Jarnovic Symposium, St Petersburg Sights, and Bicentenary Concert

Vtornik (Tuesday) 23 November 2004

 

Note

See Introductory Note on first page above.

Copyright: David Morris, Kimberley, South Africa, 1 May 2005

Visitors: 1781

 

Awaking in St Petersburg

 

More reading in the morning (and trying to get a little more Cyrillic under my belt!); and flipping through TV channels, over tea. The news was dominated by events in Kiev - the elections. It also appeared that there was almost no news from the world outside Russia - except, at the moment, South America, where Putin was on a state visit. I learned to look out for the weather report, and specifically for the Cyrillic letters spelling Sankt Peterburg: today, min -7 degrees C, max -5 degrees C!

 

Jet lag was not a problem - Amsterdam was 1 hour behind Johannesburg, while St Petersburg, although on the same longitude as South Africa, sets its watches by Moscow and is hence 1 hour ahead of Johannesburg. But certainly the rhythms of life here, in winter [and, one gathers, in the ‘white nights’ of summer], are quite different.

 

Breakfast

 

Breakfast, I had been told, would be ready at 10 a.m.  I would learn that nothing happens hereabouts before that hour; and of course it is nearly dark by about 4-30 pm, although life goes on for hours more into the evening and night. For breakfast we headed up from the wall-to-wall carpeted ground floor accommodation area, and climbed the bare stone stair-way, entering through a locked security gate on about the second or third floor into a space that seemed to echo a bleaker Soviet past. Here there was a total lack of ornament or even paint on the walls, a certain grubbiness, and with plumbing and electrical cabling roughly installed on the exterior of the walls. We proceeded up further to the fourth floor, entering along a bare corridor and off it to a small room where a table, with plastic chairs, was set for breakfast for the three of us. Laid out was an assortment of non-matching cutlery and plates. An apple each; sliced French loaf; sliced cheese; three chunks of butter; and two hard-boiled eggs each. Tea was brought in saucer-less tea cups that were patently not of a set, with a small chocolate each. Salt was seemingly rationed, with not more than about a millimetre depth of it at the bottom of a small ceramic salt-dish. This same basic fare was provided each morning with only the slightest variation: on the Thursday the eggs came as something perhaps meant to be an omelette (chopped bacon within); and in fried form with what we in South Africa refer to as a Vienna sausage on Friday.

 

Symposium

 

After breakfast, the three of us went next door to the Dom kompozitorov concert hall, a large high-ceilinged, wood-panelled room with narrow surrounding balcony and huge chandeliers. Oil replicas of portraits of major Russian composers dominate the dark wood-panelled walls and give added gravity to the hall as a whole. There is a low stage at one end upon which musicians have performed possibly several times a week for a century and a half or more. There was an almost palpable musical patina to the place. A small gathering of people began to assemble, including a tall, imposing man with an impressive moustache - Dr Prof Ivan Fedoseev - who upon being introduced to me, and having no English himself, addressed me in a most sonorous, declaratory style - almost as if hoping this would render his Russian understandable to some extent! I smiled and nodded politely. He presently delivered a paper on the history of Russian music (Vladimir whispering a translation in my ear): he contrasted the mainly liturgical music of Old Russia with that of the era that dawned with Peter the Great - a theme that would become something of a leitmotiv as I experienced St Petersburg over the next few days. I guess Jarnovic represented, in this context, part of the great influx of outside and secular ideas that characterized the eighteenth century court in this city.

 

My introductory remarks were based upon the paper I had originally submitted to Vjera’s journal, Arti Musices, sketching the history of the daughters of Jarnovic. I expressed my gratitude at being invited to the conference, and the honour and privilege conferred upon me by the family, who I represented, and who were with me in spirit. It was a rare privilege to be able to trace a direct ancestral link to a distinguished musician and composer of the eighteenth century, who had died in this city exactly 200 years previously. Joining in these bicentenary events, ‘our conference’, as Vladimir had put it, was an opportunity of a lifetime. Vladimir dutifully converted my English into Russian, several sentences at a time. I was also able to read J.B. Cramer’s 1833 letter (to our ancestor Sophy Hull, nee Giornovichi), which Shirley Mason had found a few days previously; and I had images to show around of Sophy and of the various documents (including the 1795 baptismal certificate from London which is the only extant document which indicates Giornovichi’s first name as used in his family circle in his lifetime). The question of the composer’s name would be taken up later in the day in Stanislav’s excellent paper.

