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Russian Opera and the Symbolist Movement

Simon Morrison (Author)


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ISBN: 9780520927261
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An aesthetic, historical, and theoretical study of four scores, Russian Opera and the Symbolist Movement is a groundbreaking and imaginative treatment of the important yet neglected topic of Russian opera in the Silver Age. Spanning the gap between the supernatural Russian music of the nineteenth century and the compositions of Prokofiev and Stravinsky, this exceptionally insightful and well-researched book explores how Russian symbolist poets interpreted opera and prompted operatic innovation. Simon Morrison shows how these works, though stylistically and technically different, reveal the extent to which the operatic representation of the miraculous can be translated into its enactment.

Morrison treats these largely unstudied pieces by canonical composers: Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades, Rimsky-Korsakov's Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya, Scriabin's unfinished Mysterium, and Prokofiev's Fiery Angel. The chapters, revisionist studies of these composers and scores, address separate aspects of Symbolist poetics, discussing such topics as literary and musical decadence, pagan-Christian syncretism, theurgy, and life creation, or the portrayal of art in life. The appendix offers the first complete English-language translation of Scriabin's libretto for the Preparatory Act.

Providing valuable insight into both the Symbolist enterprise and Russian musicology, this book casts new light on opera's evolving, ambiguous place in fin de siècle culture.

Note on Dating and Transliteration

Chapter 1:
Chaikovsky and Decadence
Chapter 2:
Rimsky-Korsakov and Religious Syncretism
Chapter 3:
Scriabin and Theurgy
Chapter 4:
Prokofiev and Mimesis

Appendix: The Libretto of the Preparatory Act
Simon Morrison is an Assistant Professor in the Music Department at Princeton University
“Ploughs new ground. . . . A fascinating study, a challenging mixture of literary and musical analysis to perplex the studious reader.”—John Harrison Opera Journal
“Worth investigation by anyone interested in the culture of this period or the composers discussed.”—Times Literary Supplement (TLS)
“Russian Opera is a rewarding and valuable study not only because of its insight and richness but also because of the accompanying reproductions of musical scores, which help the reader to visualize.”—Elizabeth Yellen Slavic & East European Journal

This book concerns the efforts of Russian composers to create Symbolist operas, efforts that were evaluated in their own time as successes, as failures, and, perhaps most frequently, as successful failures. The four composers in question occupy different places in the history of Russian Symbolism. The first, Pyotr Chaikovsky, was prescient, anticipating, rather than actually joining, the movement; the second, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, was resistant, conceiving his penultimate opera as a rationalist and realist response to Symbolist decadence, yet nonetheless succumbing to it in the end. The third composer, Alexander Scriabin, was obsessive, extending, in his metaoperatic project, the precepts of Symbolism to hazardous extremes. And the fourth composer, Sergey Prokofiev, was parodic: his third completed opera constitutes a modernist response to the atavism and excesses of the Symbolist movement. Despite the pronounced stylistic and technical differences between the composers, their creative activities provide case studies of the amazing potentials and equally amazing pitfalls of the Symbolist enterprise. On one level, their works affirm that music, inasmuch as it defies the barrier of meaning, can invoke the otherworldly; on another level, their works attest to the insurmountable barrier between the representation of the miraculous and its enactment.

Russian (and, for that matter, French) Symbolist opera does not travel lightly: each of the operas featured in this book carries an enormous amount of philosophical and aesthetic freight. For this reason, in the first half of this introduction I will provide a brief overview of the Symbolist movement that will define the musical symbol versus the poetic symbol, evaluate the relationship between Symbolist writers and musicians, and outline the contents of the book. In order to clarify and extend some aesthetic and theoretical observations, in the second half of the introduction I will summarize the solitary and unique effort of a Symbolist poet to create a Symbolist opera, The Rose and the Cross (Roza i krest). The core of this drama might best be described as an impossible song intended to transport its hearers, willingly or unwillingly, into a trance-like state.

  The Musical Symbol

The Russian Symbolist movement is often divided into two generations of writers: the first, "decadent" generation includes the poets Konstantin Balmont (1867-1941), Valeriy Bryusov (1873-1924), Zinaida Hippius (1869-1945), and Dmitriy Merezhkovsky (1865-1941); the second, "mystic" generation includes Andrey Belïy (1880-1934), Alexander Blok (1880-1921), and Vyacheslav Ivanov (1866-1949). The list is far from complete, and the division between the generations is inherently artificial, since the "decadents" and "mystics" worked with each other and Symbolism occupied only part of their careers. But one generalization can be made: whereas the first generation found inspiration in French Symbolism, the second found it in German idealist philosophy. Bryusov's activities centered on enhancing the perceived musicality of poetry through the manipulation of sonorous word combinations. He similarly employed ambiguous and suggestive words that, he deduced, referred back to an essence, a universal meaning beyond the power of language itself to express. From the French Symbolists, he determined that there were three interrelated genres of Symbolist poetry. The genre includes "works that give a complete picture, in which, however, something incompletely drawn, half-stated, is perceptible; as if several essential signs are not shown."1 Bryusov cites the sonnets of Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-98) as examples. The second genre includes "works which have been given the form of a complete story or even drama, but in which separate scenes have a significance not so much for the development of the action as for a certain impression on the reader or viewer." Bryusov does not furnish an example of this genre, but he likely had in mind the drama Pélleas et Mélisande (1892) by Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949), which he translated in 1905, and which Claude Debussy had previously turned into the preeminent Symbolist opera. The third genre includes works that "appear to you to be an unrelated grouping of images." Bryusov here cites Maeterlinck's "Hothouse Bloom" ("Serre chaude") the opening poem in Hothouse Blooms (Serres chaudes, 1889), Maeterlinck's first collection of poetry. The emphasis in Bryusov's three-part schema is on the Symbolist poet's unique perception of the world and the symbol's capacity to disclose the hidden content or inner essence of reality. By revitalizing conventional verbal syntax (this being confined to outer appearances and rational thought) Bryusov sought to cultivate a poetry of pure suggestion. Within his verses, he made fleeting allusions to ancient legend and ancient history, broke apart lines of verse into discordant and concordant phonemes, and relied upon such irrational adjective-noun pairs as "satin gardens" ("atlasnïye sadï"), "violet hands" ("fioletovïye ruki"), and "chocolate skies" ("shokoladnïye neba").

Like Bryusov, Belïy aspired to liberate art from formalist constraints; unlike the older poet, however, he sought to engage art with religious and political causes. Belïy interpreted the Symbolist movement as a Gnostic journey toward a syncretic, pluralistic existence. He derived his thinking from an eclectic assortment of philosophical sources—some Western European, some Far Eastern, some cultivated in the soil of his own nation. From German classical philosophers, he gleaned that the nature and function of a symbol differed fundamentally from that of an allegory. On this point, he referred to two famous aphorisms by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832): "the allegory transforms the phenomenon into a concept, and the concept into an image, but in such a manner that the concept can only be stated, confirmed or expressed in the image in a way that is always limited and incomplete"; and "the symbol transforms the phenomenon into an idea, and the idea into an image, but does this in such a way that the idea in the image has infinite repercussions, and remains intangible; even when expressed in every language it will always remain unexpressed."2 From German idealist philosophers, Belïy also gleaned that the symbol had the potential to render the immaterial material. "The aim of [Symbolism]," he declared, "lies not in the harmony of forms, but rather in the visual actualization of the depths of the spirit."3 The formalist definition of the symbol as a multivalent, multi-interpretable device became entangled in his imagination with religious concepts of transubstantiation, pagan beliefs in magical spells, and medieval occult doctrine. Belïy and his "mystic" Symbolist colleagues fantasized that their activities would precipitate the spiritual transfiguration of the world, although, inevitably, they differed on the actual date of its occurrence. For Belïy, Avril Pyman explains, "art was but one flank, albeit a most important one, of the intellectual army he was mustering for the redemption of all culture." "For Ivanov," she continues, "art was a temple or sacred grove of the spirits to which the poets, a chosen company, should be drawn to celebrate half-forgotten gods—a sanctuary of recollection to which, one day, all people would follow." Finally, "for Blok, art like life itself was a hell which must be traversed in order to emerge—somewhere beyond art—into the unimaginable light of a new Eden, a New life."4

The distinction between the "decadent" and "mystic" Symbolists—exemplified in this brief overview by Bryusov and Belïy—thus rests on the distinction between an interpretation of the symbol as a device for suggestion and allusion on the one hand, and, on the other, as a device for disclosure and revelation. According to the first generation poets, symbols stimulated the imagination, invoking ancient times, recalling forgotten experiences, and, as a consequence, temporarily renouncing reality for dream, cognition for intuition. According to the second generation poets, symbols had the capacity to transform reality, to make the familiar unfamiliar (a notion later adopted by the Russian Formalists), and to have a narcotic impact on the psyche. Bryusov considered Symbolism to be magical: the symbol was apparitional and incantational, leading the reader on imaginary journeys to other times and places. Belïy, in marked contrast, considered himself to be magical, a divine creator capable of giving material form to the postulates of knowledge, of summoning different worlds into being. Steven Cassedy notes that Belïy, like the other "mystic" Symbolists, "assigned himself the same power of God in the logology of Eastern Orthodoxy: by pronouncing the Word (Logos), which then becomes incarnate, he (He) is creating a concrete 'world' reality that exists as a hypostatic emanation of his (His) own being."5 Bryusov, as a "decadent" Symbolist, did not share the spiritual fervor of his young colleagues. However theirs, not his, were the views that garnered attention as the Symbolist movement matured and that eventually captured the imaginations of composers.

