Therefore, Rimsky-Korsakov’s music is not altogether European music, but it is music to which a ballet could be choreographed, as is the case with so much of the music of Tchaikovsky (May 7, 1840 – November 6, 1893). Composers were then setting music to ballets based on fairy tales and other tales. Russia is the birthplace of an enormous number of tales and in the nineteenth century, both folklore and orientalism were fashionable. (See Orientalism and Japonism.)
The Arabian Nights reached Western and Eastern Europe in the eighteenth century. They did not replace Charles Perrault‘s (12 January 1628 – 16 May 1703) Contes de ma mère l’Oye FR (Tales of Mother Goose) published in 1697, but enriched the répertoire of stories that could be set to music. Orientalism was not knew to Europe, east and west. The Orient helped shape the European imagination from the time of the Crusades, if not long before. For instance, Italian-language countries had been exposed to the travel accounts and tales of Marco Polo(c. 1254 – January 9, 1324), written as Il Milione.
The narrative is a gem. Scheherazade (Persian transliteration Šahrzâd) was a Persian Queen and the storyteller of the One Thousand and One Nights(Scheherazade in Wikipedia). Rimsky-Korsakov’s simply loved the story of Scheherazade. It had an oriental flavour, a flavour the “Mighty Handful,” the Five, wished to impart to the music of Russia. The music of Russia could not be altogether Western European. Russia stretches all the way to the Far East. Léo Bakst produced sets and costumes that constituted a brilliant dépaysement, or change of scenery.
The Story of Scheherazade
As the story goes, King Shahryar, whose wife has been unfaithful to him, vows to marry a virgin every day and have her beheaded the next day. When he meets Scheherazade, a thousand wives have already been beheaded.
So our clever Scheherazade collects an enormous number of stories. In Sir Richard Burton‘s (19 March 1821 – 20 October 1890) translation of The Nights we are also told that Scheherazade “had perused the works of the poets and knew them by heart; she had studied philosophy and the sciences, arts and accomplishments; and she was pleasant and polite, wise and witty, well read and well bred.” (quoted in Scheherazade, Wikipedia)
Scheherazade is therefore well prepared to entertain the King by telling him stories. Much against the will of her father, she volunteers to spend one night with the King. However, after the marriage is consumated, Scheherazade asks to be allowed to bid her sister Dinazade farewell.
Dinazade’s role is to ask her sister to tell the King a story. The first night Scheherazade tells her story, but does not finish it in the hope that the King will want to hear the remainder the following night. The second night, Scheherazade not only finishes her first story, but she begins to tell another story which, again, she does not finish so the King will keep her alive. This goes on and on. Never has such a tribute been paid to storytelling, the art of the raconteur. That would be one of my conclusions.
In all, Scheherazade tells the King a thousand and one stories over a thousand nights and then says that she has no more stories to tell. But all is well that ends well. King Shahryar has fallen in love with his storyteller and during the thousand nights, he has also fathered three children. In other words, he is no longer bitter and vindictive and makes Sheherazade his Queen.
So now we know how powerful good storytelling can be. The effectiveness of the good raconteur has been confirmed. Therefore, to be a successful writer, it may be useful to write a page-turner and, if at possible, give it rhythm and powerful imagery. And it may go a good idea to tell it to music and, in the case of stories based on Scheherazade, burn incense: synesthesia, summoning every sense.
I must close leaving details behind, but we have nevertheless looked at riveting storytelling and the magic of the trivialized “song and dance.” Ballet is not your ordinary “song and dance,” it is a great art form originating in Italy, France and Russia. But that is another story.
Alexei Savrasov (24 May 1830 – 8 October 1897) is a Russian landscape painter, who created the lyrical landscape. Lyricism is also a characteristic of the music of “the Five (composers).” Very loud phrases may be followed by soft melodious passages.