 

Vjera Katalinic spoke after Prof Fedoseev - her paper was in German - and dealt inter alia with Jarnovic’s flexibility in adapting his performances, in many varied contexts, to the requirements of the situation. He was as at home, she indicated, with popular audiences as he was in the audience of monarchs and other noble patrons. He was a Janus-like figure at the cross-roads at the end of the ‘Ancient’ Baroque era, and a proponent of the ‘Modern’ Classical style; a period when the socio-political contexts of musical performance were also transforming. His works, too, were adapted and arranged by others - and by way of illustration Vjera played a recording of a Dussek arrangement of a Jarnovic movement for the harp.

 

Ms Nataliya Salnus spoke next (a slight adjustment to the programme), on Jarnovic’s Polish years when he was the teacher of Prince Oginsky and a friend of the Polish composer Jossip Antonowitsch Kozlowski (1757-1831); and on the circumstances that led to the performance of the Kozlowski Requiem Mass at his burial in St Petersburg in 1804. The Mass had been composed for the funeral of the last Polish king, the exiled Stanislaw August Poniatowski (Stanislaw II), who by decree of the Russian Emperor Paul I was laid to rest in St Catherine’s Church in Nevskiy prospekt in1798. (It was later performed at the funeral of Tsar Alexander I in December 1825, presumably at the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul). The second performance of the Kozlowski Requiem was by the friends of Jarnovic (including Madame Mara, the famous soprano) at his burial service at St Catherine’s Church. The Mass was recently sung, for the first time in more than a century, again at St Catherine’s. (King Stanislaw’s remains were repatriated and secretly re-interred in  Poland in 1938, only to be dug up again and transferred to the Royal Castle at Warsaw, where they are still stashed away in a coffin, denied reburial, since many Poles regard him as a traitor. In 1791 he had presided over the formulation of Europe’s first written constitution; but his reign ended with the partition of Poland. A memorial stone at St Catherine’s was destroyed in a fire in 1984).

 

Now, at the Jarnovic Bicentenary, a soprano, violinist and pianist performed for us the Benedictus from the Kozlowski Requiem Mass, making for a most moving moment in these proceedings.

 

At 1 pm we broke for tea - when tea, coffee, or juice were on offer - curiously and incongruously in disposable plastic mugs - along with a marvellous choice of rather superior biscuits and chocolates.

 

The concert hall was not available for our deliberations in the afternoon since a group of students on strings was rehearsing for a concert of contemporary works (which sounded fiendishly difficult!), and we moved to one of the large adjoining rooms. The constant bustle of musical activity that was on the go on every side was in itself impressive. How seriously the Russians take their music! The cultural life of the city is enormous.

 

Stanislav Tuksar now presented his systematic consideration of Jarnovic’s origins and his name, proposing the following resolutions: that the name Ivan Jarnovic be used as the standard form (there is limited evidence that he himself used the middle name ‘Mane’); that pending evidence to the contrary, the most likely birth year is 1747 (born 23 October, baptised 26 October), based on a baptismal certificate in Palermo; and that Jarnovic, who travelled the length and breadth of the continent, be characterized as a European virtuoso violinist and composer: there is no evidence that he considered himself a national of any one country.

 

Following Stanislav’s paper we adjourned: the bicentenary concert, “Ivan Mane Jarnovic and his contemporaries”, was to be in the concert hall at 19:00.

 

To Jarnovic’s home - via various spectacular sights

 

This, then, left time for a walk and, for me, a surprise - to see the building in which Jarnovic had once had an apartment. Getting there was via some of the most breath-taking landmarks of the city.