Of the various reasons for the collaboration between poets and musicians, the most basic was a shared interest in resurrecting the theatrical practices of the ancient Greeks, practices which, in the poets' opinion, facilitated communal bonding and could, if reconstituted, enable society to regain lost unity. It was a fantasy akin to that which had obsessed Giovanni Bardi (1534-1612) and Jacobo Corsi (1561-1604)—the two members of the Florentine Camerata whom the Russian Symbolists occasionally cited—and that led to the creation of opera at the end of the sixteenth century. In "The Poet and the Mob" ("Poet i chern," 1904), Ivanov argued that the memory of the ancient bond between artists and the masses survived in legends and myths. As the designated custodians of these legends and myths, the "mystic" Symbolists set out to create ritual-based dramas that would resurrect the forgotten heritage. The endeavor became all-important to poets who emerged as a cultural force during a period of political and spiritual crisis in Russia and who sought through their art to bridge the chasm that had opened between the ruling elite and the rural populace, Church and State, adherents of theological doctrine and adherents of bourgeois morality. Although ridiculed by their opponents (one of them being Rimsky-Korsakov), the "mystic" Symbolists clung to the belief that communal art represented a possible solution to the problem of social disintegration. Ivanov, placing his rather dubious hopes for spiritual synthesis on the music drama, embraced the theory of art developed by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy (Die Geburt der Tragödie, 1872), specifically the idea that artistic creation was regulated by "Apollonian" and "Dionysian" principles, the former comprising "dream," the "plastic energies," the "immediate apprehension of form," and "individualism," the latter comprising "drunkenness," "enchantment," "reconciliation" with nature, and "Primordial Unity."6 Music, as the most "Dionysian" art, generates a multiplicity of meanings, which lead, ultimately, to an all-encompassing meaning. In "The Hellenic Religion of the Suffering God" ("Ellinskaya religiya stradayushchego boga," 1904), Ivanov speculated that "perhaps once again genuine tragedy will arise from the matrix of music; perhaps the resurrected dithyramb will 'prostrate millions in the dust'"7 He implies here that music might one day form the basis of a universal drama.

Though fanciful, these abstract theoretical musings influenced actual operatic compositions. It inspired, for example, innovations in the handling of operatic time and space relationships and touched off dreams of expanding stage action to encompass what had previously seemed unencompassable. In Russian Symbolist opera, the past, present, and (even) future intertwine, with each musical, verbal, and visual level pockmarked with allusions to the others. The central images are those of falling and rising: fiery angels descending earthward and the religious faithful ascending heavenward. The origins of Russian Symbolist opera reside less in mythic Greece and mythic Russia than in the Festspielhaus at Bayreuth. Richard Wagner's music dramas were a colossal influence on the "mystic" Symbolists, chiefly for their verbal imagery (the references to omnipotent swords, endless nights, and grail pilgrimages), but also for their "symbolic" leitmotifs. They were venerated as well for their acoustic novelties: those moments in the scores that evidence disdain for secure semantic communication, where meaning becomes unclear, hence evocative of hidden ideas. The best examples of these effects are the unsynchronized horns, the frequent mishearings and misquotations, and the act III alte Weise of Tristan und Isolde (1859). Wagner's music dramas in large measure inspired Belïy to attempt to musicalize his poetry by freeing it from conventional rules of meter (that is to say, writing lines of varying length and cadence, usually not rhymed) and by experimenting with so-called verbal leitmotifs (unifying his works by repeating, intact or in variation, sonorous word and syllabic groupings). His experiments resulted in four verbal "symphonies": the 1st (Northern and Heroic) Symphony (Severnaya simfoniya: 1-aya geroicheskaya, 1900), the 2nd (Dramatic) Symphony (Simfoniya: 2-aya dramaticheskaya, 1902), The Return: 3rd Symphony (Vozvrat: 3-aya simfoniya, 1905), and The Chalice of Blizzards: 4th Symphony (Kubok meteley: 4-aya simfoniya, 1908). Referring to Belïy's turn-of-the-century memoirs, Rosamund Bartlett, author of the first comprehensive study of Russian Wagnerism, explains that "with phrases as his material . . . [Belïy] wished 'to proceed as Wagner had done with melody,' using the themes as a 'strong line of rhythm' that would absorb subsidiary themes 'according to the rules of counterpoint.' Elsewhere he declared equally explicitly that the subjects of his first four books had been drawn from 'musical leitmotifs.'"8 Roger Keys adds that the plots of the "symphonies" tend to be cluttered, as Belïy endeavored to shake the reader's confidence that events would unfold logically. The unstable surface of these texts, however, achieves order on another level. In the 1st (Northern and Heroic) Symphony, for instance, Belïy combines a cluster of "negative" leitmotifs (images of lonely people and barren vistas) with a cluster of "positive" leitmotifs (pious rituals and radiant sunsets). The resulting mixture reflects Belïy's dream that "the confusion and purposelessness of earthly life" would be "resolved in a higher, cosmic or spiritual purpose."9

The motivating force behind Belïy was Emiliy Metner (1872-1936), a notoriously anti-Semitic lawyer and music critic obsessed with Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen (1874).10 Metner divided his friends and enemies into Wälsungs and Nibelungs, related events in his life to events in Wagner's narrative, and even associated shifts in his mental and physical health with the content of different leitmotifs. Concerning the Wälsung leitmotif, for example, Metner told Belïy: "You know, I once fell ill . . . before I became ill, the Wälsung theme arose involuntarily before me: tam-ta-ta-tam . . . ta-tam-tam."11 Just as Metner cast himself as the tragic figure of Siegmund, Belïy adopted the heroic guise of Siegfried, plotting to vanquish his artistic foes in defense of his philosophical beliefs. In doing so, he hoped to dissolve the border between art and life, imagination and reality. Such intentionally preposterous role-playing games were typical of the "mystic" Symbolists, who described them as vehicles for changing social alliances. Participating in one another's fantasies, they elevated the experience of being in love into religious ecstasy and their creative journeys into spiritual pilgrimages. Together, they considered themselves to be martyrs in an epic struggle for the future of Russia. The music drama, they declared, could serve as the vehicle for religious and political change. Pyman notes that during the 1905 St. Petersburg performance of Der Ring des Nibelungen, "Wotan was clearly identified with the old regime, Siegfried, the smith's apprentice, with the people, and Brünnhilde—at least to Blok, Bely, and Lyubov [Mendeleyeva], who attended the theatre together—with the World Soul, more specifically the soul of Russia about to be awakened from an enchanted sleep."12

With regard to the overall structure of Wagner's scores, the Symbolists dwelled on the deployment of the leitmotif as a mnemonic device and the depiction of events on multiple dramatic planes. Following a January 1901 concert of highlights from Parsifal (1882), for example, Blok composed an untitled poem concerning the manner in which Wagner used music to recall images from the distant past. Quoting the poem, Bartlett notes that while "Blok 'never understood before/The art of holy music,' hearing excerpts from Parsifal provoked a surge of involuntary memory, 'So that all former beauty/Came back from oblivion in a wave.'"13 Ivanov likewise posited that the leitmotif was a device of remembrance that established bridges between the objective and subjective, the conscious and unconscious, the world of objects and the world of essences. He asserted that the characters in the music dramas behaved like figures in a dream, the orchestral music emanating from beneath their feet, disclosing both their thoughts and the nameless forces that determined their destinies. Like Blok, he was short on specifics, and when he declared that all of the leitmotifs in Der Ring des Nibelungen were symbolic, referring to unknowable entities, he was rebuked by a rival, who countered that they were most often allegorical, associated with concrete objects and ideas. Though they might seem to be ambiguous, they actually display a fixed logic in their repetition.14

One searches in vain for detailed discussions of music by the Russian Symbolist poets. They regarded composers as wizards, figures like Morgan La Fee, King Arthur's sister, who in order to baffle enemies created castles in the air substantial enough to stimulate desire yet dissolving under close scrutiny. For its sheer absence of technical information, perhaps the most intriguing Symbolist examination of music is Belïy's essay "On Theurgy" ("O teurgii"), published in 1903 in the short-lived religious-philosophical journal New Path (Novïy put'). This essay shows Belïy's fervent belief in the theurgic nature of musical and poetic symbols, their capacity to modify our perception of reality. Theurgy, a term coined by the third-century philosopher Iamblichus, is most often defined as incantation by the gods. In Belïy's usage, however, it refers to the god-like capabilities of the Symbolists, their ability to transform artistic creation into religious creation. The symbol—whether musical or poetic—not only asserts the existence of the objects that it connotes, it actually has the power to summon new objects into being. From a purely literary perspective, Belïy sought the formation of a syntax in which words assume the same ontological status as their referents. His source for this concept was Mallarmé, who in his 1897 essay "The Crisis of Poetry" ("Crise de vers") recalled a mythological time when language could actually produce objects by fusing sound and sensation. From a purely musical perspective, Belïy sought the formation of a syntax in which sounds were divorced from their cultural referents and prevented from assuming a concrete semantic identity. By constantly shifting their expressive value, they would compel the listener to contemplate their various possible implications, their various possible sources in experience. Drawing on Schopenhauer, Belïy hypothesized that, through music, the listener perceives the deepest forces that regulate the cosmos: the concentrated energies that constitute the noumenal Will. Unlike poetry, which concerns the material traces of objects, music concerns their immaterial essences. Thus, whereas the "mystic" Symbolist poets, as theurgists, were forced to confine their activities to this world, Symbolist composers could gain direct access to the other world.

Yet the theoretical apparatus that frames Belïy's discussion of specific compositions is much more sophisticated than the discussion itself. In "On Theurgy," he focuses his "analysis" on 8 Stimmungsbilder (opus 1, 1897) by Nikolai Metner (1880-1951), Emiliy's younger brother. Against these slight works, which are evocative of Robert Schumann in their use of programmatic titles and Johannes Brahms in rhythmic inventiveness, Belïy juxtaposes the first stanza of an untitled 1843 lyric by Mikhaíl Lermontov (1814-41), the intention being to demonstrate the expressive superiority of the music over the text.

