Symposium, Archaeological Institute, St Catherine's and Khovanshchina

Sreda (Wednesday) 24 November 2004


See Introductory Note on first page above.

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


Visitors: 2572

It was hard to tell to what extent the morning ‘dawned’ - one was just aware upon awaking that it was half-light outside, and cold. Once again, a time for some reading, watching the news on TV (not that one could follow much - again Kiev, specifically Yushchenko supporters protesting the election outcome [as I would learn later], appeared to dominate the headlines). The weather report for Sankt Peterburg predicted for Sreda (Wednesday) a repeat of the previous day’s temperatures, namely -7 degrees C and up to a maximum of -5.


I also had the task now of putting in order my slides and papers for the lecture at the Archaeological Institute. Presently I joined Stanislav and Vjera and we headed up the cold stairs for a more or less exact repeat of the previous morning’s breakfast.


This done we went again next door for the second session of the symposium.


This time Tatyana (whom we had met on Monday evening) joined us, to act as interpreter, since all the papers were to be in Russian. I missed most of these since the time arranged for my visiting the archaeology department clashed with the tail end of the symposium. However, none of the papers focused specially on Jarnovic: they were of a contextual nature, mainly. Vladimir read a paper by Klaus-Peter Koch from Bonn. Anna Gromykhova, from Moscow, was next up, on Vicente Martin, a Spanish contemporary of Jarnovic at the Russian Court. Natalie Ogarkova, Galina Petrova and Anna Porfirieva, all of St Petersburg, were due to have presented papers as well - but these I missed. There are plans that eventually all presentations should be published in the form of conference proceedings, with English or German translations. 


Archaeological Institute


At noon, Aisolou (Lusha) Basner, an archaeologist, came to fetch me and take me to the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Archaeological “Institute for the History of Material Culture”, which is in one of the former palaces on the Neva embankment. Lusha could speak only a few words of English, being more conversant in French. However we were able to communicate basic information and sentiments after a manner.


It was on this walk that I had my first experience of the hazards of striding out too briskly... where snow is compacted on the pavement it may turn solid and slippery! It was bitterly cold, with a steady breeze blowing off the Neva, which was now a tumbling mass of broken up chunks of ice flowing past the Bronze Horseman.


Arriving at the institute at 191186 Dvortsovaya nab, Lusha introduced me to some of the principal departmental staff of the Palaeolithic Studies division, including: Head of Department Prof Sergei Vasiliev, Vassili Lioubin, Elene Beliaeva, Nich Anisiutkin, Gen Grigoriev, Andrey Sinitsyn, Nich Prazlov, Zoya Abramova, Galina Sinitsyna, Mich Anikovich. A slide projector was being set up in the adjacent hall. In one of Vladimir Gurevich’s emails prior to my trip he had enquired whether I could present my archaeological talk in German or French, or possibly ‘Boer’. If push came to shove, I responded, I could manage ‘Boer’, but my command of Afrikaans was not of the first order. Things were just beginning to seem quite desperate (fortunately slides tend to speak for themselves to some extent), when Dr Leonid B. Vishnyatsky introduced himself, and announced that he would translate for me: he was not only very fluent in English, it subsequently transpired, but also well acquainted with rock art and some of the subject matter upon which I would talk - including familiarity with The mind in the cave, Prof David Lewis-Williams’ acclaimed book. And so the slide show went extremely well, and several of the fifteen or so archaeologists present had questions for me afterwards. They were particularly interested in the prospects of early forms of art being found at Wonderwerk Cave. We then retired to the adjacent laboratory where a wider range of questions on the archaeology of the Northern Cape came up. Specifically, Prof Lioubin, who with Dr Beliaeva had worked on the Sangoan in West Africa, was intrigued to know of work here on the Fauresmith where similar questions of definition pertained. We exchanged publications (I had taken along a couple of copies of our April 2004 excursion guidebook - one copy of which went to the Institute Library). One of the publications received in return, on the West African Sangoan, has a useful English summary.


