Leonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-Seydlitz.

Russia of yesterday and to-morrow online

. (page 12 of 17)
Online LibraryLeonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-SeydlitzRussia of yesterday and to-morrow → online text (page 12 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

who has lived in the United States for many years
and whose children were born in the country
would be too deeply rooted to go back to more
primitive and less comfortable conditions. The
Russian will go back. The mother has sung it
to her children, and the father has promised it.

Since the police were chased away from the
door-steps of Russia a vast wave of happiness has
flooded the hearts of the Russians in America.

The self-sufficiency of Russia will depend on
American support that is not political. It is


sure that Russia never could be ruled bv the same


forms of liberty that prevail in America or at
least not at the beginning; that will perhaps be
the final touch. Russia must find her own
pohcy, for Swiss, French, or American systems
are not applicable to her. Russia probably will
become a very democratic country with very
autocratic leaders, with the knout of justice,
which sometimes is more painful than the knout
of despotism. Justice is a great, a terrible word.
It means the enforcement of the laws, it is fright-
ful, because in Russia the laws have never been

What America can do is to teach young Russia
from her own experience in creating a new coun-
try. This makes America the only partner for
Russia. Russia, with her vastness of untouched
land, is like a new country; with her illiterates,
her Caucasians, Kirghize, Armenians, and other
peoples, she has her race problems like America,
which is dealing fairly and wisely with them. If
America's sanitary efficiency could only reach
Russia, it would awaken the people to the state of
human beings. And this might be the first, the
greatest, and most conscientious work to be done.



Russia and America have so much to give each
other of ethical, spiritual and practical values
that the alliance of which Russians dream and
which the Americans once declined must come





Dramatic productions have a greater influ-
ence on the Russians than on the people of other
nations. Russians live through what passes on
the stage; it even stirs the imagination danger-
ously, and the censor of old Russia had good
reason to be careful in scrutinizing new litera-

Both the simple Russian man and the Russian
woman of the world have the irresistible impulse
to represent on the stage what devours their
souls. It was a most impressive and unforget-
able performance that took place one day in the
waiting-room of a httle station. The train had
to stop on account of a heavy snow-storm, and
the conductor announced that there was no possi-
bihty of proceeding until the storm ended. The
waiting-room was filled with passengers of every
class. In one corner was the typical platform
before the icon of the Holy Mother, with pictures



of the czar and the czarina flanking it. Two
students, having the good idea of reheving the
tedium of waiting, sprang on the platform and
began to improvise dialogue. As they spoke and
acted they were suddenly interrupted by a young
woman, who took part as a third character in the
unexpected little play. Then in one corner,
lighted only by the little red flame under the icon,
a wonderful comedy was logically developed,
men and women understanding one another's
innermost feelings, entering and leaving the
scenes, and taking up their cues as if the play
had been written by a great dramatist and
rehearsed for weeks. They were all great artists,
those amateurs, because they had something to
express and because they had the natural gift for
expression. Even the inevitable pristav listened,
amused. When the dialogue became too free he
groaned ; but he was shaken by laughter the next
moment when one of the students directed his
words to a cat that had appeared on the stage at
just the right moment to catch a mouse. The
performance ended with the tingling of the
station bell which announced the starting of the



The Art Theater of Moscow started in much
the same way. Men and women of society
played as amateurs until they became so fas-
cinated by the spell, which grew from their
artistic ambitions, that they devoted souls and
bodies to the development of the great new art
with which Stanislawsky and his actors surprised
the world. It is not a Russian art for Russian
plays ; it is universal, and therefore is for every-
thing that has been written for the stage. And
here is the point. Nothing in the world ever has
been written that would not echo in a Russian
soul; no thought exists that has not been buried
in the colorful mind of a Russian, and it requires
little to resurrect such a thought, to make it live
in all the wonders of life.

