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The Magical Chorus [Kindle Edition]

Solomon Volkov , Antonina Bouis
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $18.95
Kindle Price: $11.11
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

From the reign of Tsar Nicholas II to the brutal cult of Stalin to the ebullient, uncertain days of perestroika, nowhere has the inextricable relationship between politics and culture been more starkly illustrated than in twentieth-century Russia. In the first book to fully examine the intricate and often deadly interconnection between Russian rulers and Russian artists, cultural historian Solomon Volkov brings to life the experiences that inspired artists like Tolstoy, Stravinsky, Akhmatova, Nijinsky, Nabokov, and Eisenstein to create some of the greatest masterpieces of our time. Epic in scope and intimate in detail, The Magical Chorus is the definitive account of a remarkable era in Russia's complex cultural life.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

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. . . . The Magical Chorus rewards readers with a gold mine of insider anecdotes.” —The Washington Post Book World“An ideal guide, clear but still subtle and nuanced, to the rich complexity of Russian culture, its splendors, controversies, achievements, and tragedies throughout the twentieth century. Volkov evokes the excitement of that far-off time with compelling immediacy.” —Los Angeles Times“Volkov offers a unique perspective from his position as an eyewitness: He had close friendships with many of the people he describes and his work is filled with an insider's insights.” —The Christian Science Monitor“For lovers of Russian culture, [Volkov's] vignettes and portraits . . . are a joy to consume, as is his analysis of their legacies.” —The New York Sun

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2232 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (March 4, 2008)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0015KGX4Q
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #724,530 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The twining of politics and art October 17, 2008
In Russia, it has been said, "a poet is much more than a poet" (Pushkin), and "a great writer is like a second government" (Solzhenitsyn). Indeed, in few countries is culture so intertwined with politics. Particularly during the last century, when art (be it film, literature, music or painting) was unceremoniously dragooned into the service of the State.

How Russian politics and culture battled during the 20th century is the subject of Solomon Volkov's fine new book, a volume that is part memoir, part history, part rumination on the Russian worldview. Sprinkled liberally with first-hand accounts (many of the author himself), it brings to light fascinating episodes, from the various Nobel Prize scandals, to the real roots of the Thaw (American films, perhaps?), to bards like Vysotsky and Okudzhava, made popular by official scorn.

Through it, there is a sense of continuity, of politicians hopelessly trying to reign in culture, to dictate what shall be proper and sanctioned, of artists giving a nod to the Powers That Be, then quietly writing "for the drawer" or singing subversive songs for friends.

In one episode, Volkov tells of the buses full of riot police, hunkered down outside the Taganka Theater during Vysotsky's wake there in 1980. It brought to mind more recent deployments of excessive OMON legions against a miserly collection of liberals and oppositionists. In Russia, after all, a demonstrator is much more than a demonstrator. (Reviewed in Russian Life)
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Volkov magic! June 12, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Magical Chorus is not only a fierce and fearsome look at a century and a half of Russian history, but a tantalizing journey behind the appearances of history, with insight only Solomon Volkov can forge. Volkov stalks his books stealthily page by page until capture; the hunt always excites and invigorates, and reveals essences. Magical Chorus is no exception to the wiles of an author who for whatever reason remains oddly controversial. For me, he's a master writer. Brilliance mesmerizes around the lightest details of Russian cultural life, as Volkov's passions become ours. Magical Chorus languored about too long for me until the middle 'A Rendevous With Stalin', where ignites the connection to the book's real and entrancing heart - the Russian mystery of mirrors between her rulers and artists. After that, Volkov takes off. Uncle Joe's moral tics, and Stalinism itself, are dissected like a surgeon; Akhmatova (noting she died thirteen years to the day after Stalin), Yevtushenko, sympathetic stories of Prokofiev and Mayakovsky. Volkov's empathy never impedes his duty as a writer. The best thing about reading him is he never gives you reason to tire. This is a first rate keeper that harbors a blistering study of tragedy.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magical chorus is a magical book... October 23, 2008
This book was a wonderful read, not just about the major artistic figures--and they are all here, Tolstoy, Akmatova, Shostikovich, Gorky, Chekhov--but also the views that Lenin, Stalin and other leaders took toward the arts. This is especially so of Stalin: and the author does not hesitate to discuss Stalin's interest in the arts, his intelligence, and his love for the Russian classics. I also enjoyed reading about Pasternak's own fascination with Stalin. In the end, I gained a better understanding of the "soul" of Russian artistic genius, and an appreciation for its survival during difficult, disastrous years.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A song that continues January 30, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Surveys of Russian culture date back really to James Billington's "The Icon and the Axe." These books tended to fixate on the glories of the 19th century which include Pushkin, Repin, Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy before moving on to the Silver Age and then running out of steam around World War II. This was more a fault of the authorities who presented the world with a mummified high culture (designed to raise hard currency), a suppressed underground culture of dissidents, and a banal popular culture. To complicate matters, there was an interesting, but also bizarre emigre culture (think of Nabokov for the first and the movie Liquid Sky for the latter).

One of the outgrowths of the fall of the Soviet Union and the passage of time is insight into the rest of the story and what a complex story it is. From the vantage point of the 21st century, 30th century Russian culture is a complex organism indeed. Be it the role of the intellectuals that Lenin exiled in the 1920s, attempts to re-imagine Russian culture in the aftermath of World War II, the comings and goings of the intellectual firmament during the sixties and seventies are all interesting topics. Even more fascinating is what happened to the cultural life of the Soviet Union when the country whose impulses it was meant to reflect ceased to exist.

Solomon Volkov is well equipped to chronicle the comings and goings of this world. He was part of it in some respects and as a leading musicologist, biographers of Shostakovich, and author of half a dozen books on Russian topics. He even knew most of the figures depicted in the last third of the book.
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