Cultural Moscow and St. Petersburg in the Age of Realism

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Graham School of General Studies

The University of Chicago

Cultural Moscow and St. Petersburg in the Age of Realism

John Gibbons ·
Course Description:
This course will examine the literary and musical awakening of Russia in the mid-19th century, a turbulent time when political upheaval created a synergy between the artistic and political spheres. As Russia grew larger and more industrialized, revolutionary movements such as the Decemberists, the Petrashevists, and the Freedom Group challenged tsarist rule. Discussions of social issues were often disguised within artistic contexts to avoid censorship. We will consider the absurdist and satirical writings of Nikolai Gogol, the lofty philosophical ambitions of Leo Tolstoy, and the existential explorations of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Musically, we will see how composers such as Modest Mussorgsky invented a new and completely Russian idiom, while figures such as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Anton Rubinstein reconciled the burgeoning Russian artistic identity with Western practice. Music literacy is not required.
Recommended Readings:
David Brown, Musorgsky
David Brown, ed., New Grove Russian Masters (Glinka, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Balakirev)
Edward Crankshaw, In the Shadow of the Winter Palace
Dostoevsky, Diary of a Writer
Orland Figes, Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia
W. Bruce Lincoln, Sunlight and Midnight: A History of St. Petersburg; and
The Romanovs
Robert K. Massie, Peter the Great and Nicholas and Alexandra
Konstantin Muchulsky, Dostoevsky: His Life and Works
Vladimir Nabokov, Lessons on Russian Literature and Nicolai Gogol

Constantine Pleshakov, The Tsar’s Last Armada

Henri Troyat, Tolstoy

Vladimir Seroff, Modest Mussorgsky

Collected writings of Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Chekov

Week 1: An Overview of Moscow and St. Petersburg History
from the Cities’ Origins
Literature: Gogol’s Ukrainian Stories
Music: Glinka, Trio Pathetique, Kamarinskaya
Week 2: The Decembrists and the Reign of Nicholas I
Literature: Gogol’s later stories, Dostoevsky’s Poor Folk
Music: Dargomizhsky songs; Balakirev
Week 3: Life and Policies of Alexander I
Crimean War; Emancipation of the serfs
Literature: Gogol, Dead Souls; Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground, Memoirs from the House of the Dead
Music: Mussorgsky
Painting: a look at Surikov and Repin
Week 4: Nationalistic Opera and Folk Influences
DVDs of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina; Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmilla, Borodin’s Prince Igor

Literature: Turgenev

Week 5: Anarchy and Nihilism
Assassination of Alexander II; the authoritarian reform of Alexander III
Literature: Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment; Tolstoy
Week 6: Imperial Russia
The Bolshoy and Mariinsky Theaters

Ballet and opera: DVDs of Eugene Onegin, Queen of Spades, Swan Lake

Week 7: Russia and the West
Westernization v. Slavophilia
Literature: Dostoevsky, The Idiot; Chekhov
Music: Rimsky-Korsakov
Week 8: The Disastrous Reign of Nicholas II
The Russo-Japanese War; Gregory Gapon and the “Bloody Sunday” Revolt
The coming of WWI and Bolshevism
Literature: Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov and The Devils (a.k.a. The Possessed)

Music: Stravinsky, the Russian ballets

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