 

It was in fact my first real experience, on foot, of this amazing place, and what more magnificent introduction than to venture along Bolshaya Morskaya ulitsa to Isaakievskaya ploshchad (St Isaac’s Square) - in the centre of which is the magnificent equestrian statue of the emperor, Tsar Nicholas I, and to the north west of which, the vast majestic Isaakievsky sobor (St Isaac’s Cathedral). The cathedral was pressed into service as a Museum of Atheism under Soviet rule, but is now re-consecrated. The present building (construction 1818-42, decoration 1842-1858) had replaced an earlier church and was built in commemoration of Russia’s victory over Napoleon. Classical in design, it boasts the third largest cathedral dome in Europe; its exterior covered with some 100 Kg of gold leaf; the construction of the whole (including imposing kolonada - colonnade - and statues) costing six times what was spent on the Winter Palace! The Feast of St Isaac of Dalmatia, to whom the original church on this site was dedicated, happened to coincide with the birthday of the emperor Peter I - “the Great”, founder of the city. (Incidentally, another Dalmatian link... there is evidence that Jarnovic’s mother was of Dalmatian/part-Italian ancestry - Stanislav Tuksar pers. comm., work in progress!).

 

The buildings surrounding the ploshchad (square) and flanking the roads leading from it - and like those for blocks around - present a cleanness and elegance of Classical line, retained or restored (St Isaac’s, in what Russians called the Great Patriotic War, was a Luftwaffe reference point - and survived. Hitler had vowed to wipe “Petersburg” - it was then Leningrad - from the face of the earth. The blokada lasted nearly 900 days and 670 000 people lost their lives. Many buildings were badly damaged, and restored in the decades following the war). Behind the facades along these streets today, with mostly discrete signage, are commercial undertakings, sprung up and burgeoning since perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet system; and here and there are more brazen banners advertising Ford motor cars and so on. On one corner it was not entirely surprising, therefore, to see that familiar token of American capitalism’s global reach - MacDonalds!! Only, here, it says “MacDonald’s” in Cyrillic! On Nevskiy prospekt, nearby, there is a branch of KFC! Times have changed indeed.

 

Dvortsovaya ploshchad

 

Just a block or two further, the Bolshaya Morskaya ulitsa curves and brings within view, through the magnificent, colossal arch of the Generalniy shtab (General Staff building), the Aleksandrovskaya colonna or Alexander Column (both this and the arch were erected as a good-riddance to Napoleon).  Atop the arch, not presently in view, Victory, in a vast bronze statue, rides her six-horsed chariot, galloping out of the south, two Roman soldiers restraining the horses from leaping over the edge and into the square below. The column is 47.5 m high, one of the tallest in the world and inscribed “to Alexander I from a grateful Russia”. Surrounding this, the huge snow-covered Dvortsovaya ploshchad (Palace Square); and, in absolute splendour, stretched out along its far side, the Zimniy dvorets (the Winter Palace). “A riot of ornamentation” is how the Rough Guide describes its 200 m facade. “Neither money, life, nor health” was spared in its construction, and reconstruction (the fourth, extant version was built in the reign of the Empress Elizabeth - mid eighteenth century - and cost 2.5 million Rubles - partly financed by the opening of a network of beer halls!). 

 

Momentous events in Russian history have unfolded in this square. Here, a little more than a decade ago, some 150 000 people gathered in support of Yeltsin and the ending of Soviet Communism; and earlier in the same year (1991) citizens, meeting in the same square, debated the name of the city -  Leningrad or Sankt Peterburg: Gorbachev was infuriated when the masses turned their collective back on their Bolshevik inheritance. Ninety nine years ago citizens gathered here, under a different stick, to petition Tsar Nicholas II; the guards opened fire on this ‘Bloody Sunday’, marking the beginning of the 1905 Revolution. The old order survived, but was swept away in 1917 when the square witnessed the storming of the Winter Palace, and Bolsheviks seized power from Kerensky’s Provisional Government which had installed itself in the palace (but more people were injured in the making of Eisenstein’s famous film, October, than during the event itself!). Further back in history, the Imperial Guards hailed Catherine II as Empress here on the day of her coup against her husband Peter III in 1762. Great military parades and imperial reviews were mustered within this grand theatrical expanse as successive episodes of Russian history were enacted.

 

Jarnovic’s house

 

From here we walked east towards the Moyka embankment and then to the left to Millionnaya ulitsa - Millionaire’s Street - and a block away, on a corner, is the building in which Jarnovic is said to have lived. We took photographs - still possible, but only just so in the failing light. The ground floor is today a restaurant. From a side street there is a carriage entrance to an inner courtyard. This entrance, these streets, and some quarters within, evidently, were part of the familiar daily routine and dwelling place of our ancestor. For cars, imagine carriages and horses; candles for lighting - a very different place no doubt, but within this “open air museum”, in the old city, the Fontanka, much of the physical fabric does remain. The footsteps of a man who was our ancestor echoed once from these walls, and the sounds of his violin filled the void.

