James Fenton on Mandelstam’s Dante

“The poet’s widow describes how, at a point when Mandelstam refers to Dante’s need to lean on authority, she refused to write his words down, thinking that he meant the authority of rulers, and that he condoned Dante’s acceptance of their favours. ‘The word had no other meaning for us,’ she says, ‘and being heartily sick of such authorities, I wanted no others of any kind.’ ‘Haven’t you had enough of such authorities?’ I yelled at him, sitting in front of a blank, grey-coloured sheet of paper, my hands defiantly on my knees. ‘Do you still want more?'”

“Mandelstam was furious with her for getting above herself. She was angry back, and told him to find another wife. But in due course she did what the circumstances required during the Stalinist persecution: she learnt the essay by heart, in order to ensure its survival. It wasn’t printed until three decades later, in 1967, when an edition of 25,000 copies appeared in Moscow and quickly sold out – the first of Mandelstam’s works to appear after the thaw.

“The argument about authority warns us to read Mandelstam’s essay not only for what it tells us about Dante but also as a reflection on our own times, and Mandelstam’s. [. . .]”   –James Fenton, The Guardian, 2005

See full article here.

In Dante Veritas, Vasily Klyukin

In Dante Veritas is a large scale, immersive multimedia exhibition by Russian sculptor Vasily Klyukin. It represents a narrative that recreates the nine circles of hell, and includes over 100 multimedia elements, such as sculpture, installation, digital art, audio and light boxes. The exhibitions includes sculptural works, most of which represent negative human traits such as Anger, Gluttony and Betrayal.

“The most prominent sculptural pieces are the Four Horsemen of the Modern Apocalypse. The artist has translated the traditional Horsemen (plague, war, hunger and death) into a modern day version: Overpopulation, Misinformation, Extermination and Pollution.

[. . .]

“The immersive exhibition encourages visitors to examine the sculptures with an audio guide narrated in the style of Dante’s poems. The sculptures of human sins also portray the punishment that comes with the sin. For instance, Gluttony is incredibly obese and Temptation has no limbs.

“The exhibition also includes a ‘prison’ room, further embodying the topic of sin. Famous criminals such as Stalin, Pablo Escobar and Bokassa are imprisoned here. The prison has a dungeon room – Betrayal – which represents Hell. Visitors are encouraged to leave notes on the wall, allowing them to name people who have betrayed them, or to write a message of forgiveness.

“The exhibition ends on a positive note. The Heart of Hope is a large sculpture of a heart at the centre of the exhibition, which was also displayed at the Burning Man festival in 2017. It symbolises the ability to stop all the negative traits and sins. Visitors are given a bracelet which transmits a signal to the statue, which then beats in the rhythm of the bracelet wearer’s heartbeat.”    —Elucid Magazine

How to Parent Like a Bolshevik

[…] “The Bolsheviks, secure in their economic determinism, assumed that the outside world would join them as a matter of course, and embraced non-Communist art and literature as both prologue and accompaniment to their own. Even at the height of fear and suspicion, when anyone connected to the outside world might be subject to sacrificial murder, Soviet readers were expected to learn from Dante, Shakespeare and Cervantes.” […]    —October 30, 2017

Sculpture of Dante by Stefan Mokrousov-Guglielmi at the Museo di Casa di Dante, Florence (2016)

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Contributed by Adam Glynn (Bowdoin, ’17)

Censorship and Betrayal in Russia

Russian ArtistsRachel Donadio‘s article for The New York Times, “Russian Artists Face a Choice: Censor Themselves, or Else,” discusses the difference between legislation and enforcement of censorship in contemporary Russian theater.

“Russia has a thriving theater scene and a constitution that bans top-down, Soviet-style censorship. But in a time of economic turmoil and growing nationalism, with society polarized in unpredictable and emotional ways over the new laws and the war in Ukraine, cultural figures say the message from the government is clear: Fall in line with the emphasis on family and religious values, or lose funding, or worse.

“‘It’s about betrayal — those who betray are put in the Ninth Circle of Hell, like in Dante,’ Kirill Serebrennikov, a prominent theater and film director and the director of the Gogol Center, a cornerstone of Moscow’s theater scene, said in a recent interview here. The result, he said, was to put writers and directors ‘between Scylla and Charybdis — between censorship or self-censorship.'”    —The New York Times

Read the entire article here.

