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Igor Stravinsky, Nikolai Roerich,
and the Healing Power of Paganism.

The Rite of Spring as


Ecstatic Ritual of Renewal for the Twentieth Century

Marilyn Meyer Hoogen

A dissertation submitted in partial fdfihnent


of the requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

University of Washington

1997

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U M I Number: 9819249

Copyright 1997 by
Hoogen, Marilyn Meyer
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Marilyn Hoogen
Doctoral Dissertation

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Abstract

Igor Stravinsky, Nikolai Roerich,


and the Healing Power of Paganism.

The Rite of Spring as


Ecstatic Ritual of Renewal for the Twentieth Century

by Marilyn Meyer Hoogen

Chairperson of the Supervisory Committee


Professor James D. West
Department of Slavic Languages and Literature

This study reexamines The Rite of Spring as a product of turn-of-the-


century Russian culture. Western scholarship has focused on the sources,
structure, and style of the musical score, while it has demonstrated less
understanding of the concept that motivated Igor Stravinsky and Nikolai
Roerich. Russian creative intelligentsia saw art as a way to reconcile the
material and spiritual worlds, a union that had been fragmented by rational
philosophy and empirical saence. There was an impulse to return the arts to
their original sacred function in ritual, particularly in the theater. In this
cultural context The Rite of Spring can be seen as a mysterizim for the
twentieth century: it is a grand synthesis of music, design, and dance at an
enachnent of a sacred mystery that will reveal to the participants the nature of
the human spirit and its relation to both the earthly and higher spiritual
worlds.
Chapter I summarizes Western scholarship on The Rite of Spring. As
a corrective it discusses the movement in Russia to express the Russian
national cultural heritage in the arts and the role that religious revival played
in the broad debate about Russian identity and Russia's future.
Chapter II examines Roerich's participation in this debate through his
art and writings. He idealized the distant past as an example of a n
aestheticized and harmonious way of life that must be restored to solve
modem man's spiritual crisis. His role in The Rite of Spring was not limited
to providing ethnographic accuracy; rather, this ritual is one of a life-long
series of projects created in an effort to heal man's life through a synthesis of
art and spirituality.
Chapter III describes the Russian intelligentsia's search for religious
renewal as exemplified in the works of Alexander Scriabin and Viacheslav
Ivanov. It establishes the prevalence of these ideas across educated and
artistic culture. Chapter N demonstrates Stravinsky's hrll participation in the
religious aspect of this ecstatic ritual. Finally, musical analyses, both those
made by Stravinsky's Russian contemporaries and those of modern scholars,
support the concept of The Rite of Spring as rnysterhm.
TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction .....................................................

Chapter I: The Rite of Spring in Western Scholarship:


What's Missing? ..................................... 9

Chapter II: "The Future Resides in the Past."


Nikolai Roerich's Concept of The Exalted Sacrifice. ...... 54

Chapter m. Ecstatic Ritual and the Mystmizirn:


The Intellectual Context in which The Exalted Sacrifice
WasBom........................................... 111

Chapter N: Stravinskyfs Mysterircm .............................. 150

Conclusion ..................................................... 171

Bibliography ..................................................... 175


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I wish to express my sincere gratitude to my dissertation advisor, James D.


West, and to the members of the committee, Gordana Crnkovic, Jack Haney,
and Larry Starr. David Graber and Herbert Coats provided much appreciated
advice, assistance, and support as well. I am also grateful to Richard White
for his wise words on research and writing.
Introduction

From the perspective of turn-of-the-century Russian culture, western


scholarship has only partly succeeded in its investigation of The Rile of
Spring. In the analysis of the form and style of the work and in the search for
musical and ethnographic sources, western scholarship has fragmented The
Rite of Spring and, for the most part, removed it from its cultural context.
This methodology necessarily marginalizes the work of Igor Stravinsky's
collaborators; Nikolai Roerich is seen as a painter/ethnographer, and Vaslav
Nijinsky is seen as musically ignorant and perhaps mad. Western
scholarship often adopts the view that Stravinskyfs genius propelled him far
beyond what little common vision the collaborators may have had in the
planning stages of The Rife of Spring. Viewed in its cultural context,
however, this ballet is a grand synthesis of music, ornament, and dance, a
ritual performed, as Stravinsky himself wrote, in the presence of "the Panic
awe of nature, of the beauty which arises, a holy terror of the midday sun, a
sort of cry of Pan . . the birth of Spring,"' It is just one example of an idea that
preoccupied the Russian creative intelligentsia; art is a non-rational form of
cognition, the expression of spiritual truth which can transform man's
intelligence.
The Rile of Spring is the product of an era in Russia when artists and
intellectuals were searching for ways to transform a world perched

'1gor Stravinsky, "Ce que j'ai voulu exprimer dans Le Sane du Printemps," Montjoie! I/8 29 May
1913: 1, quoted in Truman C. BulIard, "The First Performance of Igor Stravinskyfs'Sacre du
Printemps."' 3 vols., diss. ,U of Rochester, 1971,2: 6-7.
precariously on the edge of haos. Begun as modernization and industrial-
ization threatened folkways, this search involved a considerable effort to
preserve the oldest traditions of pre-modern culture through systematic
collecting, transcribing, and, somewhat ironically, reshaping them into new
myths for the modern world. Many Russian artists and intellectuals consid-
ered the failed 1905 revolution and stirrings of war in Europe ominous
indications of the coming apocalypse that paradoxically would bring a new
world through the destruction of refined civilization as it was known. The
present world seemed to have moved too far from the idealized ancient unity
of man, nature, and the cosmic elements, a time when the material and
spiritual worlds were believed to be in balance. Stravinsky and Roerich were
caught in the spell of the ancient spirituality, as were many other
contemporary poets and painters.
Eastern Church historian Georges Florovsky recalls the intellectual
ferment of this period:

Fin de siecle Russia represented both an end and a beginning,


the apex of awareness, when the very rhythm of life changed. . . .
More than just a spiritual quest, it was a new experience. During
those years many suddenly discovered in man a metaphysical
being; men suddenly found in themselves unexpected depths,
and often dark chasms. The world seemed changed, for vision
had become sharper and a new profundity has been revealed in
the world. A religious need again awakened in Russian society.
And just as in the time of Alexander I, it was again painful and
difficult. The more the " s o d awoke" the more temptation
increased, and life took on greater risks.
The religious theme became a theme of life, and not merely a
category of thought. People began to seek for more than just a
religious worldview-a genuine thirst flared up for faith. A
need was born for the "spiritual Me" and For preparing and
ordering one's soul. Everything suddenly became quite serious.
This does not mean that everyone was serious and truly valued
the sigruficance of what was transpiring. On the contrary-there
was too much of the most dangerous dilettantism, mystical
irresponsibility, and mere games. Yet the events themselves
became serious and acquired a distinctive and harsh
apocalyptical rhythm. Men's fates were being decided. Some
were saved, others perished; some were swept from the road and
lost; some redeemed their souls and the souls of their brothers.
There were many accidents, and hopes were seldom realized.
Those who achieved anything at a i l were outnumbered by the
fallen. A few found themselves in the Church, but many more
remained, and wished to remain, outside of it. Still others
followed serpentine paths and entered upon a bitter trial. "Once
more dreams floated, and the soul, captivated by them,
worshipped unknown gods." It was a time of searching and
temptations. Paths strangely crossed and diverged, contradiction
reigned, white the anxiety of the consaence intensified.2

At the turn of the century in Russia, practitioners of literary, musical,


visual, and dramatic arts, the creative intelligentsia, saw art as a way to
reconcile the material and spiritual worlds. Symbolist artists accepted
Vladimir Solovfevrscalling to use the arts as a way of knowing a higher truth.
Part of this process involved the dissolution of conventional boundaries
between the arts. Painters and poets tried their hands at visual and verbal
"symphonies." Behind these experiments lay belief in the theurgic property
of art, the belief that words and sounds in the form of ritual, prayer, and
incantation have magical power. There was an impulse to return the arts to
their original sacred function as an integral part of ritual. Interest in studying
and restoring the ancient forms continued, as did attempts to use synthesis of
the arts to create new myth and ritual as a response to the current age. Artists
including Andrei Bely, Dmitry Merezhkovsky, Maximilian Voloshin,
Nikolai Roerich, and Viachesiav Ivanov adopted a highly principled and

2 ~ e o r g e s Florovsky, Ways of Russian Theology: Part Two (1937; Vaduz:


BiichenrertriebsanstaIt, 1989) 233-234.
uncompromising view of their priest-like roles in communicating their
mystical visions of higher truth. They became interested in the occult and
sought enlightenment through both contemplative and frenzied ecstasy. The
Rite of Spring was conceived in this context and dearly reflects these artistic
concerns.
It is without question that Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring had a
profound impact on twentieth-century music. Robert Craft likened it to "a
prize bull [that] has inseminated the whole modern movementw3an
assertion substantiated by the profusion of studies that discuss and analyze all
aspects of the score, the ballet's reception by audiences and critics, and the
lives and works of those involved. In the years since the ballet's riotous
premiere in Paris in 1913, a body of legend has attached itself to the work and
has obscured the artistic intent of the collaborators. Stravinsky himself is
partly responsible, as is Sergei Diaghilev, the purveyor of Russian "exotica" to
European audiences.
Of particular concern is the interpretation of The Rite of Spring as
subhuman barbarism. The Euro-centric view of Russian "barbarism" was a
distortion of a term used by art historians to describe the influx of highly
decorative oriental or Byzantine art into the Roman world of architecture and
sculpture; over time "barbarism" came to connote savagery and the
subhuman, a meaning that was easily attached to The Rite of Spring.
Russians were ambivalent about their reputation as "barbarians" in Europe;
some were anxious to prove themselves as civilized as their European
neighbors, others, like Diaghilev, found this image lucrative, and still others

3 ~ o b e r tCraft, "The Rite of Spring Genesis of a Masterpiece," Perspectives of New Music


S(1966-67): 20.
5

thought Russia's connections to the East to be the source of her unique


position at the turn of the century.
In the last several decades there have been numerous attempts in
western scholarship to iden* the musical, historical, and folkloric sources of
The Rile of Spring, first to demonstrate Stravinsky's innovation in the use of
folk music sources in creating a new style, and then to reveal Stravinsky's
debt to Russian culture, an influence that he greatly denied. In these analyses
Stravinsky's co-librettist and designer Nikolai Roerich has generally been
relegated to the role of consultant, the provider of accurate detail in matters of
authentic ritual, costume, and a story to bring it all together. These studies
conclusively demonstrate that Stravinsky and Roerich were knowledgeable
in their selection of materials; however, they do not address what it was that
Stravinsky and Roerich were doing, nor do they acknowledge that Stravinsky
and Roerich shared one vision for this project.
Music historian Richard Taruskin adopts the view of the ballet as
subhuman and creates a metaphor to describe the form and style of
Stravinsky's score. He calls The Rife of Spring the ultimate Scythian act-a
new use of folk materials that swept away conventions of rhythm, melody,
and harmony-a modern parallel to the barbaric Scythian hordes from the
East who swept away ancient Slavic settlements long before the founding of
the Kievan state and its adoption of Christianity. Taruskin's analysis
identifies Stravinsky's sources and analyzes the composer's technical and
stylistic innovations. However, he finds Stravinsky's emancipation from the
German-dominated art music tradition a more interesting topic than the
collaboratorsf own descriptions of this project.
6

This study has no argument with the influence of Stravinsky's music;


rather, it examines Stravinsky's and Roerich's statements regarding the
ballet's concept in the cultural context of early twentieth-century Russia to
demonstrate that they had in mind a different and far greater purpose than
musical revolution Stravinsky did not have Scythian dreams; he "dreamed"
a pagan ritual sacrifice. He and Roerich envisioned a work that, rather than
portray ancient ritual with ethnographic accuracy, would recreate it in all of
its power. The Rite of Spring is a myslerium for the twentieth century: it is
the integration of music and dance to call forth the presence of the spiritual
world at the enactment of a sacred mystery that will reveal to the participants
the nature of the human spirit, its relation to physical Life, and its restoration
to a higher Life.
Chapter I will give an overview of The Rite of Sp~ingas interpreted in
western scholarship. Common faults of this scholarship are the result of the
authors' maintaining a European point of view, or, when Russian sources are
gathered, failing to see in them the evidence of a major trend in turn-of-the-
cenhuy Russian culture that played a large role in Shavinsky's and Roerich's

creative vision, the revival of religious life both within and outside Russian
Orthodoxy. As a corrective, this chapter will provide a brief background of
the movement in Russia to express the Russian national cultural heritage in
the arts. It will also discuss the role religious revival played in the broad
debate about Russian identity and Russia's future as exemplified in the
writings of Leskov, Dostoevsky, Solov'ev, and others. The various solutions
offered were characteristically eclectic; it is nearly impossible to isolate lines of
"pure" influence. Finally, I will discuss the recent restoration of Nijinsky's
7

choreography and Roerich's costumes and sets for The Rite of Spring that also
refutes the frequently expressed view of this b d e t as subhuman barbarism.
Chapter II will examine Roerich's participation in this debate through
his art and writings. It will summarize his view of the distant past as an
example of an aestheticized and harmonious way of life that must be restored
if modern man's current crisis is to be solved. After clarifying Roerich's
definition of neonationalism, I will demonsbate how this pan-human,pan-
religious concept is manifested in his fresco The Queen of Heaven, the work
that was taking shape simultaneously with the libretto for The Rite of Spring.
Finally, this chapter will demonstrate that Roerich's role was not limited to
providing ethnographic accuracy; rather, this ritual is one of a life-long series
of projects he created in an effort to heal modem man's fragmented life
through a synthesis of art and spirituality.
Chapter III wiU describe the Russian intelligentsia's search for religious
renewal as exemplified in the works of Alexander Scriabin and Viacheslav
Ivanov. Retrospectivism was a major trend in the arts and popular culture at
the turn of the century; in great part it was manifested in artists' efforts to
restore the original religious function of the theater by the selection of
repertoire and by joining all of the arts in service to the spiritual realm. This
chapter will establish the prevalence of these ideas across educated and artistic
culture in turn-of-the-century Russia; painters, poets, philosophers, and
composers did not work in isolation from one another.
Chapter IV will examine Stravinsky's concept of The Rite of Spring as
evidenced in his comments made prior to the ballet's premiere. In Light of
the context developed in the first three chapters of this study, Stravinsky's
statements can be taken at face value and understood as a reflection of an
important strand of Russia's intellectual dimate. Musical analyses, both
those made by Stravinsky's Russian contemporaries and those of modern
scholars, support the concept of The Rite of Spring that this study puts forth.
This ballet is commonly known as Le Same du Printemps, or The Rite
of Spring. I use both of these titles in my discussions of the finished project
and the scholarly response to it. Its Russian title, Vesna soiashchennaia
(Consecrated Spring), evolved from the French title which had become
attached to the ballet by the fall of 1911.4 In discussion of Stravinsky's and
Roerich's concept of the ballet, however, I prefer to use their working title
Veliknia zhertva (The Exalted Sacrifie), for it evokes images of the sacred
ritual they envisioned. In the finished ballet Velikaia zhertva became the
title for the second act; the first was called Potselui Zemle (A Kiss Lo the
Earth).
I have used the Library of Congress system for transliteration. Familiar
Russian names have been Anglicized in the main text, but in footnotes and
bibliographical references they are cited according to the conventions of
transliteration. I have used the Scandinavian spelling of Roerich that he
himself used. Russian words and titles of publications are translated the first
time they appear, either in the text itself or in footnotes. AU unattributed
translations are my own, and all use of italics follows the author's usage.

4 ~ o ar chronoiogical account of the ballet's various titles see Richard Taruskin, Stmuinsky and
the Russian Traditions: a Biography of the Works through Mavra, 2 vols. (Berkeley: U
California P, 1996) 871-881.
Chapter I

The Rite of Spring in Western Scholarship: What's Missing?

This chapter will summarize the concept of The Rite of Spring in


western scholarship. In particular I will discuss how this scholarship is
Limited by its selection of formal or stylistic frames of reference and by its
reliance on European interpretations of Russian events and sources. A
western definition of neo-Russian style, also called neonationalism,
motivates the tendency toward predominantly stylistic or formal analyses of
The Rite of Spring. In order to correct this definition, I will summarize two
successive periods of the nineteenth century movement to express Russian
national cultural identity in the arts, the Russian and neo-Russian periods.
The element of religious revival, usually overlooked in western sources, but
a standad topic in Russian histories and analyses of Russian art of the period
from 1880 to 1917, wiU be restored to this definition. Next, as a case in point, I
will address Richard Taruskin's recent book, Stravinsky and the Rzissinn
Tmditions,' the most comprehensive work to date in its attempt to identify
all of the traditions that influenced the composer's Russian works, but one
that nevertheless still suffers from western "blind spots." Finally, I will
discuss the 1987 reconstruction of the original choreography, sets, and
costumes as an example of scholarship that supports the ballet as sacred ritual
rather than as the presentation of subhuman, barbaric violence.

l ~ i c h a r d Taruskin, Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions. A Biography of the Works


Through Mavra, 2 vols. (Berkeley: U Catifomia P, 1996).
In the years following Stravinsky's death in 1971 scholars attempted to
penetrate his well-constructed smoke screen about his own Russian past The
unreliability of Stravinsky's memoirs is well documented.2 Tamskin offers
this explanation: Stravinsky lived very much in the present; he was quite
conscious of creating himself f o r the moment. Instead of the usual
assumption that his early experiences gave him a "latent musical reservoir
[which] was stored, then periodically tapped later as it served his immediate
compositional needs,"3 Taruskin maintains that Stravinsky consciously
acquired "subjects" (Russian art music traditions, folklore, folk music) that he
then transformed into his own style.4
By the centennial of Stravinsky's birth in 1982, musicologists had
begun to follow up on their intuitions that there was more Russian content
in The Rife of Spring than Stravinsky admitted. Awareness of Sbavinsky's
fabricated past led to the urge to d e b u n k i t More seriously, any identification
of Stravinsky's sources beyond his f a m o u s dream would provide material for
a more complete analysis of his work.5 Knowledge of Roerich's contribution

s Strauinsky 1-19. Charles Joseph refers to the memoirs as "mirab le d ictu narratives."
2 ~ a r ukin,
See Charles Joseph, Stm~inskyand fhe Piano (Ann Arbor: UMI Research P, 2983) 2. Many
other scholars refer to this unreliability and to the influence Robert Craft must have had in
shaping the later memoirs. See, for example, Donald C. Nevile, "Symbol and Archetype in the
Music of Igor Stravinsky: A Study in the Correlation of Myth and Musical Form," diss., McGilI
U, 1980,153-155.
3~oseph2. See also Lawrence Morton, "Footnotes to Stravinsky Studies: Le Sacre du Printemps,"
Tempo 128 (1979): 12.
4 ~ i c h a r dTaruskin, "From Subject to Style: Stravinsky and the Painters," Confronting
Stravinsky: Man Musician and Modmist, ed. Jann Pasler (Berkeley: UCP, 1986) 16-38.
%'he most well-known account comes from Stravinsky's Autobiogrphy: "One day, when I was
finishing the last pages of L'Oiseau defeu in St. Petersburg, I had a fleeting vision. . . I saw in
imagination a solemn pagan rite: sage elders, seated in a circle, watched a young girl dance
herself to death. They were sacrificing her to propitiate the god of spring." Igor Stravinsky,
An Autobiography (7903-1934) (1936; London: Marion Boyars, 1990) 31.
was generally Limited to information contained in the English translation of
his 1930 lecture, "Sa~re."~
Robert Craft had already summarized the intentions of the authors, or
"the argument of the ballet as it was at the time of composition, insofar as
Stravinsky's memories and [his] collocations of them [were] able" in his 1966
lecture "'The Rite of Springf Genesis of a Masterpiece." Craft credited
Roerich's contribution, but did not go into detail:

Stravinsky confided his prefiguration of the new ballet to


Nicholas Roerich, painter, ethnographer, archaeologist, designer
of Rimsky-Korsakovrs tomb, and it was one of the most
fortunate confidences of his life, for Roerich's knowledge,
whatever it may have been, inspired Stravinsky and helped to
sustain his vision. Roerich was the catalyst of the subject, an
incomparably more effective function than that of set and
costume designer by which he is remembered.
. . . [At Talashkino] they composed the scenario, Stravinsky
contributing the idea of the division in two parts to represent
day and night, and Roerich suggesting the episodes based on
primitive ceremonies; the anthropological titles, with the
exception of a single word, are by Roerich.7
Craft understood that Roerich's contribution was important, but it is dear that
he was not interested in what Roerich may have had in mind. By the mid
1980s a series of increasingly thorough accounts of the ballet's inception and
analyses of its musical and conceptual sources had been published: Vera
Stravinskyfs and Craft's 1978 chronology induded Roerich's scenarios as well
as the composer's. They also published letters that hint at Roerich's more
active role in the collaboration, although inconsistencies in translation of
some documents betray the authorsf lack of concern regarding the original

6~icholasRoerich, "Sacre," Realm of Light (New York: Roerich Museum P, 1931) 185-191.
' ~ o b e r t Craft, "The Rite of Spring Genesis of a Masterpiece," Perspectives of New Music 5
(1966-67): 22, 23.
concept of the ballet! In 1979 Lawrence Morton posited Sergei Gorodetsky's
poems as a Literary source and Juszkiewiu's collection of Lithuanian folk
music as a melodic source of The Rite of Spring.g In 1980 Taruskin moved
beyond the identification of musical sources to an analysis of the ways these
sources are fragmented and transformed and how this contributes to the
ballet as a whole. This study is the beginning of Taruskin's remarkable
contribution to Stravinsky scholarship, his effort to combine musicology with
broader cultural perspectives in order to discover what motivates the music,
and what are its meaning and sigmficance on other than purely musical
levels.1 His artides explore the ideas and source of the ballet's scenario and
the importance of Stravhky's association with Diaghdev and the World of
A r t (Mir iskusstoa) group." Finally, Jann Pasler's contribution to the
International Stravinsky Symposium of 1982 gives Roerich due recognition
as a full collaborator in this project.12 This research has been recently
augmented by Taruskin's monumental study of Stravinsky and the Russian
traditions, which I will return to below.
Much of the research done on Stravinsky's Russian period suffers from
the authors' unfamiliarity with the Russian cultural context and their need to

hers Stravinsky and Robert Craft, Stmoinsky in Pictures and Documents (New York: Simon,
1978) 75-107. In this account the working title of the ballet, Velikaia zhertoa, has various
translations. In Stravinsky's letter to Benois it is "The Great Sacrifice;" two weeks later in
Stravinsky's next letter to Benois it has become "The Great Victim." I prefer the translation.
"The Exalted Sacrifice."
g ~ o r t o 9-16.
n
l0~ichardTamskin, "Russian Folk Melodies in The Rite of Spring," lournal of the American
Musicological Society 33 ( 1980): 512.
llRichard Taruskin, "The Rite Revisited: The Idea and the Source of its Scenario," Music and
Civilization: Essays in Honor of Paul Henty Lang, ed. Edmond Strainchamps and Maria
Maniates (New York: Norton, 1984) 183-202.
Taruskin, "From Subject to Style."
12~annPasler, "Music and Spectacle in Petrushka and The Rite of Spring," Confronting
Stravinsky, 53-81.
rely on translated sources. Many studies are based on a more modern
framework of ideas, and while they often intuitively mention what I believe
to be key elements of the ballet, they fail to conned those ideas to the context
of Russian culture at the turn of the century. Donald Nevile's dissertation,
"Symbol and Archetype in the Music of Igor Stravinsky. A Study in the
Correlation of Myth and Musical Form" points to many ideas that are indeed
quite relevant to Stravinsky's creative mindset around 1910-1913, but Nevile
fails to ground his study in ideas that were contemporary to this time. Instead
he hvns to later European models of myth, symbolism, and archetype that
seem to explain what Stravinsky had done, rather than point to the sources of
those ideas in Stravinsky's creative environment and his possible moti-
vations for using them. In interpreting Petrushkn, for example, Nevile cites
Alexander Benois' view of the puppet, but he does not connect these ideas
more closely to Stravinsky's world:

If [Petrushka] were to be taken as the personification of the


spiritual and suffering side of humanity [--or shall we call it the
poetical principle?-] his lady Columbine would be the
incarnation of the eternal feminine; then the gorgeous
Blackamoor would serve as the embodiment of everything
senselessly attractive, powerfully masculine and unreservedly
triumphant.13
Instead of recognizing the potent currency of the eternal feminine in Russian
thought at that time, Nevile moves on to other interpretations made in the
1960s that support his own thesis.