The first number [Prolog] of the collection [Stimmungsbilder] expresses exactly that feeling which inspired Lermontov to write his famous lines: Lone I walk upon the road;
The stony path gleams through the mist;
The night is still. Wilderness heeds God,
And star speaks with star.
[Vïkhozhu odin ya na dorogu;
Skvoz' tuman kremnistïy put' blestit;
Noch' tikha. Pustïnya vnemlet bogu,
I zvezda s zvezdoyu govorit.]

But this division between nature, solemnly peaceful in the embraces of night's dark blue ether, and the soul, poised above the crevices, is felt somewhere deep inside when one hears the chords flowing, as though soaring to heaven. . . . In subsequent passages. . . where Lermontov either broke off or, surrounded by chaos, prognosticated, Metner, inspired by love, aspires to make his way through the mist. Like any profound, active, and actual (rather than apparent) aspiration to light—only a prayer, but in any case strengthened by the power of prayer—Metner's endeavor, like his compositions, is theurgic.15

There are no programmatic suggestions in the music; the alignment of Metner with Lermontov is purely hypothetical, reflecting what Belïy considers to be the common subjective implications of their works. Belïy implies that translating musical discourse into verbal discourse is a futile exercise, since music evades and eludes rationalization. The result will either be passionate exaggeration or empty contemplation. While modestly trained in music—he had lessons in piano and composition from his mother—the poet avoided discussing compositional syntax and technique, asserting that the analysis of melody and harmony impedes surrender to musical rapture.

The "mystic" Symbolists' musical musings only touched ground, paradoxically, when they proposed definite measures for distorting the surface clarity of compositions, for transferring the listening experience from the realm of the intellect to the realm of the senses. In their theoretical writings, they expressed impatience with the longstanding debate concerning the semantic content of music, asserting that music does not express anything beyond itself, that is to say, anything that can be translated into images and words. This does not mean that, to the poets, "music in itself" was meaningless, a dark void; rather, it bore endless meanings, offered thousands of shades of emotions, and provided "release from everyday perception" through the revelation of "countless possibilities of being."16 The poets conceded, however, that not all compositions were symbolic. The invocation of the ineffable could not be achieved through fixed compositional systems, for such systems assign "grammar" and "syntax" to music, labels and terms that conceal its indefinable content with a definable, "extra-musical" cover. Recognizing that the issue of musical meaning—how sonatas and symphonies had been interpreted in different historical eras, and how such interpretations change as styles and genres undergo transformation and dissolution—had been addressed by numerous historians and theorists, the "mystic" Symbolists contended that attempts to provide scientific descriptions of the experience of music decreased its mystery, hence its value.

In a 1907 article for the Symbolist journal The Golden Fleece (Zolotoye runo) entitled "Music, As One of the Highest Mystical Experiences" ("Muzïka, kak odno iz vïsshikh misticheskikh perezhivaniy"), K. Eiges claimed that music was the most "symbolic" of the forms of art. After quoting the usual philosophical suspects, he concluded that "music is super-empirical. It combines within itself both 'subject' and 'object,' 'I' and 'not I,' representation and the will. In ontological terms it is the will to sounds. This point alone is sufficient to indicate that music exists beyond the limits of scientific inquiry."17 Speaking ex cathedra for his poet colleagues, Eiges suggests that "mystic" Symbolist composition requires the composer to encode his thought processes into the actual structure of the material. The results of this procedure, he implies, are compositions in which harmonic and melodic relationships of cause and effect are supplanted by a free play of sounds in which the borders of musical grammar and syntax are continuously pushed back. Through the fusion of what later aestheticians called "experience" and "practice," the composer creates a link between "secondary truths of life" and "first principles."18 Finding that traditional forms of composition placed limits on musical discourse, discourse that should be infinite, the Symbolists insisted on loosening formal constraints and embellishing musical syntax. They became the first advocates of "open" compositions, which would allow for what might be called the "flight" or even "escape" of the musical signifier.

The composer most enamored with "mystic" Symbolism was of course Scriabin, whose creative path seems to have followed the "dialectical progression" that, according to the poets, separated their activities from those of other artists. In a seminal 1910 essay, "The Behests of Symbolism" ("Zavetï simvolizma"), Ivanov, Scriabin's friend and Symbolist tutor, charted this "dialectical progression" as follows. During the first phase, the "thesis," the artist determines that "the world is not narrow, flat, or poor, it is not desolate or predetermined, for there is much in it that yesterday's wise men [the realists] did not dream of, there are passages and openings into its secret from the labyrinth of man's soul." The artist thereafter seeks to give expression to the fleeting correspondences between this world and the other world using symbols. There ensues the second phase, the "antithesis," in which the artist endures a period of moral and spiritual turmoil, the successful outcome being the commitment of his life and work to "the worldview of mystical realism." At this point, Ivanov claims, the artist has moved from viewing art as an object of worship to viewing himself as an object of worship. Finally, in the third phase, the "synthesis," the artist is brought "face to face with his true and ultimate goals": the enactment, rather than the representation, of transcendence. The creative act now becomes "vital and significant." It allows for a "commemorative secret sight of correlations with higher essences." Moreover, it transforms itself "into a sacred secret action of love" that overcomes "the division of forms" to become a "theurgic, transfiguring Fiat."19 Surveying Scriabin's career, one can locate the "thesis" phase in the composer's Symphony No. 1 in E major (opus 26, 1900), whose choral finale praises the power of music, the "antithesis" phase in Prometheus: The Poem of Fire (opus 60, 1910), whose "program" refers to the composer as a divine agent, and the "synthesis" phase in the inchoate Mysterium (Misteriya), a vision of cosmic dissolution. In a 1919 speech that introduced a piano recital in Scriabin's memory, Ivanov provided a slightly more refined summary of Scriabin's career, declaring that the composer's aesthetic platform reflected "a threefold idea, a threefold emotion, [and] a threefold vision." He claimed that the "thesis" phase consisted of a "vision of surmounting the boundaries of the personal, the individual." The "antithesis" phase, in turn, consisted of a "vision of the universal . . . , communal mingling of all humanity." The "synthesis" phase, finally, comprised a "vision of a stormy breakthrough into the expanse of a different, free plane of being—universal transformation."20 Through benefit of hindsight, one realizes that Scriabin's creative activities evolved—more accurately, devolved—from the realizable to the potentially realizable to the unrealizable.

Beyond accepting Symbolism as a philosophical worldview, Scriabin absorbed concrete compositional ideas from the poets. Like Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, he was interested in the concept of synaesthesia, more precisely, "color hearing"; unlike Rimsky-Korsakov, however, Scriabin acquired his knowledge of "color hearing" from the writings of Belïy and Ivanov, which in turn stemmed from Goethe's pseudo-scientific treatise Toward a Theory of Color (Zur Farbenlehre, 1810). In Belïy's extremely late Symbolist publication Masks (Maski, 1932), characters and settings are denoted by colors and sounds, the intention, according to John Elsworth, being "to express that which lies beyond the customary domain of descriptive language."21 On one level, Belïy sought to assign color and sound semantic content; on another, he sought to illustrate the semantic limitations of descriptive language. Elsworth also remarks that, for Belïy and the other "mystic" Symbolists, rational perception constituted only one element of essential perception, which was regulated not by the mind but by the five senses. Cognitive or rational perception places a veil over essential reality, which exists at the extreme fringes of consciousness and can only be intuited. In Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, Scriabin proposed to represent, rather than to enact, synaesthesia using a projector called tastiera per luce ("keyboard for light"), which splayed different colored beams, each calibrated to a specific pitch and specific tonality. For example, according to Scriabin's "Musico-Chromo-Logo Schema," the chart of color-sound relationships that Bulat Galeyev devised to the composer's specifications, the pitch F and the tonality of F major were analogous to red, which stood for "Diversification of Will"; the pitch G{fl} and the tonality of G-flat major were analogous to blue or violet, which stood for "Creativity"; and the pitch G and the tonality of G major were analogous to orange, which stood for "creative play."22 Unfortunately, the tastiera per luce did not function properly, and Scriabin acknowledged that, even had it done so, the result would have only advertised, rather than achieved, the transference of reality from the domain of the intuition to the intellect, a process that the composer hoped would occur spontaneously in the experiences of his listeners. He fantasized that, during the performance of his compositions, the visual and aural senses would be mutually stimulated. Sight would be divorced from its usual causal stimuli and would be "causally" associated with hearing.

Though Scriabin is often, perhaps too often, regarded as the Russian "mystic" Symbolist poster child, at least three other composers, working in familiar operatic contexts, also exploited the hallucinatory potential of the musical symbol. Chaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Prokofiev all incorporated symbolic passages into their mature operas, passages that infuse the vocal and instrumental lines with nostalgia and foreboding, euphoria and depression, and that serve to oscillate between the external and internal, material and spiritual worlds. The stage characters are portrayed in extremely fragile emotional states, straddling the border between conscious and unconscious impulses. The music that marks their entrances and exits attests to the numinous heterogeneity of the dramatic events, the occult relationships between overlaid semantic spaces. As a transmediating device, the musical symbol not only aligns scenes and events within the confines of single scores, it also aligns scenes and events within different scores. It operates, in short, to concatenate the ideas and thoughts of composers of disparate times and places. In this regard, it underscores the Symbolist aspiration to create works with potentially unlimited meanings. More than is usual in opera, hearing these works entails tracing both the teleological unfolding of the narrative (the diachronic enchaining of events) and the layers of allusions that supplement this unfolding (the synchronic enchaining of events).