The institute occupies several floors of one of the former palaces that front onto the Neva. In the entrance hall a make-do entrance desk was manned by security staff, as had been encountered in all such institutions. Grand dark stone stairways are bare but have the fittings that once held red carpets in place. In the Palaeolithic Division, adjoining rooms had enormously high walls and ceilings richly painted and ornamented in the eighteenth/nineteenth century manner, but all somewhat dulled with dust and neglect. What is gratifying to see in St Petersburg today is the extent to which buildings like this one seem to be in the process of being restored - and perhaps this palace will follow suit in due course.


Interlude at the Basner apartment... the naming of new planets etc


We, Lusha and I, now had to hurry in towards Nevsky prospekt to meet conference delegates at St Catherine’s, the church from which Jarnovic had been buried in November 1804. In the event there was a delay and so I was invited to Lusha’s apartment for coffee. I was led through one of those old carriage entrances into a courtyard and up a lane and eventually out alongside a canal to the entrance of her building. The ancient stairs are worn. What looked like post-war fittings and plumbing exterior to the wall was in evidence again. Once inside, her apartment was comfortable and full of character, with a piano, pictures on the walls, music stands, and a great many books in cabinets. Her late husband was Veniamin Efimovich Basner (1925-1996), a violinist and composer of note (hence Vladimir’s having been able to set up the archaeological component of my visit here with such ease). Lusha showed me CD recordings of Basner’s quartets (I should have liked to have heard them!); and an obituary, which refers to an impressive corpus of compositions, and also to his “less significant” film music and popular songs. He had been a personal friend of Shostakovich. As a measure of the worth attached to outstanding musicians in Russia, Basner’s name was given, following his death, to a planet of a new solar system that had just then been discovered by the astronomical observatory of Crimea. Lusha also showed me photographs of excavations - on a grand scale - in Central Russia, in which she had taken part; and presented me with a volume (alas all in Russkiy) in the compilation of which she had been involved. A most generous soul. 


The coffee was strong and thick - about a third of the volume consisting of coffee grains! Along with it a choice of chocolates and biscuits - including an attractively spiced form of rusk! It served to prepare me for our continued walk in sub-zero temperatures to meet up again with colleagues outside St Catherine’s.


St Catherine’s


At St Catherine’s we were met by Vladimir, Stanislav, Vjera, and Nataliya Salnus (who would give a brief history of the church and more on the Kozlowski Requiem); and we bid Lusha Basner farewell. This was the last official part of the Jarnovic Bicentenary, though a feast of music still lay ahead.


The Catholic Church of St Catherine of Alexandria is on Nevskiy prospekt - as are a number of other non-Orthodox churches that were allowed to be established here in an era of tolerance in the eighteenth century (Lutheran, Armenian, Dutch and Finnish). Indeed, at the first baptism to take place at St Catherine’s, none less than the Emperor Peter the Great was godfather - to the son of the famous architect Domenico Trezzini. After fire destroyed the first wooden church, Trezzini was one of the architects involved, over a period of several decades, in the design and erection of the present church. Consecrated in 1783, it was named in honour of the divine patroness of the Empress Catherine II [the Great], who in turn presented a Jacob Mittenleider painting depicting the Mystical Betrothal of St Catherine. Having been appointed at Court the previous year, it is not impossible that Jarnovic was present on that occasion. A surprising number of the aristocracy of St Petersburg were Catholic and members of the imperial family were regular worshippers here. (Catherine’s husband, Peter III, was Lutheran; but, in a deft political move, she herself converted to the Orthodox faith, changing her name from Sophia in the process).


After the Revolution of 1917 church property here was confiscated, and in 1923 several priests were arrested and one executed for supposedly promoting anti-revolutionary propaganda; but far worse was to come in September 1938, during the Yezhovshchina - Stalin’s Great Terror. St Catherine’s was closed down and plundered, and then made into a warehouse. Ornaments were stripped (the crucifix from the high altar was rescued by a young parishioner, who was present, in her nineties, when it was returned in 1994). What remained of furnishings, and a fine organ (pipe organs are rare in Russia, not a regular feature in churches of the Orthodox tradition), were devastated by two fires, in 1947 and 1984. A Museum of Religion and Atheism was set up here in the late 1980s.


Returned to the Catholic Church after the collapse of Soviet rule, St Catherine’s was re-consecrated on the Feast of St Francis, 1992. The latest phase of restoration - the transept - was completed in the tercentenary year of the city, and consecrated on 11 May 2003.