I3~lexandre Benois, Reminiscences of the Russian Ballet, trans. Mary Britnieva (London:
Putnam, 1941) 326, quoted in Donald C. Nevile, "Symbol and Archetype in the Music of Igor
Stravinsky. A Study in the Correlation of Myth and Musical Form," diss., McGill U, 1980, 205.
I have restored Nevile's ellipsis.
14

Nevile notes Stravinsky's shift from romanticism in The Firebird to


physicality, vulgarity, and grotesqueness in the music of Petrlishkn. Rather
than investigate why Stravinsky might have made this shift, he makes a
tantalizing comment, "In [Stravinsky's] hands this vulgarity lost its degraded
and degrading comotations, and became a symbolic vehicle for conveying the
Dionysian reality of popular Russian ~pontaneity,"'~but makes no further
development of this point. I will return to some of Nevilefs undeveloped
insights in his treatment of The Rife of Spring throughout this study: the
ritual function of the dancers, the currency of primitive Russian mythic
themes, Stravinsky's participation in reviving myths, the musical creation of
terror and mystery, and the metaphor of polarity that Stravinsky used to
describe the harmonic structure of his pre-serialist compositions.~5While it
is interesting that later theorists of psychology and myth (Jung, Eliade,
Campbell, and others) can account for the imagery and structure of The Rite
of Spring, Nevile leaves the impression that Stravinsky was tuned in to the
current and future European mainstream of ideas, and that the Russian
intellectual environment differed in no way from the European.
Taruskin and Pasler also note Stravinsky's "rapid stylistic and aesthetic
transformation between 1911 and 1913."16 Paslerrs analysis is based on the
model suggested by Baudelairers poem "Correspondences," but it limits its
discussion to the relation of the separate elements of the ballet, not its theme.
She demonstrates how Stravinsky moved away from the "vertical
correspondence" of music to plot that formed the basis for The Firebird and

I 4 ~ e v i l e212.
I5hleviie 217-229.
6~asler,"Music" 53. Taruskin, Stravinsky 950.
Petrushka toward the "horizontal correspondences" of Gesnrntkzins tmerk.
Although she recognizes other than formal possibilities for "vertical
correspondences," for example, "[they] work between the material worid of
sense impressions and the spiritual world of ideas,"17 she does not explore
this seminal theme of symbolist art. Pasler considers "horizontal
correspondences" to be those between the arts of music, set design and
choreography, that is "art as total theatreM'* or the notion of
Gesarntktinstwerk that she considers central to the Ballets Russes. A positive
contribution of her study is the emphasis on the equal participation of
Stravinsky and Roerich from the inception of the ballet Pasler makes one
very striking suggestion:

Stravinsky attempted to create musical equivalents for the


instantaneity and simultaneity projected by the set design. . . .
The sound forms a block with the massive power of the boulders
in the set design. Shavinsky even once described this ballet as
an immense and heavy "stone sculpture" - quite different from
the airiness sought by traditional ballet.19
A scholar at the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, Elena Iakovleva, has
carefully researched the chronology of Roerich's sketches for the set designs;
she makes similar claims that Roerich's paintings influenced Stravinsky's
music, although she connects Stravinsky's music to the powerful rhythms
suggested in the texture of the tree that dominates the center of the early
sketches.20

l 7~asier,"Music" 59.
l8pas ler, "Music" 54.
19pasler, "Music" 71.
. Iakovleva, "N. K. Rerikh i balet I. F. Stravinskugo 'Vesna srvi;shchennaia1 k istorii
2 0 ~ P.
pervoi postanov ki," Pamiatniki kul'tu y.Novye otkrytiia. Ezhegodnik 1992 (Moscow: Nau ka,
1993) 275-285, and personal interview, July 1994.
Pasler also uedits Nijinsky for his contribution to making the music
"visual." Her analysis of the interplay between the design, the music, and the
choreography demonstrates how she believes synthesis of the arts is achieved
in The Rite of Spring. But she views this synthesis formally, as a transition to
a new style, ignoring the role it played as a means to the transformation of the
material world, a concept common in the Russian symbolist aesthetic at the
turn of the century. Pasler looks at this synthesis as a step toward the
modernist aesthetic that favors structure over narrative as a work's
organizing principle, what she calls the development of a new musical logic.
In her dissertation she allows that

. . . synesthesia among the senses, the result of the structural


synchrony among several aesthetic realms, expanded the public's
experience of the whole and made it more intense and more
powerful than if the arts were contemporaneous but
autonomous or if there had been only one of them.21
In The Rite of Spring she sees a developing emphasis on horizontal
correspondences that later manifests itself in modernist works. However I
will argue that this was not the ultimate goal of the collaborators, but simply a
means to an end. As part of the ongoing debate over synthesis of the arts,
Nikolai Berdiaev warned his contemporaries about the danger of such formal
experiment if artists lose touch with the human and spiritual elements of
art." I do not believe that Roerich was at all interested in formal experiment
for its own sake; his works are dominated by his ideas. Stravinsky, in a

21~annPasler, "Debussy, Stravinsky, and the Ballets Russes: The Emergence of a New Musical
Logic," diss., U of Chicago, 1981, 233. Similar analysis can also be found in Stephen I.
Weinstock, "Independence vs. Interdependence in Stravinsky's Theatrical Collaborations: The
Evolution of the Original Production of The Wedding," diss., UC Berkeley, 1982.
2 2 ~ i k o l a iBerdiaev, Krizis iskussfua (Moscow, 1918). This was originally a lecture, "The
Crisis of Art," read in Moscow on 1November 1917.
17

position to follow his chosen mentor, had human and spiritual goals in mind
as well. In Chapter III I will discuss the concept of "correspondences" or
synthesis of the arts as it developed in Russian theater and ballet.
Pasler's discussion of the concerns shared by Stravinsky, Nijinsky, and
Roerich in this project falls short of completely exploring the issues that
comprised the core of their impulse. There are other, more satisfying
explanations for their interest in prehistoric, seasonal rites and collective
experience than "creating a language of form and movement within the
global instantaneous effect of the whole."23 Pasler's study provides analysis
that leads to an understanding of Stravinskyrs development of a modernist
style; it describes the dramatic shift in his aesthetic by an analysis of the
interplay of the music, design, and dance in the original production. The
study simply does not go far enough; Pasler has intuition about Roerich's
contribution that she does not develop, perhaps because she does not read
Russian. In fact she commits a rather misleading error in her translation
from the French; she refers to "ancient slave games" in the ballet's program
and to Roerich's "primitive slave paintings," rendering the French slave as a
cognate instead of the correct "Slav" or " S l a ~ i c . " ~This
~ error reveals her
minimal acquaintance with Roerich's works. Further, Pasler does not explore
the allusions to the spirit that are so numerous in the very Little bit of Roerich
she quotes. She also refers to the "mysticism," "enchantment," and "other-
worldliness" that result from the music and choreography, but fails to explore
why they are there.

23~asierI"Music" 68.
24~aslerI"Music" 67.74.
The nature of Stravinskyfs stylistic transformation is an enticing
puzzie that has lured many scholars, and each piece that finds its match
evokes a sense of great intellectual satisfaction. Andriessen and Schonberger
quote Nabokov's analogy as an apt description of this puzzie:

The music of Stravinsky sounds "as if a painter said: Look, here


I'm going to show you not the painting of a landscape, but the
painting of different ways of painting a certain landscape, and I
trust their harmonious fusion will disclose the landscape as I
intend you to see it"25
Studies like Pasler's focus on w a v e l i n g the " h a r m o ~ o u sfusion" to
discover the musical sources and how Stravinsky uses them. Too few
scholars, however, discuss the "landscape" disclosed as Stravinsky and
Roerich intended us to see it.
Scholars familiar with Russian language and the cultural context have
added to our understanding of The Rife of Spring, yet most still seem more
attracted to analyses of the structure and style of Stravinsky's music than to
the larger question, "What did Stravinsky and Roerich intend to
accomplish?" At the International Shavinsky Symposium Simon Karlinsky
commented:

Why this musical innovator chose to compose some of his most


revolutionary works on subjects taken from archaic, and, by his
day, mostly defunct preliterary dramatized folklore is a
fascinating problem in creative psychology.26
He ignores this "problem," however, in effect supporting the view that
Stravinsky was an anomaly of creative genius rather than a product of his

2 5 ~ Nabokov,
. The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941; Norfolk: New Directions, 1959) 95,
quoted in Louis Andriessen and EImer Schonberger, The Apollonian Clockwork. On Str~vinsky,
trans. Jeff Hamburg (New York: Oxford UP, 1989) 17.
2 6 ~ i r n o n Karlinsky, "Igor Stravinsky and Russian Preliterate Theater," Confronting
Stmuinsky, 5.
time and culture. Karlinskyfs analysis does contribute to our understanding
of Stravinsky's development of modernist style. He traces the internalization
and progressive "deformation" of folk materials in Stravinsky's stage works
from Petrushka to Histoire du Soldat where he created "dazzlingly original
Russian music that was free of both ethnography and stylization." 27

This and other studies that have returned Stravinsky to the context of
turn-of-the-century Russian culture still generally ignore a large part of that
culture. Most willingly discuss the influence of Diaghilev and the aesthetics
of the World of Art group on Stravinsky's works for the stage, but in
discussing these influences they exdude ideas associated with the impulse
toward religious revival that manifested itself in serious discussions of
mysticism, theurgy, spiritualism, Russian messianisrn, and religious
philosophy. The world of the Russian intelligentsia was not neatly compart-
mentalized into dearly defined groups. Eclecticism dominated; there was a
great mingling of minds at various musical, literary, religious and
philosophical "circles," as well as on the pages of contemporary journals such
as Mir iskusstoa, Vesy, Zolotoe runo, and ApoIZon.28
Scholars have proved the influence of this mingling in the realm of
Stravinsky's music, but they steer dear of admitting the influence of religious
or mystical ideas. For example, studies demonstrate Stravinsky's weliability
in admitting his debt to Scriabin; they point out abundant musical influences,
but categorically deny that Stravinsky might have paid attention to Scriabin's
ideas. Without documenting Stravinsky's opinion, Andriessen and
Schonberger assert

2 7 ~ a r l i nky,
s "Igor Stravinsky" 6.
2 8 ~ h eWorld of Art. The Scales, The Golden Fleece, and Apollo.
The relationship of Stravinsky to Scriabin is more complex; it
had to be, if only because Saiabin's aesthetics and philosophy of
art were completely alien to Stravinsky. Saiabin's ideal of a
musical Universe-orchestras and choirs wandering through a
paradisial India, hugging one another, and the audience too,
playing and singing against a background of sunrises and
sunsets, since merely the introduction to M y s l e r i u r n , the
Prefatory Action, was supposed to last seven days-belonged to a
world of Blavatskian utopianism that Stravinsky even then,
considered much out of date?
Others have made similar daims regarding Stravinsky's setting of Russian
symbolist Konstantin Balfmont's poem Zoezdoliki.

Balfmont's text has a mystical, symbolical character such as


might well have appealed to Saiabin How such a text could
appeal to Stravinsky is a puzde, particularly after the blinding
daylight and the humor of Petrz~shka.30
In a ten-page section on Bal'mont, Taruskin asserts that "Russia's poets and
musicians did not as a rule know or understand one another particularly
well" and that Stravinsky's justification for this setting is too facile; "its words
were good, and words were what I needed, not meanings." Taruskin
concludes that the poem's appeal lay in its fire poetry, which he then links to
the sun god in The Rife.31 As a corrective to these omissions of the religious
context, this study will address the pervasiveness of religious revival in the
public discourse of artists and intellectuals and as a specific feature of
Roerich's life work-

29~ndriessenand Schonberger 239. In the pages following this assertion the authors discuss the
structural and harmonic similarities in the two composers' works. "Even in the Sacre, the
inventor of 'mystic chords' has left tracks. . . And Stravinsky played Scriabin. He played
Scriabin on the same piano that he played the Sacre on before he wrote down the notes." 240.
30~ndr6Boucourechliev, Struoinsky, trans. Martin Cooper (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1987)
54. Zoezdoliki is commonly translated as The King of the Stars.
a kin, Sbauinsky 780-791.
3 l ~ rus
In Straninsky and the Russian Traditions, Taruskin provides analysis
of cultural influences on Shavinsky in his Russian years; he discusses the
cultural context, the concepts behind the works, the composition process, and
he analyzes the final products, providing abundant examples to prove
Stravinsky's debt to Russian culture. Taruskin's framework for his discussion
of The Rile of Spring is neonationalism, a dominant trend in the Russian
cultural world from I880 to 1917. Neonationalism was a departure from
earlier attempts to reproduce Russian folk culture in the arts with
ethnographic accuracy, the so-called Russian style. Now artists fragmented
folk arts into elements of color, rhythm, h e , perspective, harmony, and so
forth, and recombined the elements into their own creations. As a definition
of neonationalism, Taruskin quotes Yakov Tugenhold's review of
Diaghilev's 1910 Saison russe in Paris which included the premiere of The
Firebird:

Despite all the cosmopolitanism of our art, one already sees the
beginnings of a new and long-hoped-for style in Russian
archaism. The folk, formerly the object of the artist's pity, is
becoming increasingly the source of artistic style. To its
inexhaustible living mine music has returned, and now art is
retuzning along with choreography. The Firebird, this ballet
based on Slavonic myth, these ballet numbers [tantsy]
transformed into folk dance [plyas], this music, suffused with
folk melodies, this painting by Golovin, brocaded with antique
patterns (even to the point of being too patterned and honey-
caked)-is this not the very latest attainment of our art? Here
we no longer behold official Stasovian cockerels, nor even a
showpiece ballet divertissement like Le Festin; this is no
patriotic display of our "national countenance," but a serious
longing for the unfettered milieu of folk mythology.32

3 2 ~ a k o vTugenhold, "Russkiy sezon' v Parizhe," Apollon, 10 (1910): 21, quoted in Taruskin,


Stravinsky 502. Bracketed translations are Taruskin's.
Taruskin, Like Pasler, uses the neonationalist approach to source
materials to account for the radical &ange in the form and style of
Stravinskyfs works. His presentation of neonationalism, however, omits one
important aspect of this trend, the impulse toward religious revival that
manifested itself both within and outside Russian Orthodoxy. This omission
is common in western surveys of Russian art of this period. A brief summary
of the movement to express Russian national cultural identity in the arts will
correct this omission and will provide a more complete background against
which Stravinskyfs and Roerich's work on Veliknia zhertua (The Exalled
Sacrifice) can be examined.

From 1850 until 1917, all of the arts-architecture, the Literary arts, art
music including ballet and opera, easel painting, and the applied arts,
including furniture, interior design, utensils, book design, and graphic arts-
in some way reflected the desire to assert autonomy from the dominance of
western culture in Russia begun by Peter I early in the eighteenth century.
These responses were inspired by growing collections of visual, verbal, and
musical artifacts of the rich indigenous culture that existed prior to and in
spite of Peter's reforms.33 Underlying much of this movement was the belief
that Russia continued to be different from the West, and for many, induding

3 3 ~ o m eof the earlier folk music collections included those made by Balakirev in 1866, by
Tchaikovsky in 1872, by Rimsky-Korsakov in 1875 and 1877, by Melgunov in 1879 and 1885. In
1886 and 1893 the Imperial Geographical Society sent expeditions to the north of Russia to
collect native music. Later collections were aided by the use of recording devices that precluded
the "correction" of what the collector was hearing. See Richard Leonard, A Histo y of Russian
Music (1957; Westport: Greenwood P, 1977) 200.
In 1870 and 1872 two volumes were published on Russian folk ornamentation, and beginning in
1876 a new journal, Motifs of Russiizn Architecture, published designs and motifs for Russian-
style wooden dwellings, interiors and furniture. See Evgenia Kirichenko, Russian Design and
The Fine Arts 1750 - 1917, trans. Dr. Arch Tait (New York: Abrams, 1991) 125.
Parallel efforts collected and recorded folklore and rituals.
the intelligentsia, this difference was positive. They felt themselves superior
in their ability to synthesize their eastern and western heritages. This gift
would enable them to solve the pressing problems threatening the future of
all mankind, dearly a messianic role. Feelings of spiritual and moral decline
were symptomatic of the problems revealed in the rapid social changes and
the loss of fokways caused by industrialization and urbanization, the
economic crises of both peasants and landowners, and the vast gulf that
separated the primarily westernized intelligentsia from the wisdom of the
people.
Nikolai Leskov's 1881 story "The Left-hander" (Levsha)3* carries this
theme: a simple, provincial, cross-eyed gunsmith possessed the talent to
surpass the work of British artisans who had presented Tsar Alexander I with
a life-sized, clockwork steel flea; years later at the bidding of Tsar Nicholas I,
the Ievsha and his fellow Tula gunsmiths crafted tiny shoes (signed by the
artists) for the flea's feet Later, after the leosha was given VIP treatment by
Nicholas I, his fate changed. Were it not for the Russian bureaucracy that
refused to listen, the Ievsha could have prevented Russia's defeat in the
Crimean War; he had learned that Russian gun-cieaning methods seriously
compromised the guns' accuracy. The continuous harsh beatment of the
Ieosha by Nicholas I's court, a manifestation of the disregard for the wisdom
of the little people, caused the levsha's death before he could reveal his
discovery. In this story, using the voice of a simple, provincial storyteller and
many images and devices from Russian folklore, Leskov explores the
Slavophile and Westernizer points of view concerning western technology,

3 4 ~ i k o l a iLeskov, "Levsha," N. 5. Leskov. Povesti i msskmy (Leningrad: Lenizdat, 1966) 358-


389.
while celebrating the innate skill of Russian craftsmen in spite of the
deplorable state of their working conditions in Russia. Ironically, his adopted
folk idiom was so well crafted that his contemporaries accused him of passing
off a piece of folklore as his own creation Only later did critics come to
appreciate the literary craft of Leskovfs text and his quite serious message.
The conviction that Russia had a messianic role in the future of
humankind dates much earlier to the doctrine of Moscow the Third Rome,
written early in the sixteenth century by Abbot Filofei of Pskov. Following
the fall of the Chuch of Constantinople to infidel Turks in 1453, it was
believed that it and the previous Church of Rome had fallen because of
corruption and heresy. Moscow, the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church,
had become the Third and find Rome; her role was to illuminate the whole
world in the Christian f a i t h This doctrine arose horn religious conviction,
separate from any political program; however, this powerful religious idea
could not help but spread beyond the realm of religious activity through the
following centuries. The fragmentation of Russian society caused by Peter 1's
westernizing reforms emphasized the dual nature of Russia: it was a society
that could adapt to western ideas, but it was also a society whose mission for
the future of mankind depended on its innate, non-western aetributes.
Fyodor Dostoevsky articulated both of these ideas. He was concerned
that educated Russians had turned away from the common people-the very
people who possessed the special insights which could provide "the word," or
the solution for the future of mankind. In his well-known Pushkin speech of
1880,35 Dostoevsky refutes the Westernizersf argument that Russia must

35~.M. Dostoevsky, "Pushkin (ocherk)"and "Ob"iasnitelrnoeslovo po povodu pechataemoi


nizhe rechi o Pushkine," D n m i k pisafeliia. lzbrannye stranitsy (Moscow: Sovremenni k, 1989)
follow the European path of development in economics, science, and civil
law in order to have a voice in the West regarding the future of humanity.
Instead, he insists that Russia must turn to the wisdom of its rural past if it is
to serve a messianic role in the history of mankind. Dostoevsky uses
Pushkin as a springboard to launch into his own view of this role:

. . . had Pushkin not existed, it might well be that o w faith in our


Russian individuality, our new conscious hope in the strength
of our People, and with it our faith in our future independent
mission in the family of European peoples would not have been
formulated with such unshakable force?
For Dostoevsky the Russian spirit transcends narrow nationalism and
extends to universalism, "[flor what is the strength of the spirit of
Russiamess if not its ultimate aspirations toward universality and the
universal brotherhood of peoples?"37
Russia's future does not depend on the strict acceptance or denial of
western ideas. Dostoevsky points to Russia's long history of borrowing and
adapting from other peoples; he predicts Russia's strength lies in her ability to
reconcile western rationalism with her own indigenous wisdom:

Russia accepted the genius of other nations into our soul, all of
them together, making no discriminations by race, knowing
instinctively almost from our very first step where the
distinctions lay, knowing how to eliminate contradictions, to
excuse and reconcile differences; and in so doing we revealed the
quality that had only just been made manifest--our readiness
and our indination for the general reunification of all people of
all the tribes of the great Aryan race. Indeed the mission of the
Russian is unquestionably pan-European and universal. To

514-537.The speech was delivered to the Society of Lovers of Russian Literature on June 8,1880
and published in the 1881 volume of D n m i k prkateliia. Passages quoted in the following
section use Kenneth Lank' translation, Fyodor Dostomsky. A Writer's Diary. 2 vols. (Evanston:
Northwestern UP, 1994)2: 1271-1295.
36~ostoevs ky 1291.
37~ostoevsky1293.
become a real Russian, to become completely Russian perhaps,
means just . . . to become a brother to a l l people, a panhuman if
you like. . . . Oh the nations of Europe simply do not know how
dear they are to us! And subsequently, I am certain, we (I mean
not we, of coutse, but Russian people to come) will realize to the
very last man that to become a genuine Russian will mean
specifically: to strive to bring an ultimate reconciliation to
Europe's contradictions, to indicate that the solution to Europe's
anguish is to be found in the panhuman and all-unifying
Russian soul, to enfold all our brethren within it with brotherly
love, and at last, perhaps to utter the ultimate word of great,
general harmony, ultimate brotherly accord of all tribes through
the law of Christ's Gospel.

