Sunday, January 31, 2010

String Quartet No. 8 an insight into the genius that was Shostakovich

Written in only three days, Shostakovich's Eigth String Quartet is a testament to the compositional genius Shostakovich possesed. The brevity in which the piece was written already belies a sense of wonder, yet what he produced in those three days is a journey that takes the listener and player through the depths of deprivation and lostness, to the ravages of opression and desolation. Yet even so this piece takes one to the inevitable end, a closure that is neither happy nor sad. There is a contemplation that comes at the end of piece which truly makes for a truly unique experience.

The Quartet is dedicated to the victims of fascisim and war.

The quartet is in five movements I will produce here the first and allow you to choose to listen to the other four

Year 2 Unit 6 Blog

Question: Who inspired writers such as Dostoevsky and Kafka, wrote short stories that mixed fantasy and realism, spent most of his life in Italy, was seen as a radical, and died before he turned forty?

Answer: One of the most unusually writers in the Russian tradition - Ukrainian born Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol.


Gogol was part of the minor nobility in Greater Sorochintsy, Mirigorod, Ukraine.

Very little information is available about his childhood except for anecdotes about Gogol being artistically inclined and mimicking the behaviors of others for amusement.

His father introduced Gogol to play writing at an early age in their home village; unfortunately, when Gogol was fourteen, his father passed away while Gogol is at the Nezhin Lycum.

While still a student, one of his first works is finished, "Hans Kuchelgarten,".

1829 found twenty-four year old Gogol publishing a five stanza poem "Italy" in a magazine and "Hans Kuchelgarten" published at his own expense.

Many critics harshly mocked the latter and Gogol in shame bought up every copy to burn it.

However, later that same year he began working on a collection of short stories, "Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka" based on experiences and village life in his hometown which would become his first major success.

After various failed jobs as a scribe, assistant history teacher, and actor, he met one of his literary idols, Alexander Sergeivch Pushkin.

Pushkin saw the talent and started publishing parts of "Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka" in Literary Gazette which he was co-founder of.

This early support helped Gogol continue writing as various civil service jobs at the time had failed and he had made himself a laughingstock as an history professor as his lectures were mumbled or never even occurred.

The next several years were filled with producing the last of his lighter pieces: the sequel to "Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka"and "The Story of how Ivan Ivanovich Quarrelled with Ivan Nikovich".

His year long job as a history instructor ended - to the relief of the faculty, his students, and Gogol himself - and a change in his writing style appeared.

Gogol had found early fame with his witty pieces set in his homeland, but as he began to support himself with his own writings more, a more cynical and more Russian aspect to his writing emerged.

"Notes of a Madman" was published and work began on his play "The Inspector General" which would be one of his more cynical works.

Locals have heard that an inspector has been sent by the government to root out corruption; when a lowly governmental worker arrives they mistake him for the inspector that has been sent to end their under the table deals and illegal activities.

In the play appears at first to be a play about mistaken identity and the hi jinx that ensue, but through out the story runs the idea of corruption and bribery of officials.

What made it so unique was the lack of love interests or deep spiritual meaning; Gogol had written a play about human avarice that was at first glance a comedy of errors.

Some of his opponents may have hated it, but the play was a great success.

Gogol spent more time abroad as his dissatisfaction with Russian life continued and he began searching for outside influence.

1842 Gogol published "The Overcoat" which was one of his more cynical and fantasy style pieces.

A lowly government worker saves up for a new coat and is killed for it the first day he wears it, the spirit of the governmental worker kills the thief.

Gogol returned to a more light heart style with another work published that same year "The Nose" where another governmental employee loses his nose and the nose becomes even more powerful than his owner, even being elected mayor.

It was during this time that Gogol began work on "Dead Souls" which is now synonymous with Gogol.

Inspired by the "Inferno" by Dante, Gogol was convinced another trilogy of human vices was needed.

"Dead Souls" was the first leg of the journey for the corrupt characters; originally Gogol had planned to make it a trilogy, but his health and outside influences prevented that.

Intestinal problems - he believed it was caused by an upside down stomach and many doctors were convinced stomach acid was the culprit - from childhood grew steadily worse and slowly he fell under the influence of a corrupt monk much like a minor Rasputin.