Yet the poetic symbol is translated into musical terms in much less tangible ways. Stefan Jarocinski observes, for example, that Debussy sought

to speak directly through bird-song, the sound of the sea, the rocking of a boat by the waves, the movement of clouds in the sky, or drifting mists, to lead our thoughts to the origin of things and cause them to dwell on the ultimate questions in life. His music does not answer any questions, create any myths, or suggest any solutions, but for that very reason acts all the more forcefully on our minds, and forces us to follow in its wake.23

Jarocinski reports that a musical symbol can be as simple and direct as a framed measure of silence (like measure 6 of Debussy's Prélude à L'après-midi d'un faune [1894]) or as complex and indirect as a harmonic pattern distributed over several acoustic registers and distorted by unusual instrumentation. A melodic sequence might be dismantled into seemingly random fragments; a cadence or structural point of repose might be made apparitional, blurred by chromatic ornamentation or obliterated by tremolos and glissandi. The fusing of tonal and nontonal melodic sequences can be symbolic, as can the ascribing of tonal functionality to dissonant or nontriadic harmonies. Structural pitches can succumb to unusual harmonizations and thus be relegated to the status of epiphenomena. Perhaps the most familiar examples of musical symbols are distorted bell and bell-like sounds, which lead the listener's imagination back through multiple spatial and temporal tiers. Their oscillation and reverberation point to those attributes of musical experience that structural and functional hearing overshadows. These sounds are not selected for their ability to represent dramatic events but for their polymorphousness, their inability to remain interpretively still. Acoustically deracinated and desemanticized, they at once impede and precede cognition. They characterize not only Debussy's French Symbolist operas (Pélleas et Mélisande and The Fall of the House of Usher [La chute de la maison Usher 1917]), but also the four Russian Symbolist operas discussed in this book.

Chapter 1 concerns the Russian fin-de-siècle and the founding of the World of Art (Mir iskusstva) artists' circle. I contend that Chaikovsky's Queen of Spades (Pikovaya dama, opus 68, 1890), composed on the cusp of the Symbolist movement, is at once a fantasy about the operatic potential of the movement and—paradoxically—its finest operatic exemplar. Within it, Chaikovsky manufactures a hallucinatory atmosphere by offsetting musical forms and styles dating from both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The text in part concerns gambling addiction; the music progresses accordingly from logic to illogic to active chance. Herman, the chrysomaniacal anti-hero, is represented as a "Romantic" character trapped in a "Classical" world, a madman who possesses the future.

To compensate for the brevity of the source novella, during the compositional process Chaikovsky and his librettist brother expanded the opera by including within it a Mozartean divertissement and scenes of aristocratic music-making. Taking the rich symbolic possibilities of these interpolations into account—their potential to transform the stage events by offering different subjective interpretations of them—the Chaikovsky brothers decided to transpose the setting of the opera from the epoch of Alexander I back to the epoch of Catherine the Great. In doing so, they made several of the literary and musical borrowings anachronistic. As a consequence, some of the characters "recall" events not from their pasts but from their presents or—even more surrealistically—their futures. These aberrances do more than undercut the verisimilitude of stage events; they facilitate the juxtaposition of different dramatic levels, the presentation, in other words, of different times and places at right angles to each other.

In the chapter, I develop this last point by interpreting the principal musical motifs of the opera as gateways not only between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but also between natural and supernatural worlds. The motifs anticipate and demonstrate the characters' subjugation to the power of malevolent fate. I also contend that the opera addresses the decline of Imperial Russia, the sense—prevalent in the Symbolist movement—that the nation was undergoing a transition. The atmosphere of foreboding that suffuses the stage events intimates that, ultimately, The Queen of Spades less concerns "Classical" or "Romantic" Russia than "Modern" Russia. The opera articulates the conditions of the Russian fin-de-siècle in its precarious relationship to inoy svet—the other world.

Chapter 2 evaluates Rimsky-Korsakov's The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya (Skazaniye o nevidimom grade Kitezhe i deve Fevronii, 1905) through the prism of the ecumenical religious philosophy of Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900), which influenced the "mystic" Symbolists and Theosophists alike. The most important of the opera's various source texts, the 1223 Kitezh chronicle, is concerned with syncretism: the process by which components of one religion are assimilated into another religion as an expression of spiritual communion. The opera's title character was derived in part from the sixteenth-century hagiography of St. Fevroniya of Murom but also from writings about another religious figure known as the Divine Sophia, a symbol in Symbolist literature of the Eternal Feminine. Significantly, Rimsky-Korsakov conceived the Legend of Kitezh not as a Symbolist opera but as a pageant of patriotic nationalism. His librettist, Vladimir Belsky, had a vastly different conception of the work, however, and incorporated references to Symbolist literature into the libretto. Since the two of them were unable to see eye to eye, the result of their collaboration is a somewhat contradictory score that conflates realistic and fantastic scenes. From the theater audience's perspective, it combines events in a material (urban) sphere (acts II and III, scene 1) and events in an immaterial (forest) sphere (acts I and IV, scene 1). From the pious stage characters' perspective, it blends events in an unreal but visible world (the profane city of Lesser Kitezh) and a real, but invisible world (the sacred city of Greater Kitezh). The chapter is separated into an overview of the genesis of the libretto, cast in part in the style of seventeenth-century religious prose, and an overview of the genesis of the music, cast in part in the style of pre-Petrine Russian Orthodox chant. Near the end of the chapter, I contend that, although Rimsky-Korsakov often described himself as an atheist, his opera has a profound spiritualist message. His depiction of synaesthesia, his "syncretic" admixture of "forest" and "urban" sounds, and his emphasis on bell and bell-like sounds all serve to demonstrate that paradise is present to all of us here on Earth, only veiled.

Chapter 3 concerns the "mystic" Symbolist concepts of collective creation and theurgy. In 1904, Scriabin, influenced by Wagner as interpreted by Ivanov, conceived a composition that would realize the Symbolist ideal of spiritual emancipation. In 1913, he determined that this composition, the Mysterium could not be completed, since his uncertainties about his dual roles as author and participant had led him to a dead end. In its place he decided to compose an introductory, invocational work called the Preparatory Act (Predvaritel'noye deystviye). Before his sudden death in 1915, he had completed only a draft libretto and fifty-five partial pages of musical sketches for it. Analysis of the extant material reveals the paradoxes of attempting to create communal drama. It also relates a Symbolist tragedy: how one composer's philosophical speculations resulted in creative silence and personal trauma. To fill a significant gap in the English-language literature on Scriabin, the appendix to this book offers a complete translation of the Preparatory Act libretto.

Scriabin conceived of the musical symbol as a wholly original chord or motif. While the most illustrious of these is the "mystic" (Symbolist) chord, other sonorities, often analyzed as subsets of whole-tone and octatonic scales, can also be called symbolic. Related by tritone, major second, or minor second, these sonorities are deployed in single or multiple registers and interact in homophonic and polyphonic contexts. Clifton Callender, in an analysis of prominent whole-tone, "mystic," acoustic (aligned with the harmonic series), and octatonic collections in Scriabin's mature piano works, contends that these sonorities occupy a "relational network of split relations," a "relational network," in short, in which certain pitches are separated into upper and lower neighbor notes, the upper neighbor belonging to one referential collection, the lower neighbor belonging to another.24 Interacting in a closed system of chromatic associations, these sonorities attest to the absence of functional harmonic patterns—the absence of teleological unfolding—in Scriabin's late scores. Given that the composer interpreted functional harmonic relations as representations of the creative consciousness, their attenuation in his compositions would seem to represent (and even express) the dissolution of the individual Will. It might also be argued that Scriabin's efforts to simulate (or stimulate) states of stasis and timelessness serve to express spiritual ascension from the physical to the astral plane—an ascension described in the Theosophical doctrine of Helene Blavatsky (1831-91), a seminal influence on the "mystic" Symbolists. Through his phantasmagoria, Scriabin substituted symbolic representation for symbolic suggestion. Having cast himself as a demiurge, a creator of spiritual gateways from one plane of reality to another, Scriabin sought to engulf listeners in his compositional system, to allow them to realize the potential of music to elevate the consciousness to a transcendental nexus.

Chapter 4 centers on the imitation of life in art and its "mystic" Symbolist antithesis, the imitation of art in life, otherwise known as life creation (zhiznetvorchestvo). It was aversion to this concept, among other things, that spurred Bryusov to write his infamous 1908 roman-à-clef The Fiery Angel (Ognennïy angel), this being the source of Prokofiev's infamous opera of the same name. In the chapter, I argue that the opera is a parody of a parody, an amplification, in short, of the stylistic and thematic transgressions of the roman-à-clef. Bryusov subverted one of the theoretical premises of "mystic" Symbolism: the idea that a symbol was a device that oscillated not simply between perception registers within the confines of a text but also between internal and external reality. (Gretchen, the heroine of part one of Goethe's Faust [1808], was viewed by the "mystic" Symbolists, for example, as a symbol of the Eternal Feminine and, as such, a figure whose fate warranted emulation in reality.) Bryusov also cast a jaundiced eye on the "mystic" Symbolist aspiration to transform earthly love into heavenly love. Prokofiev, in his turn, broadly mocked the themes that Bryusov had subtly critiqued. In his opera, the outwardly self-assured hero Ruprecht stumbles from confusion to confusion, the occult practitioner Agrippa of Nettesheim is exposed as a pretender, and the heroine Renata waits in vain for a superhuman entity to liberate her from the confines of a subhuman reality. From a "mystic" Symbolist standpoint, the score heretically eradicates states of transcendence. Renata's vocal lines are locked into elaborate ostinato passages that, on one hand, seem to mimic the broken sequences, obsessive litanies, and repetitive rhythms of Symbolist poetry (as well as Igor Stravinsky's neoprimitivist music) but, on the other, confine her to a pattern of recurring nightmares from which no escape is possible. Near the score's cataclysmic climax, her voice, like the other characters' voices, dissolves in the cognitive noise of the chaotic orchestra.