. . . the Russian soul, the genius of the Russian People may have
a greater capacity than other nations to embrace the idea of the
universal fellowship of humans, of brotherly love, the sober
view that forgives enmity, distinguishes and excuses that which
is dissimilar, eliminates contradictions. This is not a n economic
trait or any such; it is only a moral trait, and can anyone deny or
dispute it in the Russian People?38
Those desiring to express Russian national cultural identity looked to
Russian spirituality as a foundation. This was perhaps most conspicuous in
architecture. In 1883 Count Uvarov, who in 1825 had promoted Orthodoxy,
Autocracy, and Nationality as the three essential elements of official
populism, was part of a committee overseeing the construction of the red
brick Moscow Historical Museum on Red Square. The architect Vladimir
Shemud hied to give the building an ecclesiastical character to communicate
"the fact that the church is not just a holy idea in our popular history, but the
primary cultural element of our nationhood."39 The questionable result of
this attempt notwithstanding, nineteenth-century Russian architecture often
drew on the lines and rich ornament of seventeenth century Russian church
architecture for both religious and secular buildings.40 The first two decades
of the twentieth century saw an increase in the numbers of churches and
monasteries built in Russia. From 1900-1917, 165 new monasteries were
founded; from 1906-1912, 5,500 new churches were built.*' This revival of
church construction invited broad participation of the artistic community.
Painters entered competitions for the design of new and restored churches;
they designed fabrics for vestments, restored icons and painted new ones.
Vasnetsov, Nesterov, Bilibin, Vrubel' and Roerich were among those active
in creating religious applied art." Composers were also involved in creating
new church music. Rachmaninov, for example, composed The Liturgy of
Saint JohnChrysostom (1910) and a cycle of Vespers (1915).43
The philosopher and poet Vladimir Solov'ev (1853-1900), like his dose
friend Dostoevsky, carried throughout his works the belief in Russia's
messianic role. He is perhaps best known as a religious philosopher who
worked to make Orthodox theology a meaningful part of modem society. He
advocated a positive role for Christian Russia in the historical process, dearly
a messianic role for Russia in the reconciliation of Russian Orthodoxy and
western Christianity in a Universal Church. He formulated powerful ideas of
reconciliation which influenced Russian thought well past the turn of the
century. He assumed a dialectic in his thought process that used the
reconciliation of opposites to arrive at a new synthesis. He wrote passionately
about the pantheism of nature, a reconciliation of matter and spirit. He

40~irichen ko 1 13.
41Kirichenko 202.
42See Kirichenko for numerous illustrations of examples.
43~ergei Rachmaninov, The Vespers, dir. Vladislav Tchernouchen ko, Cappella of St.
Petersburg, Saison Russe, Le Chant du Mond, LDC2888050,1994.
promoted the image of Sophia, the world soul who promised love and
reconciliation for all peoples. This imagery, present everywhere in Solov'ev's
poetry, took on an important role in Russian philosophy and symbolist
poetry. It reflects the neo-Platonic idea that reality is arranged along a vertical
axis from the material at one end to the spiritual at the other. Other polar
opposites include male and female, reason and the irrational, Apollo and
Dionysus, Cosmos and Chaos. Both poles are essential; there is an attraction
between them. An artist or poet, through an ecstatic or irrational experience,
was the most likely candidate to reconcile the contradiction, or antinomy, of
the opposite poles. The artist, now fulfilling the role of a priest, could then
bring to the material world the knowledge gained through his ecstatic,
creative vision and, as a result, bring about the transformation of the material
world.
Just as Dostoevsky asserted that Russia's strength lay in her knowing
how to reconcile differences, Russian philosophers were obsessed with the
problem of integrating belief with reason in a philosophical theory of
cogni t i ~ n .Following
~ ~ European Neo-Kantian philosophers' efforts to
revise Kant's philosophy of knowledge, the Russians felt themselves
particularly suited to develop a theory based on the direction Kant indicated
in The Critique of \udgemmt, that the absolute might be knowable through
other non-rational modes of human discourse. From 1889 this question was
discussed frequently in the pages of the philosophical journals Voprosy

4 4 ~ o ar detailed description of this movement in Russian thought see James D. West, "The
Philosophical Roots of the 'National Question,"' Studia Slavica Hungarica 41 (1996): 55-66.
See also Janes D. West, "Art as Cognition in Russian Neo-Kantianism," Studies in East
E!i ropenn Thought 47(1995): 195-223.
Logos; the question also captured the minds of
filosofii i p~ikhologii4~and
Russian symbolists. It is important to remember that Russian intellectuals
believed that their ideas-xpressed in philosophy, drama, music, painting,
poetry, or other literary arts--could be a practical solution to the moral
disintegration of the world around them. This particular group of thinkers
included the philosophers Solov'ev, Sergei and Evgenii Trubetskoy, I.
Lapshin, N. Grot, and Alexander and Aieksei Vvedensky, the symbolist poet
Ivanov, and the composer Scriabin. It was widely believed that the West had
come to recognize and appreciate Russia's particular mode of thought
through the literary works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Given that license,
plus the long-held belief in Russia's messianic role, Russian thinkers h u l y
believed that they held the key to the future of mankind. It must be swessed,
however, that the future they visualized was both "Russian," and "pan-
human."
Symbolist artists had accepted Solov'ev's calling to use the arts as a way
of knowing a higher truth. This religious consciousness had much in
common with Russian Theosophy, a "syncretic mystico-religious philo-
that gained momentum during this same period as a part
sophical ~ystern"4~
of a broader European fascination with the occult. Theosophy offered a
compelling alternative to twentieth-century man's hagmented life:

One of Theosophy's greatest temptations for certain idealist


elements within the Russian intelligentsia was its promise of
the Great Synthesis: of science, religion, and philosophy, of
matter and spirit, and of East and West. For these idealists
Theosophy was, first and foremost, a particular view of the

4 5 ~ u e s t i o n sof Philosophy and Psychology.


4 6 ~ a r i aCarlson, "No Religion Higher Than Truth." A History of the Theosophical Movement
in Russia, 1875-1922 (Princeton: Princeton UP, 7993) 6 .
world, of life and death, of God and man, of good and evil, and
of the purpose of human existence. It was neither a faith nor a
science (both had been discredited), but it seemed to have already
achieved the unification of the secular and the religious spheres
into one enormous, sublime, and glorious system that
reconciled all contradictions between sacred and profane and
expressed the Tncth. . . . Theosophy promised a single brother-
hood uniting all humanity, a global utopia.47
Solov'ev saw a dear role for art in this process of synthesis:

[Solov'ev] viewed reality as a transcendent "total-unity" whose


feeble comprehension by man required a synthesis of religion,
philosophy, and science-of faith, thought, and experience. Art
he stated to be a microcosm of "total-unity," . . . hence latent
with theurgic energy. "Art must be a real force," he proclaimed,
"enlightening and regenerating the entire human world."48
Theosophy's Great Synthesis and search for the Truth supported the
growing impulse to return the arts to their original function in ritual where
they were conjoined in service to the sacred. Behind these experiments lay
the belief in the theurgic property of art-that words and sounds in the form
of prayer and incantation have magical power to evoke the gods and spirits
and bring them closer to man. Such ritual and the pure expression of the
beautiful in art could transform the material world by embodying spiritual
principles in it.49 Artists also experimented with synthesis of the arts, that is
dissolving the conventional boundaries between the arts, another
"fragmentation" of the modem world. Painters and poets tried their hands at
visual and verbal "symphonies;" Mikolajus Ciurlionis (1875-1911) painted
works with musical titles, for example Sonata of the Stars and Andante (1908)

*~ulalcom Brown, "Skriabin and Russian 'Mystic' Symbolism," Nineteenth Century Mwic
3(1979): 44.
4 9 ~ h i sidea is developed in Solovev's essay, "Krasota v prirode," (1899), Sochineniia, 2nd. ed,
vol. 2 (Moscow: Mysl', 1990) 2: 351-389.
in an attempt to give expression to musical elements on the two-dimensional
space of the canvas. Andrei Bely wrote four symphonies in prose between

Theosophy strengthened the perception that Russia had a messianic


role to play; according to Theosophy, the impending apocalypse had a cosmic
purpose, and Russia held the keys to the future of mankind:

World war, revolution, civil war were all perceived as


reflections in the material world of a cleansing catastrophe that
heralded the end of one cycle and, after a period of obscuration,
the beginning of a new, superior cycle in which Russia would
fulfill its dharma, the "higher truth" that informs its cosmic
mission, and finally give voice to its spiritual "word."

All this had been predicted by Mme Blavatsky, Mrs. Besant,


and Rudolf Steiner (well before 1917, he had made several
predictions about the catastrophe that would overtake Russia).
The Slavs were to be the people of the next (sixth) cub-race;
theirs was a b r a a n t future. Clearly the world catastrophe only
heralded the end of the fifth sub-race, the Aryan race that had so
long dominated world evolution. FoLlowing the cosmological
pattern, the brief period of obscuration would be followed by the
rise of the Slavs and the fulfillment of their cosmic mission.
The Theosophists, blending f i n de si&deRussian millennialism
and messianisrn with Buddhist cosmology, knew what that
mission would be.50

[Theosophists] subscribed to the "Russian idea" and saw in


Theosophy that spiritual union of East and West that would
bring Russia out of its long sleep and send it forth to save
decaying Western civilization from the deadening hand of
positivism and scientific materialism.51

The Theosophists' way of coming to know higher truth depended on


developing a particular kind of receptivity that is possible only when the self
is transcended, for in this state of openness, things and events can speak to
the seeker.S2 This way of knowing is evident in Roerich's approach to
artifacts of ancient civilizations and in his own spiritual search. Receiving
this knowledge is contingent upon a state of mind that rejects the more
customary, rational imposition of one's self on things and events that results
from speaking about them. In Chapter III it will be shown that the
renunciation of the self is a commonplace among those who seek spiritual
enlightenment. Artists including Bely, Roerich, Voloshin, and Ivanov
adopted priest-like roles as they communicated their mystical visions of
higher truth. Their attitudes toward art and religion were undoubtedly
influenced by their participation in Theosophic cirdes in the first decades of
this century.53 Along with other members of the creative inteiligentsia, they
studied the occult and sought spiritual enlightenment through ecstatic
experience.
Theosophy offered a way of integrating key ideas of Russian religious
revival. It supported the view of the Russian people as a particularly gifted
resource for the future of mankind. It returned a specifically religious
function to art; retzospectivism in art focused on rejoining the arts in sacred
ritual, and artists were viewed as especially gifted souls, or priests, who
participate in revealing beauty in the material world. Although many
Russian artists who explored mysticism, Theosophy, and the occult have

52~udolfSteiner, Teosoj%z, trans. A. R. Mintslova (St. Petersburg: Stasiulevich, 1910) 164-


5 3 ~ e l yparticipated in a Moscow Theosophical Circle as early as 1902. Carlson 89.
He later followed Steiner's "Christianized" adaptation of Theosophy, Anthroposophy, and
during the years 1912-1916 he studied Anthroposophy in Europe, spending 1914-1916 in
Domach, Switzerland with Steiner. See Stefani Hope Hoffman. "Scythianisrn: A Cultural
Vision in Revolutionary Russia,'' diss. Columbia U, 1975, 163.
Anna Mintslova, the translator of Steiner's Teosofia, was a close companion of Viacheslav
Ivanov from 1907-10.
Roerich was involved with Theosophy at least as early as 1906.
found a place in the West's view of Russian culture, western scholars have
generally ignored these activities. "Eccentric Russian mystics" have not fit a
scholarly paradigm. If these activities are discussed at all, it is commonly with
a condescending tone peppered with terms such as "pseudo-religious" and
"bogeyman. "5"owever, this view has recently been corrected; Maria
Carlsonrs 1993 study, "No Religion Higher Than Tnith." A History of the
Theosophical Movement in Russia, 1875-2922, has established the
pervasiveness of occult practices and the influence of prominent mystical
philosophers in the broader cultural life of Russia around the turn of the
century. Theosophy was more widespread in Russia, especially following the
relaxation of censorship in 1905, than western scholarship usually
acknowledges:

Occultism, in a bewildering variety of forms, became the


intellectual craze of the time. The Russian Spiritualist journal
Rebus reported in 1906 that "according to our correspondent, all
of Petersburg is caught up in an unusually powerful mystical
movement and at the moment a veritable maelstrom of little
religions, cults, and sects has taken shape there. This movement
embraces both the upper and lower levels of society. Among the
upper levels we find the Theosophic-Buddhist trend. Admirers
of Theosophy are uniting and are even beginning to discuss the
question of building a Buddhist lamasery (a dormitory) and a
Theosophic-Buddhist temple." . . . And not only Petersburg was
caught up in the trend. Moscow and the provinces buzzed with
new secret societies, demonstrations of hypnotism, public
Spiritualist seances, gypsy fortune-tellers, and secret sectarian
ecstasies (mdeniia). Every educated reader who was not a recluse
had at least a nodding acquaintance with Theosophy and
Spiritualism. . . . People knew about these things, even if their

S4~imon Karlinsky, "The Composer's Workshop." The Nation 15 June 1970: 730-733- Karlinsky
uses the term "bogeyman" in describing Roerich's titles for the dances in The Rite of Spring.
Taruskin is fond of the qualifier "pseudo-" in descriptions of the ideas and activities of
Roerich, Russian symbolists,and others.
knowledge was based only on cafe gossip and sensational
newspaper artides in N o w e Vremia.55
Scholars have begun to acknowledge the influence of Theosophy in the
works of Scriabin, Ivanov, Roerich, Bely, and others. This study will
place Velikaia zhertoa in this context, and it will demonstrate that this
intellectual climate is evident in the concept of the ballet. I wiU return to the
religious function of the arts in Chapters II and m.
In general the movement to express Russian traditional culture in the
arts developed over a period of time. The use of Russian subjects and
ornament in art forms that had been borrowed from the West, the so-called
Russian Style,56 evolved into a gradual fragmentation and synthesis of the
elements of folk art (color, perspective, rhythm, melody, etc.) into the so-
called new style (novyi stil') or neo-Russian Style.57 The Russian style
parallels the turn toward realism in literature and easel painting in the mid
nineteenth century, inspired both by artists' rejection of the aesthetic imposed
by the Academy of Fine Arts and by the call for art to serve social reform.
Verisimilitude and "scientific" accuracy in duplicating the forms of
decoration were valued in this period dominated by rationalism. The idea
that Russia's future was inextricably Linked to the peasants' and workers'
future fueled interest in the peasants' heritage as well as in efforts to preserve
and protect that heritage. Ironically, industry, the very threat to the peasant

5 6 ~ o example,
r Venetsianov's paintings of Russian peasants, and the surface use of Russian
decoration on the still classical lines of the Moscow City Duma and the Upper Market Rows.
Kirichenko 43, 109, 2 2 I.
57~aruskinrefers to this style as neonationalism. It is also known as the rnoderne, or, in
reference to the literary arts, symbolism. See E. I. Borisova and C.Iu Sternin, Ruskii modern
(Moscow:Sovets kii khudozhnik, 1990) 20.
way of life, provided some means for its preservation by patronizing the
kustar' movement. Kllstar' workshops such as those at Abramtsevo, near

Moscow, and Talashkino, near Smolensk, preserved and taught Russian


applied art and also attempted to provide income to peasants whose
livelihood was threatened by urbanization. In the 1870s there was a revival of
wooden architecture, especially the heavily decorated peasant hut or izba.
Wooden pavilions, carefully copied fiom traditional peasant design, were the
attraction at manufacturing and polytechnic exhibitions in the 1870s, both in
Russia and abroad.58 The pervasiveness of this revival of Russian design is
evident in the pages of historical surveys of Russian art and architecture in
the second half of the nineteenth century. Kirichenko, for example, writes:

Concluding our history of the Russian styLe of the second half


of the nineteenth century, we should emphasize once more that
it was the only stylistic movement in this period which could Lay
daim to being tnrly universal and comprehensive. In the extent
of its dissemination and popularity, in both architecture and
applied art, it had no rivals.59
The revival of wooden architecture, especially in urban settings and in
structures that were essentially monuments to western technology and
industrialization, can be seen as an effort to provide an antidote or balance to
the rapid changes threatening the ideal of Russian traditional life.
The kustar' movement was in the same spirit as the earlier Arts and
Crafts movement in Britain, an effort to create a utopia or paradise on earth
through the total aestheticization of the Living and working environment.

58~orexample, the 1870 Manufacturing Exhibition at St. Petersburg, 1872 Polytechnic


Exhibition in Moscow and the Paris Exhibition of 1878. This trend continued until early in the
twentieth century. See Kirichenko 99-101, George Hamilton, The Art and Architecture of
Russia (1954; New York: Penguin, 1983) 395.
59~irichenko 132.
36

Dostoevskyfs pronouncement, "Beauty will save the world"60 was


fundamental to the commitment to beauty made by artists and intellectuals
alike. In Chapter II I will demonstrate how Roerich's work was based on this
foundation.
The Russian style of the 1850s to 1870s gradually gave way to the neo-
Russian style. The new style rejected verisimilitude and rationalism; it
turned to "lyricai transf0rmation,"~1 synthesis, stylization, and creative
interpretation of the structural elements, materials, and themes found in
artifacts of the Russian national heritage. As explained above, there was a
belief in the intercomectedness of all the arts, and of art with religion and
philosophy. AU modes of discourse and all modes of knowing were explored.
Added to this was the conviction that the arts had a life-transforming or
theurgic mission. To this end, artists took on the role of rnifotoorchestoo
(mythmaking), the creating of new sacred stories to guide modem man.62

The art historian and critic Vladimir Stasov (1824-1906) was an ardent
supporter of painters and musicians who attempted to reflect the Russian
cultural heritage in their works. Because he was such a prominent and
outspoken figure in the world of Russian art for over half of the nineteenth
century, remaining active even in the beg-g of the twentieth, and
because Roerich's work is often categorized by his brief association with
Stasov, it is important to clarify his position and his role.63 Too many
scholars have labeled Stasov on the basis of some of his public conflicts,

6@Thesewords were spoken by Prince Myshkin in Dostoevsky's The Idiot.


61~irichenko140.
6 2 ~ i s o v and
a Stemin 6.
63This section is based on Yuri Olkhovsky, Vladimir Stasoo and Russian National Culture
(Ann Arbor: UMI Research P, 2983).
37

identifying him as a chauvinist nationalist, a populist, or an unscientific


promoter of the theory of Asian origins of Russian culture. It is important to
free our understanding of the role he played at the turn of the century from
labels that obscure rather than clarify.
Early in his career, Stasov was consumed by the struggle against
European dominance of the fine arts. The Academy of Fine Arts had required
artists to work in the dassical style and limited subjects of paintings to scenes
of history, the Bible, or mythology. The Imperial Opera was Italian, not
Russian, even though Glinkafs A Life for the Tsar and Ruslan and Lirldrnila
had been performed in St. Petersburg, although in lesser halls. Glinka's sad
experience over the lukewarm reception of Ruslan and Liudmila in 1842
greatly angered Stasov and perhaps fueled his activities in the world of music
for the rest of his career. The institutions of Imperial Russia in the 1850s and
1860s were generally opposed to the intrusion of "the Russian," viewing it as
substandard.
Circumstances gave Stasov an "army" to fight for Russian music and
Russian musical education. In the 1860s he had the opportunity to support,
encourage, and guide a group of self-educated musicians-"The Mighty
Handful" (Moguchaia kuchka) as he later called them-all followers of Mili
Balakirev. The group included Modest Musorgsky, C6sar Cui, Alexander
Borodin, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Balakirev fought to promote the
Russian school of music, encouraging his followers to break with the German
training and style that the new conservatories in St. Petersburg (1862) and
Moscow (1866) represented. Although "The Mighty Handful" stood for the
proposition that the native music of the Russian people, both folk and
religious, was a worthy basis for an intellectual art music:' they were not
conservative nationalists. Their music was largely eclectic, combining both
Russian and European elements; they were innovators, looking for new
forms, rhythms, harmonies-a new style. Musorgsky was the most
innovative of the five; he used distinctive harmonic innovations, a variety of
scales, and dissonance in his effort to focus on content over form. For
example, in his opera Boris Godunoo (1870) he evoked Medieval Russia
largely through thematic material of his own invention, although he quoted
some folk song and Russian religious music. He abandoned Italian opera
form for a new type of music drama that he felt represented the unvarnished
life of the pe0ple.~5
The growing opposition to European domination of Russian culture
and the turn toward realism in art made the investigation of the origins of
Russian culture all the more attractive. In the 1850s Russian folklorists were
already promoting the theory that their own folklore was borrowed from
other folklores including Greek, Tibetan, and Siberiad6 The popularization
of German orientahst Teodor Benfey's theory that India was the source of all
of these folklores resulted in a flurry of publications broadly applying it.67 In
1868 Stasov wrote a long article, "The Origin of Russian Byliny"
(Proiskhozhdenie rzisskikh bylin), asserting the oriental origins of Russian

@Leonard 74.
%eonard 108,92.
6 6 ~ o ar discussion of the development of this theory from the "improbable" statements of N.A.
L'vov in his introduction to Jan Prach's 1790 Sobranie narodnykh russkikh pesen s ikh yolosami,
that all Russian folksongs were of Greek origin to the more scientific works of A.N. Pypin and
A. A. Shifnner in 1857, see A. I. Balandin, Mifologicheskiin shkola o russkoi fol'kloristike. F.
I. Buslam (Moscow: Nauka, 1988) 109-211.
6 7 ~ h i theory
s was published in a long introduction to Benfey's German translation of
Pantschantantra from Sanskrit in 1859. Balandin, 111.
39

epic folklore and culture.68 He wrote about the indisputable continuity of


Russian and European culture from Asia that manifested itself in everything
including language, clothing, customs, buildings, furnishings, ornaments,
melodies and harmonies, oral epos (byliny), and fairy tales. This article put
Stasov in opposition to nationalists; he was criticized for depriving the
Russian folk epos of its national origins and for disparaging national
~ u l t u r e - ~The
g question of the truth of Stasov's theory, while interesting, is
less important than the impact of this theory on Stasovfs contemporaries.
The possibility of an indigenous culture made strong by its long interaction
with various nomadic tribes from Asia, and later with Greeks and
Scandinavians as they conducted their commerce on Russian lands, was
much more attractive to many than the canonized views of Slavic history-
cultura.Uy unformed groups of Slavs welcoming the culture of the Greeks
wholesale, or the view that Russia had no culture prior to Peter 1's contacts
with western Europe.
Archeological evidence of Scythian settlements in southern Russia
began to disprove the canon. The Scythians were Indo-Iranian nomadic
warriors who, from the seventh century to the third century BC, moved
across southern Russian lands from the Caucasus to the Crimea and Ukraine

and on to the Danube. Russians had been fascinated with the Scythian
civilization at least since the early nineteenth century when French and
German archeologists began to excavate burial mounds in southern Russia.
These excavations provided most of the Scythian artifacts that were on

