Although culture and politics have always been intertwined, twentieth-century Russia was the site of a long-running “brutal experiment” wherein politics was forced upon high culture with unique ruthlessness and profound consequences. Musicologist and journalist Volkov narrates the recent history of Russian literature, art, music, theater, ballet, and film by examining the personalities of the individuals involved. Considering the political machinations of artists and the aesthetic sensibilities of the rulers, he pays particular attention to the enduring influence of Tolstoy, whose celebrity status and passionate antigovernment stance made those in power nervous even long after his death. There is also a sustained examination of Stalin, who understood high culture well and managed its practitioners with the sweetest carrots and heaviest sticks as the Soviet state “ideologized society to the limit.” The true success of this book, however, may be its inclusion of literally hundreds of other significant Russian cultural figures, most of whom lack the name recognition of Shostakovich or Solzhenitsyn (and many of whom are acquainted with the author) but whose art was complicated by the same political forces. --Brendan Driscoll
"A sweeping eulogy to one of the gilded eras of Western culture--Russia from the late 19th- to the mid-20th century--The Magical Chorus
rewards readers with a gold mine of insider anecdotes."
--Stefan Sullivan, Washington Post Book World
"Sweeping in scope . . . The Magical Chorus
is an ideal guide, clear but still subtle and nuanced, to the rich complexity of Russian culture, its splendors, controversies, achievements, and tragedies throughout the 20th century. Volkov evokes the excitement of that far-off time with compelling immediacy."
--Martin Rubin, Los Angeles Times
"A wide-ranging, gossip-spiked stroll through the thickets of Russia's fierce culture wars."
--Harlow Robinson, The New Leader
"Essential for anyone following modern political and cultural events there . . . Volkov is a stern critic and a smart observer of the Russian scene."
"For lovers of Russian culture, [Volkov's] vignettes and portraits . . . are a joy to consume, as is his analysis of their legacies."--Martha Mercer, New York Sun
"The relationship of culture to politics is nowhere simple, but in 20th-century Russia, as Solomon Volkov brilliantly demonstrates, it was complex and convoluted to an astounding degree."
--The Boston Globe