One enters along a narrow boxed-in passage-way through the nave which is currently being restored, entering into the transept, beneath a great dome. The sanctuary is plain by comparison with Orthodox apses, and there is a simple post-Vatican II free-standing altar, and lectern - it is immediately apparent that this is, primarily, a place of worship and not a museum! Someone was kneeling at prayer, having placed a votive candle before an icon of Catherine of Alexandria; other votive candles are before the still broken side chapel altar above which the rescued crucifix is affixed. Two of us lit candles and placed them in memory of Jarnovic. To the side, the Chapel of the Annunciation, the first part of the church to be restored, was dedicated in 1998 in honour of Our Lady’s Appearance at Fatima. It is radiant in white and gold, with a dome over the altar supported on columns of marble.


From St Catherine’s, exiting “through the water” (a Holy Water Stoup at the door - one makes the sign of the cross, mindful of the symbolic rebirth this water represents), the four of us walked back along Nevskiy prospekt and to the left of Isaacievsky sobor (the Cathedral), our destination being the Institute for Art Knowledge.


Music Archives


This was where our fellow delegates Mrs Dr Natalie Ogarkova, Mrs Dr Galina Petrova, and Mrs Dr Anna Porfirieva (Head of the Music Department) were based. We were shown rather quickly through various collections (it was already late). Masses of books lined the walls. Collections extant at the time of the Revolution were preserved, and then substantially added to as many private libraries were confiscated and sent to the Institute. Vjera’s and Stanislav’s main interests were of course to try to trace documentation and scores relating to Jarnovic.


The building itself, we had noted, was, much like the Archaeological Institute, in a fairly sad state. There has been an uproar in the city recently, the Rough Guide indicates, after the presidential administration laid claim to buildings around St Isaac’s Square and on the Neva Embankment housing scientific and literary institutes...


For a quick bite to eat, Stanislav, Vjera and I popped in at the Pizzacato and, with limited time to spare before the opera, ordered pizzas - the one item, they said, they could produce in the shortest space of time! Vladimir re-appeared and we commenced a brisk walk to the Mariinskiy Theatre. He had obtained tickets that were cheap for locals but of the order of each for us foreigners! But what lay in store for us was a treat of the very first order.


The opera


The Mariinskiy Theatre, itself, as a building (1860), fairly plainly mimics the classical lines of many another edifice in this part of town, but it is nothing short of spectacular within. Vladimir had booked us a box that afforded a superb appreciation of every aspect of the experience - music, decor, and building. Before us, a splendid and famous curtain; the auditorium, wooden floor making for excellent acoustics, grandly decorated in azure, crystal and gilt. There are moulded features, white sculptures; chairs of blue velvet. A three-tiered chandelier. To our right (centre, back), framed by regal drapes, the Tsar’s Box (which exits into its own foyer). The theatre oozes aristocratic refinement, and it is clear that vast sums of money are both generated and spent here. The auditorium was packed (there are 1 625 seats), with an average age easily a decade or two younger than one has seen in many serious music events in South Africa. Students, no doubt, from the University and the Conservatory (which is across the road from the Mariinskiy), help to swell the numbers. Tickets were already totally sold out, we heard, for performances of the Verdi Requiem and a Mahler Symphony later in the week. A pamphlet warns, “one can scarcely find any vacant seats at any performance”.


“Mariinskiy” is a name given in honour of the Empress Maria Alexandrovna - wife of the Emperor Alexander II - given at its triumphant opening in 1860 when Glinka's opera, “A Life for the Tsar” was performed.


The opera and ballet companies of St. Petersburg date back to the eighteenth century, brought into existence by an “imperial order” by the Empress Elizabeta Petrovna. Giovanni Paisiello's opera “Il mondo della luna” was presented as the company’s first performance in 1783. Jarnovic, who was then in the city, may well have been present; and his wife (the mother of Mimi or Mary Giornovichi, known affectionately to her nieces as “Aunt Jonny”), having been hired by the court as a leading actress, may well have performed at the early theatre that stood on this site.