Convinced he was a sinner headed straight for hell, Gogol began an extreme fast in 1851; he refused all nourishment and starved himself to the point where doctors could feel his spine when they went to check his heart rate.

On March 4th 1852, Gogol was dead and the second part of "Dead Souls" had been burn in his fireplace ten days before.


Gogol did not write deep pieces concerned with how to improve society; he wanted to write stories that made people laugh at their own foibles and vices.

Gogol was convinced that Russia needed to fix itself, but left others to do it.

His works blended fantasy with drama to hold up a mirror to Russia and Ukraine to show what he saw and knew about.

"We all came out of Gogol's Overcoat" -- attributed to Dostoevsky or Turgenev. this quote reveals why Gogol matters - he touched something in the soul of Russian art no one else had.

He may have vengeful ghosts and noses running around Russia, but he walked the fine line between absurdity and realism perfectly and became one of the most beloved Russian authors ever.


Many of his stories have become or inspired films; throughout Russian cinematography Gogol has enjoyed enduring popularity as a long awaited animated version of "The Nose" is in the works and a new release of one of his most controversial works "Taras Bulba" has been made into a film last April, shortly after the two hundredth anniversary of his birth.

Unfortunately, his homeland has almost abandoned him.

Gogol has been been "kicked out" of Ukrainian schools for being a foreigner, accused of turning to Italian and Russian culture instead of his Ukrainian upbringing.

While this is unfortunate, Gogol himself would smirk and laugh as he has survived two hundred years and an unfortunate early death; he will endure and win.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Don't slander Russian beer

Russian beer companies, domestic and imported attempted to sue an official from the Health and Social Development Ministry after he demonized beer as a "chemical weapon". The row has its roots in Russia's ongoing problems with alcoholism and alcohol related illnesses and death, and the government's attempts to curb the trend.

Original Story:

MOSCOW, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- A claim by Russian brewers that the country's top drug and alcohol control officer had slandered beer has been thrown out of court, officials said.

The Union of Russian Brewers had sued Yevgeny Bryun for "demonizing" beer by claiming brewers added pure alcohol to increase its strength, RIA Novosti reported Wednesday.

"Taking advantage of his position, Bryun indulged in statements that add to the demonization of beer, making brewers responsible for social woes and distracting from the true causes of alcohol abuse

-- low living standards, corruption and widespread illegal alcohol sales," the Union said.

The dispute comes at a time when alcohol consumption is increasing after the breakup of the Soviet Union, with serious impact on Russians' health, causing high mortality levels especially among working-age men, RIA Novosti said.

"A lot of beer is produced in Russia, but you cannot drink it," Bryun said in December on a Moscow radio station. "Beer and other tinned low-alcohol beverages are a real chemical weapon."

The brewers had demanded a retraction, but the Moscow court threw out their case, the news agency said.

Other article

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ballet, Swan Maidens, and Joint Suicide... Oh My!

For musicians in love with all things Russian, nothing represents Tchaikovsky greatness like his most famous ballet “Swan Lake”.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this “Russian” tale (it's actually German but who cares) it tells the story of Princess Odette, a beautiful maiden who is cursed by an evil sorcerer,Von Rothbart, to live her days in the form of a swan amongst his other imprisoned swan maidens. Only in the light of the moon does she return to human... that is unless she finds true love in a man who will agree to marry her. Thats where Prince Siegfried comes in. The ballet opens with the scene of his birthday bash, during which Mother announces that she desires her son to marry soon. Armed with his sweet new crossbow, Siegfried decides to take his usual hunting trip when low and behold, just as he's about to shoot a swan the bird transforms before him into the unfortunate Odette! After she shares with him her tragic plight, he dramatically exclaims his love for her and promises that he will take her to be his bride. This did not please Von Rothbart. When the Prince returns to his palace in the second act, to announce that he has chosen a bride, the audience is treated to a series of beautiful dances during which many of the members of the court display their best moves in celebration. None, however, compare to that of the brilliant performance of an Odette look alike (actually Von Rothbart's evil daughter Odile) appearing with a mysterious guest (Von Rothbart in disguise) who purports to be the king of some obscure palace. Ecstatic to see who appears to be his fiancée, Siegfried impulsively tells Mommy the Queen that this girl is the one he has chosen. Psyche! Von Rothbart reveals Odile's true identity, effectively meaning that the Prince is betrothed to the wrong girl and now Odette will be trapped in her curse for eternity. Heartbroken, Siegfried retreats to the forest to beg his lover's forgiveness for his betrayal. She grants him pardon and in the original production they realize the hopelessness of their situation, drowning themselves in order to be together in death (that's Tchaikovsky for you... see my previous blog entry to see how his own life ended). A few ballet houses these days choose a more optimistic route, ending with the Price slaying Von Rothbart and freeing Odette along with her flock of maidens from the spell, but personally I feel that some of the effect is lost in these interpretations...
After several years and multiple collaborations with various librettists (the people in charge of the story) and choreographers (the people in charge of dances), Tchaikovsky completed the necessary preparations and the ballet had its premiere on January 15th, 1895. Pierina Legnani danced Odette/Odile, with Pavel Gerdtas as Prince Siegfried, and Alexei Bulgakov as Von Rothbart.
Below I have attached the video of a super famous and super gorgeous Pas de Deux (dance for two) between Prince Sigfried and Odette. This particular performance is that of Natalia Makarova as Odette and Ivan Nagy as Siegfried with the American Ballet Theater. The visual and auditory effects of this scene are, in a word, sublime!

