty of Solovki.’ I bowed down to the earth and did not get up in a hurry; I felt such awe for the man and such submission that I believe that whatever he had told me to do I should have done it on the spot!… I see you are grinning, gentlemen, but I was in no laughing mood then, I assure you. ‘Get up, sir,’ said he at last. ‘I can help you. This is not sent you as a chastisement, but as a warning; it is for your protection; someone is praying for your welfare. Go to the market now and buy a young dog and keep it by you day and night. Your visions will leave you and, moreover, that dog will be of use to you.’

Continue reading ‘The Dog – part 2’


The Dog – part 1

“But if one admits the possibility of the supernatural, the possibility of its participation in real life, then allow me to ask what becomes of common sense?” Anton Stepanitch pronounced and he folded his arms over his stomach.

Anton Stepanitch had the grade of a civil councillor, served in some incomprehensible department and, speaking emphatically and stiffly in a bass voice, enjoyed universal respect. He had not long before, in the words of those who envied him, “had the Stanislav stuck on to him.”

“That’s perfectly true,” observed Skvorevitch.

“No one will dispute that,” added Kinarevitch.

“I am of the same opinion,” the master of the house, Finoplentov, chimed in from the corner in falsetto.

“Well, I must confess, I cannot agree, for something supernatural has happened to me myself,” said a bald, corpulent middle-aged gentleman of medium height, who had till then sat silent behind the stove. The eyes of all in the room turned to him with curiosity and surprise, and there was a silence.

The man was a Kaluga landowner of small means who had lately come to Petersburg. He had once served in the Hussars, had lost money at cards, had resigned his commission and had settled in the country. The recent economic reforms had reduced his income and he had come to the capital to look out for a suitable berth. He had no qualifications and no connections, but he confidently relied on the friendship of an old comrade who had suddenly, for no visible reason, become a person of importance, and whom he had once helped in thrashing a card sharper. Moreover, he reckoned on his luck–and it did not fail him: a few days after his arrival in town he received the post of superintendent of government warehouses, a profitable and even honourable position, which did not call for conspicuous abilities: the warehouses themselves had only a hypothetical existence and indeed it was not very precisely known with what they were to be filled–but they had been invented with a view to government economy.

Continue reading ‘The Dog – part 1’

How Big Brother Changed Music

Michael Oliver considers the widespread effect of state control on music this century.

Barely two years to the millennium and we still have no idea of how the twenty-first century will view the music of this. Will serialism seem central or just a weird aberration? Of the scores of ‘isms’ currently in vogue which, if any, will survive? Was Stravinsky the century’s Beethoven or is it Meyerbeer? Of one thing we can be quite sure: any judicious history is bound to conclude that totalitarianism had more effect on Western music than any writer or critic; possibly more than even the most influential composer. Italy for over 20 years, Germany for a dozen, Spain and Portugal for half a century, Russia and its satellites for even longer: all were ruled by dictators or totalitarian regimes, and in all of them music was subject to censorship and political control.

The reason that we study history, so they say, is so that we can make sure that it doesn’t repeat itself. The creepily fascinating thing about the great dictators and their attitudes to music is that although they all had much the same effect – music was banned, composers silenced, performers controlled – they each went about it in quite different ways. So if we’re guarding against it in the future, we must keep our eyes peeled.

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Wordless Wednesday: Rising Star

How Not to Write an Opera

While Ruslan and Ludmila‘s influence on nineteenth-century music was exceeded only by Wagner’s Tristan and Beethoven’s Ninth, dramatically Glinka’s work is a mess. Michael Oliver wades in.

If you wanted to give a young composer advice about how not to write an opera, you couldn’t do much better than tell him how Mikhail Glinka went about putting Ruslan and Ludmila together. Firstly choose a subject so fantastic that it’s hard to imagine how it can be put on stage at all (one of its principal characters is a vast Head without a body attached).

Next, arrange for a drunken friend to dash off a draft synopsis, removing several characters from the original plot and adding a few more. Then write a lot of the music before a single word of the libretto has even been drafted. When you do find a librettist, send him what you’ve written and tell him to fit his words to it. Look through the bottom drawer of your desk for off-cuts from your last opera and works you’ve never got round to finishing: they’re bound to come in handy somewhere. Now take five years over writing the opera, because you’re busy and easily distracted and besides, you’ve just left your wife and your domestic life is in chaos. And above all don’t bother about the dramatic continuity of the piece, write numbers almost at random: you can worry about the plot later. In the light of all that you won’t be surprised that although Ruslan and Ludmila is quite popular in Russia it’s very rarely staged in the West. And there’s more: not only was the Head a singing character (portrayed by an off-stage chorus: beat that for impracticality), but also the more important figure of Chernomor the evil dwarf only appears in one of the five acts and never sings.

Continue reading ‘How Not to Write an Opera’

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