Ismail Kadare’s Twilight of the Eastern Gods

twilight-eastern-gods-ismail-kadare

“[…] “Twilight of the Eastern Gods was published in parts in Albania between 1962 and 1978, translated into French by Jusuf Vrioni in 1981, and only now appears in English, in David Bellos’s translation of Vrioni’s French. In his introduction Bellos assures us of the factuality of Kadare’s account of the Pasternak affair, and says that many of the faculty and students at the Gorky Institute are called by their real names, but reports that Kadare’s wife’s study of his early correspondence has shown that other elements of the book, such as the narrator’s romance with a young Moscovite called Lida Snegina, are entirely fictional.”

[…]

“Here’s the way the narrator describes the Gorky Institute dormitory to Lida: ‘First floor: that’s where the first-year students stay; they’ve not yet committed many literary sins. Second floor: critics, conformist playwrights, whitewashers. Third . . . circle: dogmatics . . . and Russian nationalists. Fourth circle: women, liberals and people disenchanted with socialism. Fifth circle: slanderers and snitches. Sixth circle: denaturalized writers who have abandoned their own language to write in Russian.’  I’m not sure if I’d rank him with Dante, but I intend to keep laying an annual £20 bet on Kadare for as long as he lives.”

–Christian Lorentzen, The New York Times, November 26, 2014

Boris Tischenko: Dante Symphony No. 4

boris-tischenkos-dante-symphony-no-4“The musical style and composing manner of Boris Tishchenko (1939 – 2010) shows him to be a typical representative of the Leningrad composers’ school. He was very much influenced by music of his teachers Dmitri Shostakovich and Galina Ustvolskaya, turning these influences in his own way. He tried to use some experimental and modernist ideas like twelve-tone or aleatoric techniques, but was much more attached to the native traditions of his homeland. He was honored by Shostakovich’s orchestration of his First Cello Concerto, and repaid his master by the orchestration, editing and transcription of a few scores by Shostakovich.”    —Avaxhome

Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, San Francisco Ballet (2012-2013)

FrancescaSFBallet

During their 2012 and 2013 seasons, San Francisco Ballet choreographed a ballet to Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, a symphonic poem setting to music the tragic story of the adulterous lover the pilgrim meets in Inferno V. Possokhov’s choreography also incorporates elements from Rodin’s sculptural groups inspired by Dante’s Comedy.

From the program notes: “The story of Francesca da Rimini, immortalized in Dante Alighieri’s epic poem The Divine Comedy, has a long and varied pedigree in the art world. The snippet of history has
made its way from literature to opera to symphonic fantasia to ballet—and now to San Francisco Ballet, in the creative hands of Choreographer in Residence Yuri Possokhov. For someone like Possokhov, with a tendency to lean toward the dramatic, who better than Dante for the story, or Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the composer of so many beloved ballets, for the music? Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, a 25-minute symphonic poem, attracted Possokhov years ago. He describes it as the most romantic music in history, with an ending ‘like an apocalypse.'”    —SF Ballet

Contributed by Elizabeth Coggeshall

Vladimir Kobekin, “Hamlet of the Danes, Russian Comedy” (2009)

hamlet-of-the-danes-russian-comedy“…Mr. Kobekin’s Hamlet of the Danes, Russian Comedy, is hardly a comedy, except perhaps — as the composer observed — as the word was used by the likes of Dante. Nor, apart from language, is it notably Russian. It is a brash re-telling of Shakespeare’s play in contemporary words” [. . .]    –George Loomis, “Moscow’s Second Stage Revels in the Homegrown,” The New York Times, November 17, 2009

Vladimir Martynov, “Vita Nuova” Opera

vladimir-martynov-vita-nuova-opera “Next season, Mr. Jurowski will return to Lincoln Center with the London Philharmonic, bearing Mozart, Mahler, Strauss, a full evening of Rachmaninoff and the American premiere of Vladimir Martynov’s opera Vita Nuova, after Dante’s neo-Platonic treatise on love in verse and prose.”    –Matthew Gurewitsch, New York Times, January 27, 2008 (retrieved January 27, 2008)

See also: “Love Poems With Musical Annotation” by Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, March 1, 2009