The Fiery Angel was not staged in Prokofiev's lifetime, the principal reason being the paucity of visual action, a consequence of his conscious decision to confine the central conflict between angelic and demonic forces to the music. Seeking a producer, in 1927 he completed a revision of the original 1923 score and in 1930 composed an English-language scenario, two pages of stage instructions, and seven fragmentary pages of musical sketches for a new version. The chapter traces Prokofiev's creative process, focusing on his shifting views about the relationship of natural and supernatural events in the opera, while also isolating those passages that can be called symbolic. The final paragraphs are speculative, a meditation on the manner in which the cultural mythology of the Symbolist era informed that of the Soviet era. These paragraphs also reflect the various gaps in the scholarly record about the years immediately predating and postdating Prokofiev's decision to return from Western to Eastern Europe.25

In view of the novelty of the subject matter, I have attempted as much to chronicle the genesis as to analyze and interpret the content of the scores under discussion. Each chapter is heavily documented, with multiple prose and poetry citations, the intention being to situate the musical artifacts of the Symbolist movement in an appropriate historical context. The theoretical apparatus of the book stems from contemporaneous sources, though where it serves to elucidate or elaborate I also refer to the work of post-Symbolist scholars, notably Boris Asafyev and Yuriy Lotman. My overall intention is to illustrate how attempts to create Russian Symbolist operas pushed dramatic technique to an extreme. Unifying the four chapters is the concept that a musical symbol oscillates between temporal and narrative layers: the past and present (and future), the natural and supernatural, the internal and external, the real (realia) and more real (realiora). This concept is intertwined with several vexing questions: How does one translate euphonious (musical) literature into music? How does one convey timelessness in music, a temporal art? Lastly, and most problematically, How does one represent the unrepresentable, the realm beyond sensory awareness, on stage? To the poets, it seemed sufficient to pose the questions. Composers who searched for the answers found themselves unable to resolve the contradiction between the materials and metaphysics of composition, and thus unable to transform theatrical representation into enactment. Other composers, sensing the futility of this pursuit, confined Symbolism to the opera house. The latter group's "Apollonian" vision, the belief that music could offer fleeting glimpses of higher truths, supplanted the former group's "Dionysian" vision, the conviction that music could actually transform the world.

  The Rose and the Cross

Alexander Blok's 1913 drama The Rose and the Cross was a thwarted attempt to realize the enigmatic musical ideals of his time and place. It constitutes the most elaborate product of a short-lived endeavor among the "mystic" Symbolist poets to write opera libretti, song texts, and plays calling for incidental music.

The basic theme of this drama is the heterogeneity of human existence, the idea that there exist two realities, one cognitively graspable by the mind, the other intuitively graspable. The plot brings together dissimilar characters, settings, images, and events: a grief-stricken lady and a dejected knight, a dilapidated castle and a windswept beach, the bells of a sunken city and a ghost in a dungeon, a peasant dance around a decorated tree and a song contest in a flowering dale. The spring that sets the plot in motion is a song so provocative that it haunts the dramatis personae for years after they hear it performed by an itinerant troubadour. The troubadour reappears at the drama's end for an encore performance. Extracted by Blok from Breton poetry, the song's pastoral text identifies joy and suffering as equivalent emotional states. Its music was intended to mesmerize its listeners—both those on and off the stage.

Here Blok faced a familiar problem: Could a composer actually write a song for The Rose and the Cross that would have this effect? Could the poet actually find someone to compose music that emanated (or appeared to emanate) from another level of reality, a fourth dimension amid the three? The climax of the drama suggests that the task is utterly beyond completion, the song impossible. Having idealized the troubadour and his song in memory, the lady is disappointed when she hears him perform again: the actual music cannot match the transcendent music in her memory. This turn of events does not mean that Blok was thwarted in his poetic aspirations, or that his drama does not contain passages in which dream and legend supplant reality and history. Rather, it foregrounds the special challenges that Russian Symbolist poets presented to their composer counterparts: to create music that opens windows into other levels of perception and to elevate opera into something beyond itself. In a journal entry, Blok commented that, "for a play," The Rose and the Cross "was too much of a mosaic" and that in the figure of the downtrodden knight "there was something that had outgrown opera."26

Blok conceived The Rose and the Cross while melancholic. His journal entries for 1912 and 1913 contain gloomy thoughts about his marriage, his fragile health, and his creative work. The resulting drama in part expresses his yearning to escape a dull present into a bright past. Blok juxtaposes passages of historical narration and personal reflection, comic and tragic events, philosophical fulmination and anecdotal digression. The narrative is disjointed; instead of falling into two matched parts, the pattern of scenes suggests an unsolved geometry problem. For purposes of cohesion, Blok makes repeated references to the practices of Rosicrucianism, an esoteric faith that, like Theosophy and Cabalism, was revived in the Russian Symbolist era: astral projection, aura reading, hypnotism, meditation. He also suffuses the narrative with references to music—both music as a poetic topos (the alchemy of rhythms and rhymes, consonants and vowels endemic to French and Russian Symbolist literature) and as actual vocal and instrumental sounds possessing rhythm, melody, and harmony. In this regard, his drama helps define the nature and function of the musical as distinct from the poetic symbol. Quotations from the troubadour's song are interwoven, inevitably, with quotations from Wagner's music dramas, the supreme influence not only on Blok but on all the Russian Symbolists.

The drama is set at the start of the eighteenth century, though the poetic imagery dates from the outset of the thirteenth. The eighteenth-century locale is the unruly castle of Archimbaut at Languedoc; the thirteenth-century locale is the unpopulated seaside of Brittany during the Albigensian crusade. References to the legends and myths of the earlier historical period infuse the real-time action, transporting the reader back and forth between them as though by metempsychosis.

The conflation of historical past and present is reflected on a small scale in the conflation of the experiential past and present in the mind of Izora, the young wife of the crotchety Count Archimbaut.27 Upon hearing a song about endless struggle sung by the handsome troubadour Gaetan, she falls sick with melancholy. The count summons the castle doctor, who advises that her ailment can only be treated by bloodletting, in accordance with the ancient prescriptions of Galen and Hippocrates. The plot then shifts to the castle chaplain, who declares his love for Izora's chatelaine Alisa. Alisa shuns him because she yearns for the castle page Aliksan, who pines in turn for the self-centered Izora. Frustrated and jealous, the chaplain takes revenge on Alisa by suggesting to the count that Izora has been unfaithful to him. The count imprisons Izora and Alisa in the "Tower of the Inconsolable Widow." The tower is the residence of the "Knight of Misfortune" Bertran, who is devoted to Izora but shunned repeatedly by her. When the count dispatches him to the north of France on military business, she beseeches him to find the troubadour who caused her malaise. Meanwhile Aliksan, recognizing that Izora will not return his affections, sends Alisa a pastry containing a love letter.

The climax of the drama takes place at the May festival. Maidens encircle a decorated tree, jugglers and acrobats entertain the crowd of knights and ladies. The song contest begins. The first minstrel sings "I love the breath of the beautiful spring," which Blok described as a "free translation of three strophes (I, II and IV) from the famous sirventes by Bertram de Born"; the second minstrel sings "Through the dense forest at springtime," a "free adaptation of a song by a Picardie trouvère of the XIIIth century."28 Gaetan reluctantly appears to sing his renowned song. Finding him old and undesirable, Izora loses interest in the performance and directs her attention to Aliksan, who has attended the festival out of boredom. Earthly love conquers unearthly dream: the lady invites the page to her chamber. At this moment the watchman appears to announce that the castle has been attacked by the army of Count Raymond, a Toulouse nobleman fighting on behalf of the Albigensians. Bertran defeats Raymond in a duel but is gravely wounded. Ignoring his condition, Izora orders him to stand guard beneath her chamber window to guarantee her own and her lover's privacy. Meanwhile, Alisa, upset at Aliksan's transgression, finally decides to reciprocate the amorous entreaties of the chaplain. Bertran keeps lonely vigil through the night and dies at sunrise. The clatter of his sword hitting the flagstones has unspoken significance, attesting to the splintering of reality in the drama as a whole.

Blok modeled the "Knight of Misfortune," the central character in The Rose and the Cross, in part on himself. Izora was modeled on the actress Lyubov Mendeleyeva (1881-1939), with whom he fell in love in 1898, and who inspired him to write about the possibility of achieving goodness and harmony in the world. Blok's first collection of poetry, Verses about the Most Beautiful Lady (Stikhi o Prekrasnoy Dame, 1905), attests to his state of romantic bliss but suggests that the feeling may not last. The Rose and the Cross, in contrast, fully acknowledges the loss of the dream. Bertran's sadness at Izora's infidelities mirrors Blok's sadness at those of his beloved Lyubov. The intrigues and jealousies between the residents of the castle, moreover, reflect those between Blok and his artistic rivals. Like Blok, Bertran fondly recalls his youth, but confesses that his memories of it have soured. Blok's tendency toward depression, lastly, is figured in the knight's frequent visits to a barren beach.

Donald Rayfield comments that Izora symbolizes Mendeleyeva but also the "eternal feminine, spiritually responsive to the song that haunts her, but physically responsive only to the page boy."29 She also brings to mind two Wagnerian heroines: Isolde and Kundry. Blok's knowledge of Wagner was sparse, confined to his interest in German idealist philosophy, but he was active in editing and translating Wagner's prose and poetry. Rayfield observes that, together with Die Kunst und die Revolution (1849), Blok "had to edit Der Ring, and produce a new version of Tristan. Substantial sketches exist for a dramatic 'tableau' of Tristan und Isolde."30 Izora has three characteristics in common with Isolde: her obsession with Gaetan and his song recalls Isolde's longing for Tristan; her suffering in her husband's castle recalls Isolde's fear of marriage to King Marke; and her reliance on her chatelaine Alisa recalls Isolde's dependence on her maidservant Brangaene. She resembles Kundry, however, in her insomnia and her futile efforts to achieve spiritual redemption with the assistance of a virtuous hero. The relationship between Izora and Bertran differs markedly from that between Tristan and Isolde, but as another Slavicist, Robert Hughes, remarks, "the three stages of Bertran's death and transfiguration (wherein Joy and Sorrow—[the knight's] physical suffering—do indeed become one) are very much like the long dying of Tristan as he awaits the arrival of Isolde." Tristan's death, moreover, is "accomplished in three stages of reminiscence and a final transfiguration in which the joy of understanding becomes at one with his suffering."31 Verbal allusions to Isolde's "Liebestod" are intertwined with incipits from authentic Provençal romances and Celtic legends.

