Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Dear Dmitri

My mum has a lot to do with my passion for Russia. When I was 9, she took me and my sister on the Trans-Siberian, from Beijing to Paris via Moscow, and I was dazzled by the beauty of the Baikhal Lake, the kindness of Russian people to us kids, and the local little girls' bows in their hair... When I was 12, mum gave me a copy of Anna Karenina... A few years later, she allowed me to discover Dmitri Shostakovich's extraordinary, humorous yet harrowing string quartets. I took a keen interest in Shostakovitch: his chamber music especially, but also his life.
He was both celebrated by the Soviet regime as a national treasure, but, as a forward-thinking composer, he also lived in fear for instance when Stalin banned some of his works, like the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District - a masterpiece. I am enthralled by Solomon Volkov's Shostakovich and Stalin, a fab book with a great cover, which retraces this most unique relationship between a ruthless dictator and a musical genius.
Ironically, Stalin wanted to be a poet in his youth, when he published lyrical poems in his native Georgia. This is one of the many little-known facts I learnt in Simon Montefiore's fascinating Young Stalin. He went on to persecute many of the artists pictured hereunder, such as the great poet Ossip Mandelstam and one of my favorite writers, Mikhail Bulgakov.



If you're new to Shostakovich's music, you can start with the luminous Piano Quintet or merely the Piano Trio's dancing Allegretto, then move on to the lyrical, haunting String Quartets 7 and 8. iTunes offers great deals on some excellent recordings.

21 comments:

diana said...

I share your love for Russia.

Gabbi said...

I so admire your passion for reading dear Mary-Laure, you're lovely posts are inspiring! xoxo

Gabbi said...

heehe... 'your lovely posts'. See, I need to read more!

Anonymous said...

Does it mention the Pope? Or my Grandma?

Anonymous said...

very interesting post indeed!
nancy

Mary-Laure said...

DIANA - I'd love to hear more about what you love about Russia!

ANONYMOUS - actually, the book mentions The Troika Of The Geyser of Hatred, aka your dead grandpa, the Pope and Stalin.

The Seeker said...

Curious post and interesting.

xoxo

Christina said...

This is wonderful. It's always good to hear about how travel has fueled, passion. : )

A World in a PAN said...

I am glad I participated in your exploration of such a grandiose culture.

Mary-Laure said...

WORLD IN A PAN - yes, you opened my eyes to so many culture! Thank you.

d. moll, l.ac. said...

When I was 10 there was a marathon reading of War and Peace on KPFA, my parents wanted the whole thing on tape and made me listen to it and read tread along to be sure that all the bits were captured. Quite an introduction to Ruassian lit. Would have loved the transSiberian (I think), I did get to take the the train from Leningrad (formerly and currently known as Petersburg to Moscow, that was something......

aurum said...

Our country are neighbours with Russia. It's beautiful indeed.

Spangler Cummings said...

Shostakovich? Shostakovich?

Mary-Laure said...

D. MOLL - thank you so much for sharing those memories. I would so LOVE to ride the train between Moscow and Saint Petersburg!
Any sightings of Russian bunnies???

SPANGLER - yes, Shostakovich. This Russian composer, who died in 1976, is one of my all-time favorites. Give it a try!
(Now I know what to get you next time I want to get you a present, he he he...)

andrea tachezy said...

It is a pitty, that my relation to Russia is stigmatised - I grew out in the communistic period in the Czech republic.

Mary-Laure said...

ANDREA - I really understand what you mean, and I hope you were not hurt by my post. The Czechs have suffered a lot. My love is for the Russian culture, not what the Russian government and military do around the world. Things such as the situation in Chechnya today are disgraceful.
And by the way, I visited Prague once and loved it. I really admire the Czech culture, especially composers such as the WONDERFUL Janacek!

Agnes Deer said...

That trip you did at age 9 sounds like a life-lasting memory! So amazing you mom tooks you gilrs on that trip :) I share your love for Russia. Ever since I read Anna Karenina about a year ago I've been kind of obsesse with the country. By the way, my cat is called Lana and I've got another one called Mina which is two months older and appears in an older post. :)

Mary-Laure said...

AGNES - and it so happens that Lara is the name of another Russian heroine, the woman in Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago...
I hope to see more pics of Lara and Mina on your blog.

michiko said...

I LOVE Shostakovich too. And that looks like such a fab book.

Mary-Laure said...

MICHIKO - it's such a wonderful surprise that you love my dear Dmitri too! I wonder what your favorite pieces by him are.

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