 

Not far off, en route to a fast foods outlet where we planned to have a snack, is the very extraordinary Church of the Saviour on the Blood, on the Griboedov Canal; and with time to spare, this was our next destination. It had been built eight decades after the death of Jarnovic, and echoed Old Russian sentiments of decades before he came here.

 

Church of the Saviour on the Blood

 

Considering Russia, one imagines, for architecture, onion-domed churches; but visit St Petersburg and one is quickly disabused of this stereotype - well, almost. A half century younger than Cape Town, the city was self-consciously ‘Enlightened’ and West-orientated, as Peter the Great (who eschewed the Slavic spelling of his name, Pyotr) sought to modernize the realm; and yet it is Janus-faced. A sense of how this is so comes across strongly in the Church of the Saviour on the Blood. Indeed there could be no more apt metaphor for St Petersburg, one realizes here, than reference to that double-faced deity of entrances and thresholds, looking forward, looking back, for the city - the “Window into Europe” (in Pushkin’s poem) - has always done just that, mediating east and west, old and new, itself shifting emphases, even its identity, its name. Moscow had paled before the younger capital, Pushkin wrote, like a dowager clad in purple before a new empress.

 

The Church of the Saviour on the Blood (Khram Spas na krovi) has been described as a slap in the face of the classicism that characterizes and completely dominates the surrounding cityscape. It is a quite deliberate insertion of Old Russia into the end of the nineteenth century, modelled architecturally on the Cathedral of St Basil in the old capital, Moscow. Against a backdrop of philosophical struggles of the nineteenth century between Slavophils and Westerners, it was an overt celebration of that on which Peter the Great had turned his back. Out of step from the surrounding buildings, it juts out to the very edge of the canal, towering upwards in a blaze of plaques and mosaics, to a clutter of brilliantly gilded and coloured, almost psychedelic, onion-domes, Russian Orthodox crosses atop. Unquestionably, it presents the most flamboyant exterior of any building in the city - itself no mean feat! The interior is entirely covered with mosaics rising between marble columns, literally from floor to ceiling, and overhead. They cover no less than seven thousand square metres!

 

“On the Blood” refers to the spot, beneath, where the blood of Tsar Alexander II had stained the cobblestones when he was assassinated here by Nihilists in March 1881. Making for one of the greater ironies in Russian history, legend has it that Alexander had in his pocket, at the time, a plan for constitutional change to which his successors would be utterly opposed. Construction of the church was begun the following year in commemoration of the dead Tsar.

 

A half century later, under Stalin, Russia was inwardly obsessed and paranoid - its rulers withdrawn to Moscow, away from this “Window into Europe”. During the Yezhovshchina, the Great Terror, of 1937-8, churches, regarded with suspicion by the Soviet regime, were systematically converted to new uses, mainly as store houses. The interior of this building was hacked and abused, although in 1970 it served briefly as a museum of mosaics, presumably patched up to some extent, only to be closed down again. The Church of the Saviour on the Blood was restored and re-opened in 1997 and is now primarily a tourist attraction. The entrance fee was a few hundred Rubles (one is provided with plastic foot-covers to save the carpets within) - and photographs can be taken by paying an extra hundred Rubles or so. One was particularly struck by the eastern feel of the very ornate and brilliantly coloured mosaics within.

 

Outside, stalls for tourists offer kitsch knickknacks - and a tall man dressed up as Peter the Great poses with tourists, for a fee, with the Khram as backdrop - thus sustaining the stereotype, with scant regard for either chronology or context!

 

A snack

 

The eatery we popped into for a snack is a fast food outlet, bright and sparkly in the American style, and owned by a Russian pop singer. (The Rough Guide indicates how restaurants have been transformed, and service improved: in the New Russia, being fast about food, as an attitude, is a recent import). Abba featured on a big screen on an upstairs mezzanine deck. (The building was once a mansion, this hall having served as the concert room; Mussorgsky had frequented the abode alongside. Snippets of information from being in the company of musicologists...who had come here with Vladimir a few evenings previously!). The menu, on a board at the entrance, is given in Cyrillic and English, and is mostly, apparently, ‘authentic’ local food - we chose borsch and baked pike with rice and tea. There was a vast range of fish from which to choose - proximity to the Baltic making this the local staple. One’s order was provided on bright red plastic trays which one then took upstairs. Hat and coat stands allowed the usual shedding of layers of outer clothing. Both borsch and pike delicious!