Gaetan has no counterpart in Wagner's music dramas: he is a character from Rosicrucian legend, a Medieval emissary seeking to found a society devoted to the secret sciences. And yet the contest scene in which he performs his song was obviously based on the equivalent scene in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1868), which Blok heard on 15 January 1913, in the midst of work on the final pages of The Rose and the Cross.32 Bartlett states that, although the general moods of The Rose and the Cross and Die Meistersinger are entirely different and there is little similarity between Gaetan and Hans Sachs, "the coincidence between the significance of Gaetan's song. . . and Walther von Stolzing's 'Prize Song' is indeed striking."33 Bartlett supplies no details, but the relationships between the two numbers are worth outlining. Just as the leitmotif aligned with Izora's passion for Gaetan evolves into Gaetan's festival song in act IV, scene 3 of The Rose and the Cross, so too does the leitmotif of Walther's passion for Eva (appearing at measure 97 of the act I overture of the Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg) evolve into Walther's prize song in act III, scene 5. Moreover, the poetic imagery of Gaetan's song appears to negate that of Walther's song. Gaetan laments his endless search for an unattainable ideal; Walther describes finding and tracing the path to paradise. Referring back to Tristan und Isolde, it is worth noting that the scene in which Bertran meets Gaetan is replete with wind and storm imagery reminiscent of the sailor's song that begins act I of Wagner's opera. The troubadour describes himself as an orphan raised in captivity by a fairy near the seashore. Before he ventured out into the world, the fairy instructed him to "heed the songs of the ocean" and "observe the crimson dawns" and prophesied that he would always wander the world.34 Thereafter in the drama, the troubadour and his song symbolize eternal struggle.

In act I, scene 3, before the May festival has taken place, Izora unwittingly finds herself humming the first and second stanzas of the number under her breath: "'The snow swirls . . ./The fleeting age rushes . . ./The blessed shore is dreamed.'" Turning to her chatelaine, she declares: "I can't recall any more a . . . strange song! 'Joy-and-Suffering . . . law immutable to the heart. . . .' Help me remember it, Alisa!" Bemused, Alisa replies: "How can I help you, my lady, if even the doctor can't help[?]"35 Her inexplicable anamnesis causes the outlines of the castle to fade, to cede to an idyllic recollection of the world, the world as it perhaps existed in her youth. On the surface, the symbolic function of the song, imprinted in fragments in Izora's mind, is the stirring of memory. But the nature imagery, the references to the "fleeting age" and "blessed shore," appear to probe deeper, provoking not only individual memory but communal memory. The song recalls prelapsarian bliss and mourns its loss.

Bertran believes that Gaetan has brought coded messages to the castle denizens and hears in his recital vestiges of ancient legends, the incantations of forgotten balladeers. He hears echoes of his own love and longing in the love and longing that Gaetan expresses; he observes that, within the song's text, motifs of chivalric devotion and repressed desire blend with motifs of enchantment and sorcery. In act IV, scene 5, as he guards Izora's bedchamber, suffering from the wounds that he sustained in his sword fight with Count Raymond (comparable to the wounds that Tristan sustained in his sword fight with Melot), Bertran remembers the pain and sorrow in Gaetan's voice:

How beautiful the night! 
Hark, into the solemn voice of trumpets 
Bursts rustling . . . 
No, again quiet . . . 
Nothing more disturbs the peace. 
God, your thunderous silence 
Your poor slave 
Hears clearly! 
The wound opened, 
My powers wane . . . 
Burn, rose! 
Death, you make the heart wiser . . . 
I understood, understood, Izora: 
"Law immutable to the heart— 
Joy-and-Suffering is one . . . 
Joy, oh, Joy-and-Suffering- 
The pain of unheard-of wounds! . . ." 
[Kak noch' prekrasna!
Chu, v torzhestvennïy golos trub
Vrïvayetsya shelest . . .
Net, opyat' tishina . . .
Bol'she nichem ne narushen pokoy.
Bozhe, tvoyu tishinu gromovuyu
Yavstvenno slïshit
Bednïy tvoy rab!
Rana otkrïlas',
Silï slabeyut moi . . .
Roza, gori!
Smert', umudryayesh' tï serdtse . . .
Ya ponyal, ponyal, Izora:
"Serdtsu zakon neprelozhnïy—
Radost'-Stradan'ye odno . . .
Radost', o, Radost'-Stradan'ye—
Bol' neizvedannïkh ran! . . . "]36

These lines concern the relationship between reality and dream, physical and spiritual values. Separated, the rose and the cross stand for love and honor; intertwined, they stand for each human's ability to evolve toward God. In accord with the "Law immutable to the heart," Bertran must sacrifice his love, strength, and life to regain honor. Gaetan's song informs him of the "mystery of self-crucifying love" and recapitulates the ancient idea that love brings about salvation.37 The song is no mere allegory, a lesson about forsaking personal desire to attain spiritual grace, but a symbol, a facilitator of supersensory experience. It is an integral element of the thing that it represents. The song's effect on the knight and lady cannot be translated into words since, as Blok insists, to do so would be to set up a crimping equivalence between a musical symbol and a verbal sign.

Considering the immense importance he ascribed to the music, it is not surprising that Blok wavered about how to use it in The Rose and the Cross. The story of the music is in fact a story of diminishing expectations. Blok conceived the drama in January 1912 as a scenario for a ballet about the lives of the Provençal troubadours. He asked Alexander Glazunov to compose the score, but Glazunov's heavy teaching schedule and heavy drinking prevented him from complying. That May Blok abruptly changed the ballet scenario into an opera scenario. His journal entries for the month contain psychological profiles of each of the characters except Gaetan. His doubts about the genre of the work resurfaced in June, and he informed his mother that "it once seemed to me that it would not turn out as an opera, but as a play, but all the same it will become an opera: I was deluded by one of the dramatic figures—the unfortunate Bertran—whose character is more dramatic than musical."38 On finishing the first draft of the text in September, however, he decided that the subject warranted realistic treatment in dramatic rather than operatic form. The second draft was finished at the end of October 1912, but the play was only accepted for stage production in November 1915 at the Moscow Art Theatre. A letter of 22 October 1916, from the theater director Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko to Blok provides information about plans to incorporate music in The Rose and the Cross: "At this time it is still not determined who will write it. The fact is, to this end I contacted [Sergey] Rachmaninoff, as it would be ideal if he himself did it. But he is very busy and won't reply." The reason for Rachmaninoff's apparent disinterest is made clear a few lines later, when Nemirovich-Danchenko remarks that he had instructed Rachmaninoff to compose music with a "Scriabinesque tone" and to allow Gaetan's song "to recede further and further into the distance on some kind of violin note."39 Any good will that might have existed between the director and composer would have been undone by these proposals, as Rachmaninoff disliked Scriabin and did not seek inspiration for his compositions from Symbolist poetry. Blok was left to commission the young "Wagnerian" composer Mikhaíl Gnesin (1883-1957) to write the music. However Gnesin's setting of the song disappointed Blok—"Not Gnesin—at least not his Gaetan," the poet wrote in his journal on 10 March 191640—and the prospective collaboration fell apart. It was a devastating blow to the composer, who had published "Gaetan's Song" as his opus 14, no. 2 in 1915, and had also written music for the chorus of maidens in act IV, scene 3 ("Now it is May, bright May" ["Vot on, may, svetlïy may"], opus 23), and a song for the page Aliksan in act I, scene 3 ("Happy day, blissful hour" ["Den' vesyolïy, chas blazhennïy"], opus 14, no. 1). Only the last of these works was ever performed as part of the play, as staged in the winter of 1920 in the provincial town of Kostroma.41

In her 1978 memoirs, the Armenian poet Marietta Shaginyan (1888-1982) observed that The Rose and the Cross "calls for unusual sound, for 'decadence in music,'" and yet recalled that Blok rejected Gnesin's music "because he wanted to stage [his drama] realistically."42 Her statement is only partly correct; the rejection reflected Blok's uncertainty about the drama's overall structure. Like the symbol itself, The Rose and the Cross had the potential to assume many different forms but turned out as a hybrid work that did not conform to any of them. Blok's ambivalence may also have reflected his realization that, given the philosophical freight he had assigned to it, any setting of the song would prove anticlimactic and deficient. More concretely, however, the rejection illustrates Blok's distaste for Gnesin's adherence to the traditional rules of harmony, his penchant for Romantic clichés (distant horn calls, harp glissandi, nature imagery), and his resistance to rhythmic and metric experimentation, the latter being the means by which Symbolist poets endeavored to alter morphemic and phonic relationships. The composer's aspiration to semanticize music—to create aural analogues to words and images—affronted the Symbolist credo that music alone among the arts could serve to express the ineffable. For Gaetan's song, Blok doubtless desired scoring that would supplant logically structured musical signifiers with "pure" sound values.43

What, then, is Gnesin's setting of the song like? If we were to describe it using a Symbolist poet's ornate, metaphoric language, we would pass over such immediately obvious points as its loosely ternary (A-B-A') form and its compound duple meter. Rather, we would point out the striking text-representational devices, especially the dazzling if somewhat garish hurricane motifs. Of these, the most prominent is a harp figure aligned with allusions to the windswept Breton beach, the swift passage of time, and the meteorological events described in the text. First heard in measure 4, it takes shape as an ascending and descending scalar figure in the outer sections and an arpeggiated figure in the middle. Its rhythmic values range from sixteenth notes to thirty-second notes to mixed triplet and sixteenth notes. The harp figure recurs in pairs, a feature of the score that, in the ternary frame, increases the sense of design and destiny. The trumpet-like fanfares in the voice part at measures 15 to 18 and 96 to 99 (accompanying the words "The fleeting age rushes,/The blessed shore is dreamed!") are clearly word-painting devices, as are the undulating neighbor-note configurations in the strings at measures 25 and 26 (accompanying the words "The spinning wheel hums and sings"). The relatively narrow range of the two- and four-measure vocal phrases enhances the sense of dispirited monotony.

