A very late post.

A few weeks ago, I attended the Dickinson College orchestra performance to hear their rendition of Stravinsky’s Firebird. Not having the most discerning ear for classical music (or rather, having no discerning ear for classical music) I expected the pieces in the line up to bleed together. And, as I expected, the first few did (Sorry to Qualls and Caitlin, and any other sophisticated music-phile or performer out there). However, firebird stuck out to me because it conveyed a different tone and seemed to have a different purpose. Whereas the other selections in the line up were melodic, Firebird was, at times, eerie and almost unpleasant to listen to. The beginning tremor from the violins set the tone for a hauntingly beautiful build to a booming and seemingly euphoric ending. The variety in instruments, moods, and tempos throughout the piece made it intriguing to follow, especially as I tried to determine a pattern or motive for the different movements. The firebird was written in 1910, and it seemed to me to be a hopeful prediction for the future of Russia. In the waning days of the Tsar’s autocracy, the Russian people gained hope that their nation would be lifted from the hardships of peasantry and into a strengthened and revitalized nation.

Birthday Song

For my blog post on music, I have decided to discuss the “Russian Birthday Song.” As we discussed in a fairly recent joint class, the Russian version of “Happy Birthday” is very different. I found a series of translations online and have included the links at the bottom. The lyrics describe the surrounding environment as profoundly negative (rainy, clumsy pedestrians etc). Despite the apparent happiness of the birthday boy/girl, there are more negative and strange aspects of the lyrics worth noting. It is described as “unfortunate” that birthdays only come once a year. The positive experience at the end of the song is that a sorcerer in a blue helicopter will show you a movie for free and give you eskimo pies.

When compared to the American version of happy birthday, it appears to me that our classic “Happy Birthday” is in no way an “American” song. The Russian birthday song is an extremely Russian one, drawing on cultural associations and specific occurrences that should induce happiness in its listeners. It also notes the negativity of the living conditions in Russia (at least in the context of the weather). Our American version, however, is simply a wish sent to another person repeated a few times. We do not wish for Uncle Sam to float down from the sky and give you baby-back ribs (or something absurdly American). Even in the context of birthday songs, Russia manages to embrace its cultural identity and other itself from all foreign generalities.

Joint Class Film

In the last joint class, we viewed a clip from a film during which a Russian family argued aggressively during a family vacation outside. During our deconstruction of the clip as a class, we noted some of the more important characteristics such as the strong use of vulgar language, the location as an outdoor environment and so on. All of these aspects helped to represent a change in traditional norms. However, there was another directorial decision that we did not discuss in class. The director used a change in “levels” that worked particularly well. The young woman who was arguing with her family started kneeling down and eventually made her way to not only a standing position, but to a position in which the ground appeared to be at a higher point of elevation. In short, she literally rose above her family in order to assert herself.

This change in levels provides the viewer with an interesting perspective on youth culture. It would appear that for the younger generation, one must not identify by their families (at least not as strictly as was necessary for past generations). Perhaps in general, this moment represents a less homogenized Russia. Given social freedoms that were on the rise, it was easier to be an individual in every sense, not only within the context of family. Indeed, these points are emphasized by the director’s use of levels.

Russian Ark

I watched Russian Ark this week.  I might preface by saying that I was a little confused by this movie, not only because of the artistic license  but also because, having no real knowledge of what early Russian figures looked like, I had no idea who some of the people were until I looked it up online.

In any case, I was very impressed by this movie.  It clearly required so much painstaking choreography to film this movie in a single shot.  As a museum buff, I loved the fact that it all took place in the Hermitage.  It could be said to be a metaphor of Russia because it stood strong through so many years, and each person the European and the narrator met there had a special love and nostalgia for some part of the museum.  I found the scene of the man building his own coffin during the siege of Leningrad to be very haunting, showing how a sign of aristocratic authority could be transformed into a graveyard.  A;so, the scene of the museum directors discussing their problems of trying to foster culture under Stalin and their paranoia over being discovered echoed everything we have discussed in class this semester.  It was made even more moving by the narrator trying to refute what he said, as if he was being interrogated by a Soviet official.  Finally, Alexandra thinking she hears gun shots as Anastasia dances through the gallery was sad because it showed a happy family on the brink of total destruction.

There was a strong sense of nationalism in this movie.  There was a strict line drawn between Russia and Europe, as if they are two separate entities.  Strangely, there was a disdain for imperialism echoed by the European, but though he was meant to be French, it was hard to tell for whom this was a criticism.  There was also commentary on the government, wondering about its state and whether it could be called a republic.  After our two discussions this week, I can see where that concern stems from, since the government does not always work for the people.  The phrase the stood out the most was “In Russian, freedom knows no price.”  I think this accurately describes the attempts to reconfigure the Russian government after 1917, but freedoms have taken to mean different things to different people.