Lyrical landscapes do not offer extreme contrasts. Lyricism dominates the painting placed at the top of this post. For instance, Savrasov’s palette consists of variations on related colours. The pale green foliage near the houses in the background suggests the beginning of a gentler season. Savrasov is a realist painter. He depicts nature, but nature softened and warmed. The presence of rooves in the background and smoke coming out of chimneys. Humans are an integral part of nature, but require a house to keep warm and comfortable.
The composition this painting is exquisite. Tall but unadorned trees are the main centre of interest, a focal point, but the painting is otherwise articulated. Savrasov uses the golden ratio.
The Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture
[O.S. 24 July]: O. S. means Old Style. There is a discrepancy of twelve days between the Julian Calendar and the Gregorian calendar, introduced in 1582. For instance, according to the Gregorian Calendar, Christmas occurs on the 25th of December, the date closest to the longest night, but in the Eastern Church the Nativity is celebrated on January 6th, twelve days later. On that day, the Western Church celebrates the rapidly disappearing Epiphany. So, when you see O. S., add twelve days to switch from the old style to the new style.
In my last blog, I noted the existence of a site containing Russian and Canadian art. I have since been exploring Russian Art. I have discovered a picture of rafts of wood in rivers. Does this mean there were Russian draveurs as in Félix-Antoine Savard‘sMenaud, Maître-Draveur, men who risked their lives driving rafts or cages of wood down rivers, like the Canadian raftsmen?
As for the Barge Haulers of the Volga, to a certain extent, they resemble the Canadiens voyageurs who were at times spared a painful portage by standing on the two sides of a waterway hauling canoes. But the boats the Volga River boatmen pulled were extremely heavy.
I have also seen villages and towns that are quite similar to Canadian and particularly Quebec villages and towns. A church stands at the centre, above other buildings, except that the pointed clochers (steeples) of Quebec villages are onion domes or steeples in Russia or pear-shaped domes, in the Ukraine. But these domes, sometimes swirly in shape, are also found in other countries, Bavaria for instance, and on various buildings, including the Vatican, the
The fall chapters of Trente Arpents start with he a praise of life on one’s thirty acres. It is a “un chemin paisible et long,” (a lengthy and peaceful road) despite various difficulties: storms, winter.
là-dessous, toujours, la terre constante, éternellement virginale et chaque année maternelle. (p. 149)
(And underneath, the soil forever faithful, eternally new and each year maternal.)
The land has a persistent face: “un visage (a face) persistant,” (p. 149), but as he praises the land’s persistence and fertility, Euchariste is confronted with a series of unfortunate events, some of which he has helped create…
Oguinase becomes a priest, but he does not live in a lovely parish and he works too hard. When Euchariste visits him, he is coughing and weak. He will soon die of tuberculosis. During Oguinase’s last visit home, he tells his sister Lucinda that she should not be sleeveless in the presence of an ordained priest. She feels offended and is not seen again.
Euchariste had hoped his son Éphrem would settle of his own thirty acres. There is money at the notary to buy “la terre des Picard,” the Picard’s farm. Euchariste has even thought of a possible bride. There is no room for him on Euchariste’s thirty acres. The land cannot accommodate several sons. Yet Éphrem is not ready to become a farmer.
C’est vrai que not’ terre elle est bonne, mais elle n’est pas ben grande! (p. 163)
Éphrem eventually decides to leave for the United States. His uncle, Alphée Larivière (Walter Rivers), who visited during the summer, has found work for him in Lowell, Massachusetts. Later, Éphrem marries an Irish woman and moves to White Falls.
Phydime Raymond vs Euchariste Moisan
Oguinase dies, which saddens Euchariste immensely, and he then gets embroiled in an expensive legal battle with his neighbour Phydime Raymond. Decades ago, Euchariste sold a small piece of his thirty acres to Phydime, but Phydime is now taking more land that he bought.