The song unfolds in a series of lyrical waves, each stanza demarcated by changes in tempo (moderato to andantino to lento, each gradation including a ritardando and an a tempo) and dynamic (piano to forte to mezzoforte to fortissimo, each gradation including a crescendo). Gnesin disguises the ternary structure somewhat by overlapping the conclusion of the B section music and the outset of the A' section at measure 83, and by emphasizing a single tonality, A minor, throughout. There is a brief modulation to the relative major at measure 57, the exact center of the song, just before the phrase describing the relationship between joy and suffering, an event that serves to magnify a detail of the song while presenting a view of the whole. The harmony tends to meander. The outset of the A' section (measures 85-88), for example, is marked by a recurring, vacillating progression describing a tritone. Although the chord rooted on E is often embellished by a seventh, it is never deployed as a functional dominant. Gnesin robustly accentuates the line "The sign of the cross!" (measures 81-83) with ascending fortissimo C major, D major, and E minor triads, but only delicately underscores the central revelation that "Joy-and-Suffering is One!" (measures 63-64) with a cadential figure in the voice and a scalar flourish in the first violins.


It is evident that Gnesin tried to find musical equivalents for Blok's words, while the poet wanted precisely to avoid such alignments.44 The composer worked with what Jarocinski has in a French Symbolist context called a "system of musical metaphors" and a "musical topography" that offers analogies to the other arts.45 The music for the song is semantically stable, when in fact the text calls for blurring and obfuscating rhythmic patterns and destabilizing and combining harmonies—a gradually estranged syntax, in short, that would accord with gradually estranged verbal imagery. Such traits are routinely identified in the mature scores of Debussy. In a 1908 lecture, the philosopher T.E. Clark hypothesized that "Debussy uses chords like Mallarmé uses words, as mirrors which concentrate the light from a hundred different angles upon the exact meaning, while remaining symbols of that meaning and not the meaning itself. These strange harmonies . . . are not the end, but the point of departure of the composer's intentions; they are the loom upon which the imagination must weave its own fantasies."46

In the appendix to The Rose and the Cross—an alternate ending titled "Bertran's notes, written by him a few hours before his death" ("Zapiski Bertrana, napisannïye im za neskol'ko chasov do smerti")—Bertran describes the impact that Gaetan's song had on him: "The melody about Joy-and-Suffering, which [Gaetan] often repeated, particularly troubled me. At times his words and songs, which had some secret meaning that I could not at all grasp, horrified me, for it began to seem that it was not a person before me, but only a voice, calling me to the unknown."47 The "voice" was to be accompanied by the real-or-imagined chiming of bells. Like other Symbolists who embroidered their works with archaic references, Blok provided an annotation to the chiming effect in his drama. The sound, he contended, would provide a subliminal point of equilibrium between disparate times and places, bridging the 1,300-year span between the real-time action of The Rose and the Cross and the fifth-century legend about the underwater city of Ker-is (the Breton equivalent to the thirteenth-century Slavic legend about the underwater city of Kitezh). According to most versions of the legend, Ker-is stood near the sea but was protected from it by a large pond that prevented flooding at high tide. The pious King Graalon ruled Ker-is and kept the key to the dyke separating the city and the pond on a chain around his neck. One night, his duplicitous daughter Dagyu, having mistaken the voice of the sea for the voice of her lover, stole the key and unlocked a secret door to the dyke. Water poured in and the city sank. "To this day," Blok surmised, "fisherman see the remnants of the walls towers jutting out of the water at low tide, and in a storm they hear the ringing of bells on the seabed."48

Bertran hears the ringing, a traditional symbol of Russian Orthodox faith that, owing to distortion and muffling, loses its connection to any one fixed point of origin. It instead becomes an eternal sound, an image of suspended time, the essence of the phenomena to which the name "bells" is assigned. Whereas the common function of bells is to mark the passage of time, in Blok's drama they lose this property and instead mark the cessation of time. Hearing them, the knight perceives an ebbing affinity between his diminutive stature in the present and the larger-than-life heroes of the past. The reverberation is elegantly described in his dialogue with Gaetan in act II, scene 3.

Now—the underwater city is not far away.
Do you hear the bells ringing?

I hear
How the roaring sea sings.

And do you see
That Gwenole's gray chasuble drifts
Over the sea?

I see how the gray fog
Is parting.

Now do you see
How the roses play on the waves?

Yes. It is the sun rising behind the fog.

Teper'—podvodnïy gorod nedaleko.
Tï slïshish' zvon kolokolov?

Ya slïshu,
Kak more shumnoye poyot.

A vidish',
Sedaya riza Gvennole nesyotsya
Nad morem?

Vizhu, kak sedoy tuman

Teper' tï vidish',
Kak rozï zaigrali na volnakh?

Da. Eto solntse vskhodit za tumanom.49

Bertran does not associate the bell chiming with the underwater city. The mysterious ringing is transformed in his imagination into natural sounds: swelling waves crashing against rocks, gusting winds parting fog. The deluded mishearing has direct Wagnerian antecedents. Friedrich Kittler remarks, for example, that act II of Tristan und Isolde "opens with a whirring and ambiguous orchestral sound that Isolde's maidservant Brangaene hears only too correctly as King Mark's horn signal. On the other hand, the 'wildness' of Isolde's 'desire' for Tristan brings her 'to interpret as' she 'pleases'—the definition of an acoustic hallucination. Her maidservant answers Isolde: 'No noise of horns sounds so sweet; the spring, with soft purling of waters runs so gaily along.'"50 In Tristan und Isolde, the "acoustic hallucination" is achieved by supplanting musical signifiers with "pure" sound values that express otherwise inexpressible rapture. The "acoustic hallucination" in The Rose and the Cross is achieved by similar means, but accomplishes a liquidation of the relationship between internal and external reality. Blok seeks to convey the ebb and flow between the self and the world, to establish what Charles Baudelaire called "correspondences"51 between the world in which we live and the world of spirit.

In the scene, Blok provides an explicit definition of a musical symbol. (Unlike Belïy and Ivanov, his "mystic" Symbolist colleagues, Blok did not possess any technical knowledge of music; however, like them, he speculated about music's supremacy over the other arts, including his own.52) It is a resonant device that, in a dramatic work, mediates between temporal and spatial levels and traverses perceptual registers. In The Rose and the Cross, it takes the form of a sound that fades in, catches the ear, and fades out. Its retreat from audibility opens up a contemplative space, protected by its evanescence from the sound's phenomenal associations. It invites the listener to ponder what lies beyond sensory capacities, the essence that, by virtue of its immateriality, has no definable content. For Bertran, the symbolic chiming becomes increasingly multi-layered and dissonant—in terms of both sound and meaning. It seems—an all-important verb for the Symbolists—to have no beginning and no ending. Rather, it throws a bridge across time and space, supplanting the temporal motion of the world—what the French intuitivist philosopher Henri Bergson called durée, or time as experienced by consciousness53—with an assemblage of indefinite associations. These associations envelop an essential truth or, to invoke the phraseology of Gaetan's song, a "Law immutable to the heart."

This description might well seem to cloak a simple concept in pretentious language. One could argue, for example, that a musical symbol resembles a leitmotif, a passage of music that, on repetition, invites the listener to draw connections between different events in a drama. In The Rose and the Cross, however, musical symbols are defined locally, within the framework of a set piece, a constrained and idiosyncratic duration. In placing so much emphasis on Gaetan's song, Blok implies that an intensely subjective sensorial experience of a composition can serve as a portal to the beyond. Some passages in the song become so familiar to the characters that they demand transformation or elaboration in their apprehending consciousnesses. To Izora and Bertran, a familiar (nonsymbolic) sound on the way to becoming an unfamiliar (symbolic) sound must pass through the corridor of the too-familiar-to-bear. By doing so, it induces a cerebral condition removed from conscious activity, withdrawn from social and historical imbrication.

Owing to its many Wagnerian allusions, Rayfield calls The Rose and the Cross "Russia's first and last Wagnerian opera."54 However, in one crucial respect, the drama opposes Wagnerian aesthetics. Rather than a Gesamtkunstwerk, a synthesis of the forms of art, Blok created a fragmented and dichotomous work. The "Knight of Misfortune" Bertran, the troubadour Gaetan, and the page Aliksan can all be interpreted as reflections of his personality. Blok did not seek to erase his elocutionary presence in the drama but, on the contrary, sought to give voices to these different parts of himself. The inherent solipsism of The Rose and the Cross serves to explain why the poet vacillated between writing a ballet, an opera, or a play. Having conceived it in a private, idealized fantasy world, he found it difficult to cede control of the project to directors and actors. Just as Izora's adolescent memory of the troubadour's song was spoiled when she heard it performed at the festival, Blok could not accept the substitution of actual music for the fleeting music in his imagination. He acknowledged an irreconcilable conflict between the envisaged song and its merely auditory effect. Like Blok's other prospective musical collaborators, Gnesin faced a perplexing task: to write the music for the scenes of spiritual uplift in the poet's drama, which, given the drama's basis in reality, meant writing the music for the scenes of spiritual uplift in the poet's life.