The Russians were the first to act with realism,
to clear the stage of old traditions, to move and
to speak without the yard-high heels of false
pathos. They were the first to give the stage the
significance of its raison d'etre and to exert a
powerful artistic influence. In the simplicity
with which Stanislawsky's actors presented the
ideas of the writers was an eternal beauty that
revealed the most secret intentions — intentions



of which the poet dreamed and which he never
dared to express. With his art instincts Stanis-
lawsky enhghtened the remotest meaning of the
poet's fantasy and gave form to vague visions.
His artistic courage stimulated not only the
dramatic art of Russia, but of the whole world.
He was redeeming, because he was not experi-
menting. He was decided in his methods. He
did not hint timidly; he expressed unreservedl3\
With the firm brush of the great artist he put the
picture of life on the stage. Stanislawsky was a
conqueror. Everything paled beside the inflam-
ing world of his invention; everything was gray
beside the colors he dared to use; everything
seemed nmmmified beside the freshness of his ar-
tistic figures. Long before Russia was freed from
its enslavers it was freed in its art. For the
people it was promising and consoling that Stan-
islawsky was loved and cheered as a national

Great artistic instincts lie in the Russians.
They are sincere in their emotions; emotion is
the leading power of their lives. A Russian
expresses everything, and everything that he
expresses reflects his own soul. He writes only



when the impulse is so strong that it bursts for
an outlet, and then he pours forth the joys and
horrors of his soul, which is never timid, never
disguised in cowardly conventionality. Unafraid
and truthful, he revealed the terrible weaknesses
of his brothers. The Russian poets were for the
world the greatest hope. With sacred sincerity
they disclosed themselves ; never draping terrible
instincts with the pitiable wrapping of lies.
They described Russian barbarism, with its cor-
ruption in society and politics, and gave to the
world the most pessimistic view of its darkness
and impenetrability, leaving to the world judg-
ment and understanding of the holy beauty of
their self-sacrifice.

Stanislawsky showed to the czar in "Tsar
Fjedor," majestic cruelty, tortured humanity,
the chain of terrors, which significantly was left
open for the links of Fjedor's successors; and
whoever understood the deep intentions of this
interpretation knew that, with the last link of
mysticism, the chain would be closed around a
whole people. But like strong animals which
scent danger, the people collected their last forces
to burst open the rusted irons, and a whole nation



Author of "Sanin"


now advances, young, new, happy, and free.
Russian poets will hang the laurel on their tragic
Muse, which accompanied them wherever they
wandered and wherever they rested, in the midst
of the lowliest, in the midst of the highest.

Even the gaiety in Russia's dramatic art was
tragic, laughter under tears, smiles under curses.
The stage was always a mirror for the people.
They wrote and produced only what was their
own. They lashed their own conditions merci-
lessly, and in Russian literature are satires and
sarcasms incomprehensible to other nations.
Russians were interested in their own miseries,
their own hopes, in their own people, their own
country. Russian genius was so enlarging and
enlightening that other nations partook of its
grandeur. Tolstoy moved the whole world not
temporarily, but for eternity ; he preached a new
religion, the religion of humanity, and he was the
holy man of Jasnaja Pol j ana to whom Russians
made pilgrimage. Much was known in Amer-
ica of this poet prophet of the Russians, and more
is known of his philosophical and humanitarian
system since his eldest son Ilya Tolstoy came to
the United States to bring to the masses a deep


understanding of the influence with which Leo
Tolstoy anticipated the revolution. Yet Leo
Tolstoy's divine hopes of happiness for his
brethren were more of a biblical character, of the
fulfihnent of the prophecies of a millennium and
his great spirit might have suffered a thousand
wounds in seeing the Russians march through
death to their freedom. Gogol, simple, great
Gogol, was so utterly Russian, so strangely mod-
ern, that only Russians understood him; Gorky,
the poet who wrote his own life as it was, had the
courage not to disguise himself, but to show that
he was one of the people he dramatized. Every
country has its darkest part, which is all misery.
What made darkest Russia fascinating to the
world was that in the humblest burned a little
flame of wisdom, of longing.