6 8 ~Stasov,
. "Prois khorhdenie russ ki kh bylin" Vesleshik Eoropy 3 (1868) 225-277, 651-699.
6 9 ~ a l a n d i n126-127.
40

display in t!e Hermitage museum in St. P e t e r s b ~ g . Throughout


~~ the
nineteenth century archeologists continued to discover rich evidence of
Scythian presence across the southern lands of Russia. The commonly held
view of Scythians as barbaric nomadic invaders was challenged by evidence
that they settled and practiced agriculture in some cases. In the last two
decades of the nineteenth century, scholars began to argue against the
commonly held view of Greek dominance in southern Russian culture.
Stasov was among those who attempted to promote the view that there was a
rich native culture worthy of study in its own right? This point of view is
also prominent in Roerich's writings.
Stasov's ideas fueled discussions of Russian identity as separate from
western Europe and contributed to the growing idea of Russia's messianic
role in mankind's future. Soviet scholarship was responsible for the general
dismissal of Stasov's theory. "Soviet ideologists and official historians
[found] Stasov's theory on the oriental origin of Russian culture particularly
offensive. They daimed this was a 'pseudoscientific' theory."7* Stasov's
theory has proved to be more and more substantive. Later archeological
investigation has given credence to the idea that early Slavic culture was a
blend of those cultures that interacted through commerce and invasion in the
lands now known as southern Russia.
For many scholars the end of Stasov's career is defined by his
vehement opposition to the activities of the World of Art group. He railed

7 0 ~ o ran early twentieth-century view of archeology in southern Russia see M. Rostovtzetf,


hnians and Greeks in South Russia (1918; 1922; New York: Russell, 2969) 6.
71~ostovtreff7.
7 2 ~ I.. Suvorova, V.V. Stasoo i russluzia peredooaia obshchestoennuin mysl' (Leningrad, 1956)
46, quoted in Oikhovsky 144.
against the "utterly idiotic, outrageous, anti-artistic, and repulsive" works at a
World of Art exhibit. He held Diaghilev responsible for the artistsf blind
imitation of European decadents:

In regard to Russian decadents . . . they have not accomplished


anything which is decadent. Whatever they have is . . .
miserable imitation . . . The entire decadence of our decadents
consists of decadent conversations about the European
decadents. When the latter would finally fall silent and vanish
our poor monkeys would immediately put their tails between
their legs and would shut up forever?
Stasov maintained his goal-to achieve independence for Russian arts
from domination by foreign arts-throughout his career. He publicly
maintained his opposition to the dogma of the academy, be it the Academy of
Fine Arts or the St. Petersburg Conservatory, long after such a position was
warranted. Through a quirk of his personality, he viewed it as a weakness to
apologize in print, although he did recant many of his words in private
letters. His outspoken, often conservative opinions made it easy to stereotype
him in later scholarship. Certainly he felt it necessary to continue the battle
against blind imitation of the foreign in art; but this does not mean that he
was chauvinistic. In fact he was an avid listener of all kinds of music,
European as well as Russian. He admired Beethoven and Bach and found
much to admire in the music of Richard Wagner. His letters reveal a
continuing interest in new art, including the music of Scriabin. In 1904 he
corresponded briefly with Scriabin to express his positive response to his
Third Symphony (The Divine Poem).

What tasks! What plans! What strength and smoothness!


There is so much passion and poetry in the second movement!
--

7 3 ~ Stasov,
. "Vystavki," Dbr. soch. 111: 215-26, quoted in Olkhovsky, 133.
And the orchestration-it's marvelous, powerful, strong,
sometimes tender and charming, and sometimes brilliant! Yes,
among the Russians you already have great numbers of
supporters and admirers.74
This is neither program music nor music that expresses national themes;
Scriabin has already begun to explore mysticism, an exploration that Stasov
finds most interesting.
We must remember that Stasov's contributions to Russian culture
were far broader than his polemic against the imitation of European art. His
life-long career was in archeology, a field which also included ethnography,
early architecture, oral epos, and studies of ornamentation and medieval
letter design. His published work on Russian folk ornament influenced
artists of the time and artists that followed, both those who were dose
imitators of folk design and those who abstracted the forms in their more
modernist works. His theory on the Asian origins of Russian culture fed a
growing interest in archeology. Roerich sought out Stasov's expertise in these
fields; he was not searching for a mentor in chauvinistic nationalism, nor did
he find one.

It is the less tangible but no less important agenda of religious revival


that is missing from most western surveys of Russian art from 1850 to 1917.
Russian sources, however, even throughout the Soviet period, usually
acknowledge this important component of the impulse to express Russian
traditional culture in the arts. There seems to be a reluctance in western
scholarship to address the moral and religious motivation for much of the art
produced in the neo-Russian style. For example, in their discussions of
Roerich's involvement with the kzlstar' workshops and art colony at
Talashkino, both Taruskin and the art historian John Bowlt include a
photograph of Roerich at work on his fresco in the interior of Tenisheva's
church at Talashkino, but neither gives its title, The Queen of Heaven, or
makes any comment about its religious symbolism, other than describing it as
"neo-Rus~ian."~5I will discuss the significance of this omission in Chapter II.
We cannot understand what Stravinsky and Roerich were intending to do
with their ballet Velikaia zkrtva until we examine the intellectual context in
which it was created.
Two studies of Stravinsky's music, while Limited by their reliance on
translated sources, nevertheless point to Stravinsky's debt to symbolism and
to the presence of religious impulses in his music. Warren Bourne discusses
"decadent religiosity" or the fascination with primitive and alternative
religious experiences as part of the extra-musical ideas that influenced
Debussy, Stravinsky and S~hoenberg.7~Joan Acocella also writes from a
European focus, but she brings into her discussion major trends of symbolist
art that include the transfer to art of religious yearnings (mystery, mysticism),
and the concept that art is the product of a different kind of knowledge.77
These works touch on topics that this study will explore in greater detail and
within the Russian context.

75~aruskin,Stravinsky 872, John Bowlt, The Silver Age: Russian Art of the Early Twentieth
Century and the "World of Art" Group (Newtonville: Oriental Research Partners, 1979) 46.
7 6 ~ a r r e nBourne, "A Kindling Fever: A Study of Some Religious, Socio-Ethical, and Literary
Themes in Music between 1890 and 1920 with Special Reference to Debussy, Stravinsky, and
Schoenberg," diss., U of Auckland, 1969.
77~oanAcocella, "The Reception of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes by Artists and Intellectuals in
Paris and London, 1909-1914," diss., Rutgen U, 1984.
Taruskin also acknowledges the presence of religious ideas in The Rite
of Spring, based on Stravinsky's own comments:

The Rite of Spring, then, would not tell a story of a pagan ritual;
it would be that ritual. One can detect here a prime tenet of early
modernism with its insistence that genres and media not be
mixed. But it was no less a derivation from the theurgic aims of
Russian symbolism, and however much Stravinsky may later
have denied it, his goal was frankly 'Scriabinis tic'-the
communication of ecstasy, of terror. In interviews he gave the
St. Petersburg press during a brief visit to his native city in the
fall of 1912, he referred to his new work more than once as a
'mysterium(!)' He dubbed the new kind of ballet he was
pioneering a 'choreodrama which is bound to replace the type of
our contemporary ballets,' indebted as they were to the impure
principles of 'music drama.'78
Yet, Taruskin has drawn a line separating religious revival from what he sees
as the "art for art's sake" aesthetic of the Wwld of Art, and by extension
Diaghilev's and Stravinsky's aesthetic. "Their mission was neither to explore
the world nor to transfigure it, but to adorn it-"79 This misrepresents the
purpose of the journal; Bowlt notes that, among other things, it was a vehicle
for the propagation of Russian symbolist philosophy.80 It is dear, then, that
the life-transforming task of art would have been familiar to readers of the
journal and participants in the society's activities. I will discuss the World of
Art aesthetic in more detail in Chapter III.
As an example of western scholarship, Taruskin's work is thorough,
well researched, and more steeped in the Russian traditions than most works
that have preceded it, but in the final analysis it overlooks the active efforts to

s "The Rite Revisited," 185-186. Taruskin quotes from Krasovska ia, Russkii balehryi
7 8 ~ a mkin,
t e a k 2 vols. (Leningrad: Iskusstvo, 1971-2) 2: 232.
s Stravinsky- 437.
7 9 ~ a r ukin,
8 0 ~ o h nBowlt, "Russian Modernism,'' Handbook of Russian Literature, e d . Victor Terras (New
Haven: Yale UP, 1985) 284.
revive spiritual life in tun-of-the-century Russian culture. Taruskin's
conclusions about The Rite of Spring, as exciting and right on the mark as
they may seem to someone unfamiliar with the Russian context,
nevertheless depend on hasty and sometimes dearly erroneous interpre-
tations of Russian ideas. He allows the revolutionary effect of The Rite of
Spring on twentieth-century music to influence his analysis of the ballet's
concept. His expertise in formal analysis of Stravinsky's developing style
leads him to a metaphor that aptly describes the revolutionary effect of this
work, but which fails to describe Stravinsky's conceptual intent and to
account for the fact that Stravinsky shared Roerich's vision
Taruskin concludes that the ballet is Scythian, a barbaric, primitivistic,
subhuman destruction of refined tradition:

In a far more fundamental and insidious way than [high


dissonance and crashing orchestration], Stravinsky's ballet
merited the Scythian label. For it already answered the as yet
only half-articulate call of its time for the "great sacrifice" of
kul'tura [German symphonic tradition] on the altar of
stikhiya.81
The word stikhiia, generally referring to the elements of nature-earth, air,
water, and fire,82 took on broader metaphorical meaning in the writings of
the Russian symbolists. In addition to the forces of nature, stikhiia had
connotations of the apocalypse, coming either from catastrophic natural
disasters or from anarchic uprisings of the people. Sometimes this force was
associated with the image of Scythian or Asian hordes plundering the lives
and property of the peoples settled on the southern steppes. Alexander Blok

81~aruskin,Straainsky 951.
8 2 ~ Dal',
. Tolkooyi slooar' zhiwgo velikorusskogo iazykx (1882; Moscow: Cosudarstvennoe
izdatel'stvo inostrannykh i natsionalfnykh slovarei, 1955).
uses this term in his essay "Sfikhiia i knl'tura" where he sees both natural
disasters and revolutionary impulses as signs that modem civilization has
made itself vulnerable thxough its materialism and the fragmentation of
man's once harmonic life- For the symbolists, sf ikhiia carried connotations of
Chaos and the irrational.
Roerich's use of the word stikhiiu carries a slightly different
connotation. He idealized primitive man's harmonious relationship with
the powerful forces of nature, maintained through religious rikal and
celebrated in the rich ornamentation he applied to everyday objects. This life
is not an idyll, but one of balance where the symbols of ritual and ornament
testify to the "forever-frightened life of man."83 Roerich believed that the
restoration of this ancient harmony could be a curative for the ills of modem
civilization. He did not see ancient man as a primitive barbarian, but rather
as the possessor of a way of life that could be a viable solution to modem
disharmony. I will discuss Roerich's ideas in greater detail in Chapter II.
Taruskin defines stikhiia as "primitive immediacy" and "elemental
~ p o n t a n e i t y , "alluding
~~ to the age-old traditions of the Russian people,
especially to the idiom of their music. His condusion, however, does not
address the concept of the bailet that Stravinsky and Roerich envisioned. It is
rather a description of the revolutionary effect of Stravinsky's new style:

Stravinsky set free a stikhiya that had always been latent in


Russian art music, ever contending with the requirements of
European kul'fura. So magruficently realized was The Rite that
it turned the tables on the historical struggle. It convinced many
Western musicians that Russian drobnost ' [the quality of being a

8 3 ~ . Rerikh,
~ . "Zakliatoe zver'e," Tulashkino. Sbornik dokurnentoo, ed. Larisa Zhuravleva
(Srnolensk: Izdatel'stvo Posokh, 1995) 399.
84~aruskin,Shaoinsky 1746, 850.
sum of parts as opposed to developed form] was a viable al-
ternative, not merely an anarchic or incompetent deviation. . . .
Now kul'tura would be on the defensive. The Rite, Russian as
no music before it had ever been, made the Russian universal-
which is to say, it Russianized the musical universe-and thus
transcended the Russian. It had fallen to Stravinsky to redeem
with interest the debt Rubinstein had incurred to the West on
Russia's behalf when, half a century before, he summoned a
German staff to man his country's first conservatory.85
The Scythian metaphor convincingly describes post-Rite-ofspring music
history. However, Taruskin's enthusiasm leads him to misrepresent key
elements of the ballet and thereby to distort Roerich's and Stravinsky's
original concept.
Taruskin seems to suggest that Stravinsky and Roerich were
clairvoyant: the ballet answers "the as yet only half-articulate call of its time
for the 'great sacrifice' of kul'turu on the altar of stikhiyu." Taruskin's
assertion that The Rite of Spring is Scythian Leads him to attempt to
demonstrate that it reflects ideas held by the group of revolutionary artists
and thinkers who called themselves Scythians. This view is misleading on
several counts.
First, there is the problem of chronology. Roerich and Stravinsky
began their collaboration in 1910, completing the outline of the entire ballet
in the summer of 1911. Themes of Pan-Mongolism and the Asian, hence
barbarian, elements of Russian culture were not new; they had appeared in
the nineteenth century as elements of Slavophilism. The abundance of
exquisitely-crafted Scythian artifacts, the evidence of elaborate, highly
ritualized burial practices, and Herodotus' fifth century BC eye-witness
descriptions of the Scythian civilization a l l fed the romantic imagination of

85~aruskin,Stravinsky 965.
48

Russian writers and thinkers and gave evidence to those who nurtured the
theory of Russian culture's oriental origins. Yet, while several examples of
musical compositions and poetry referring to the ancient Scythians were
written before 1916, the movement that can be called Scythianism did not
develop until well into the First World War, and did not flower until well
into the Revolution. The twentieth-century Scythians made a metaphorical
connection between the ancient Scythians and themselves, valuing their
predecessors' fierce independence, barbarism, and the primordial harmony of
their lives in contrast to the civiIization that later developed in Europe-8h
The image of the ancient Scythians had become a powerful inspiration to
artists and writers by the 1917 Revolution, but it was not Scythianism as such
that motivated The Rite of Spring.
Taruskin's assertion that The Rite of Spring is Scythian calls up
images of the subhuman and barbaric that are not congruent with Roerich's
images, as I will demonsbate in Chapter II. Taruskin views Roerich's
writings and art through the lens of Scythianism, but he neglects to
investigate thoroughly what he believes to be Roerich's fascination with the
ancient Scythians. He interprets Roerich's 1898 essay "At a Burial Mound"
(Na kurgane) as open admiration of the Scythians; he seems to understand
the word kurgnn in Roerich's title as a specific reference to Scythian burial
mounds, known widely as kurgnns. This assumption leads him to the
condusion that the sacred hill depicted in Roerich's scenic design for The Rite
of Spring is a Scythian kurgan.87 However, contemporary references made to
this sacred hill commonly refer to Roerich's beloved northern landscape,
49

which was not part of the ancient Scythian domain.88 Roerich's essay is
actually a lyrical description of his work excavating burial mounds in the St.

Petersburg region, as the subtitle of the essay indicates.89 In this essay kurgan

has the generic meaning of "burial mound;" Roerich specifically states that he
is describing the graves of Novgorod Slavs, a detail important to him because

it verifies the existence of artifacts among the Slavs that did not derive
entirely horn contacts with the Scandinavians.90 This essay is an early
example of Roerich's promotion of the beauty of ancient human culture.

Taruskin's choice of Scythianism as the motivating concept for


Stravinsky's and Roerich's work on The Rite of Spring effectively dismisses
the very important and serious role that the revival of religion was playing in
turn-of-the-centuryRussian culture. It leads to the misunderstanding of
Roerich's work in particular and the necessary but false conclusion that
Stravinsky and Roerich did not share a common purpose in this project.

The Joffrey Ballet's 1987 performance of the restored first production of


Le Sucre du Printemps effectively strips away layers of subsequent
interpretations and enables us to experience the ballet almost as it was first
presented .gl This reconstruction, based on careful analysis of primary

88~ee, for example, Alexandre Benois, Reminiscences of the Russian BaNet 347.
See also Krasovskaia 1: 439.
89~ikolai Rerikh, "Na kurgane. V Vodskoi Piatine (SPb. gub.)," Glaz dobyi (Moscow:
Khudozhestvemaia Literatura, 1991) 15-32. The title translates "At a Burial Mound in the
Vodskaia Region of the St. Petersburg Province." This area was once part of the Novgorod
Lands, becoming part of the St. Petersburg Province in the nineteenth century. The Vodskaia
Region included the lands between the Volkhov and Luga rivers.
go~erikh,"Na kurgane" 31.
91This performance was recorded and presented as part of the PBS Great Performunces series.
See "The Search for Nijinskyfs Rite of Springl" produced by Judy Kinburg and Thomas Grim,
WNET, New York and Danrnarks Radio, 2989. Millicent Hodson reconstructed the
choreography, Kenneth Archer researched the costumes and stage design.
sources ,92 corrects many misconceptions about the ballet that have
accumulated over time and brings out some features of the performance that
lie hidden in analyses of just one aspect of the ballet. Perhaps the most
striking impression results from the intensified effect of the combined arts
that underscores the ritualistic nature of the ballet and the absolute balance
between earth and sky, human community and the cosmos:

From the first glimpse of the gorgeous scenic design and


costumes . . . the stage is like some great cosmic machine-a
cyclotron, a giant radar dish that sucks in and radiates out the
forces of the universe.
Nothing in the ballet is naturalistic. All is controlled-
preordained. The community must repeat the ritual, step for
inexorable step-explosive, dispassionate, umfyhg and crue1.93

. . . Roerich's scenario is about the marriage of earth and sky. . - .


Nothing is haphazard in this scenario. In Roerich's version
every action has its ritual meaning as a distillation of communal
customs.94
This balance is supported by Nijinsky's choreography which looks primitive
not because of its heaviness, but because of the dancers' postures and patterns
of movement. What was once perceived as Nijinsky's "crime against grace"
is revealed in this ballet as "a denial of the authority invested in modern
civilization. . . . Turning inward suggested a different set of social and
psychological priorities, a different notion of the power relationships between

9 2 ~ e eMillicent Hodson, NGimky's Crime Against Grace. Reconstruction Score of the Origmal
Choreographyfor Le Sacre du Printemps (Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon P, 1996) for a description
of the score, notes by Stravinsky and Nijinsky's assistant Marie Rambert, eye-witness drawings
and accounts in memoirs, designs and actual costumes, and photographs that were used in the
reconstruction.
9 3 ~ a r c i aSiegel, "'Sacre' ballet reconstructed," Christian Scimce Monitor, 12 November 1987:
26.
9 4 ~ n n aKisselgoff, "Roerich's 'Sacre' Shines in the loffrey's Light," 7% N m York Times, 22
November 1987: HlO, 26.
51

man and the universe."95 The idea of creation through sacrifice, paradoxical
to modem man, was an integral part ancient man's view of the cosmos. As
one critic asserted in 1913, "'if one can, for once, stop confusing grace with
syrnmetcy and the arabesque,' it can be found everywhere in Le Snc~e."96

Heaviness does not dominate this reconstruction; dance critic Anna


Kisselgoff notes that "'Sacre' is a stamping dance, but it may not be the
weighted dance we have been led to believe."97 Shipped of the layers of over
one hundred subsequent choreographic interpretation^,^^ many of which
exaggerated Nijinsky's earth-bound innovations, the restored choreography
has an unexpected lightness. As the Chosen Maiden dances herself to death
she leaps and extends her arms, trying to reach the sky. Even after she f d s to
the earth her body continues to resist gravity, and before she fully collapses
the elders lift her body as an offering to the sky.99
In her extensive notes about the reconstruction, Hodson reinforces the
dose collaboration of Roerich, Stravinsky, and Nijinsky, demonstrating how
the choreographer's art mirrored the concept developed by the other two. She

95~illicentHodson, Nijinsky's Crime, xix.