Étienne: “le seul maître”
Matters do not improve. Having been burdened with legal fees Eucharist never thought would be astronomical, misfortune does not relent. One night Eucharist’s barn burns to the ground and he suspects that Phydime set fire to it. There are losses but the farm animals are safe. They had been removed immediately and a new barn is built. However, it is not built according to Euchariste’s wishes; it is built according to Étienne’s standards. Étienne loves the land. Each year, it grows more and more into “a spouse and a lover:”
épouse et maîtresse, sa suzeraine [like a feudal lord] et sa servante, à lui Étienne Moisan. p. 165
Napoléon or Pitou: the arrangement
An arrangement is made. Étienne will run the farm with Napoléon, called Pitou. A new house will be built for Pitou and his family. All is arranged, except that Euchariste is in the way. Given his sons’s plans, it would now be convenient for him to live elsewhere. However, the notary leaves town taking with him Euchariste’s savings. He is dispossessed.
When the winter of his life begins, an impoverished Euchariste gives his land and his possessions to Étienne. In exchange, he will receive an allowance, a rente. But he is nevertheless again dispossessed, “land and beasts, gains and debts.” He is blinded by tradition: from father to son.
Il se ‘donna’, terre et bestiaux, avoir et dettes. (p. 219-20)
Euchariste has therefore lost his home. Étienne is now the only master: “seul maître.” (p. 220) He has already moved into the large house, which he hopes his father will soon leave. After all, Étienne is the new owner.
The Holiday in the United States: The “Exode”
Euchariste is therefore sent on a “holiday” to the United States to visit Éphrem who works in a factory and lives in White Falls. Euchariste is completely disoriented. Moreover, his daughter-in-law does not speak French, nor do his two grandchildren. Not once does his daughter-in-law express pleasure at his being in their household. In fact, Sunday mass becomes Euchariste’s only respite.
Sundays: the only day
Sunday is the only day Euchariste meets a few persons who do not feel at home in the United States. It has been a long and disappointing holiday, all the more since Étienne has not been sending the monthly allowance, la rente, he had promised he would give his father in return for ownership of Euchariste’s lost thirty acres.
The Great Depression: Euchariste returns to work
Going home has therefore become difficult. In fact, Euchariste has no home and, suddenly, the market crashes and he is “needed” in the United States. The factory where Éphrem has been working for six years is letting people go or making them work on a part-time basis.
Euchariste returns to work. He is a night watchman in a garage. He fears falling asleep and lacking vigilance. He doesn’t want to be remiss in his duties.
At the end of the novel; Euchariste is depicted as a very frail old man huddling near a little stove in the garage where he works.
Yet, although it is sad, the end is also poetical. Ringuet takes us away from the plight of one man to the plight and joy of mankind, or from the particular to the general. He writes that every year spring returns and that, every year, the land is generous. The land is always the same, toujours la même, not to the same men, men pass, but to different men.
Nicolas Pellerin et les Grands Hurleurs / La Lurette en colère
After the Breakup Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté National Gallery of Canada
Sans l’homme la terre n’est point féconde c’est ce besoin qu’elle de lui qui le lie à la terre, qui le fait prisonnier de trente arpents de glèbe. (p. 65)
(Without man the land is not fertile. It is because it needs man that man is tied to the soil, that he is the prisoner of thirty acres of land.)
Trente Arpents (Thirty Acres)[i]
Trente Arpents is considered the last of the regionalist novels. It is a gem of a novel and won its author, Ringuet, considerable acclaim. Ringuet is a pseudonym for Dr Phillippe Panneton (30 April 1895 [Trois-Rivières] – 28 December 1960 [Lisbon]), a medical doctor who went on to write more novels and became a diplomat.
However, among his other novels, none is so moving as the story of the rise and fall of Euchariste Moisan who is wedded to the trente arpents he has inherited from his uncle Éphrem. L’oncle Éphrem and his wife never had children, but they brought Euchariste whose entire family perished in a fire when he was still a tiny child.
At the very beginning of the novel not only does Euchariste learn that he will inherit his uncle’s land, but arrangements are being made for Euchariste to marry a neighbour’s daughter who will dutifully have “son nombre,” or the number of children she is destined to bear, as though her numerous and draining pregnancies had nothing to do with sexual intercourse.