Today the Mariinskiy styles itself “a place of perfection, skill and inspiration”, and certainly it has a legacy that would be hard to match. It has been associated with performances (often premieres) of operas and ballets by great composers including Rimsky-Korsakov, Chaikovsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, “as well as foreign classical composers” (as one of the websites puts it!). Eminent conductors and star performers and dancers have thrilled audiences from this stage: Shalyapin, Pavlova, Nizhinsky, Ulanova, Baryshnikov.


Outside of Russia, the Mariinskiy Opera and Ballet Companies, which are often on tour, are still more familiarly known as “The Kirov”: S.M. Kirov was Leningrad’s Communist Party boss, and the theatre had borne his name from 1935 until recently. The theatre supports, in fact, multiple opera and ballet companies and orchestras. “The Kirov”, on tour to New York last year, wowed audiences at the Metropolitan Opera with Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina (and other performances), and it was this extraordinary work and spectacle (under direction of Leonid Baratov), which we were now to experience. Valery Gergiev, the current conductor, entered to the usual applause, taking up his baton, the lights dimming, exactly on time by the clock above the proscenium arch.


"Gergiev carries a disproportionate share of the music world on his shoulders. He is something of a national hero in Russia for having kept alive the Mariinsky Theatre after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under his leadership, the Mariinsky has become one of the most celebrated - and recorded - opera companies in the world."
The New Yorker (April 1998)


[As it happens, with opera as one’s choice for the evening, the options included: Khovanshchina at the Mariinskiy; Bizet’s Carmen at the Mussorgsky Theater; The Tsar's Bride by Rimsky-Korsakov at the Conservatory; and at the St. Petersburg Opera, Francesco Cilea's opera Adriana Lecouvreur.]


Khovanshchina was Mussorgsky’s last great work, and one that had been left unfinished at his untimely death in 1881. An unorchestrated vocal score, for which the composer had minutely researched a key juncture in late seventeenth century Russian history, was orchestrated and somewhat trimmed by Rimsky-Korsakov in 1883. Missing bits were put back in Shostakovich’s 1958 orchestration, and it was this epic Shostakovich version we would hear. With three intervals (necessary interludes, it has been said, to assimilate the raw power and emotion of the work), the opera would effectively span almost five hours. (By now I had also learned, incidentally, that Vladimir’s mother, herself a musicologist, had been one of Russia’s Shostakovich biographers. Shostakovich studies have become something of an ideological battleground between left- and right-minded scholars in the east and the west, with truth, as ever, probably being caught somewhat in the cross-fire!).


The opera concerns the period of the minority of Peter I, 1682-9 (Peter features only as an unseen force around which the plot revolves), and the struggle for power amongst the young Tsar’s opponents, the Princes Ivan Khovansky and Basil Golitsyn. Dosifey, a patriarch of the Old Believers, leads his monks in a chant, “Lord save us from the evils of this world; crush the power of the Antichrist”. [When, subsequently, Peter the Great forced his subjects to shave their beards and to wear western attire, the Old Believers saw in this proof that Peter was indeed the expected Antichrist. The Old Believers had chosen schism in 1654 when the Patriarch Nikon revised Russian Orthodox rites, distorted after centuries of isolation. Today there remain congregations of Old Believers in Russia]. Dosifey, it turns out, was the former Prince Mychetsky, and he urges the other two to join forces with him in saving Russia by a return to old beliefs. The plot, dubbed “Khovanshchina”, is found out. Meanwhile Marfa, a seeress and one of the Old Believers, laments the rejection of her fiance, Khovansky's young son Andrei, while protecting Emma, a girl from the German Lutheran quarter, upon whom Andrei had tried to force his attentions. In the character of Marfa, it has been said, Mussorgsky, sums up all the conflicts and passions of this collective Russian tragedy - which comes to a head with Peter (aged 17) seizing power in a coup. In a terrifically dramatic final scene, the Old Believers assemble at their forest hermitage, resolved to die on a funeral pyre rather than surrender. Distant trumpets announce the approach of the Tsar’s troops. Fire leaps upwards on stage - clever lighting and smoke convince entirely - as they meet death in the purifying flames.


The Russian language is richly sonorous (one of Mussorgsky’s interests was the relationship of language to music), but it would all have been largely unintelligible to me were it not for unobtrusive streaming text, in English, on a narrow screen below the proscenium arch.