Russian Army Dance

This is a Cossack war dance performed by the Soviet Army in 1981. A little background on the Cossacks: they were a group of people who live near the Black Sea. They were renowned for their big red beards, style of dress, and their military prowess on horses. In fact they were so good that they were used by the Soviet government and the czars before that as shock troops and secret police.

Vyacheslav Zaitsev- The "Red Dior" of Russian high couture

Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Zaitsev, otherwise known as Slava Zaitsev (Вячеслав Михайлович Зайцев) was born in Ivanovo in 1938. His father disappeared into one of Stalin's work camps, and his mother was forced to work as a laundress and seamstress. As his father was considered a "traitor to the motherland", Slava was not allowed access to any of the schools he wanted, such as industrial academy.

After graduating from the Faculty of Applied Arts at the University of Chemistry and Technology, he realized that working with textiles was a dream come true. He dominated the fashion world of Russia under the USSR, and, although he was not allowed to travel outside of Russia and Czechoslovakia, he was compared to such powerhouses as Christian Dior and Yves St. Laurent. It is believed that he would have been one of the world's top-tier names in fashion if he lived in the West.

While many people liked his designs for the multitude of color he used, the Methodical Council would not approve many of his clothes for production. He became a sucess when Raisa Gorbachyova began to patronize his clothes. In 1982 he became the first designer allowed by the Soviet Union to label their own clothes. Soon,he was required by the government to produce 2million rubles of clothing each year.

Slava often complained that there were not enough materials in Russia to adequately produce clothing- he had to use WWII mannequins. In 1987, he signed a contract with the United States to sell his clothing overseas, the first commercial venture between the USSR and United States.

Zaitsev also had some political pull. Zaitsev was the tailor to Vladimir Zhirinovsky for his 1996 Russian presidential campaign. Zaitsev, who planned to vote for Boris Yeltsin, stated on Zhirinovsky, "He wanted something distinctly Russian, so I thought back to the military-style jackets of the 20s, the 30s — like Stalin, only in new colours". And then Zhirinovsky lost the election. Coincidence? I think not...

In 2007, he was a judge on the Russian reality show "Fashion Sentence"- like Project Runway, but colder. He continues to design couture and tailor for Russia's rich and powerful to this day.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Leadie Flowers in Moscow

Leadie's one of my favorite students of all time... such a sense of adventure and willingness to take risks! Read this article!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

С Новым годом!

From the Times:

It came as a surprise on Friday morning a few minutes after midnight when 3-D
animations of Prime Minister Putin and President Dmitri
A. Medvedev
appeared on a New Year’s
special on Channel One
, Russia’s
leading channel. The two figures performed a soft-shoe on Red Square, singing
slightly raunchy doggerel about gas pipelines and Ukrainian debt. Hardly
shocking stuff, except for this: Mr. Putin’s and Mr. Medvedev’s figures are
being added to the regular cast of “Mult Lichnosti,” a biweekly show lampooning
public figures, according to Konstantin L. Ernst, the channel’s director.