Soon after Éphrem tells Euchariste that when he dies Eurcharist will inherit the thirty acres. Éphrem dies and Euchariste finds himself the owner of the thirty acres land the habitants of New France, rented from their SEIGNEUR. Because Éphrem dies, Euchariste and Alphonsine may marry a little earlier than anticipated and occupy the large room: “la grande chambre” The household also includes “la vieille Mélie,” an unmarried elderly woman who simply arrived at Éphrem’s door and never left. Mélie helps Alphonsine until she is very old and dies almost imperceptibly in her chair. As for Alphonsine, she gives birth first to a son, Oguinase, then a daughter who dies shortly after the birth of the couple’s third child.
Il [Euchariste] les accueillait ces naissances, sans plaisir comme aussi sans regret…. Il fallait qu’Alphonsine eût ‘son nombre’. (p. 67)
(He welcomed these births, without pleasure, yet without regret. Alphonsine simply had to have ‘her number’.)
In the second part of the novel, appropriately divided into the four seasons, Euchariste is more of an owner than a farmer. Tilling the land and looking after the farm animals is onerous. Despite years of draught, Eucharist prospers. He puts money in the notary’s safe regularly. As for Alphonsine, she is raising her children and still “féconde” (fertile).
At this point, Éphrem is asked to see the curé, the parish priest. Oguinase is old enough and sufficiently gifted to be recruited for the priesthood by the curé. He will not have to pay tuition fees.
So Oguinase leaves for the petit séminaire, the private school, now abolished, that allowed graduates to enter the priesthood, le grand séminaire, or university (law or medicine). Euchariste talks about his projects. On their way home, they visit a cousin living in a village. The house is more humble than Euchariste had expected. Euchariste talks about his projects: raising hens. Two events now mark the year: Oguinase’s departure for the college and his return.
Euchariste hopes his son Éphrem will help him more and more, but Éphrem is growing into rebel. Moreover, the world is changing. Machines are being used by farmers, machines that can cut fingers off, and cars that kill Euchariste’s hens. The parist has grown to such an extent that a new parish is founded. All around him, Euchariste’s world is changing and his new circumstances cause him to stiffen.
Moreover, it seems Alphonsine is again pregnant, but she feels that something is amiss. She sees her reflection in a mirror and the woman looking at her is no longer Alphonsine. In the mirror she sees an old and sick woman. A doctor is called who tells her to stay in bed, her death-bed.
There have been good years and years of draught, but Euchariste saves his money. Oguinase is sent to the petit séminaire. On their way to the séminaire, Euchariste stops in a village to visit with a cousin and says he will be raising hens. Machines, cars, enter the picture and they are very destructive. Machines, cars, enter the picture and they are very destructive. Euchariste will be raising hens. Éphrem turns into a bit of a rebel. Alphonsine dies. An American cousin and his wife visit. We suspect Éphrem will leave for the United States.
(Allow me to pause at this point as this blog is now too long. I will publish a sequel.)
[i] Ringuet, Trente Arpents (Paris: Flammarion, collection bis 1991)
Winter Landscape by Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, 1919 (National Gallery of Canada)
The above picture, a pochoir by George Barbier, shows Mikhail Fokin‘s (23 April 1880 – 22 August 1942) choreography of Schéhérazade, danced to music by Mily Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakoff, and starring Nijinsky.On 12 July 2012, I published a post on Sergei Diaghilev‘s Ballets Russes, an immensely successful corps de ballet or ballet company, founded in 1909, whose artistic director was Léon Bakst.
Among its stars, Vaslav Nijinsky was probably the finest. Nijinsky had acquired skills few male ballet dancers had attained, such as dancing en pointe, on his toes. However, Nijinsky’s career was very short. It was interrupted by a mental illness, schizophrenia, that manifested itself when he was at the height of his career, in 1916, approximately. He died in London, in 1950.
Vaslav Nijinsky was bornWacław Niżyński, in 1889 or 1890 in Kiev, the Ukraine. His parents were Polish and he was baptised in Warsaw. In fact, he considered himself a Pole. Yet, he was born and grew up in Imperial Russia (before the 1917 revolution) and therefore spoke Russian more fluently than Polish. But the soul has its laws. He was a Pole.