 

Bicentenary concert

 

From here Stanislav, Vjera and I walked along Nevskiy prospekt and back to the Dom, to prepare for the concert. It was appropriate that I should don a dress suit and black tie for the occasion, not least for having been billed on the programme and concert poster as one of the speakers (with Vjera and Vladimir), to make some introductory remarks. I had decided to read and present on this occasion a letter from the family, which had been prepared by Peggy.

 

Upon our arrival at the concert hall, next door, we found a sizable crowd already gathered. The programme, a folded photocopied page, headed “Ivan Mane Jarnovic and his contemporaries” (in Cyrillic, of course), featured Jarnovic’s portrait on its cover; and a large version of this picture was propped up at the back of the stage, with a single pink rose draped at its base. This sentimental touch could only have worked in present surroundings!

 

Vladimir opened proceedings, inviting Vjera and me to the stage, where we made our respective short speeches, paying homage and expressing our gratitude for the opportunity to be here. Each item was then given an extensive introduction, by Vladimir, all in Russian.

 

When Jarnovic died here in St Petersburg 200 years ago, his friends gave him what they regarded as an appropriate send-off, inter alia by performing, as we have heard, the Kozlowski Requiem at St Catherine’s. It was appropriate that at this concert we should hear the works of his contemporaries, alongside which his own would shine. Thus we heard compositions by  Lyudzhn Madonis, c 1700-1777; Antonio Lolli, c 1730-1802 (supposedly Jarnovic’s teacher, although Oginski suggested, on personal testimony, that this was not the case); Ivan Khandoshchkin, 1747-1804; Franz Feichtner, 1741-1822; Baldasare Galuppi, 1706-1785; Germain Raupakh, 1728-1778 - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1756-1791; Ivan Mane Jarnovic, c 1740 [1747]-1804; August Titz , 1741-1810; Ferdinand Kauer, 1751-1831; and Feodor Dubyanskhii, 1760-1796.

 

Our performers were mostly senior students (three of them laureates) associated with the Dom kompozitorov and under the tutelage of Dr Lyudmila Gurevich, the wife of the Professor, herself a violinist. They were: Semen Gurevich (keeping it in the family - the son of Vladimir and Lyudmila Gurevich!); Dariya Kharinova; Maya Yudina; Alina Pedure; Rumiya Zaynullina (who performed the Jarnovic Adagio and final movement from a sonata on a Russian melody); and Elena Mingova (all on the violin); together with Georgii Volkov (viola); Natalya Osipova (cello); Barbara Zakarova (flute); and Faina Rayskaya (piano).

 

Star of the show - as a performer - was the prima donna, Sofia Yalysheva, soprano soloist of the Mariinskiy Theatre, and an Honoured Artist of Russia (1983). Again, inclusion of a soprano soloist at the concert echoed the event of two centuries previously when the famous soprano, Madame Mara sang at Jarnovic’s funeral. Accompanied by Valdimir Gurevich on the piano, Yalysheva sang the aria and Russian songs by Kauer and Dubyanskhii.

 

The concert, which was thrilling, was recorded and video-taped.

 

Afterwards we, delegates and performers, met in the large adjoining room for a party - a spread of savoury treats, breads, fish, cold meats. For the initial toasts, Vladimir dispensed cognac and later opened a dry red Moldau wine. There must have been five or six toasts, to “the Master” whose life and work we were here to celebrate, to visiting delegates, to the prima donna, to the performers; and these were proposed by Vladimir, Stanislav, myself. Young Rumiya Zaynullina, who had played the Jarnovic sonata, came across to ask me if I had enjoyed the piece, and how I found St Petersburg. I learned later that they had all been very impressed that a descendant of Jarnovic was coming from the Diamond City in South Africa!

 

It had been a very full day and, getting back to my accommodation, it wasn’t long before I was asleep!