9 6 ~ a r i s i a ncritic Jacques Riviere's 1 November 1913 essay, "Le Sacre du Printemps," La
Nouoelle R m e Franccise, quoted in Hodson, Nijinsky's Crime, xi.
97~isselgoffH10.
9 8 ~ y n nGarafola and Joan Acocella, "Rites of Spring: Catalogue Raisonnl," Ballet Rezliew 20.2
(1992): 71-92.
99~ronislavaNijins ka, Nijinsky's hand-picked Chosen One, remembers that the maiden's body
does not touch the ground. "The last jump, a high wave of the arms, and the old ones, who are
guarding the sacrifice, catch the unbreathing body in their arms so as not to let it touch the
ground." Quoted in Hodson, Nijimky's C h e 200.
Stravinsky offered a similar account: "When she is at the point of falling in exhaustion the
ancestors see this and, creeping around her Like greedy monsters so that she will not touch the
earth as she falls, they lift her high in the air and offer her to the sky," although he later
denied authorship of this article. See [gor Stravinsky, "Ce que j'ai voulu exprimer dans Le
Sacre d u Printemps," Mantjoie! Organe de l'lmpi~lismeArtktique Francais, 29 May, 1913, in
Truman Bullard "The First Performance of Igor Stravinsky's 'Sacre d u Printemps,"' 3 vols., diss.,
U of Rochester, 1971,2: 9.
52

emphasizes the ballet's basic polarity, evidenced in the tensions between the
earth and sky, in the colors of the costumes, and in the grouping and
regrouping of the dancers. Hodson also emphasizes the archetypal, ritualistic
aspect of the dance that she feels is characteristic of Stravinskyfs music.
Finally, this reconstruction brings Roerich's concept-seen through his
decor and costume design as well as the scenario-into the spotlight. For
example, as Hodson worked she noticed that the ground patterns of the
choreography echo the lines painted on the costumes; it is known that
Nijinsky had waited until he had the costume designs before he began his
portion of the work.loO While the idea of a maiden's sacrificial dance has
been attributed to Stravinsky as someone "steeped in the traditions and
dich6s of the romantic musical theaterfWl0'Roerich may be most responsible
for its presentation as a willful though frightening act, done for the benefit of
the human community to maintain the balance between earth and sky. In
this reconstruction, the sacrifice does not exhibit the savagery and brutality
that have come to be associated with The Rite of Spring in the more than
eighty years since its premii?re. Observing Nijinskv's demonstration of the
Chosen One's solo, his assistant Marie Rambert recailed his "ecstatic
performance, . . . the greatest tragic dance I ever ~aw."'~2Hodson reinforces
this impression, "the solo as [Nijinsky]constructed it is heroic, not pathetic.
The Chosen One-isolated from the community by an act of destiny, not by
the community itselfdances the solo as a demonstration of courage."'u3

O O ~ o d n, s o Nijinsky 's Crime 116, 40- The source cited is a letter from Sergei Grigoriev,
rdgisseur of the Ballets Russes, to Igor Stravinsky, dated 18 December, 1912.
lol~aruskin,Stmuinsky 864.
l o 2 ~ a r i eRarnbert, Quick;iloer (London:Macmillan, 1972) 64, quoted in Hodson, Nijinsky's
Crime xi.
1 0 3 ~ o d s o nNijinskyrs
, Crime xi.
53

Hodson's and Archer's work corroborates the presence of images and


ideas that support the view of this ballet as an attempt to solve modem man's
crisis through ritual. The analysis of Nikolai Roerich's work which follows
in Chapter 11 does not contradict Hodson's and Archer's restoration. Rather, it
will contribute a better understanding of The Rife of Spring as it was
conceived and developed from its beginnings as The Exalted Sacri!ce.
Chapter [I

"The Fuhue Resides in the Past/"'


Nikolai Roerich's Concept of The Exalted Sacrifice

Nikolai Roerich (1874-1947) was in one important way typical of the


leading cultural figures of his generation; he was deeply interested in more
than a few specialized disciplines, and he worked throughout his life to
integrate them into his own unified philosophy. These disciplines were
archeology, history, law, painting, stage design, architecture, arts education,
ethnography, religion, and religious philosophy. Roerich is still well known
in Russia, however his portrayal in the West has usually been one or two
dimensional at best. Because his work was a synthesis of knowledge gained
from all of these disciplines, it is a mistake to attempt to subordinate any of
Roerich's interests to the one or two deemed the most important His
contributions to Russian culture are deepened by his multi-faceted approach.
However these achievements are filled with content that is unnoticed by
those who dismiss some of the facets of Roerich's interest or the overall
synthetic nature of his work. One must keep in mind that he valued the
'beautiful cosmogony of Earth and Sky"2 experienced in ancient civilizations,
and he worked to restore this wholeness to a modern world in crisis.

l ~ l e k s a n d rRostislavov writes that familiarity with Roerich's scientific and literary works
reveals the bmad horizons of his art, and the statement "the future resides in the past" can be
seen as a sacred motto rather than as a paradox. A. A. Rostislavov, N. K. R&kh (1918;
Kaliningrad: Knizhnoe izdatel'stvo, 1995) 52.
2 ~ o e r i c hto Diaghilev, undated letter from the beginning of 1913. Reprinted in Zil'bershtein
and Samkov, Sergei Dingilm i rwskoe iskusstuo, 2 vols. (Moscow: Izobrazitel'noe iskusstvo,
1982) 2: 120.
55
Roerich's contemporaries and later Soviet scholarship have always
recognized his broad background and the fact that his activities were part of a
Larger goal, namely the search for spiritual enlightenment and healing by
refmrning art to its ancient sacred fimction, and by placing that art in modem
man's daily life.
This chapter will outline Roerich's career. In particular I will address
the charge that he is nationalist; Roerich had his own definition of
neonationalism that was quite similar to the messianic nationalism discussed
in Chapter I. I will look at what Roerich inherited from his contemporaries
and demonstrate his participation in religious revival. I will discuss his use
of the past and his ultimate purpose in articulating this position, especially as
exemplified in Velikaia zhertva.
While there are numerous works about Roerich including several
excellent biographies available in English? a summary of his activities and
accomplishments through 1913, his thirty-ninth year, will be helpful to the
reader. Roerich was born and raised in St. Petersburg, although he spent
much of his time outside the city on the family estate, Izvara, located to the
south of St. Petersburg in the Tsarskoe Selo District. Before he entered the
university, he had worked with archeologists in the north of
Russia, continuing this work periodically throughout his years in Russia.'
His work was serious and scholarly; he read a series of lectures at the
Archeological Institute of St. Petersburg during 1898-1900. He simultaneously
attended the Law Faculty of S t Petersburg University and the Academy of

3 ~ e eJacqueline Decter, Nicholas Roerich: The L$e and Art of a Russian Master, (Rochester:
Inner Traditions, 1989). and also Brooke Daly, "Nicholas Roerich. A study of his Life and
Work 1874-1918," Thesis, U of Washington, 1988.
4~ostislavov,N. K. Rerikh 16.
56

Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, graduating from both.5 While at the University
he attended as many history lectures as he could manage. Roerich's
graduation painting "The Messenger. Clan has risen against Clan" (Gonets.
Vosstal rod na rod) won the highest prize at the student competition and was
purchased by the Tretiakov Gallery in 1897. In 1895 Roerich became
acquainted with Vladimir Stasov, the head of the art department at the St.
Petersburg Public Library and an outspoken art historian, archeologist, and
critic. Stasov was very supportive of Roerich's work; they had many ideas in
common about the importance of history and the role of the Near East and
Asia in Russian culture.
In 1900 Roerich traveled to Europe to study painting, spending time in
Paris, Venice, and Holland. He had akeady traveled to the south of Russia,
and in 1903 he made a kind of pilgrimage to the ancient cities of Russia,
recording the architecture of ancient churches in his paintings and sketches-
He continued to lecture at the Archeological Institute on the necessity of
preserving this valuable heritage. In addition, he was a member of the
Society of Russian Architects.
Roerich's paintings were widely exhibited. From 1902 to 1913 his
paintings were part of fourteen World of Art (Mir iskusstoa) exhibitions in
Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Kiev.6 His paintings were also included in the
Salon d'Automne exhibit in Paris in 1906 and in another Paris exhibit

5 ~ i examination
s composition for the law faculty was titled "The Legal Status of Artists in
Ancient Rus" (Prmovoe polozhenie khudozhnikuv drevnei Rusi). He graduated from the law
faculty in 1898. P. Belikov and V. Kniazeva, R&kh (Moscow: Molodaia gvardia, 1972) 38.
%rina Kharitonova, ed. The World of Art Mooownt in Ear% 20th Centzcy Rush (Leningrad:
Aurora Art P, 1991) 291 -295.
organized by Princess Mariia Tenisheva in 1907.7 Between 1906 and 1914
Roerich's paintings were frequently shown in exhibits of Russian art abroad?
His works were seen in Paris, Venice, Berlin, Rome, Brussels, Vienna, and
London. The National Museum of Rome, the Luxembourg Museum in Paris
and other European museums purchased his paintings.9 His works were
featured in the Russian journals Mir iskz~sstna,Zolotoe runo, and Vesy,
accompanied by articles written by art critics and literati including Voloshin,
Gidoni, Makovsky, and Rostislavov.
In these years Roerich showed his commitment to art education. In
1901 he began to work for the Society for the Preservation of the Arts in St.
Petersburg, and in 1906 he was appointed director of the Society's school. He
undertook a reform of the curriculum, rescuing the school from its
reputation as mediocre. In 1909 the Russian Academy of Fine Arts named
him an Academician, an appointment delayed because of Academy politics.
He became a member of the Reims Academy in France as weU.Io
Roerich also had a long association with Tenisheva and her workshops
and school at her estate, Talashkino, near Smolensk. Tenisheva's efforts were
a part of the kustnr' movement in Russia, a response to encroaching
industrialization and an attempt to return dignity to hand work and beauty to

'~enisheva, an early, generous patroness of Mir iskusstua, was angry that Diaghilev had not
shown Roerich's paintings as prominently as she would have liked at the 1906 Paris exhibit.
She organized her own exhibit to give Roerich the attention she felt he deserved. For
Tenisheva's and Roerich's correspondence on this topic see Larisa Zhuravleva, Tulashkino.
Sbornik dokunrentov (Smolensk: Izdatel'shro Posokh, 1995) 266-68.
8 ~ ist therefore not the case, as Taruskin argues, that Roerich was "catapulted by Diaghilev to
international fame" in 1909 because of his curtain, costume. and set designs for the second act of
Borodin's Prince Igor, "The Polovtsian dances." Tamskin, Stmuinsky 851. While the designs
may have "created a furor," they by no means introduced Roerich's art to Europe.
9 ~ e l i k o vand Kniazeva 90.
Zo~elikovand Kniazeva 90.
58

everyday objects- Sergei Mamontov's workshops at Abramtsevo are a better


known part of this movement, a parallel to the British Arts and Crafts
movement a t the end of the nineteenth century. In these Russian
workshops, peasants were trained in applied folk arts, and artists were
commissioned to produce works using the motifs of Russian folk art."
Roerich visited Talashkino, sometimes for extended periods of time, from
1903 to 1915. His designs for furniture and other decorations incorporated
applied motifs of folk design blended with his own particular vision of
ancient ornament. Perhaps his most important project at Talashkino was the
design and execution of the decorations in Tenisheva's private church, the
Temple of the Holy Spirit.
Roerich followed the scholarly work of Russian orientalists from early
in his career. He read Indian classical Literature: the Bagoadghita, early
Upanishads, and Buddhist philosophical texts. He studied the t e a h g s of
Ramakrishna and his pupil Swami Vivekananda. The Ramakrishna
movement (Missiia Ramakrishna) was active in Russia from 1897. Roerich
worked to establish an Indian museum in St. Petersburg; he also worked to
send students from his school at the Society for the Preservation of the Arts
to India to study. By 1905 eastern themes began to appear in Roerich's works;
his tale of a Buddhist girl, "Devassari Abuntu," was published in Vesy along
with his illustrations. In 1906 he published the essay "The Indian Way"
(Indiisky pzc f ') in which he celebrated the ancient civilization that produced
the artifacts he had recently seen in the collection of the Russian orientalist

l l ~ o ra detailed discussion of the kustar' movement in Russia, see Wendy Salmond, The
Modernization of Folk Art in Russia: The Rmiual of the Kustar Art industries, 7885 - 191 7,
diss., U of Texas, Austin, 1989. Rerikh's activities at Talashkino are specifically discussed in
DaIy 94-1 13, and in Zhuravleva 255-290.
Golubev. Roerich became involved with Russian Theosophy during this
time as well-f
Between 1907 and 1914 Roerich was actively connected with the
theater, designing sets and costumes for both the Russian and European
repertoire. He designed over f&y theatrical works, some for the pure joy of
expressing his passionate response to the play. He was drawn to plays that
reflected his own interests: the primordial world, the Stone Age, paganism,
the middle ages, the world of fairy tales and legends, and the epic-heroic
beginnings of civilization. He decorated musical as well as dramatic
productions including those by Ostrovsky, Rirnsky-Korsakov, Borodin,
Wagner, Ibsen, and Maeterlindc.13
Throughout these years Roerich published essays in a wide range of
publications including journals about hunting and nature, archeology, and
the symbolist press.'4 A volume of his collected essays was published in
1914.15 He participated in the intellectual and creative cirdes of St. Petersburg;
the artists Kuindzhi, Serov, and Vrubelf, the art historian and critic Stasov,
the impressario Diaghilev, the writers and poets Gorkii, Blok, Gumilev, the

12p. F. Belikov, "N.K. Rerikh. Biograficheski ocherk," N.K. Rerikh: lz literaturnogo


naslediia, ed. M . T . Kuzmina (Moscow: Izobrazitel'noe iskusstvo, 1974) 25-26. See also L. V.
Korotkina, Rerikh a Peterburge - Pehograde (Leningrad: Lenizdat, 1985) 144-146.
1 3 ~ a l y119, and Syrkina, "Rerikh i teatr" in M.T. Kuz'mina, ed., N.K. Rerikh. Zhizn i
toorchtvo. Sbornik statei (Moscow: Izobrazitel'noe iskusstvo, 1978) 79-81.
1 4 ~ h e s ejournals included Okhota i primda (Hunting and Nature), Okhohik (The Hunter),
Lektsii o Arkheologicheskorn institute (Lectures from the Institute of Archeology), lskussbo i
khudozhestoennaia promyshlennost' (Art and Artistic Industry), Zapiski Russkogo
arkheologicheskogo obshchestvn (Notes of the Russian Archeological Society), 0 t c he t
obshchestva pooshchrmiia khudozhesto (Chronicles of the Society for the Preservation of the
Arts), Iskusstvo (Art), Vesy (The Scales), Zolotoe runo (The Golden Fleece), S t a y e gody
(Bygone Years), and Russkaia ikona (The Russian Icon). M. Kuz'mina, ed., N. K Rerikh- k
literaturnogo naslediia 528.
1 5 ~ K. . Rerikh, Kniga pemaia (Moscow: Sytin, 1914). Subsequent volumes were never
published because the war intervened. This book has been republished under the title of Glaz
dobryi (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1991).
poet and philosopher Solov'ev, and the art critics Makovsky and Ernst ail
visited Roerich's home. He was also close to Belyl6 and acquainted with
Briusov and Ivanov, prominent symbolists and fellow seekers of unified
philosophies.
To the western eye, Roerich's fascination with scenes from the Slavic
past and his use of authentic decorative detail lead easily to the label
"nationalist," too often with the connotation "chauvinist." Western
schclarship frequently lists some of Roerich's mentors and associates to lend
support to this populist or nationalist view of his agenda as an artist: Stasov,
the well-known supporter of the Russian realist school of painting, the
peredvizhniki, and the first school of Russian composers, "The Mighty
Handful;" Tenisheva, organizer of the kustar' workshops at Talashkino and
collector of Russian folk arts; and Diaghilev, purveyor of "exotic" Russian art
to European audiences.
Roerich's relationship with each of these figures, however, is only part
of the picture; any definition of Roerich solely through these particular
relationships leads to a misrepresentation of this artist's work. This study
will clarify Roerich's activities in relation to these figures by loolung a t
Roerich's works themselves and at his scholarly and Literary writings- In
some of his earliest writings, Roerich used the pseudonym "outsider" (izgoi).
I believe that he considered himself an outsider throughout his life; he
wished to act as a n individual rather than conform to the dogma of any

1 6 ~ Korotkina,
. "Pis'ma N. K. Rerikha V. Ia. Briusovu," Russkaia literatura 4 (1983): 173. In a
footnote Korotkina refers to a friendly letter Bely wrote to Rerikh that uses the informal form
of address. She also cites Bely's undated letter to D. K. Metner (ca. 1909) that proposes that
Rerikh contribute articles on painting, Eastern painting and ornament to the new journal they
were planning.
particular school or "-ism." He did not overtly identify himself with any
particular group, yet his works connect him to the current ideas of his day and
reveal his eclecticism. Many contemporaries sensed Roerich's uncom-
promising integrity; some admired this, others considered it the root of his
difficult personality. An appreciation of Roerich's multi-faceted expertise and
his synthetic approach is essential in interpreting his responses to his rapidly
changing environment. His essays and projects from the period when he was
working on Velikaia zhertva demonstrate that he was deeply involved in
searching for the path to spiritual enlightenment and to mankind's salvation.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Russian thinkers


were absorbed with several questions of social philosophy that were partly an
outgrowth of industrialization; progress brought out feelings of loss and
impotence in the face of historical and natural forces. One of these questions
placed civilization in opposition to the raw powers of nature. Alexander Blok
was especially critical of the complacency of "civilized" men and their refusal
to acknowledge the "ticking bomb" that progress had set in their midst. In a
1908 lecture, later published as "Stikhiia i kul'tura," Blok makes his audience
see the failure of progress (kul'tura) to make any difference in the face of the
powers of nature or social anarchy (stikhiia). Recent severe earthquakes in
Sicily and Calabria demonstrated the power of stikhiia and paralleled the
threatening volcano-like social uprisings that Blok considers inevitable. In
another essay written several months later he connects physical events on
earth to man's spiritual condition:

One simply must be spiritually blind, uninterested in the life of


the cosmos and insensitive to the daily tremors of chaos in order
to suppose that the formations of the earth go on independently
and in their own w a y , in no way influencing the f o r m a t i o n o f
the h u m a n soul and human existence.I7
He calls this the revenge of stikhiia against kul'tura. In "Stikhiia i kul'tura"
he t o u c h e s on the idealized life of the peasant, lived dose to the earth and
accompanied by dreams of legends. But he does not stop there; he goes on t o
describe the anarchic potential of the narodnaia stikhiia, the elemental power
of the masses. He quotes two letters, one written b y a peasant and one written
by a m e m b e r of a religious sect, e a c h painting a picture of unrest among the
R u s s i a n people and each s t a t i n g that the w o r d s o f revolutionaries had a
special relevance t o the writersr o w n experiences.
Blok's essay is not singular. The theme of the coming apocalypse, of
complete a n a r c h y o v e r t a k i n g civilization a s it w a s then known, is found in
numerous writings at that tirne.18 This theme is found in many of Roerich's
paintings o f the s a m e period: The Treasure 4 the Angels ( S o k r o v i s h c h e
angelov) 1905, The Baftle (Boi) 1906, The S e ~ e n t ' sDaughter (Zmieona) 1906,
The Battle with the Serpent (Boi so z r n e m ) 1912, The Cry of the Serpent
(Krik zmiia) 1913, and The Doomed City (Grad obrechennyi) 1914. This
theme is also found in Nijinskyfs two series of red and black watercolor
paintings f r o m c. 1914: The Cosmos, and The Faces of War.19 Most o f the

I'A. Blok, "Gor'kii o Messine" Rech' 26 October 1909. Reprinted in Sobrnnie sochinenii, 6
vols. (Leningrad: Khudozhestvemaia literatura, 1982) 4: 134. On December 28,1908 a massive
earthquake devastated the city of Messina on the northeastern coast of Sicily and Reggio di
Calabria on the mainland of Italy, killing more than 200,000 people- A Russian navy squadron
had been stationed off the Sicilian shore, and Russian officers and sailors heroically came to
the aid of the local population. This earthquake made a lasting impression on Blok and others.
Images of the earthquake appeared in Blok's lecture delivered on December 30, 1908 and in
other essays during the following year.
l8see, for example, V. Solov'ev "Panmongolisrn" (1894), A. Bely "Apokalipsis v russkoi poerii"
(The Apocalypse in Russian Poetry 1905), V. lvanov "Drevnyi &as" (Ancient Terror 1909).
19~aslavNijinsky, The Cosmos, and The Faces of War, c. 1914, Frye Art Museum, Seattle,
Washington.
63

creative intelligentsia could not escape being overwhehed at times with the
fear of an unknown force that would destroy contemporary civilization.
With many, however, the apocalypse was to be welcomed as the agent which
would allow for the creation of a new world in its wake. Blok recognized that
this elemental force was still potent among the Russian people who Lived a
life centuries old. Bely found that force in the people, in Russia's defeated
navy, and in his novel Petersburg he symbolized it all with literally a ticking
bomb.
Roerich's view of the people differs from Blok's. Acutely aware of
onrushing harmful change, Roerich did not identify it with the anarchy of
the people's revolution; instead, he considered it the result of man's loss of
wholeness and the absence of spirituality and beauty in all aspects of his life.
Roerich idealized age-old civilizations which served as models for this
beautiful, simple, highly spiritualized life. He believed that contemporary
man could create a new reality if he returned to a life steeped in beauty and
the spirituality it represented. Taruskids erroneous linking of Blok's and
Roerich's views enables him to conclude that The Rile of Spring was Scythian
in its concept. In the previous chapter I discussed several ways that this
conclusion is misleading. In addition, Taruskin manipulates the message of
Blok's essay by focusing on several paragraphs that present an idyllic view of
the people that he finds very reminiscent of Roerich's paintings.20 He
summarizes and then quotes Blok's message, giving the impression that Blok
and Roerich share the same idyllic view of the people:

20~aruskinactually misreads the paragraph in which Blok compares kul'tura to the mindless
society and activity of ants; Taruskin mistakenly calls this a description of "the 'elemental
spontaneity' of the people." One wonders why Blok would then idealize such an ant-like
existence. This discussion takes place in Taruskin, Stmvinsky 849-50 and ff.
The urgent task of art was to renounce kul'tura and embrace
stikhiya and thus transform itself into an amulet for restoring
wholeness to the battered soul of contemporary man. [This in
itself is not entirely wrong; it is not Bely's message, however.]
Artists must renounce culture and become "elemental people"
[stikhiinye liudi], who "see dreams and create legends,
indivisible from the earth. . . . The earth is with them, they are
with the earth. They are indistinguishable in its lap, and it
seems at times that the Ml is alive and the tree is alive . . . even
as the muzhik himself is alive."21
This is indeed very dose to Roerich's view. Taruskin, however, stops short of
the last, most powerful sentence of Blok's paragraph in which he sums up the
effects of the terrible power that he associates with these people of the earth:

But everything in this plain is still asleep, and when it moves,


everything as it exists will pass: the muzhiks will pass, the
woods along the slopes will pass, and the churches, incarnations
of the Holy Mother, will pass from the hills, and lakes will
overflow their banks and rivers will reverse their flow; the
whole earth will pass.=
Blok is not opposing civilization to the idyllic life of primitive man, the
muzhik, as Taruskin suggests. Rather, he strongly states that the anarchy
lurking in the lives of the simple folk is brewing a revenge against
civilization and progress. It is this view of the anarchic power of the people
and of revolution that reappears in Blok's writings, most prominently in his
1918 poem "The Twelve" and in other so-called Scythian writings. Taruskin,
by drawing attention to this idyllic passage in Blok's essay, leads his reader to
erroneously associate Blok's view of stikhiinye liudi with Roerich's view of
primitive man, an oversimplification that later permits Taruskin to invest
the concept of the ballet with Scythian anarchy.

Z1~amskin,Shrminsky 850. "Muzhik" refers to a simple peasant.


2 2 ~Blok,
. "Stikhiia i kul'tura." Sobranie sochinolii 4: 121.
What was Roerich's view of ancient man? His contemporary,
Rostislavov, suggested that Roerich's motto should be, "The Future Resides
in the Past-"23 Like many of his contemporaries Roerich Loved the past and
found in it lessons for modern civilization. But just what were these
particular lessons? They were not lessons of Russian nationalism,
chauvinistic in their evaluation of Russia's contributions to art and ideas.
They were not lessons of Russian Scythianism, a celebration of the barbaric,
elemental forces that brewed among the people. Nor were they a
renunciation of civilization in favor of a savage life of oblivion, a model
based on the view that man's development was a choice of one or the other.
Roerich believed that at any stage of man's history he was capable of living
life on a higher plane in unity with the spiritual realm. Ivanov also
expressed this view many times, for example in "A Corner-to-Corner
Correspondence" (Perepiska iz doukh uglov) he stressed the difference
between simply "going primitive" and seeking the ancient wisdom of the
mystic, sacred unity.24 I will return to these views in Chapter III

Roerich's lessons were closer to the view that Taruskin attributes to


Blok, "The urgent task of art was to renounce kul'tura [westernized
civilization] and thus transform itself into an amulet for restoring wholeness
to the battered soul of contemporary manrW25although Roerich did not
advocate the renunciation of Western civilization. To our eyes the word
"amulet" looks trivial and naive; it was not, as I will demonstrate below.

