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Russian Opera and the Symbolist Movement

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 374
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  • Book Info
    Russian Opera and the Symbolist Movement
    Book Description:

    An aesthetic, historical, and theoretical study of four scores,Russian Opera and the Symbolist Movementis a groundbreaking and imaginative treatment of the important yet neglected topic of Russian opera in the Silver Age. Spanning the gap between the supernatural Russian music of the nineteenth century and the compositions of Prokofiev and Stravinsky, this exceptionally insightful and well-researched book explores how Russian symbolist poets interpreted opera and prompted operatic innovation. Simon Morrison shows how these works, though stylistically and technically different, reveal the extent to which the operatic representation of the miraculous can be translated into its enactment. Morrison treats these largely unstudied pieces by canonical composers: Tchaikovsky'sQueen of Spades,Rimsky-Korsakov'sLegend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya,Scriabin's unfinishedMysterium,and Prokofiev'sFiery Angel.The chapters, revisionist studies of these composers and scores, address separate aspects of Symbolist poetics, discussing such topics as literary and musical decadence, pagan-Christian syncretism, theurgy, and life creation, or the portrayal of art in life. The appendix offers the first complete English-language translation of Scriabin's libretto for thePreparatory Act.Providing valuable insight into both the Symbolist enterprise and Russian musicology, this book casts new light on opera's evolving, ambiguous place in fin de siècle culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92726-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Dating and Transliteration
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-44)

    This book concerns the efforts of Russian composers to create Symbolist operas, efforts that were evaluated in their own time as successes, as failures, and, perhaps most frequently, as successful failures. The four composers in question occupy different places in the history of Russian Symbolism. The first, Pyotr Chaikovsky, was prescient, anticipating, rather than actually joining, the movement; the second, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, was resistant, conceiving his penultimate opera as a rationalist and realist reaction to Symbolist decadence, yet nonetheless succumbing to it in the end. The third composer, Alexander Scriabin, was obsessive, extending, in his metaoperatic project, the precepts of...

  6. Chapter 1 Chaikovsky and Decadence
    (pp. 45-114)

    On 24 March 1905, the impresario Sergey Diaghilev (1872–1929) was honored at a Moscow banquet by his patron Ilya Ostroukhov. It was a celebration of Diaghilev’s service as editor of the Russian Symbolist journalThe World of Art,which had ceased publication a year before, and of his lavish exhibition of Russian portrait and landscape paintings at the Tauride Palace in St. Petersburg. The speech he gave in return signaled his intention to leave Russia for Western Europe and shift his sphere of activity from the visual to the performing arts. Entitled “At the Hour of Reckoning” (“V chas...

  7. Chapter 2 Rimsky-Korsakov and Religious Syncretism
    (pp. 115-183)

    In his 1902 essay “The Forms of Art” (“Formï iskusstva”), Andrey Belïy divided the arts between plastic and organic forms, and classified the immobile art of sculpture as inferior to the mobile art of music. Belïy believed that while sculpture (and painting) directly represented reality, music (and poetry) revealed its hidden content. Citing Schopenhauer, he proclaimed that music discloses both the Cosmic “Will” and “the inner essence of things.”¹ To this idea he added that the artist’s creative energy is best channeled into those arts that are least bound to material reality. He posited that “each form of art has...

  8. Chapter 3 Scriabin and Theurgy
    (pp. 184-241)

    Valeriy Bryusov, the virtual founder of the Russian Symbolist movement, made this hierophantic pronouncement in his 1905 essay “The Holy Sacrifice” (“Svyashchennaya zhertva”):

    We demand of the poet that he should constantly offer up his “holy sacrifices,” not only in his verses but in every hour of his life, every feeling: in his love, in his hatred, in his achievements, and in his failings. Let the poet create not his books, but his life. Let him keep the altar flame unquenched like the Vestal fire, let him make it burn like a mighty bonfire having no fear that his own...

  9. Chapter 4 Prokofiev and Mimesis
    (pp. 242-307)

    Both the French and Russian Symbolists believed that there was an ungraspable realm beyond material reality, a realm that gives us only fragmentary clues to its fiery existence. Charles Baudelaire called it theau-delà,an inaudible, invisible realm of which we are only partially aware. Vyacheslav Ivanov and Andrey Belïy called itrealiora,the “realer” world. These poets believed that the imagination allows us to perceive vertical connections between events in our world and events in the other world. Moreover, they rejected Platonic and Aristotelian theories of art as mimesis—the imitation of events in everyday life. Since the boundaries...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 308-312)

    However broadly the genre is defined, one can identify only a few Russian Symbolist operas, only a few composers keen to test aesthetic boundaries or commit aesthetic transgressions. The genre is as apparitional as the symbol itself. In each example, Symbolist composers andlittérateursserved each other as guiding lights or—to translate literally the title of Vyacheslav Ivanov’s first collection of poetry—“pilot stars” (Kormchiye zvyozdï,1903). The phrase refers in part to theKormchaya kniga,a collection of devotional readings issued by the Holy Synod. This volume defines sacred and secular laws and addresses ancient and timeless spiritual...

  11. Appendix: The Libretto of the Preparatory Act
    (pp. 313-348)
  12. Index
    (pp. 349-362)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 363-363)