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Serfdom, Society, and the Arts in Imperial Russia

Serfdom, Society, and the Arts in Imperial Russia: The Pleasure and the Power

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 640
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  • Book Info
    Serfdom, Society, and the Arts in Imperial Russia
    Book Description:

    Serf-era and provincial Russia heralded the spectacular turn in cultural history that began in the 1860s. Examining the role of arts and artists in society's value system, Richard Stites explores this shift in a groundbreaking history of visual and performing arts in the last decades of serfdom. Provincial town and manor house engaged the culture of Moscow and St. Petersburg while thousands of serfs and ex-serfs created or performed. Mikhail Glinka raised Russian music to new levels and Anton Rubinstein struggled to found a conservatory. Long before the itinerants, painters explored town and country in genre scenes of everyday life. Serf actors on loan from their masters brought naturalistic acting from provincial theaters to the imperial stages. Stites's richly detailed book offers new perspectives on the origins of Russia's nineteenth-century artistic prowess.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12818-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction: What’s in a Title?
    (pp. 1-10)

    In this book a historian takes a look at the arts; or better, a historian looks at the broad canvas on which society—its structures, practices, mentalities—interacted with the arts. Historians do different things from musicologists, art historians, and theater scholars; or at least we try.¹ Linking creative expression to society is hardly a novel venture. Literary scholars of Russia have worked this vein with brilliant results. But then, print culture is only one form of expression. In a still largely illiterate servile Russia, its resonance was demographically slight—although its filter effect over the generations has been enormous....

  5. Part I. Cultural and Social Terrains

    • 1 Town and Country
      (pp. 13-50)

      Cultural tours of cities like St. Petersburg and Moscow, valuable and necessary though they be, all too often resemble a museum visit. The galleries themselves are hung with paintings by periods, genres, or themes constructed out of modern museum ideologies. The opulent palaces no longer house residents but are the haunt of curators and visitors. City tours focus precisely on the edifices where organic life has ceased to exist, buildings with no function other than visual instruction. The places that still work in many ways as they did in 1830 or in 1860 are theaters, concert halls, and art academies....

  6. Part II. Music of the Spheres

    • 2 The Domestic Muse
      (pp. 53-87)

      Medical student Evgeny Bazarov, the original nihilist and one of the great characters of Russian fiction, felt both surprise and contempt for a middle-aged landowner and serf owner fiddling his life away on a country estate. The cello that found its way out onto the steppe to the modest gentry mansion of Nikolai Kirsanov made him an apt emblem of the myriad real-life serf-owning “fathers” who took their pleasure in the arts and brought the arts into the countryside. But Bazarov and his friend, the cellist’s son, as students and “new people” of the late 1850s, had no time for...

    • 3 In Search of a Concert Hall
      (pp. 88-126)

      Mikhail Glinka broke the barrier to Russian secular art music; it fell to Anton Rubinstein to build a permanent institution on which it could rest. This required concert facilities, a public attuned to musical masterpieces, and a central educational establishment. The last named, in the form of a conservatory, arrived last. The other two unrolled slowly, beginning at the turn of the century three decades before Rubinstein was born. But, if the evolution of public musicality beyond the private sphere of home and salon walked a vexed and uneven road, that road was rich in musical experience and, for the...

  7. Part III. Empire of Performance

    • 4 Inside the Capital Stages
      (pp. 129-172)

      The transition from musical life to theatrical life in prereform Russia adds two important elements to the picture: “story” and institution. Unlike the scattered and roughly structured musical world, theater was firmly anchored in the Imperial Theater complex of the two capitals. In common usage, especially in Anglo-Saxon countries, theater has come to mean almost exclusively stage drama. A New Yorker will speak quite distinctly about going to an opera, the ballet, a musical, or the theater. The usage arose partly out of increased specialization in roles, métiers, genres; and partly from the efforts of dramatic practitioners to identify their...

    • 5 An Unfolding Drama
      (pp. 173-220)

      In the 1790s, Russian actor and playwright Pëtr Plavilshchikov, who saw theater primarily in national and social terms, urged that Russian history be taken up in tragedy and the lives of merchants and peasants in comedy. Nikolai Gogol echoed the desire in an oft-quoted passage from 1836: “For heaven’s sake, give us Russian characters, give us ourselves, our own scoundrels and cranks!” Sociologist Wendy Griswold correctly equates the importance of the political, social, and cultural context in connecting the theater of any era with the other corners of her “cultural diamond”: author, text, and audience.¹ Russian drama in this era...

    • 6 Playing the Provinces
      (pp. 221-280)

      “Provincial drama theater,” wrote one of the sterling historians of the Russian stage, “reflected more clearly than the other arts the characteristic features of the inner spirit of society.” And, she reminds us, the provinces, plus the two little dots St. Petersburg and Moscow,areRussia.¹ Was she arguing that, in order to get the biggest gulp of cultural understanding of serf-era Russia, one must desert the capitals and move into Gogol’s and Saltykov-Shchedrin’s stinking marshes of corruption; to realms that possessed, travelers warn us, no charm, no society, no intellectual life; regions that historians often call simply the periphery?...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
  8. Part IV. Pictures at an Exhibition

    • 7 Academic Vistas
      (pp. 283-319)

      During the eighteenth-century shift from religious to secular art in Russia, European painting, with its canons, conventions, and hierarchy of genres, took up permanent abode in the Russian Empire. By mid-eighteenth century, a buzzing community of foreign and native artists of every sort catered to the symbolic needs of the state and of moneyed patrons. Eventually an energizing center of this activity arose as the Imperial Academy of Arts—both a training ground for an idealized realm of art, and the principal arbiter of taste.¹ When the gradual turn to naturalism or realism began, it involved and was partly shaped...

    • 8 Exploring the Interior
      (pp. 320-380)

      Russian artists of the early and mid-nineteenth century set out on voyages of discovery: of their country’s interior landscape; of theintérieuror domestic dwelling space of diverse social classes; of the “inner city” beyond the majestic squares of the capitals; and sometimes even of their own internal selves and those of their artistic subjects. The term “discovery” might well be replaced by “revelation” or “reinvention,” since some artists were driven by various motives; and since they idealized what they “discovered” as did their predecessors, though in a new way.¹ No dramatic break with academia can explain the outward journey...

  9. Part V. Finale and Overture

    • 9 When Did the Real Day Dawn?
      (pp. 383-426)

      A relatively unnoticed but illuminating event of 1858 brings us full circle back to the hardship story of a serf musician and puts it in a new frame. The serf owner P. K. Vonlyarlyarsky of Smolensk Province, it will be recalled (chapter 2), had refused stubbornly to free his cellist and violinist. The enserfed cellist, Vikenty Meshkov, appeared as soloist in a Moscow society concert in which a count, a prince, and several other nobles performed. The attentive elite audience received him cordially. The talent exhibited by the remarkable artist impressed a reporter for theRussian Herald,all the more...

  10. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 427-430)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 431-500)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 501-548)
  13. Index
    (pp. 549-586)