23~ostislavov,N. R Rerikh 52.


24~iacheslavIvanov and Mikhail Gershenzon. "A Corner-to-Comer Correspondence" Russian
Intellectual History: An Anthology, e d . M . Raeff, trans. G. Vakar (1920; 1966; New Jersey:
Humanities P, 1978) 397-398.
25~aruskin,Stravinsky 850.
Roerich expressed these ideas in an essay, "Joy i
n Art" (Rndosf'
isknsstvrr), published early in 1909. This essay carries the eamest message
that art of the future must be purified; artists must recreate art's original
sacred and ornamental function in the daily life of man. In its soothing
ornament, ancient art expressed the harmony of man with his surroundings,
and the ecstatic joy and harmony represented in that art can be reclaimed by
modem man and used to heal his life. Speaking of the few stone age artifacts
that archeologists had found to date, Roerich urges the drawing of this
parallel:

It is strange to think of the possibility that the behests of the


stone kingdom stand dose to the strivings of our time. That
which the turning point of history [the stone age] has shown us
are those things that purely and spontaneously developed in the
consciousness of the most ancient man. The earnest attempt to
consider one's entire way of life, to thoughtfully and regularly
shape all of its details, everything from the silhouettes of
monumental sstructures to the smallest items for the hand, to
bring everything to a strict harmony-these are the strivings of
our art, strivings that are full of pain. They are reminiscent of
the ancient one's loving concern to make from all of his
surroundings something that was carefully considered, lavishly
decorated and soothing to the accustomed hand?
This is dearly the goal of Roerich's activities at Talashkino as well as of his
entire Life in art.
Roerich makes two important distinctions as he writes about the future
of art. First, he uses words to describe the "audience" that imply quite a
different relationship between the art object and the viewer than the one
usually assumed, that is, the act of looking at a painting or work of art,

. Rerikh, "Radost' iskusstvu," Vestnik Emopy 1909 no. 2. Reprinted in Rerikh. Sobmnie
2 6 ~ K.
sochinenii, kniga p m i n (Moscow: Sytin, 1914). Citations are from the reprint Glaz dobryi
(Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1991) 89-124. 104-205.
analyzing it, and making an aesthetic judgement. Instead, Roerich refers to
preds toiashchie (those who stand before the art), suggesting a stance of
veneration, as before an icon. To an Orthodox believer an icon is not art:

For Russian Orthodox believers, the icon serves as a life-giving


source of grace. . . . The profound spiritual link between the
earthly and heavenly Church, and between the men living today
and God and His holy men is manifested in the veneration of
icons. . . . "He who venerates an icon venerates the Hypostasis
depicted on it." Through icons we not only show our
veneration to the Prototype, we also pray, either individually or
collectively, for intercession before God. Through icons the
faithful receive grace, replenishing their spiritual strength, and
also spiritual help and healing. Asserting the miracle-working
power of every icon, the Church shows special reverence for
icons that have performed rnira~Ies.2~
The visual image of an icon has expressive powers that transcend reason and
the power of mere words. Icons, like sacred objects made in any culture, are
made according to strict ritual. There are striking parallels between Roerich's
view of pagan sacred art and the Church's description of icon painting:

The materials used in icon-painting have a profoundly


symbolic meaning: wood is the symbol of the Tree of Life,
Paradise, and the image of prayer by the plant kingdom; the
priming, made of chalk and fish glue, is the symbol of the
petrified sea of pure prayer offered up by Christian souls and by
the Lord Himself, Whose symbol is the fish; it also symbolises
"all that breathes" and praises the Lord; the paints themselves
are of stone and clay, epitornising the earth and colour, mixed
with egg, the symbol of Easter-all taken together symbofise the
salvation of God's universe through prayer to God. The icon-
painter is a tool of Divine Will which brings us into
communion with the heavenly world through the beauty of the
holy image. That is why icon-painting is a form of service to
God accompanied by strict fasting and constant prayer. The

2 7 ~ h eRussian Orthodox Church, trans. Doris Bradbury (Moscow: Progress P, 1982) 212-213.
Turn-of-the-century religious revival included a renewed interested in the collection and
restoration of icons. The symbolism and power of the icon was an especially appealing example
of non-rational cognition.
prepared board is asperged with holy water; the water which
runs off it is collected and priming is mixed on it. The primed
board is also blessed and abundantly asperged with holy water,
which is then collected and used to dilute the paints. When an
icon is being painted, a l l the brethren in the monastery fast and
pray.28
Roerich views the art of the world's ancient civilizations as the same kind of
carefully prepared incarnation of sacred truth. In this essay he also refers to
the audience as polrzuiushchiesia (those who use the art objects),
underscoring his conviction that beauty must be returned to everyday life in
the form of applied art.
The second distinction Roerich makes is that the function of art is to
adorn (ukmshat'). This is not merely the superficial decoration of everyday
objects; in fact Roerich would strongly object to such a thoughtless distortion
of this function of art. The entire essay traces how ancient peoples decorated
their Lives, all the while emphasizing the dose relationship of the ornament
to the spiritual lives of the people. Their life was an aesthetic unity; they
were surrounded by beauty. Roerich hopes that with renewed interest in the
art of the past people wiU again understand the exalted meaning of the word
"to adorn." Decorativeness or ornament is the single path and basis of true
art

Thus once again the idea of the meaning of art has been purified
- to adorn. To adorn life so that artist and spectator, master and
consumer, are united in a creative ecstasy and, if only for a
moment, rejoice in the purest joy of art!29
This idea is also found in Russian Orthodox tradition:

2 8 ~ h eRussian Orthodox Church 213.


i "Radost'" 89.
2 9 ~ e rkh,
A striving toward the beautiful is a typical feature of Russian
religious consciousness, one which has been vividly expressed
in Russian ecclesiastical art. The meticulous elaboration of the
outward aspects of religious life was a result of the awareness of
the transforming effect of the Divine energies which build the
Church in the world. The offering of @s to the Church and the
decoration of the church as the house of God was always
inherent in Russian Orthodoxy.30
Thus life is made beautiful in the temples of many religions; it is aesthetically
and spiritually harmonious. Man is in a state of communion with the
spiritual world when his life is so adorned.
The sacred function of ornament underlies many of Roerich's
descriptions of ancient implements. For example, in a 1909 article "The
Enchanted Beasts" (Zakliatoe zoer'e) Roerich describes the ornamentation
found in Tenisheva's collection of enameled objects. The forms of bewitched
wild animals were used as talismans to protect the hearth:

The ornaments, full of mysterious ideas, particularly attract our


attention. . . . In them are fixed forms that are necessary for
someone, like idols for someone . . . and many symbols preserve
the forever-frightened life of man.31
Ancient decorations had an immediate purpose-to provide protection and
security for a life lived on the edge of the abyss.
Roerich, while rejecting narrow nationalism, realized that it is
important for Russians to see the landmarks of their o w n artistic
achievement on their own soil. He notes the Russians' curious struggle to
develop pride in their own achievements; they have a history of longing for
western approval before they can be comfortably confident of the value of

3 0 ~ h eRussian Orthodox Church 212.


3 1 ~ . Rerikh,
~ . "Zakliatoe zver'e," Talashkino. Sbomik dokurnmtoo 399.
those accornplishments.32 He mentions this more than once in his essays.
For example, in the 1910 essay, "Icons" he writes:

Still one more foreigner has come to believe in our ancient,


wonderful, beautiful icons. . . . [WJe remember that Maurice
Denis and Matisse . . . and a whole crowd of the best Frenchnen,
when they saw our art. . . gave our icons and our ancient art [the
praise] it deserves.
I name the foreigners because [Russians] did not believe us,
their own, when we, in rapture, were saying the same things.
Even ten years ago, when I endlessly asserted the beauty and
significance of our ancient icons, many, even cultured people,
still didn't understand me and looked upon my words as though
they were an archeological whim.33
In "Joy in Art" Roerich writes about the skeptical reception Russian
scholars gave to the Neolithic human figures he found on the shore of lake
Piros in the Novgorod region around 1902. His find created such a sensation
that professor N. L Veselovskii (1848-1918), an archeologist and orientalist,
quickly pronounced them fakes. But a year later Veselovskii continued the
dig and verified the authenticity of the figures found by Roerick34 In 1905
Roerich shared his discoveries at an archeological congress in France, where
French specialists put them on a level with the best classical artifacts of Egypt.
"In general," Roerich writes, "if we want something with which to compare
the form and proportions of stone artifacts, then it is best to turn to the
completeness of the classical world."35 Roerich suggests that the level of art

32~ccordingto Dostoevsky, Pushkin depicted this struggle more than a century earlier in his
poem Eugene Onegin; had Childe Harold or even Lord Byron himself pointed out Tatiana's
beauty to Onegin, he would have been amazed and astonished. As it was, Tatiana, the
"apotheosis of Russian womanhoodrrand the positive protagonist of the poem, passed through
Onegin's life "unrecognized and unappreciated by him." F. M. Dostoevsky, "Pushkin (ocherk)"
F. M. Dostomskii. Dnmnik pisatelin. lzbrannye stmnitsy. (Moscow: Sov remennik, 1989) 527-
528.
3 3 ~ . Rerikh,
~ . "Ikony," Glnz dobryi 155-156.
34~elikovand Kniazeva 73.
35~erikh,"Radost"' 1 11.
of the stone age is equivalent to that of later civilizations; it should not be
judged by the scaraty and worn quality of its artifacts. It is difficult to "see"
the beauty of antiquity because "it is so distant from our perceptions of life.
But when you have understood a part of the most ancient life, doesn't it seem
to you that you have seen a patch of the starry sky with the naked eye?"36
This essay is an excellent example of Roerich's synthesis of his expertise
in archeology and ancient history with his artistic imagination in the service
of the betterment of mankind. He uses ancient artifacts as a point of
departure for his artistic restoration of ancient myths; his interpretations,
either in words or on his canvases, carry the authority of his specializations.
The theme of rediscovering ancient myth comes up frequently in Roerich's
essays. In "Joy in Art" he refers to artifacts as "letters" from which one can,
with enough expertise, compose a story? It is this story making, the bringing
to life of cold, dusty artifacts lying in museums, that can bring healing to the
life of modem man:

If there exists a series of topics permitting us even for a minute


to come up for air from the maelstrom of routine Life, to cast a
glance beyond the palace and above the gigantic factory
smokestacks, then archeology must have a place in that
nu1nber.3~
Roerich's contemporaries recognized his artistic restorations of myth.
Benois somewhat cynically noted, "I do not believe in his Slavs and his
elders; in my opinion he made the whole thing up. For this reason his

36~erikh,"Radost"' 101.
37~erikh,"Radost"' 100-101. In this particular instance he refers to himself as not having
sufficient expertise to compose a slmzka about the ancient Babylonians from the few "letters"
that their artifacts represent.
38~erikh,"Na kurgane," Glar dobryi 32.
paintings convey the feeling of boredom and strained interpretati~n."~~
Even
in this critical stance toward Roerich, Benois unwittingly puts his finger right
on the crucial element of Roerich's work: he had a powerful ability to charm
because he could combine his academic expertise with his artistic vision.
Gidoni discerned this combination in Roerich's painting ldols (Idoly) 1901:
"Idols" . . . gives evidence of the artist's unquestionable
perception that antiquity must be portrayed not only through
stories or through impressions about it, but through the creative
method itself. . . . In this painting, perhaps unconsciously on the
part of the artist, one can sense an echo of ethnography, an
inevitable tribute to scientific
In her memoirs, Tenisheva refers to Roerich's ability to bring ancient
artifacts alive. Speaking of the "passionate archeologist," she compares him to
Baian, the legendary bard who sang the epics of ancient Rus':

. . . all of my life I have dreamed of digging in the ancient graves


with someone expert, together opening the pages of the ancient
past. Each time that I found some kind of object that spoke about
the life of people who had disappeared long ago, an inexplicable
feeling overcame me. Imagination took me to that place that
only Nikolai Konstantinovich [Roerich] was able to see; he
enticed me to follow as he embodied those long bygone times in
form and images. Many are making dim conjectures about
those times, but they are not able to convey them in their
fullness. I c a l l him Baian, and this appellation fits him well. He
alone gives us pictures of those things that we are not able to
restore in our own imagination.41
Roerich emphasizes the importance of the public's participation in
coming to know ancient art in its original sacred ornamental function. In
this process the past will create the future:

3 9 ~ Benois,
- "Pis'ma so Vsemirnoi vystavki," Mir iskusst-ua 19-20 (1900): 158, quoted in 1.
Zil'bershtein and V. Samkov, Sergei Diagilm i russkoe iskwstw 1: 335.
*OA. Gidoni, "Tvorcheskii put' Rerikha," Apollon 6 (1915): 10-11.
. Tenisheva, VpecluzNmiia moei zhizni (1933; Leningrad: Iskusstvo, 1991) 226.
4 1 ~ K.
It is invaluable that the cultured part of society is now aspiring
with particular urgency to become familiar with art's past. And,
immersing itself in the best sources of creativity, society will
once again understand the exalted meaning of the word "to
adorn." In the fire of desire for ecstasy lies the promise of future
brilliant achievements. These achievements will flow together
into an apotheosis of a new style, inconceivable at this time.
This style will bring an epoch that is completely unknown to us,
an epoch whose depths of ecstasy are, of course, dose to the first
beginnings of art . . . In order for a harmonious epoch of art to be
forged, it is necessary that, following the artists, all of society
participate in the construction of the temple. People must be
participants in the task rather than passive observers. This kind
of mental creation will consecrate all manifestations of life. . .
May it be thus;may everyone master ecstasy.42
Roerich's references to the construction of a "temple," the participation of all,
and the power of ecstasy to create a new epoch resonate with parallel efforts in
the other arb, as I will demonstrate in Chapter III.
In "Joy in Art" Roerich provides a corrective view of pre-Petrine
Russian art and culture: it is more than cockerels, painted yokes and
embroidered sleeves.43 Roerich corrects the textbook images of Mongol
invaders, Scandinavian traders, pre-Christian Slavs, and stone age
"barbarians." All of these civilizations were steeped in beauty:

From the Tatar yoke, as though from an epoch of hate, time


has destroyed whole pages of beautiful and elegant Eastern
decorations which the Mongols introduced to the Rust.
The Tatar yoke is remembered only as some kind of dark
pogroms. It is forgotten that the mysterious cradle of Asia reared
these remarkable people and swaddled them with the rich @s
of China, Tibet, and all of Hindustan. In the flash of Tatar
swords, Rust again heard the tale of wonders which the Greeks
and the clever Arab tradesmen of the Great Trade Route once
knew -44

i "Radost"' 89.
4 2 ~ e rkh,
43~eri kh, "Radost"' 91.
44~eri kh, "Radost"' 94.
The Scandinavians were not just northern traders and invaders who
passed through; ruins give evidence of this culture's establishment in
Russia's lands:

It is without a doubt that the joy of Kievan art was established


in dose contact with ~candinavi&culture. . . .
All the people accepted it. All the people believed in it. And
again there is no basis to consider the northerners wild enslavers
of Novgorod's forefathers. The proof is simple. Everything they
left is wise and beautiful. We do not know how they lived, but
in any case they lived long and lived in such a way that true art
was close to them.
To the Rus' the Varangians gave gods in human form, and for
so long the northern peoples honored the powers of nature, they
belonged to one of the most poetic religions. This religion is the
cradle of the best means of ~reation.4~
Christian chroniclers had reason to demonize the pantheistic religion
of the pre-Christian Slavs because its roots were old and deep. Roerich
reminds his readers of recently discovered ruins in the Kiev region that are
attributed to the cult of Astarta, a western-semitic goddess of fertility,
maternity, and love, perhaps dating to the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries
BC. He concludes that there must have been population centers associated
with these shrines, thus Kiev must have been a sacred site for centuries
before its legendary founding by Kiy, Shchek, and Khoriv:

Still half blind we search for an authentic image of the


inhabitants of these most beautiful settlements. Still not seeing
very dearly, we can sense the charm of abandoned cults of
nature which the most ancient chroniclers of Christian times did
not have the sh.ength to tell us about. The bestial way of Life,
demonic games, seemingly obscene songs that the chronicler
explains are the result of his judgmental view. The zeal of the
clergy-the chronicler-is completely understandable. The

4 5 ~ e rkh,
i "Radost"' 98-99.
Church did not bring art. The Church was founded on art. And,
in creating new forms, it crushed much that was also Seautif~l.'~
The structure of "Joy in &t" makes Roerich's pronouncements on the
past immediately relevant to the present. He marches his reader backward in
time to prehistory, passing the landmarks of art and culture that were created
as peoples came into contact. He then moves to an even more distant time,
described in such a way as to refer directly to the present moment:

But we sense that standardized (metalworking) life is ending.


Nationalism is ending. The conditions of political economy are
ending. There is no crowd. But art does not end. A kind of new
man appears. This means we have arrived at the stone age.47
The reversal of historical time and the use of present tense give such
pronouncements an eerie tone of prophesy, making the essay all the more
potent. It underscores Roerich's prescription for the future, "neo-
nationalism," which I will return to below.
Roerich concludes his essay with a view of stone-age man. He admits
that much of this is imagined, but he also points to his own extensive
fieldwork and the work of others that has begun to reveal the Life and art of
the Neolithic age:

We can dimly imagine ancient dwellings.


We see ancient man, not as a pompous hero with loincloths,
draped with scraps of fur. We can sense in lus implements not
crudeness and roughness, but a deiicate intricacy. We sense that
the usual baked colors of the environment should be changed in
our imagination to beautiful colors. We dearly feel that the
entire daily life and dwelling of ancient man cannot be
something like animal dens, but originate from an orderly,
harmonious life.48

4 6 ~ e rkh,i "Radostf" 100.


4 7 ~ e r i k h , "Radost'" 101.
4 8 ~ e r i k h ,"Radost"' 11 1.
For Roerich, each of these civilizations possessed a connection to
ancient truth, a connection that is missing in the contemporary world. The
ancients lived their lives in close contact with the forces of the sky and the
earth, as evidenced in the motifs used to decorate their tools and their
dwellings. "It is shameful for our times: in antiquity there was not one object
without decoration."49 Roerich focuses on the civilized harmony of these
historical peoples as a way to bdance the commonly held view that they were
all barbarians. He compares stone age man to the bear, an animal that
embodies the harmonious reconciliation of opposites:

The joy of life is spread throughout the free, stone age. What
kind of man is stone age man? He is not the ravenous and
greedy woIf of succeeding times, but the tsar of the woods, the
bear, thrifty in the care of his family, satisfied with the
abundance of food, at once powerful and tender, swift and
heavy, ferocious and benevolent, unyielding and compliant-"
This view is represented in Roerich's 1911 painting Hrrrnan Forefathers
(Chelooech'i praotsy) where a lone figure sits on a hilltop before spreading
lush green lands and plays a pipe to an audience of his kin, a group of bears.
Roerich's prescription for the future requires an end to nationalism, an
odd proposition for an artist whose works appear to be quintessentially
"nationalist." While Roerich celebrated the heroes and events of the Slavic
past using a style composed of ancient Slavic motifs and ornaments, he
honored the contributions of other cultures as well. The question of
Roerich's relationship to nationalism and nationalist painters also concerned
Roerich's contemporaries. Although some colleagues and critics quickly
recognized the universalism represented in Roerich's work, others did not.