Blok's difficulty in finding a composer for The Rose and the Cross need not imply that he was preaching to deaf ears when he conceived his symbolic sounds. Coming late in the history of Russian Symbolism, the drama illuminates the idiosyncratic preoccupations of the movement: research into ancient myths, revival of pagan rituals, advocacy of social and political upheaval, and the fusion of art and life. Blok's inclusion of actual music in his drama was the inevitable outcome of an attempt by the poets to inscribe what they considered to be the ineffable qualities of music into their creations. Besides stressing the intonations and rhythms of language over its syntactic formation, they relied on syllabic echo effects and reverberations and sought to splinter grammatical phrases into differentiated acoustic moments. They conceived the central images of their texts as verbal icons: as replications of previous images and "knowable" embodiments of "unknowable" faiths. The Symbolists determined that, just as a viewer perceives a religious icon in a different way from other images, so too does the reader apprehend the verbal symbol in a different way from the verbal sign. In The Rose and the Cross, Blok succeeded in demonstrating that a musical symbol requires a different mode of hearing, the replacement of what the Russo-French philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch termed "the illusion of discursive hearing" with the contemplation of "the intangible and unattainable center of musical reality."55 By actually collaborating with a composer, Blok imagined he might probe the metaphysical space that words alone could not probe. His disappointment prefigured Scriabin's creative catastrophe.


1 This and the next two quotations in the paragraph are taken from V[aleriy] Bryusov, "A Reply" ("Otvet," 1894), in The Russian Symbolists: An Anthology of Critical and Theoretical Writings, ed. and trans. Ronald E. Peterson (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1986), 23.

2 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Sprüche in Prosa: Sämtliche Maximen und Reflexionen über Natur und Wissenschaft, 1887, quoted in Stefan Jarocinski, Debussy: Impressionism and Symbolism, trans. Rollo Myers (London: Ernst Eulenburg, 1976), 23.

3 Andrey Bely [Belïy], "Symbolism as a World View" ("Simvolizm kak miroponimaniye," 1904), in Selected Essays of Andrey Bely, ed. and trans. Steven Cassedy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 79.

4 Avril Pyman, A History of Russian Symbolism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 197-98.

5 Steven Cassedy, introduction to Selected Essays of Andrey Bely, 18.

6 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy [from the Spirit of Music], trans. Clifton P. Fadiman (New York: Dover, 1995), 2-4.

7 Vyacheslav Ivanov, "Ellinskaya religiya stradayushchego boga," Novïy put' 3 (March 1904): 51. The phrase "prostrate millions in the dust" comes from the choral finale of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 (opus 125, 1824), which Ivanov characterized as the "dithyramb of the new world."

8 Rosamund Bartlett, Wagner and Russia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 144.

9 Roger Keys, introduction to The Dramatic Symphony, trans. Roger and Angela Keys (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1986), 10.

10 On Metner's politics and psychology, see Magnus Ljunggren, The Russian Mephisto: A Study in the Life and Work of Emilii Medtner (Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell, 1994).

11 Belïy, "Nachalo veka. Vospominaniya. Tom Tretiy, Berlinskaya redaktsiya (1922-23)," quoted in Bartlett, Wagner and Russia, 148.

12 Pyman, A History of Russian Symbolism, 268-69.

13 Bartlett, Wagner and Russia, 200.

14 See ibid., 126-30.

15 Belïy, "O teurgii," Novïy put' 9 (September 1903): 116-17.

16 Ivanov, "Skryabin," 1919, in A.N. Skryabin: chelovek, khudozhnik. mïslitel', ed. O[l'ga] M[ikhaílovna] Tompakova (Moscow: Gosudarstvennïy memorial'nïy muzey A.N. Skryabina, 1994), 115.

17 K. Eiges, "Muzïka, kak odno iz vïsshikh misticheskikh perezhivaniy," Zolotoye runo 6 (1907): 55.

18 Comte de Lautréamont, Maldoror and Poems, 1978, quoted in Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language, trans. Margaret Waller, introd. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), 217.

19 Ivanov, "Zavetï simvolizma," in Rodnoye i vselenskoye, ed. V.M. Tolmachev (Moscow: Respublika, 1994), 187-89.

20 Ivanov, "Skryabin," 116. For an assessment of the implications of Ivanov's commentary for the analysis of Scriabin's music, see Richard Taruskin, Defining Russia Musically (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 320-29.

21 John Elsworth, "Moscow and Masks," in Andrey Bely: Spirit of Symbolism, ed. John E. Malmstad (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987), 212.

22 Faubion Bowers, foreword to Alexander Scriabin, "Poem of Ecstasy" and "Prometheus: Poem of Fire" in Full Score (New York: Dover, 1995), 114.

23 Jarocinski, Debussy: Impressionism and Symbolism, 150.

24 Clifton Callender, "Voice-Leading Parsimony in the Music of Alexander Scriabin," Journal of Music Theory 43:2 (1999): 219-33, esp. 228-29.

25 Completing the record must await the release of documents from the Russian State Archive for Literature and Art. Just after Prokofiev died, Tikhon Khrennikov (b. 1913), the general secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers, headed a committee that prohibited access to certain letters, telegrams, and other autobiographical materials for a period of fifty years owing to their sensitive political content. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, the decision to close the archives has not been overturned, which means that archival work cannot commence until 5 March 2003, fifty years to the day after Prokofiev's premature passing. For an overview of the state of Prokofiev research, see Noëlle Mann and Elena Pol'dyayeva, "O Prokof'yeve yeshcho mozhno uznat' mnogo novogo . . . ," Muzïkal'naya akademiya 2 (2000): 241-52.

26 Aleksandr Blok, "Dnevnik 1912 goda," in Sobraniye sochineniy, ed. V[ladimir] N[ikolayevich] Orlov et al., 8 vols. (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoye izdatel'stvo khudozhestvennoy literaturï, 1960-63), 7: 154 (26 June 1912).

27 The ensuing summary of the plot and structure of The Rose and the Cross follows that in Konstantin Mochulsky, Aleksandr Blok, trans. Doris V. Johnson (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1983), 328-42.

28 Blok, "Primechaniya k drame 'Roza i Krest,'" in Sobraniye sochineniy, 4: 519-20.

29 Donald Rayfield, "Celtic, Wagner and Blok," in Symbolism and After, ed. Arnold McMillin (London: Bristol Classical Press, 1992), 27.

30 Ibid., 21.

31 R[obert] P. Hughes, "Nothung, the Cassia Flower and a 'Spirit of Music' in the Poetry of Aleksandr Blok," California Slavic Studies 6 (1971): 53-54.

32 The next day, Blok wrote in his diary: "To the melodies of Wagner I versified the last scene" ("Dnevnik 1913 goda," in Sobraniye sochineniy, 7: 208).

33 Bartlett, Wagner and Russia, 214.

34 Blok, "Roza i Krest," in Sobraniye sochineniy, 4: 203.

35 Ibid., 173-74.

36 Ibid., 245.

37 Mochulsky, Aleksandr Blok, 340.

38 Letter of 27 June 1912, in Pis'ma Aleksandra Bloka k rodnïm, ed. M. A. Beketova, 2 vols. (Moscow: Academia, 1932), 2: 207.

39 Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (Rossiyskiy gosudarstvennïy arkhiv literaturï i iskusstva, henceforth RGALI), fund 55, list 1, item 314. In suggesting that the "violin note" should "recede further and further into the distance," Nemirovich-Danchenko invokes a favorite Symbolist fantasy about sound dissolving into silence in the material world but continuing to resonate in the beyond.

40 Blok, Zapiski knizhki 1901-20, ed. V.N. Orlov et al. (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaya literatura, 1965), 287.

41 Unhappy with Gnesin, in June 1916 Blok turned to B.K. Yanovsky to compose songs and incidental music for The Rose and the Cross. The planned staging of the play with his music at the Moscow Art Theater was interrupted by the Russian Revolution. Blok thereafter lost interest in staging it. Together with Gnesin's lone contribution, the 1920 production in Kostroma featured music by B.A. Fyodorov. This music, along with the music composed by Yanovsky, has been lost.

42 Marietta Shaginyan, "Chelovek i vremya," Novïy mir 9 (September 1978): 178.

43 The phrase "pure" sound values—referring to musical motifs that, in their ambiguity and imprecision, cannot be interpreted as narrative metaphors—is used by Jarocinski throughout Debussy: Impressionism and Symbolism.

44 Gnesin discusses his approach to setting Blok's poetry in an unpublished 1920 essay entitled "Aleksandr Blok i muzïka" (RGALI, fund 2954, list 1, item 135). Within it, he discusses those poems which have ternary structures and those which have metric schemes typical of popular songs and dances. Needless to say, his attempt to classify Blok's poetry in this manner runs counter to the precepts of Symbolism.

45 Jarocinski, Debussy: Impressionism and Symbolism, 51.

46 Ibid., 58-59.

47 Blok, "Zapiski Bertrana, napisannïye im za neskol'ko chasov do smerti," in Sobraniye sochineniy, 4: 525.

48 Blok, "Primechaniya k drame 'Roza i Krest,'" 514-15. The Breton legend about Ker-is, or ville d'Ys, is the subject of Edouard Lalo's three-act opera The King of Ys (Le roi d'Ys, 1888) and, tangentially, Debussy's tenth Prélude, Book 1 ("La cathedrale engloutie," 1910).

49 Blok, "Roza i Krest," 205-6.

50 Friedrich Kittler, "World Breath: On Wagner's Media Technology," in Opera Through Other Eyes, ed. David J. Levin (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), 225. The quoted words are from the libretto of Tristan und Isolde, as translated by Kittler in collaboration with Levin.

51 In his 1857 sonnet "Correspondence," Baudelaire (1821-67) advocates enhancing subjective expression in art to the extent that color suggests sound, sound suggests color, and both color and sound suggest ideas.

52 Blok's critical writings on music—and his frequent allusions to music in verse—are documented and annotated by Boris Asafyev in his pseudonymous 1922 essay "Videniye mira v dukhe muzïki," reprinted in Blok i muzïka, ed. M. Elik (Moscow: Sovetskiy kompozitor, 1972), 8-57.

53 See Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, trans. Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer (1911; reprint, London: Allen and Unwin, 1950), 191-200.

54 Rayfield, "Celtic, Wagner and Blok," 29.

55 Vladimir Jankélévitch, La musique et l'ineffable (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1983), 126-27.

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