Dostoyevsky, who made his readers suffer, who
made them shudder as no one else could, was a
pitiless surgeon not only for the Russians, but for
all mankind. It is so easy to be consoled with
the criticism that the Russian poets exaggerated,
that they only sunned their own misery, that Rus-
sian hearts and Russian ideals were torn to pieces,
and that it was never so with other nations.



People always will be consoled, always will think
that terrible truths belong to their neighbors, and
that they are exempt. So they read with a fever
of fascination the story of Russia as told by her
poets and dramatists. Having a superstition
for majesty and holiness, Russian poets have
never hesitated to disrobe their majesties and to
exhibit their poor nakedness first, and then to
make them grow vastly greater than weak mor-
tals, to make them immortal as martyrs of the
crown or of society.

What amazed the world was the fearlessness
of men who braved death in writing the truth.
It was a soul of wonder, this soul of the Russian
poet. Will it remain the same when suddenly
the Russians become happy and satisfied, when
everything that their poets ardently demanded
is received? Will Meretschowkowsky, will AI-
exandreieff, Ai'sinatschef and Kuprin, still for-
tunately living, answer in their new works ? The
pen which wrote the most terrible accusations
against a country, the pen which described great
horrors, which was dipped in blood, suddenly
halts at the miseries of yesterday, and trembles
over a white sheet of paper, after it has been



dipped in the blue ink of the happiness of to-

Still, there is a great curiosity in the world
to know more and more about the soul mechanism
of the Russians. The outside world does not un-
derstand that they have souls without any mech-
anism, without any conventionality, with the im-
pertinence of childhood, and with the frightened
consciousness that they may be punished for
what they are saying. The Russian who could
not read or write, and who knew nothing of
poetry and philosophy, was interested only in
himself. He listened to the melodies of his own
being, which laughed, cried, and silenced him.
The song in the Russian has triumphed over en-
slavement, persecution, and death. The Rus-
sian folk-lore shows the serene simplicity, the
original rhythm, of himself.

The Russian knows what a sky means when it
is blue. He has found hundreds of melodies for
this longing for a blue sky; he has found them
in the darkness of the long winter nights. He
adores flowers, the poor, rare blossoming of a few
weeks in the year. He looks on a flower as
Heaven's message, and he has many stanzas



ready for it when it unfolds its beauty for him.
He loves the sunshine; in the darkness of winter
days he promises it to his children. And he
worships his children, but he conceals this tender-
ness under a half-humorous, half -bear-like strict-
ness ; he will even slap a child or a woman so that
he may not show how profound his love is.

Russian music lives not only for the elect; it
belongs to all the people. It is the sincerity of
the music that makes all the world that is not
Russian vibrate to it without knowing why. It
is the music that other nations love and fear; it
is not the music to which they dance ; it is not the
music that the organ in the street plays.

Russians do not compose music with the sweat
of their brows ; they simply express themselves in
melodies instead of in words. The chained men
and women sang on their way to the icy solitudes
of Siberia, and these songs will become sacred
hymns in memory of their martyrdom. They
sang in the depths of Siberian mines when they
were permitted to sing, and their words often
contained their stories, so that they understood
one another even when they were forbidden to
talk. There is a frightening beauty in those



songs, i^ which the same melody returns again
and again, sometimes only four notes telling a
whole life story.

In the barbaric times of Peter the Great, when
the czar sat in the Kremlin with his trembling cour-
tiers, drinking, and making all around him drunk,
they sang and danced to thie hideous caricatures
of Russian melodies that Peter had had changed
into gallant songs, like those he had heard in
other parts of Europe. The spontaneous cry of
race pierced through minuet or gavot, but from
time to time Peter would listen to another song,
heard from the court below, where men of high-
est rank lay on their knees, their heads on a
block, singing to forget the sinister moment when
their souls would be sent into eternity. Listen-
ing, the czar would wave his hand to stop the
voices of his creatures about him, who ghost-like
stared out of the windows, feeling that their
own turn at the block would come sooner or