Every aspect of the show was professional and polished, the very cream of Russian high culture. Lavish in set and costume, epic, dramatic: every performer shone, eloquent in voice and action. There were choruses of boyars and monks, folk dancers and Persian slaves; and the Prince Khovansky splendid on his horse!


During the three intervals we had coffees, wandered around the sumptuous adjoining reception halls (with discrete display cases touching upon episodes in a great pageant of theatre and opera history); and during the last we sipped champagne with bonbons.


Supper - with Paganini


It must have been close to midnight when we stepped out into the cold, sated by the high drama that was the prelude to Peter’s reign, grandly portrayed in Mussorgsky’s musical imagery (this history being the immediate Russian backdrop, of course, to the founding of St Petersburg). We ventured forth at a brisk pace to the Gurevich apartment. The pavements, iced over in places, were extremely slippery - as I discovered again to my cost! “Attention, attention” Vladimir would say - translating into English via the German “Achtung”.


The route we took was past the Synagogue and Jewish school on Lermontovskiy prospect - the Gurevich family being of that faith. Under the Tsars, Jews were the most oppressed minority, confined to the Pale of Settlement. Reforms under Alexander II brought relief and in 1893 the community was secure enough to build this synagogue and school. They were spared the Nazi genocide; but religious and cultural life was severely restricted through most of the Soviet era. In the early 1950s the alleged involvement of Jewish doctors in the so-called “murder” of Zhdanov led to plans for a mass deportation of Jews to Siberia - plans that were called off following the death of Stalin. 


The Gurevich apartment is in a building on Prospekt Rimskovo-Korsakova. Upon entering into a ground floor vestibule (in Russia, as in America, the ground floor is also the first floor), one could either go up by the bare stone stairs, or take the lift, which we did. The four of us squeezed into the cage-like contraption, with steel grates and bars, something one might normally have associated with an industrial setting or a mine, not a domestic apartment block. At the press of a button it shook into life and began to lift very slowly, and seemingly with great effort, up its shaft. One was almost relieved to have reached one’s destination when it clanked to a halt a few floors up (though it was probably as powerful as a tank!). Around the corner, through a door, we were in the Professor’s apartment, where coats and headgear went onto hooks, and one chose a pair of slipper-like footwear from a collection that was provided for visitors, to put on after removing wet, sludgy boots. There was a very narrow passage lined with books and many hundreds of LP records, and music scores. Leading off it, immediately left, was Vladimir’s room where there was a piano, a sofa, bookcases covering most available wall space, a table set for a meal, and a large cat named Tommy. We had a good chuckle over the fact that, in Kimberley, we have a cat named Sasha, while the Gurevich cat has such an English name!


Lyudmila Gurevich joined us, having prepared a sumptuous spread consisting of a range of bowls of cold dishes, from which one helped oneself onto a small side plate. With bread, there were, amongst other treats, two kinds of mushrooms the family had gathered at Karelia, sardines, pickled herring, cucumber, gherkins, a rice salad, cheese. Vodka was poured and taken between mouthfuls of the above. After a first round, Lyudmila brought in a baked potato each, to which we added more small helpings of fish or mushroom or salad: by now we had also moved on to wine. Throughout, toasts were made, again to Jarnovic, to the success of the symposium, and to one another.


Vladimir told stories of his mother, who knew Shostakovich; and he brought out some of the biographical studies she had written on him, giving a copy of a two-volume set to Stanislav and Vjera, and a shorter account to me (all in Russian!). Lyudmila brought in tea and, along with it, assorted wonderful chocolate-coated or layered biscuits.


For an after supper treat (it was now nearly 2 a.m.!), Semen, their son, was called in to perform for us a Paganini piece, Vladimir accompanying him on the piano. In the ensuing display one was not surprised that he was the recipient recently of some award in Moscow! His dexterity was quite bewildering as he swooped and plucked at breakneck speed across the strings and up into the highest possible positions and harmonics. Truly extraordinary! And at 2 in the morning!!


Presently, we set off back to the Dom kompozitorov, Vladimir walking us half way to ensure we didn’t take any wrong turning. The city was quiet, and cold. I didn’t notice the time when I finally tumbled into bed... but one began to appreciate how it was that the day only begins again at 10!