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Turn of the 20th Century RussiaRequest for recommended reading


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#1 innopac

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 06:37 PM

Could someone recommend a couple of books about Russia at the turn of the 20th Century?

I would especially like to learn more about the structure of society, the life of the people and their social mores. It would be great if there is one that also discusses the place of ballet in society. I have tracked down Solomon Volkov's book, St. Petersburg: a cultural history which Bart mentioned in another thread. Any other suggestions would be gratefully received.

#2 rg

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 07:12 PM

wiley's book, as follows is a good mix of records of the period you're interested as well as that earlier:

A century of Russian ballet : documents and accounts, 1810-1910 / selected and translated by Roland John Wiley.
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1990.
x, 444 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. ; 24 cm.
Translated from the Russian.
"This book is ... based on a dozen printed ballet libretti"--Introd.
Includes bibliographical references and index.

Benois, Alexandre, 1870-1960.
Reminiscences of the Russian ballet. Translated by Mary Britnieva.
New York, Da Capo Press, 1977.
xiv, 414 p., [17] leaves of plates. illus. 23 cm.
Da Capo series in dance.
Translation of Vospominaniia o balete. Reprint of the 1941 ed. published by Putnam, London. Includes index.

Russian balletomania.
Dance index. New York. Mar 1948, p 43-71. illus, ports
Includes an extract from Nash balet by Aleksandr Pleshcheev.
Ballet--Russia to 1917.

also, tho' it deals w/ the musical world of imperial russia, tarushkin's book tells much about theater-going at the end of, and turn of, the 20th c., as follows:
Defining Russia Musically:
Historical and Hermeneutical Essays
by Richard Taruskin
ISBN 0691011567 / 9780691011561 / 0-691-01156-7
Publisher Princeton Univ Pr

#3 innopac

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 10:28 PM

Thank you very much rg.

Your post is much appreciated.

I will follow these up.

#4 rg

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Posted 13 January 2008 - 05:41 AM

this is another (longer?) version of Pleshcheev's commentary in english, as given in the new york public library for the performing arts' catalogue to its dance collection - chujoy is the translator:

Chujoy, Anatole, 1894-
Balletomania in imperial Russia. [Parts 1-3]
Ballet. London. pt 1, v 11 no 6, July 1951, p 18-20; pt 2, v 11 no 8, Sept 1951, p 32-34; pt 3, v 11 no 10, Nov 1951, p 27-31
Parts 2 and 3 reprinted from Dance index, March 1948.

#5 Paul Parish

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Posted 13 January 2008 - 08:53 AM

If you have time to add a personal memoir to your list, a book that gives a tremendously vivid sense of life at that time is Tamara Karsavina's Theatre Street: her point of view is limited by her station (she was a little girl, a student at the ballet school), but her mind is one of the finest -- her intelligence is first rate, she's amazingly observant and DEEPLY thoughtful, she listened to and was interested in everybody she ever met, including servants and dogs, and simple descriptons such as what it was like for her father to get to his little twice-a-week job teaching at an orphanage will give you a very clear sense of moving about through town.... And it's just wonderful reading.

#6 bart

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Posted 13 January 2008 - 11:30 AM

One of the criticisms one often hears about ballet history is that it is written in a kind of cognitive bubble. We learn lots about this ballet or that dancer, but very little about the events going on outisde the theater This is especially strange when it comes to the Imperial ballet system in the declinging days of the Romanov regime.

Many of the performers at the Maryinsky had an interest in -- and were much frustration by -- the state of Russian society at that time. They were among the dancers and other employees of the Imperial Ballet who formed workers' committees to participate in the early stages of the revolution. They believed that political liberalization, social justice, and artistic freedom depended on one another.

For context and background, an easily available series from Penguin includes 2 books by a Harvard professor, Richard Pipes: Russia Under the Old Regime and Concise History of the Russian Revolution. Pipes was born and raised in Poland in the interwar years, and his anti-Communism was intense. But he's fair on the failings of the Imperial system. He also shows that the Bolshevik Revolution contained many competing forces, liberating a great deal of creativity before succumbing to the totalitarian system we associate with Stalin.

For incredible detail about the ballet projects and the ballet wars in Russia in the early 20th century, I was fascinated by the early chapters of Richard Buckle's Diaghilev. For Balanchine's experience in the early Revolution: the long essay by Yuri Slonimsky in Francis Mason, ed., I Remember Balanchine: Recollections of the Ballet Master by Those Who Knew Him.

#7 innopac

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Posted 13 January 2008 - 07:30 PM

Thank you all -- I feel like a kid in a candy story -- lots to look forward to!

#8 Cygnet

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Posted 14 January 2008 - 12:27 PM

Smakov's "The Greatest Russian Dancers," Knopf Publishers (1984).

#9 vaganova

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Posted 16 January 2008 - 10:52 PM

Three interesting reads -

Land of the Firebird: the beauty of Old Russia
by Suzanne Massie (1980)

Era of the Russian Ballet 1770-1965
by Natalia Roslavlevna with a forward by Dame Ninette de Valois (1966)

Natasha's Dance
A cultural history of Russia
by Orlando Figes

#10 miliosr

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 07:04 PM

innopac -- you might consider Coryne Hall's biography of the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, Little Mother of Russia.

It's a "good read" and it gets at the time/place/events you allude to in your original post without being "academic". Marie Feodorovna married into the Russian Imperial family and she saw it all -- the assassination of her father-in-law (Alexander II) in 1881, the reactionary rule of her husband (Alexander III) from 1881-1894 and the disastrous revolutions of 1905 and 1917 under rule of her son Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra. For a work of popular biography, the book does a good job of imparting what life at the top was like and gives some flavor of how the contradictions in Russian society at that time -- economic modernization vs. political autocracy, Western vs. Eastern culture -- so stymied the Romanovs.

#11 leonid17

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Posted 22 January 2008 - 05:51 AM

Could someone recommend a couple of books about Russia at the turn of the 20th Century?

I would especially like to learn more about the structure of society, the life of the people and their social mores. It would be great if there is one that also discusses the place of ballet in society. I have tracked down Solomon Volkov's book, St. Petersburg: a cultural history which Bart mentioned in another thread. Any other suggestions would be gratefully received.


I would go along with all the recommendations but add the caveat that most books by and about dancers of the period in question, may not stand up to rigorous academic examination.

Many of these books were written not just to establish the prestige of the subject, but are often coloured by the need for rivalry to be exhibited in the telling that did not really exist simply to create a publishers dream version of events to enhance sales. Elsewhere biographers were sustaining their status as a critic or period observer of events and basking in reflected glory.

That does not mean you should not trust them as historic recollections as they add great colour to the period, but see them as a gateway to what to me at least was an extraordinary period full of fascinating personalities.

Putting ballet personalities into social context is not always easy without reading widely. For instance a certain number of St. Petersburg ballet dancers at the time of the period in question were able to mix with the higher strata's of society when many others of academic, wealth and sometimes breeding, were not.

#12 innopac

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 03:39 AM

Does anyone have an idea of what a rouble would buy at the turn of the century? What its value was at the time?

#13 Solnishka79

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 07:00 PM

Both Mathilde Kschessinska and Tamara Karsavina wrote autobiographies that have wonderful descriptions of the Imperial Theatre as well as society. (The names escape me at the moment) Also, "Alexandra" by Carolly Erickson. She is a marvelous biographer that focuses a lot on social history. "Natasha's Dance" (can't remember the author...sorry! Going by memory here) is also a great social history.


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