Peter could not see the faces of the condemned
while they sang, and he ordered that they be
turned toward the window. They continued sing-
ing with a superhuman power, so that the execu-



tioners paused, with swords in the air. Peter
became impatient. The song stirred his wild
blood, and he commanded his courtiers to descend
with him to the courtyard to make an end of the
singing traitors. Oh, those blood melodies!
They have found their way back to the songs of
the people, and they appear again and again in
Russian music, to which mankind often listens

Like every one else in the eighteenth century,
the Russian court patronized Italian music and
singers, whose melodies were smooth beside the
wild and melancholy Russian songs; French bal-
lets took the place of Russian national dances,
and Russian nobles were tamed to the minuet and
the gavot. An old instrument, the tympanon,
which had been invented for the artificial arias of
Louis XIV, was brought to Russia for the great
Catharine, and it was she, foreign born, whoi
reviewed the old Russian songs on this strange
kind of cvmbal.

Old Russian music, old songs of war and love,
have been collected and passionately interpreted
with the intensity that belongs only to the Rus-
sian musical soul by young Sasha Votitchenko,



whose cradle stood in Little Russia, where the
people sang happy songs. The old tympanon
was preserved in his family, and as a little boy
he listened to the enchanting tunes which
his father and grandfather found in the chords
of the primitive instrument. In the little
boy's mind arose the desire to find more and
more of those wonder-songs, which make peo-
ple dream, which ring wildly, and to which
Little Russia danced fiery dances. He went
out, a little tympanon under his arm, searching
for them, like a wandering musician, to find
the way into the hearts of the people, who would
sing for him and would give to him what they
were not willing to disclose to a stranger. But
Votitchenko, young, persevering, and passion-
ate, never saw obstacles. He found and col-
lected treasures everywhere, in Great and Little
Russia, in Siberia, in Georgia, in the Caucasus;
and he revealed ancient folk-lore of beauty, treas-
ures for the whole world. It is most wonderful
how he ever achieved the miracle of uprooting
some of those century-old melodies, known only
by a small group of peasants in some distant cor-
ner of vast Russia, and transplanting them by the



means of the old tympanon to the modern world.
In this time of turmoil, which lacks totally the
spirit, the childhke faith, and the simplicity of
the past, it is strange to listen to those melodies
of hope, love and sorrow in the same words that
were sung by the forefathers.

Young Votitchenko wandered over Russia
coming into contact with peasants who have re-
mained in the same primitiveness of culture and
civilization as their ancestors of two hundred
years ago. He had to disguise himself as pilgrim
monk or simple peasant. He lived in the midst
of the people and lived their life. So he entered
the very soul of their song, their music; for the
dailv hfe of the Russian is all music. He never
separates this expression from his feelings; it is
almost a religious rite to him.

Starting at dawn, with the song for the rising
sun, which is quite pagan in its origin, the peas-
ant accompanies his labor in the fields with the
grand old songs of the harvest. The meadows,
the brooks, and even the small birds which fly
high and jubilant in the morning air, are all sub-
jects for songs. When he returns to his home he
sings another refrain ; and at evening, in the pure



and perfumed sununer nights of the plains, he is
inspired by the more romantic music; he sings
of love or complains to the stars of his broken

There is music in every phase of the peasant's
simple life, and true to the always contrasting
character of his nature, the same peasant who
sings the most tragic love-song of passionate
suffering at the next moment may dance the
national dance with a wild and savage joy.

Votitchenko learned all the fantastic mysti-
cism of this people. Their imagination, filled
with old legends and ballads, with beliefs in good
and evil spirits, with all the superstitions of
primitives, tells the story of the reigning spirit
of the forest, with his great beard and his eyes
of gold. Every old woman relates mysteriously
the tale of the "Flowers of Fire" which grow in
the impenetrable depths of the forest, and once
a year, at midnight, burn, sending an illuminat-
ing glow of "sacred fire" throughout all the
woods. She has seen the reflection on the sky,
and so have their grandmothers and all their an-
cestors. All those century-old fairy-tales are



expressed in a music rich in color and poetry, and
only to be found in the heart's melody of a won-
derful people.