It is at this stage that Nikinsky met Sergei Diaghilev, an impressario who brought Russian art and ballet to the attention of little less than the whole world. Diaghilev and Nijinsky had an affair, yet Nijinsky married Hungarian countess Romola de Pulszky when the Ballets Russes were touring in Latin America. On his return from Latin America, Diaghilev flew into a rage and fired Nijinsky.
Scandal in Paris
Nijinsky may well have been the most celebrated ballet dancer of his time, but after being dismissed by Diaghilev and working as choreographer and ballet dancer, he scandalized the normally broad-minded le tout Paris. He did so by showing his character miming masturbation with the scarf of a nymph. Explicit sexuality was a little much even for a Paris audience. Nijinsky had danced to Claude Debussy‘s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. Nijinsky also enjoyed wearing revealing costumes, which was and remains acceptable.
Music and Ballet
Nijinsky and other choreographers danced to music and, in the case of Debussy, contemporary music. Nijinsky also danced to the music of Igor Stravinsky (17 June 1882 – 6 April 1971). In fact, impresarioSergei Diaghilev commissioned three works of music for his Ballets Russes: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913). Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring changed music forever and so did, in ballet, Nijinsky’s use of angular movements. He was a modernist, a visionary.
As for Nijinsky, he was treated, unsuccessfully, by psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler. He spent the rest of his life in and out of hospitals and asylums and, as mentioned above, died in London, in 1950. His body was later moved to a Paris cemetery, in Montmartre. He had one daughter, Kyra, who married Ukrainian conductor Igor Markevitch. They had a son but the marriage did not last. Nijinsky’s continued fame, despite an abruptly and tragically shortened career, constitutes an eloquent tribute as to his exceptional talent.
George Barbier (1882 – 1932), an immensely talented and prolific illustrator, produced extraordinary pictures of Nijinsky. These prompted me to write this post. Barbier also illustrated books and worked as a fashion illustrator, which can be discussed in a later post. The Tamara shown in the video is Tamara Karsavina (10 March 1885 – 26 May 1978).
As mentioned above, Johnny Mercer (18 November 1909 – 25 June 1976) wrote the lyrics to Moon River. His hometown, near Savannah, Georgia was named Moon River in honor of him and this song. But Mercer moved to New York in 1928. He wrote the lyrics for approximately fifteen hundred songs.
Setting Words to Music in History
Students of musicology know that setting lyrics to a melody is an extremely difficult task. Think of all the Masses, the numerous versions of the Kyrie, Agnus Dei, Ave Maria, etc. In fact, liturgical music is art. Moreover, think of Operas. Mozart set to music the words of Lorenzo da Ponte, his librettist. They worked marvels together. The same kind of relationship may have existed between Henry Mancini or Enrico Nicola “Henry” Mancini (16 April 1924 – 14 June 1994) and Johnny Mercer. In short, we have librettists (Operas), and lyricists (songs), etc.
I have read somewhere that so-called “programmatic music” had died. Has it? What about film music? To my knowledge, the term “programmatic” was coined by Franz Liszt who distributed to the audience the program or story of Hector Berlioz‘s Symphonie fantastique (1830), the day it premièred. Programmatic music is referential music as opposed to “absolute music,” which is non referential music. A mere title, such as Lullaby, suffices to make a piece of music reverential. As a result, Beethoven‘s Ninth Symphony (1823) is programmatic music. Its Choral movement, the fourth, is a setting of Friedrich Schiller‘s “Ode to Joy,” An die Freude, written in 1785 and revised in 1803. An die Freude is now theAnthem of Europe.
Remembering “Moon River”
The version of Moon River I am featuring is performed by Andy Williams. Moon River is an American song that crossed many borders and has been interpreted by many singers. It is etched in the mind and the heart of millions of people. My WordPress colleague CollTales brought it back to my memory.
P. S. I may not be able to send links to the News anymore. I see the word “remove” next to the sites I am using. I must investigate.