ST. PETERSBURG by Solomon Volkov


A Cultural History
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 From a noted Russian ÇmigrÇ musicologist, an affectionate as well as scholarly tribute to St. Petersburg, the Russian city that has nurtured so many great cultural icons of the last two centuriesfrom Pushkin to Brodsky, Tchaikovsky to Shostakovich. Founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, not as the conventional ``window into Europe'' but rather because he ``wanted a clean break with the past,'' the city has endured floods, a terrible siege, three name changes, and political demotion. From its inception, Volkov (Balanchine's Tchaikovsky, not reviewed) contends, it has also been the subject of legends: ``the Petersburg mythos.'' This mythos, which combines the city's miraculous appearance on a deserted northern waterway with predictions of its ``imminent demise,'' has been further encouraged by its artists and poets. It was Pushkin who, in his famous narrative poem The Bronze Horseman: A Petersburg Tale, first suggested the city's potential for good and evil. Though at times this working out of the mythos becomes schematic and overused as Volkov filters through its lens the city's extraordinary history and vignettes of its extraordinarily talented progeny, the legend is a useful device for understanding both the city and Russia. But the political events that have so drastically affected its course are merely background to the glittering artists, writers, filmmakers, poets, composers, dancers, and choreographers who made the city Russia's premier cultural center. Volkov's long and heterogeneous list includes such luminaries as Chagall, Malevich, Nabokov, Dostoevsky, Mussorgsky, and Balanchine; but almost all of them were products of tsarist Russia; for ``despite the widespread misapprehension in the West, the leading Russian modernists were formed ideologically and artistically before the Communist revolution.'' An eloquently poignant reminder of how rich and full of promise both Russia and Akhmatova's ``granite city of glory and misfortune'' were, and a useful cultural compendium. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-02-874052-1
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1995


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