Having heard of a hamlet far north in Siberia
where lived an old peasant who knew songs for-
gotten by all others, Votitchenko undertook the
journey, traveling many days to the isba where
the venerable Ostap had passed his ninety-eight

The old man, not different from other old men
who wish to lengthen their days, shook his head.
He would not sing; the thin thread of breath
which still kept him alive might break. But
young Votitchenko was stronger in his will than
the old man. He has made the journey; he had
to have his songs — songs forgotten by all, songs
the old must give to him. Oh, yes, Ostap knew
songs ; oh, so beautiful that only the great men of
his youth, nearly a century ago, could sing, and
that nobody else could remember, and so the
songs would die with him. The old man closed
his eyes; he sank into reveries of the past, of his
youth and vigor. All was silent in the modest
isba. Peasants had entered silently to listen to



the tympanon, which sang under the young
traveler's fingers, songs they all knew and loved.
Very softly, not to awake old Ostap from his
thoughts, he played the melodies, to which the
people moved and hummed. Votitchenko struck
rich chords, and the little wooden house vibrated
with the sounds of dance music, love-songs, war-

Ostap, as if awakening from a long sleep,
blinked at the young musician, bent forward,
listening to the joyful, fiery songs, his little eyes
opened wide, his wrinkled old face straightened
as in a tension. Suddenly he rose, his big frame
trembling like a leaf from emotion. The other
peasants, moving to a corner, were struck with
awe, as if they saw a vision. Grandfather Ostap
had not stood up for fifteen years; some of the
women crossed themselves, and a child began to
cry. Old Ostap, as if far away, began first with
a shaking voice, and then sang strongly and
loudly. Votitchenko excitedly followed the
strange song, note by note, and at the third
strophe could play it fluently. Old Ostap was
still standing, still singing, — but suddenly, ex-
hausted, he fell back into his chair, his eyes stared,



his heart beat no longer. The great old son of

a warrior had expired with his song; but the

song, the forgotten song, lives, and will live for-

In strange and sharp contrast to his life among
peasants and people of medieval minds and an-
cestors, young Votitchenko was called to Yalta.
The czar was anxious to listen to the old tym-
panon which had once been a court instrument and
now took up the immortal songs of the people.
Yet there was no contrast between the simplicity
of the peasant and the simplicity with which
Nicholas II received the musician. There was no
formality, there was no etiquette, but the same
spirit as that of the old peasant Ostap and some-
what of the same atmosphere. The little czar-
evitch, tenderly guarded by the simple Cossack
with the childish blue eyes, had the same big smile
as the Siberian peasants.

The czar asked Votitchenko to play for him,
only regretting that the czarina, being ill, could
not be present, as she was more musical than he.
But the czar understood the melodies of his peo-
ple and it will be everlastingly in the memory of
the Russian Votitchenko that he found the same



sincerity of soul and heart in the palace as in
the hut.

In the country the peasants sit together and
sing. Unconsciously and without any training,
they form the most wonderful and most exact
choruses, every one taking up a paii: with a nat-
ural and sure musical feeling. Nothing could be
more elemental and sublime than those voices
united in their expression of masculine power and
feminine sweetness. The profound bass voices
pour forth a whole world of strength, and no-
where else are the high-pitched sopranos of such
angelic clearness. The Greek Church, in con-
trast to the Roman Catholic Cuhrch, which min-
gles in the music of the mass the reconciling
voices of boys and the accusing tones of men,
lets only men sing its sacred melodies, lets the
softness of many tenors redeem the thunders of
gigantic basses, nowhere so nobly colored as
among the Russian voices.

Another original form in Russian musical ex-
pression is that of the Gipsies. Unlike the
Hungarian Gipsies, they do not represent the
national music. These Russian Gipsies are the
remnants of a bygone time, and they have kept



their individuality without singing their own
songs, which are too wild, too much a medley
from all the countries through which they passed
before settling in Russia. They are not Slavs.
The Russian adores these Gipsies, but only when
he is intoxicated by wine or joy or happiness.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryLeonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-SeydlitzRussia of yesterday and to-morrow → online text (page 12 of 17)