4 9 ~ e rkh,
i "Radost'" 109.
5 0 ~ e rkh,
i "Radost'" 105.
In some cases it took years for Roerich to rid himself of the stigma of his early
association with Stasov. Benois, who favored the eighteenth century in his
own retrospectivism, was more outspoken in his dismissal of Roerich's early
works. In a review published in The World of Art in 1900, he wrote:

Roerich's agenda closely resembles Surikov's and Riabushkin's,


but, unfortunately, this young painter does not possess these
masters' gift of historical clairvoyance. It is a pity that he still has
not found his niche. . . . I do not believe in his Slavs and his
elders; in my opinion he made the whole thing up. For this
reason his paintings convey the feeling of boredom and strained
interpretstion.5'
Later he was willing to compare Roerich's work to that of ~asnetsov,~2
who
is well known for designing the facade of Moscow's Tretyakov gallery in 1905,
imitating archaic Muscovite style. In the catalog for a 1906 exhibit in Paris,
Benois refers to the paintings of Vasnetsov and his principal rivals Nesterov
and Roerich.53 Other critics took Benois to task for failing to look at the
whole of Roerich's work. It was only much later in his career that Benois
recognized the deeper contents of Roerich's work.
Another contemporary, the art critic Gollerbakh, recognized the
essence of Roerich's neonationalism:

Roerich is a Russian, but not a nationalist. . . . [In his works


there] is a penetration into the universal through the Russian, a
penetration that is only possible because in Roerich there is

5 1 ~ Benois,
. "Pisfma so Vsemirnoi vystavki," Sergei Diagilm i russkoe iskusstwo 1: 335.
V. Surikov (1848-t916), a Wanderer, was known for his work on Russian historical themes,
especially on themes of social criticism and national pageantry in Old Muscovy.
A. Riabushkin (1861-1904) was a genre painter who focused on scenes of seventeenth century
Moscow.
5 2 ~Vasnetsov
. (1848-1927) was a genre painter in the manner of the Wanderers. He is known
for his restoration of paintings in the Cathedral of St. Vladimir in Kiev, and for his paintings
of folktales and historical scenes. His historical realism is said to possess only "slight poetry."
See Hamilton 395-97.
53s. Makovsky, "N. K. Rerikh," Zolotoe runo 4 (1907): 6.
always the feeling of the "elementally Russian" [stikhiino-
nrsskoe] in contrast to those who continued to paint the tinselly
"Holy Russia."54
In a 1907 article in Zolotoe runo, Makovsky interpreted the nature of
Roerich's "nationalism" one year before Roerich himself made it explicit in
"Joy in Art." He recognizes that Roerich does not confine his interest to the
national past. After a lengthy description of the various themes and faceless
figures in the paintings depicting the ancient past, Makovsky concludes:

We look: it is all the same uninterrupted dream of hoary


antiquity. Is it the dream of national antiquity? If you like. But
this is not the most important thing, although it is accepted to
consider Roerich a "national" painter. It is not the most
important thing because, for him, the national-historical theme
is just a decoration. His images draw us to the farthest distances
of the faceless past, to the depth of prehistoric Life, to the sources
of human fate. No matter what he sees in his daydreams,
whatever epoch he resurrects with the care ar,d expertise of a n
archeologist, his thought desires the depths, the utmost
beginning beckons it, and it is based on that primordial granite of
the tribal spirit on which lie the layers of the centuries.
Roerich's "human" is not Russian, not Slavic, not
Scandinavian. He is ancient man, the primitive barbarian of the
earth.55
Makovsky asserts that Roerich's faceless figures set him apart from that group
of artists who see individuals; instead he is one of the other group of artists

. . . [who]are attracted by the mystery of the soul, a blind, faceless


soul, common to whole epochs and peoples, a soul penetrating
all the elements of Life, a soul in which separate individuality
perishes like a weak brook in the dark depth of a subterranean
lake.56

5 4 ~ Collerbakh,
. "Iskusstvo Rerikha," Rerikh (Riga: M u e i Rerikha, 1939) 24.
5 5 ~ a k o v s k y4.
S6~v(akovsky3.
In the same issue of Zolotoe runo, Rostislavov writes about Roerich's
"individualism;" "Among us he is singular, completely alone."57 Roerich is
gifted with intuition and daiwoyance that take him beyond his scholarly
knowledge of the past

In Roerich's individualism there is something fantastic, there


are hints and flashes of an unsolvable, enigmatic mystery. It is
as though a small corner of the soul of distant, mystical
forefathers Lives in him. It seems he miraculously sees and
comprehends the beauty of bygone times; he lives a life of old;
he senses the remote culture that is so enigmatic for us, a
different, fantastic world, the particular beauty of which he
attempts to convey in the precise forms of contemporary arts8
Roerich was not alone in his belief that art carries the power of healing; his
views echo Solovfev's promotion of the unifying power of the World Soul,
the Divine Sophia, and Dostoevsky's statements in his "Pushkin" speech
about the strength of Russianness. Roerich's work is directed toward
restoring man's access to collective consciousness by encouraging his
partidpation in the ecstasy of art.
Roerich's contemporaries recognized his contributions and valued them-
Roerich addresses "neonationalism" early in "Joy in Art." He begins by
suggesting that this concept might be the very solution to the problems faced
by contemporary a r t

Can we purify our art? What shall we adopt? Where shall we


turn? To new misinterpretations of classicism? Or shall we
descend to ancient origins? Shall we delve to the depths of
primitivism? Or will our art find the new radiant path of
"neonationalism," surrounded by the sacred herbs of India,

5 7 ~ Rostislavov,
. "Individualizm Rerikha," Zolotoe runo 4 (1907):8.
58~ostislavov,"Individualizm" 9. We must separate the individualism of the artist that was
promoted in response to the group program of The Wanders from themes of individualism in the
works themselves. Rostislavov is referring to Roerich's individualism in the first sense only.
See the discussion of individualism as a part of the World ofArt aesthetic in Chapter III.
strong with Finnish magic, and lofty with the flight of ideas of
the so-called Slavonic peoplesl59
He resists defining "neonationaLism" at this point; he develops the concept
slowly through the pages of the essay in the accumulation of images he paints
with his words.
As Roerich reveals his concept of "neonationalism," he stresses two of
its features. First, it was formed by the synthesis of many artistic traditions
through centuries of invasion, contact through trade, and simply Living side
by side with others. He implores his readers to "throw out all that is narrowly
nationalistic." Looking beyond the dichPs that are generally associated with
Russian culture, he poses the question, "Was there beauty in that life that
flowed through our territory in particularlW60 Throughout his corrective
view of pre-Petrine culture, Roerich underscores the synthesis that produced
this past beauty:

The coiorfui Finno-Turks pass us by. Mysteriously the majestic


Aryans appear. Unknown wanderers leave cold ashes in their
hearths. . . How many of them there are! A synthesis of really
neonationalist art collects itself out of their @. [. . .] If, instead
of the tendency toward dulled nationalism, captivating
"neonationalism" were fated to take shape, then the cornerstone
of its treasure will be [. . .] the truth and beauty of exalted
antiquity.61
Second, the power of neonationalism Lies in modern man's partici-
pation in the rediscovery of ancient beauty through the creative act of
unraveling or imagining its original splendor and context, the kind of
resurrection of ancient myth that culminates in "ecstasy in art." Only then
will he be able to take part in creating the future:

5 9 ~ e rkh,
i "Radost'" 88-89.
6 0 ~ e rkh,
i "Radost"' 90
6 1 ~ e rkh,
i "Radost"' 100.
It is time for all people to begin to understand that art was not
only there where it is obvious to everyone; it is time to believe
that time has hidden much more art from us. And many
things-as dreary as they appear-will become illuminated then
by the joy of penetration, and the viewer will become a creator.
In this lies the charm of the past and of the future. It is
forbidden for a man who is unable to understand the past to
think about the future.62
This is Roerich's prescription.
Roerich's neonationalism is an ideal that transcends national borders
and chauvinistic views of national culture. It echoes Dostoevsky's evaluation
of the strength of the spirit of Russianness in its "ultimate aspirations toward
universality and the universal brotherhood of peoples."63 Roerich's
neonationalism is based on archeological evidence of the synthesis of ancient
cultures, combined with his belief in the power of beauty and his gift of
retelling the old stories with his words and paintings. Neonationalism is the
desire to experience the Divine Unity that regulated the balance of Chaos and
Cosmos in ancient cultures, a desire renewed as a goal both by Solov'ev and
in Russian Theosophy. Sometime during this period Roerich wrote an
epigraph for The Flowers of Monia (Tsvety Morii), a cycle of poems depicting
the search for spiritual enlightenment:
Above every Russia there is one
Unforgettable Russia.
Above every love there is one
Panhuman love.
Above every beautiful thing there is one
Beauty that leads to
Knowledge of the Cosmos.64
-

62~erikh,"Radost"' 99.
63~ostoevsky,A Wtiter's Diay 2:1293.
64~erikh,Tmety Morii (1921; Moscow: Sovrernenni k, 1988) 13.
This mirrors Ivanov's urging artists to go beyond the real to the more real, a
realibus ad realiorn, in their search for sacred and spiritual knowledge that
will transform modem life. I will discuss Ivanov's ideas in greater detail in
Chapter m.
The ancient truths revealed in the ornament of stone and metal
artifacts represent what Roerich perceived as universal spirituality, the
"ecstasy in art," that for his generation had become distant memory. Roerich
is attempting to recapture this spirituality for himself and for his
contemporaries. His concept of neonationalism means recreating the
essential, universal human state of harmony with all aspects of life: the
physical with the spiritual; man's place in the balance of the elements of
earth, air, water, and fire; man's place among other races of men, both
contemporary and historical, and man's place among all the other creatures.
For Roerich the act of discovering the beauty and harmony of ancient
art replicates the spiritual state of its creators and original users. Since stone
artifacts demand the maximum participation in recreating primordial
"ecstasy in art," they must also offer the greatest potential healing power.
Perhaps this is why Roerich repeatedly returns to the stone.
Makovsky writes of Roerich's early love of stones and how that
manifested itself in his style of painting:

The Stone Age! How often have I found Roerich at his work
table, carefully fingering these wonderful "flints", considered for
so long to be incomprehensible whims of nature: faceted
arrowheads, scrapers, hammers and knives from burial mounds.
. . . Stones, the dwelling place of earliest peoples' faceless soul.
[Roerich] has been certain of them since childhood; they inspired
his first artistic sense. Close to "Izvara," where he grew up on
his patrimonial estate, on the hilly fields next to coniferous
forests where bears and moose roamed, there were ancient burial
mounds. As a boy he dug here and found bronze bracelets, rings,
pottery shards and flint implements. . . . Thus small stones of the
"cave man" bewitched [Roerich's] dreams. As a result, the love
of stones gave a particular nuance to his quest for primitive
forms. This can be clearly seen in his decorative compositions,
in his graphics, and even in his manner of painting. Among
Roerich's canvases there are those delicately touched by his
brush, velvet carpets with carefully executed details. But there
are [canvases] thickly painted with heavy, layered seokes; they
seem hewn out of stone paints. The entire style of his drawing is
simplified at times to paradoxical boldness, as if these forms had
felt the pressure of a stone chise1.65
Makovsky was not alone in remarking on the stony quality of
Roerich's work. Gidoni noticed the earthiness of Roerich's The House of God
(Dom bozhii). He writes of the "certainty of the stone. . . as though the artist
was groping for the skeleton of the earth."66 In a 1909 article "Archaism in
Russian Painting" (Arkhaizm o russkoi zhivopist], Voloshin focuses on the
stony quality of Roerich's painting:

[Roerich] is indeed an artist of the stone age, not because he


sometimes attempts to depict the people and edifices of that
epoch, but because from the four elements of the world he
perceived only earth, and in the earth, only her bony
foundation-the stone. Not mineral, not crystal that returns the
sun's light and flame, but the heavy, hard, and opaque stone of
displaced skata.67
Voloshin emphasizes the opaqueness of Roerich's paintings in this essay, but
elsewhere he calls Roerich prophetic. He was very aware of the spirituality of
Roerich's works, as we will see in his response to Roerich's Queen of Heaven
below.

65~akovsky4.
6 6 ~ i d o n15.
i
6 7 ~ Voloshin,
. "Arkhaizm v russkoi zhivopisi," Liki tuorchestoa (Leningrad: Nau ka, 1988)
279. The article was first published in Apoilon 1 (1909): 43-53.
Roerich considered stones to be sacred objects in themselves. In his
essay "At a Burial Mound" he describes the positioning of rare stones at the
head and feet of the body that is also aligned with the east-west path of the
suna68 Stones are also bearers of ornament and other evidence of the
purposeful life of ancient man:

If you want to penetrate to the soul of stone, find one yourself


on site; pick one up with your own hand on the shore of a lake.
The stone itself will answer your questions, it will tell you of its
own long life. Remnants of the forests, the venerable crust of
antiquity covers the stone. You do not notice its former purpose.
Turn it over in your hand slowly and a smile comes to your face;
you have managed to take hold of the stone in just the same way
that its ancient owner used it. For with the exact fingering you
have hdppened upon all of the well-thought-out hollows and
bumps. In your hands a necessary implement comes to life. You
understand the entire subtlety and sculpted quality of its finish-
Out from under the grayed deposits the tone of jasper or jadeite
begins to shine through. A portion of beauty is in your hands.69
For Roerich, the stone is directly connected to heaven. He begins the second
section of "Joy in A&' by recalling several ancient myths about the stone. In a
Mordvinian legend a goddess shatters a piece of flint and creates the gods of
earth, fire, the woods, and dwellings from the gleaming shards. In a Mexican
legend a flint knife is thrown from the heavens and its shards form one
thousand six hundred gods and goddesses. These and other legends and
sayings give evidence that somehow the indecipherable origins of the stone
age are still alive.70 "A particular mystery surrounds the remains of the stone
age. Simply stated, stone remains have always been related to heavenly

68~erikh,"Na kurgane" 26.


69~erikhf"Radost"' 110.
7 k e r i kh, "Radost"' 102.
'l~erikh, "Radost"' 104.
Roerich's ideas clearly reflect Solov'ev's influence; beauty is both a
divine principle and an objective, ultimate reality that manifests itself in
nature and through the helping hand of man. Ideas put forth in Solov'ev's
essays "Beauty in Nature" (Krasota o prirode 1889) and "The General
Meaning of Artff (Obshchii smysl iskusstua 1890) formed part of the key
assumptions of many symbolist theorists and artists at the turn of the
century.'Z "Beauty in Nature" begins with an epigraph, Dostoevskyfs famous
words spoken by Prince Myshkin in The Idiot, "Beauty will save the world"
(krasota spaset rnir). In this essay Solov'ev writes that, "What is beautiful in
the aesthetic sense must lead to a real b e t t m e n t of reality," and that beauty is
" fhe ~ransfigtrrationof material through the embodiment in it of some other,
higher-than-materiul principle."73 Solov'ev sets forth the mission of art:

Thus the triple task of art in general is: 1. The direct


objectification of those profound inner attributes and qualities of
the living idea which camot be expressed by nature; 2. the
spiritualization of natural beauty and, through this, 3. the
immortalization of its individual phenomena. This is the
transformation of physical life into spiritual Me. . .74
Roerich understands that ancient art expresses man's relation to the Absolute;
stone artifacts become windows to ancient man's spirituality.
Roerich's stone is the most material manifestation of the spirit. This
image is but one example of the neo-Platonic idea, common among symbolist
poets and artists, first because of Solovfevfsdialectic, and later articulated

7 2 ~ Solov'ev,
. "Krasota v prirode," Voprosy filosofii i psikhologii l(1889); "Obshch ii srnysl
is kusstva," Voprosy f l o s f i i i psikhologii 5(1890). Both essays are reprinted in Vladimi r
Sergeevich Solov'ev, Sochinmiia, 2nd ed., Vol. 2 (Moscow: Mysl', 1990) 2: 35144. For a more
complete discussion of these ideas see James West. Russian Symbolism. A Study of Vyacheslao
luanov and the Russian Symbolist Aesthetic (London: Methuen, 1970) 35-42.
73~olov'ev,"Krasota" 351, 358.
74~olov'ev,"Obshchii" 398.
more completely by Ivanov, that reality is arranged along a vertical axis, from
the material at one end to the spiritual at the other? Other manifestations of
polar opposites include male and female, order and chaos, Apollo and
Dionysus, light and darkness. Both poles are essential: there is a
simultaneous attraction between them and an apparent irreconcilability or
antinomy. Russian Theosophy, a religious philosophy of Divine Unity based
partly on neo-Platonism, also recognized man's need for polarity and the
reconciliation of opposites. Divine Unity appears as duality in man's
consciousness; he needs darkness to understand the light.76 Roerich was
familiar with this thought; in his 1901 essay "To Nature" (K prirode) Roerich
writes that urban beauty and the beauty of nature do not cancel out one
another, but "in their opposition they intensify a mutual impression giving
forth a chord, a chord whose third note is the beauty of 'the m y s t e r i ~ u s . " ' ~ ~
Roerich was acquainted with Ivanov at a time when both were studying
Russian Theosophy.78 Roerich's cycle of poems The Flowers of Moriin, begun
during that time, traces the journey of a seeker of spiritual enlightenment
using images that pardel Ivanov's philosophy of art.
Armed with the evidence of ancient legends and earliest man's sacred
ornaments on stone, Roerich invests stones with the power to heal modem

s Ivanov developed this theory most fully throughout his writings. For a
7 5 ~ i a c h elav
summary and discussion of Ivanov's philosophy of art, see West, Russirm S y m b o h 48-106-
76~arlson116-1 77.
"~erikh, "K prirode," Glaz dobryi 73-74.
7 8 ~ Ivanov
. met Anna Mintslova, an active promoter of Russian Theosophy, in 1906. Mintslova
was very influential in Ivanov's life from 2907-1910. See M. Carlson 89-90.
Korotkina writes that Rerikh was a close friend of Andrei Bely; they often met at Ivanov's
Wednesday evenings at his home, the "tower."
L.V. Korot kina, Rerikh o Petnburge- Petrogrnde 150.
man's spiritual crisis. He begins The Flowers of Mon'ia with a ritual
incantation:

III. Know the stone. Preserve the stone.


Treasure the fire. Set yowelves aflame
With brave red fire
With calm blue fire
With wise green fire.
Know the stone alone- Preserve the stone. - . -79
In this cycle of poems, stones are "sacred signs" (sniashchmnye znaki) that

remember the past and point the way to oneness with the Spirit.80 The stone
boulder in the center of the first act backdrop for The Rite of Spring is nothing
less than the presence of ancient sacred mystery in that world; it represents
the interco~ectednessof earthly elements to the spiritual world and the
unified harmonic context for the ritual that the ballet portrays.
Roerich was not the only artist who looked for answers in the archaic
and primitive, as I will point out in Chapter ID. He considered ancient
peoples to be surrounded by beauty and living life in harmony with the earth
and spirits, not as barbaric invaders who brought destruction and chaos to the
land. He viewed traditional Russian culture as a synthesis of cultures
connected to the ancient and universal ideal of beauty, not as something
narrowly and superficially unique to Russia. He saw the Slavic past as closely
connected to man's ideal primordial state, one that others commonly
exemplified in Hellenic culture. Russia had not lost her link to this past- He
viewed the past as a manifestation of the harmony between the material and
spiritual world, a harmony that could be redaimed by modern man as he

79~erikh,"Zakliatie," Tsvety 18. ("Zakliatie" is dated 1911)


"III. Kamen' mai. Karnen' khrani./ Ogn' sokroi. Ognem zazhgisia./ Krasnym srnelyrn./
Sinim spokoinym./ Zelenyrn mudrym./ Znai odin. Kamen' khrani. . . ."
$O~erikh,"Sviashchennye znaki," Tmety 19-20.
participated in discovering, understanding and preserving ancient beauty.
This is what Roerich offered to Stravinsky as they worked together on
Velikaia zhertua in 1910 and 1911.
This broad view of Roerich has been obscured by the rather picturesque
circumstances that surrounded his meeting with Stravinsky in 1911. They
worked together in a "little fairy tale house," a feremok built by Sergei
Maliutin at Tenisheva's estate, Talashkin0.8~ Every surface was decorated
with the best examples of folk art, the very kind of Russian revivalist
architecture that had been exported to Paris exhibitions as early as 1878, and
again in 1900 as Russian pavilions.82 In the Parisian context these buildings
were "exotica;" in the Russian context they represented part of the much
broader spectrum of retrospectivism. Both Stravinsky and Roerich remarked
on this setting in their later reminiscences of this meeting, and these remarks
have become an easy answer to the question of the ballet's concept:

And how fitting, after all, that final plans for h s culminating
landmark of neonationalism should have been concluded in
Talashkino, the very cradle of the movement. "We sat in the
colorful fairy-house," Roerich recalled, "working on the scheme
of 'Sacre du Printernp~.'~3
This is the context that western scholars have traditionally accepted for the
creation of The Rite of Spring, however they see it primarily from the
Parisian point of view. They use this setting to underscore Roerich's more

8 1 ~ nhis description of the termok, Sergei Makovsky seems rather carried away by the fairy-
tale details of the design. "In them one can sense a kind of 'Berendey-like' beauty, something
extremely Eastern and Slavic, complicated, barbaric and cozy." S. Makovsky, Talashkino.
kdeliia masterskikh kn. M . KI. Tmeshmoi (Petersburg: Sod ruzhestvo, 1905) 45.
8 2 ~ a m i l t o n394-5, 408.
8%aruskin, Shminsky 871. Elsewhere Taruskin has defied neonationalism as the artistic use
of folk materials as a source of a new styIe. Stravinsky 560. Many of the objects created at
Talashkino, incIuding interior design, were clearIy a combination of folk design and art
nouveau.
visible ethnographic and historical contributions to the ballet's concept and
design. After all, Roerich had designed the costumes from garments in
Tenisheva's extensive collection of folk clothing. The rest of Roerich's
contribution to this ballet is generally acknowledged by vague remarks about
his obsession with the past.
This meeting between Stravinsky and Roerich is well known by those
who study the beginnings of the ballet!* Stravinsky, still excited by his
"dream" vision a year earlier, planned to meet with Roerich to work on the
Libretto for their new ballet Velikaia zhertoa. They had begun work on the
ballet in 1910, meeting several times in S t Petersburg. They corresponded
several times that year. In one letter Stravinsky asks Roerich to send him
copies of the notes they had made, since he had lost his; in others he refers to
their "future
It wasn't easy to get to Roerich during that summer of 1911, however.
He was working at Talashkino, located some miles from Smolensk, and he
was reluctant to leave. Stravinsky underwent considerable discomfort to get
there; years later he remembers:

I journeyed from Ustilug to Brest-Litovsk, where, however, I


discovered that I would have to wait two days for the next train
to Smolensk. I therefore bribed the conductor of a freight train
to let me ride in a cattle car, though I was a l l alone in it with a
bull! The buli was leashed by a single not-very-reassuring rope,
and as he glowered and slavered I began to barricade myself
behind my one small suitcase. I must have looked an odd sight
in Smolensk as I stepped from that corrida carrying my

84See V. Stravinsky and R. Craft, Straninsky in Pictures and Documents 75-100; Taruskin,
Stravinsky 860-881; I . Vershinina, ed., "Pis'ma I. Stravinskogo N. Rerikhu," Sooetskaia
rnutyka 8 (1966):57-63.
85See Stravinsky's letters to Rerikh on 7/12/1910,7/27/1910, and 7/15/1911 in Vershinina 58-
60,62.
expensive (or, at least, not tramp-like) bag and brushing my
clothes and hat, but I must also have looked
Stravinsky is more explicit in his remembered discomfort than he is
regarding the setting at Talashkino:

The Princess Tenichev gave me a guest house attended by


servants in handsome white uniforms with red belts and black
boots. I set to work with Roerich, and in a few days the plan of
action and the titles of the dances were composed.87

Why was Stravinsky willing to go to such trouble to meet with


Roerich? His later memory may have magnified the difficulties he
encountered, but his letter dated July 15, 1911 also expresses a mixture of
urgency and reluctance:
Dear Nikolai Konstantinovich,
It is difficult to give you a definite answer why we must meet.
I feel that if is necessary to come to a final agreement about our
child. I expect to start composing in the fall, and health
permitting, to finish in the spring. There are questions about the
staging. Another reason why we must meet now is that I will
not spend the winter in St. Petersburg-all of us will go to
Switzerland and from there most likely to Paris.
Please write immediately on your arrival in Talashkino, telling
me the best way to get there horn Smolensk. Perhaps if it is not
too far, could some horses be sent to fetch me? Keep in mind
that my train from Warsaw arrives very early, I think at 5 o'clock
in the morning.
Please write. I send sincere regards to you and to your wife.
Yours, Igor Stravinsky
Is it possible that you wiU be in Smolensk yourself, and that the
Talashkino trip will be unnecessary?8*

8 6 ~Stravinsky
. and R. Craft, Expositions and Dmelopmmts (1962; Berkeley: U California P,
1981) 140-141. In a note in Strauinsky in Pictures and Documents, Craft writes, "In 1929
Stravinsky told his biographer Andre Shaffner that the incident with the bull occurred on the
return trip to Volhynia." 613.
87~travinskyand Craft, Expositions, 141.
88~enhinina60. See also V. Stravinsky and Craft, Shminsky in Pictures and Ducurnmts 82.
Why did Stravinsky seek out Roerich's help in realizing his dream of pagan
sacrifice? As he explained in 1912, "Who could help me if not Roerich; who
if not he is privy to the whole secret of our forefathers' closeness to the
eartht"89 Later in his conversations with Craft, Stravinsky recalls, "I had
admired his sets for Prince lgor and imagined he might do something similar
for the Sacre. Above all, I knew he would not overload."90 This was not a l l
he knew of Roerich:

I met [Roerich], a blond-bearded, Kalmudc-eyed, pug-nosed man


in 1904. H is wife was a relative of Mtusov's, my friend and co-
librettist of the Nightingale, and I often saw the [Roerichs] at
MitLLMvfs Saint Petersburg house. . . . I became quite fond of
him in those early years, though not of his painting. . .91
Stravinskyfs collaboration with Roerich was not by chance; it was initiated by
Stravinsky himself, not by others' recommendations. He knew enough of
Roerich's work and ideas, as I will argue in Chapter IV, to choose Roerich and
to undergo some discomfort to meet with him. There is more to this meeting
at TalasNcino than "fairy tale houses" and several days' work, however.
Why couldn't Roerich meet Stravinsky in Srnolensk? Roerich was
unwilling to leave Talashkino because, as Taruskin writes, "[he] was
designing and supelvising the execution of a series of murals and mosaics in
'neo-Russianf style for the interior and exterior of [Te~sheva's]private
church."92 Roerich was one of many artists who worked in the kustar'
workshops at Talashkino; Repin directed Tenishevafsschool in St. Petersburg

8 9 ~ e t t e rto Nikolai Findeizen dated 2/15 December 1912, in L.S. D'iachkova, ed. 1. F.
Strauinskii: stat'i i mterialy (Moscow: Sovetskii kompozitor, 1973) 470.
901. Stravinsky and R. Craft, Conversations with fgor Stravinsky (New York: Doubleday, 1959)
105.
15travinsky and Craft, Conoersations 106.
92~aruskin,Straninsky 871.
92

from 1895-1898 and worked closely with her at Talashkino during those years;
Bilibin, MaLiutin, Vrubel', Nesterov, Levitan, Serov, Benois, Korovin and
Polenova also worked there at various times, either creating their own works
or designing works to be made in the workshops.93 The products of the
Talashkino workshops ranged from furniture and objects that were
considered by at least one contemporary critic to be uncomfortable, dumsy
and interesting only as "curiosities,"94 to those that represented the synthesis
of folk art design with something new, the rnoderne. This critic and others,
however, did single out Roerich's and Vrubelrs work as well as Tenisheva's
enamels from general criticism. Roerich himself did not have a very high
opinion of many products of the kttstarf movement; he felt they failed to
communicate the refined beauty of ancient applied arts, and they were but
dumsy allusions that give the public the impression that the legacy itself was
crude and unworthy of the modem "enlightenedtr eye.95
From his first meeting with Tenisheva in 1903, Roerich spent periods
of time living and working at Talashkino. Fearing the worst from social
w e s t in 1905, Tenisheva had taken her priceless collections to Paris for safe
keeping and for exhibit. Roerich accompanied her apprehensive return to
Talashkino nearly three years later, joining her in Moscow. It was on this

9 3 ~ e r i k h "Princess
, Tenisheff," Realm of Light 314. John Bowlt, The Siloer Age 39-46.
9 4 ~Dib,
. rev. of Talashkino, by Sergei Makovsky, Zhuravleva 384-86. The review originally
appeared in Zolotoe runo 5 (1906). Diks seems especially annoyed that these objects are being
thrust on the public. "Crude, useless things are for some reason considered our Russian 'applied
art.' If you attempt to express surprise that these things are essential for everyday life they
will undoubtedly tell you that, after all, this is the revival of 'the old' Russian style, of 'the
true' form of folk art. And they will tell you in such a tone, exactly as if it must be so, that in
resurrecting lo1k Art from the dark past, we must preserve it exactly as it was 150-200 years
ago." Reviews of the same objects in the French press are much more enthusiastic. See
Zhurav leva 386-391.
9 5 ~ . Rerikh.
~ . "Zakliatoe zver'e" in Zhuravleva 398.
93

journey that Tenisheva asked Roerich to work on her private church at


Flenovo, near Talashkino, begun in 1900 in the name of the Transfiguration
of the Savior. In 1900 the newspaper Smolenskii oestnik noted that the
church would be built in an ancient Russian style and decorated with mosaics
and ceramics. On a journey around the historic towns of ancient Russia,
Tenisheva had been especially inspired by the style and richly carved
ornament of the seventeenth-century tent-shaped churches in Yaroslavl. She
commissioned models of these churches for exhibit at the 1900 World
Exhibition in Parismg6Several artists had contributed designs for the exterior
of the church at Flenovo including Prakhov and Vrubelr, but Maliutin's
designs were ultimately selected. In later descriptions of the project, the "neo-
Russian" style of the design is emphasized. Indeed, the exterior facades of the
church are decorated with mosaics and ornament in imitation of the ancient
Russian churches Tenisheva loved; Roerich himself designed one of the
mosaics, the image of the Savior Not Made By Hands (Spas nerukotoornyi),
closely following twelfth- to thirteenth-century tradition.97 However, there
is no reason to assume that Roerich's designs for the interior were "neo-
Russian," in the common western definition that associates his artistic output
with the style of carved wooden objects, embroidered dothing, painted

96~huravleva319-322.
9 7 ~ Zelinskii,
. "2abytyi parniatnik russkogo iskusstva," fskusstoo 3 (1962) : 61-62. Spas
nerukotoornyi refers to a legendary portrait of Christ miraculously imprinted on a veil during
His lifetime. "The pictorial composition of the mosaic is fairly simple. The central part is
occupied by a representation of the head of Christ against a background of a towel decorated
with the folk patterns of Smolensk. Christ's eyes look straight forward, and his expression is
severe. To the right and left of the center image in the lower part of the mosaic are three
trumpeting archangels. Groups of angels ascend and gradually diminish in size until they
conclude their upward flight in a small schematic representation of the church. The color
scheme is in tones of gold, brown, and red."
spoons and balalaikas. In her memoirs Tenisheva recalls her reasons for
enlisting Roerich:

I merely dropped one word and he responded. The word-


temple. . . . Only with him, if God deigns it so, will I complete it-
He is a man living in the spirit, chosen by the Lord's flame,
through him God's truth will be told. The temple will be
completed in the name of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the
energy of divine spiritual ecstasy, connected to all-encompassing
life by a mysterious power. . . What an undertaking for an artist!
What a huge ground for expression! So much creative work can
be part of the temple! We understood each other. Nikolai
Konstantinovich fell in love with my idea, he understood the
Holy Spirit. Amen-98
She has in mind something more sigruficant than a nostalgic replica of
ancient Russian Christianity; she knows Roerich's mind, and she has chosen
wisely.
Roerich's designs for the church clearly reflect the ideas he has written
about and expressed in his paintings since early in the century. In 1905 he
wrote a n introduction to Makovsky's book ~alashkinogg in which he
comects the activities at Talashkino to his vision of the place of art in
contemporary life, a view that will be repeated in "Joy in Art'' nearly four
years later. Life at Talashkino was founded on the belief that beauty
transforms life; it attempted toreplicate the unity of ancient man's life and his
synthesis of the best from all cultures. Artists lived there with the "freedom

s - Vuechntlmiin
9 8 ~ e n iheva, . 250.
9 9 ~ h i sintroduction appeared in Realm of Lightf an English translation of Rerikh's writings in
1931, where the essay is dated 1908. The text originally appeared in S. Makovsky,
Talashkino. Izdeliia m t m k i k h Kn. M. KI. Tenishaoi (St. Petersburg: Sodruzhes tva, 1905).
Citations are from the 1931 translation, "Talashkino," unless otherwise indicated. The
original text bears the title "Vospominaniia o Talashkine;" it is reprinted in Zhuravleva 363-
370.
of art," combining the best of the past with the "latest utterances of the
Ocadent."

On the sacred hearth, away from the contamination of the city,


the people create again newly conceived objects, without
servility, without the trade marks of factories--creating lovingly
and freely. We are reminded of the covenants of our forefathers
and of the beauty and solidity of anaent works.100
As ancient man used "loving concern to make from all of his surroundings
something that is carefully considered, lavishly decorated and soothing to the
accustomed hand,"lOl Talashkino was likewise a place of "conscious
creation;" each artist felt the "special pulse" that "develops in the students
and young masters a specially penetrating mien:"102

Here lie no secrets of austere augurs. All phases of art are d e a


to the workers in the art shops. The domestic hearth fully
attentive to the best contemporary publications, to the works of
new artists, to the excited discussions of exhibitions-is close to
all of us. Every student creates his Holy of Holies in the
execution of the selected craft; albums, designs, copies and
compositions.lo3
To Roerich, all aspects of life at Talashkino were in harmony, "Even Mikllla
digs the beauty of life out of the soil. The beauty is impressed on the life of
the village, and is transmitted unto many generations."14
Roerich describes the products of Talashkino in the same way that he
has described artifacts from ancient civilizations; to his delight, this
civilization is alive, working, and celebrating its life with rituals:

A procession of keen memories:

loO~erikh, "Talash kino," Realm 299.


lO1Rerikh, "Radost"' 105.
lo2aerikh,"Talashkino," Realm 299.
103~erikh,"Talashkino," Realm 301.
104~erikh,"Talashkino." Realm 300.
Gates and posts designed with figures, animals and flowers;
Fairy-like chambers. . . . Embroideries. . . . A profusion of
patterns; sharp festoons, padded nnsbbka, transparent weaves,
"Moscow weaves," back-stitch crosses, woolens, open sack-cloths,
checked linens, hooked cloth. . . pIain textiles, velvety and soft to
the sight. Dye-shops with the mystery of colors; tufts of grass and
roots; the ancient witch of Mordva in antiquated garb of cotton
thistlethe witch of the combination of fast colors.
Choruses. Music. Village life-a theater. A theater really
ingenious. [. . . ] Staging. Dances. And it is difficult to believe
that they are students! How they hurry, after working at the
carpenter's bench, the scythe, and the rake, to get into ancient
garments; how they rehearse their parts; how they move in their
dances and play in the orchestra!l05
For Roerich, the Temple of the Holy Spirit is a temple to the way of life
at Talashkino, the realization of his ideal:

Thus I witnessed the beginning of a temple to this life. They


are building a church at Talashkino, though it is far from
completion. They are adding to it all that is the best. From the
top-most cross to the smallest illuminations of the specially-
written prayer books-everything is being planned with the
utmost care, unlike many of our new collaborations. In this
construction it is possible to realize all the miracle-working
traditions of ancient Russia with its refined feeling for
ornamentation. And the unusual, unrestrained sweep of
external reliefs on the walls of the Cathedral of Yuriev-Polsky,
the phantasmagoria of Rostov and Yaroslavl churches, and the
impressiveness of the Prophets of the Novgorod Sophia-all
our treasure from the divine being must not be forgotten. Even
the distant paths.
Even the temples of Aianta and Lhasa.
Let the years go by in quiet work. May the covenants of beauty
be M y realized in this venture.
Where else could we wish more the apotheosis of beauty than
in a temple, that highest creation of our spirit?1*6

105~erikh,"Talashkino," Realm 302-303. Nastebkn is a quilted fabric.


Io6~erikh,"Vospominaniia o falashkine'' 368. 1 have translated from Rerikh's Russian text;
the translation in Realm is somewhat condensed, masking Rerikh's emphasis on carefully
selected detail and the distant paths of The Spirit.
Just as ancient man fused together the art and wisdom of the peoples with
whom he came in contact, Roerich synthesizes the traditions of ancient
Russia with other traditions, both eastern and western in his designs for this
church, especially the fresco The Queen of Heoven (Tsarifsa nebesnaia) that
covered the entire wall behind the altar.
Seen in this larger context of Roerich's work, the "fairy-tale house" at
Talashkino cannot serve as XIemblem for his meeting with Stravinsky, for it
represents only one facet of life there. Roerich's often quoted memories of his
meeting with Stravinsky begin with this one facet:

In my Diary, I have found a page dedicated to the production of


"Le Sacre d u Printemps:" "Eighteen years have elapsed since
with Stravinsky, we sat in the colorful fairy-house, Talashkino
in Smolensk, the estate of Princess Tenisheff, working on the
scheme of 'Sacre du Printemps.' And Princess Tenisheff asked
us to write on the beams of this multi-colored house some
excerpts from 'Sacre' as a memento. Probably even now some
fragments of Stravinsky's inscriptions remain there still. But
who knows if the present inhabitants of this house realize what
is written there upon the beams?"l07
This image is exotic and appealing; it is one that Europeans had come to
equate with the essence of Russia and were contented to accept as the
foundation for Stravinsky's and Roerich's work. However, Roerich's
reminiscence does not end with the words cited above, but continues:

It was a pleasant time when the Temple of the Holy spirit, my


paintings Human Forefathers and Drevo preblagoe aragarn
ozloblenie [sic] and sketches for The Queen of Heaven were
completed. The hills of Smolensk and the white birches, yellow
water-lilies, and white lotuses like ancient lotuses of India

1O7~erikh,"Sacre," Realm 186. "Sacre" was an address at the Wanamaker Auditorium under
the auspices of the League of Composers in 1930.
By September 1912 the ballet's name had been changed from Velikaiz zhertva to The Festiad
of Spring (Prazdnik oesni ) which became the French Le Sacre du Printmps. The Russian title
was soon changed to Vesna miashclrmnnia, (Sacred Spring). Taruskin, Stravinsky 871-872.
reminded us of the eternal Shepherd Lel and Kupaoa, or as a
Hindu would say, Krishna and the Gopis. One must point out
that the sons of the East would definitely see the exalted Krishna
and the Gopis in the figures of Lel and Kupaoa. In these eternal
concepts the wisdom of the East has been interwoven with the
best images of the West.108
Roerich makes the context of his work on Velikaia zherfva explicit, but most
scholarship has stopped at the familiar "fairy-tale" house. Taruskin, in his
most thorough treatment of this collaboration, attempts to show more of
Roerich's work at Talashkino by including a full-page photo of the artist at
work in this chapel. However, he fails to see the connections between the
symbolism of the fresco and Roerich's writings, leaving the impression that
the fresco is a new interpretation of traditional Orthodox decoration and
religious folk art and nothing more.109 He does not even identify this image,
The Queen of Heaven on the Shore of the River of Life (Tsaritsa nebesnaia
na b e r e p reki Zhizni), an image found repeatedly in Roerich's life work and

lo8~erikh,"Vesna sviashchennaia," iz literahtrnogo nizslediia 359-60. I h w e quoted from the


Russian text of this lecture at this point because the 1931 translation partly eliminates
Rerikh's emphasis on the universality of his images. The Russian text is one long paragraph;
this portion begins midway through the paragraph and not as a new paragraph as it appears in
the English translation.
In Slavic folklore the shepherd Lel is a character in the pagan pantheistic fairy tale
Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden), transformed into a play by N. Ostrovsky and into an opera by
Rimsky-Korsakov. Rerikh designed costumes and sets for both the play and the opera between
1908 - 1912.
Kupnua or Kupala is associated with the summer sotstice.
I did not translate the title, Drwo preblagoe oragam ozloblenie, because it appears that
Rerikh has conflated the titles of two of his paintings, D r m preblagoe glazam uteshenie (The
Tree Bearing the Gift of Solace to the Eyes), and Prechistyi grad oragam ozloblenie (The most
pure city. Infuriation to the enemy). See V. Sokolovskii, "Khudozhestvennoe naslediie N. K.
Rerikha (perechen' proizvedenii s 1885 po 1947 god)," N. K Rerikh. Zhizn' i tuorchesfoo.
Sbornik statei ,ed. M. Kuz'mina (Moscow: Izobrazitel'noe iskusstvo, 1978) 271.
109~aruskin,Straninsky 871-873. The same photograph in larger format and printed with
better contrast can be found in Decter 66. These photos are all that remain of Tsaritsa
nebemaia. Due to a combination of unfortunate circumstances the interior plaster crumbled and
fell taking the fresco with it. Korotkina 185.
an image that captured the imagination of Russian philosophers and poets at
the turn of the century.
Tsaritsa nebesnaia is a symbolic composition that shows a female
image, evocative of the Holy Mother (Bogoroditsa), seated on a throne beside
the River of Life in which human travelers are struggling to find their way
and not perish. Above her rise heavenly cities guarded by angels; there is a
procession of saints above the apse:

[The] Queen of Heaven is all powerful and omnipresent. The


base of her throne rests on the firm ground. Past her, along the
stormy river sail the wretched masses. The Queen of Heaven
lifts up prayers for the human race following a difficult path, not
knowing where good is located or where eva. Her prayers touch
both the stormy waves of the world and the fantastic cities of the
heavens.110
She is surrounded by h e a v d y beings: archangels, cherubim, seraphim and
swarms of angels who are amazed by her good works. She sends prayers to
the Holy Spirit; all of creation rejoices in her presence.N1
The earliest sketches of Tsaritsa nebesnaia date from 1906 and coincide
with Roerich's renewed interest in ancient Indian history and culture."2
Seeds planted much earlier by Stasov began to grow and flower in Roerich's
work. He was also greatly ~nfluencedby his wife Elena's interest in Eastern
religions and philosophy.ll3 The Buddhist elements of Tsaritsa nebesnaia
were apparent to contemporary commentators on Roerich's work. V o l o s h
wrote:

llOl(niazeva, N. R& (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1968) 37.


l l l ~ e r i k h ,"Tsaritsa Nebesnaia," GIaz Dobryi 205.
1 1 2color ~ reproduction of a 1910 sketch can be found in E. Poliakova, Nikolai Rerikh (Moscow:
Is kusstvo, 1973) illustration 13.
I l 3 ~ e c t e r65.
What strangely startles one, and perhaps what attracts one to this
composition is the fact that, although all of the elements are
apparently Byzantine, it bears a purely Buddhist, Tibetan
character. Whether it is the white dothing of the Mother of
God among the purple throngs, or the crush of heavenly powers
above the colorless expanse of earth that gives this impression,
one can sense in this icon something extremely ancient and
eastern.114
Not all responses were favorable; the image must have been shocking to
Orthodox believers. The artist and collector Sergei Shcherbatov recalls:

A certain stiltedness and unconvincing contrivance made many


of his [Roerich's] works unpleasant. His large church fresco at
Talashkino, commissioned by Princess Tenisheva, . . . horrified
me, and that greatly offended the Princess. In a Russian church
in the Smolensk region there sits enthroned a Tibetan-type
Mother of God whose composition borrows from Tibetan and
Siamese religious frescos."5
At first glance it appears that Roerich is presenting his own version of
the Bogorodifsa for the apse decorations. His interpretation is dearly not
canonical, however, beginning with her enormous size; her image extends
from her earthly throne into the lofty heavens. Rather than the typical
position of the Holy Mother's hands either in an open position with palms
raised, ready to bestow a blessing, or holding the Holy Infant, Roerich's Queen
of Heaven holds her hands palms together in the Buddhist "namaste"
position. According to one account, the first version of her face was
masculine, "the mask of Buddha," but subsequent versions were more
traditional to iconography.116 Roerich's contemporaries commented that the

Voloshin, "Khudozhestvennye itogi rimy 1910-1911 g. Moskva," Russkaia rnysl' 6


(1911):30, quoted in Zhuravleva 272.
l15s.Shcherbatov, "Russkie khudozhniki," Vozrozhdenie 18 (1951):117.
116Zhurav1eva322.
face in the final version strongly suggests Indian beauty.l17 At the same time,
Tsaritsa nebesnaia wears the crown of the Mother of God, typical of the
Roman Catholic tradition. She also wears the red veil decorated with stars
that is symbolic of her intercession. As I will demonstrate below, the stars
also connect her image with the Tree of Life which was commonly depicted
in Russian folk design with the polar star at its top."B
The medallion in the center of the Queen's body does not contain the
expected image of Christ instead it contains the lotus, a symbol frequently
found in ancient Egyptian, Near Eastern and Indian ornament In India the
lotus was associated with the womb and symbolized the goddess-mother's
sacred creative powers. In abstraction, the lotus also symbolized a universal
power that directed the world and developed life in the world. In Buddhism,
the lotus was also connected with the beginning of a new cosmic era; it shows
the place for the sacred tree of Buddha.119 These symbolic meanings are
conflated with the promise symbolized by the image of Christ in such
medallions in Orthodox iconography. As Roerich writes in his memoir
"Vesna Sviashchenaia" quoted above, the lotus is also associated with life at
Talashkino, the place that holds the promise for the future of mankind.
Another conspicuous symbol in Tsaritsa nebesnaia, the Tree of Life, is
also part of Roerich's later memory of that summer; he remembers working
on his painting The Tree Bearing the Giff of Solace to the Eyes ( D r e a o
preblagoe glazarn uteshenie). Roerich used this symbol often in his own

7~ostislavov,N.K. Rerikh 77.


lI81. M. Denisova, Voprosy izucheniia kd'ta miashchenno~o
- dereua u russkikh (Moscow:
Institut etnologii i antropologii RAN, 1995) 190.
l19s.A. Tokarev, "Lotos," Mify narodm mim. 2nd ed.. 2 vols. (Moscow: Soviet Encyclopedia,
2987) 2: 71-72.
works; his 1905 painting The Treasure of Angels (Sokrovishche angeloo)
shows angels standing near the Tree of Life, guarding a radiant stone. The
Tree of Life appears in Roerich's sketches for his memorial to his teacher
Kuindzhi; it also occupies the central part of a cyde of canvas panels he
painted for a private re~idence.12~The Tree of Life is found in many ancient
cultures, and it is common to Slavic folk design, especially embroidery. The
vertical axis connects the spiritual and material worlds, while the whole
image symbolizes man's connection to the gods and mystical forces in nature.
It embodies the concept of the eternity and unity of all things as well as the
creation of life itself. In Theosophy the image is connected to the goddess
from whom all things proceeded, variously called the Immaculate Virgin or
even primordial Chaos.121
Konstantin Bal'mont's poem "The Slavonic Tree" appeared in his 1907
collection of poems Zhar-ptitsa (Firebird). His poetic image of the Tree of Life
appears to be the symbolic equivalent of Roerich's Queen of Heaven:

With its roots it lodges itself deeply,


With its top it ascends aloft,
It extends its green branches to the unlimited azure distance.
With its roots it lodges itself deeply in the earth,
With its crown it ascends to the lofty crags,
It extends its green branches wide to the infinite blue distance.
With its roots it lodges deep in the earth, and in the eternal
subterranean fire,
With its crown it ascends so high, so high, disappearing
radiantly in the sky,
It extends its blooming emerald branches into the unrestricted
turquoise expanse.
And it knows gaiety,

12O~orotkina287-189.
. Blavats ky, Theosophical Glossary (1892; New Del hi: Asian Publication Services,
l 2 I ~ P-
1986) 77,337.
103

And it knows sadness. . . .I22


The poem's ritualistic repetition of lines, each time embellished with more
detail, evokes an image of descent and ascent that penehates farther with each
return. Roerich's Tsaritsa nebesnaia, sitting on her earthly throne and with
her starry veiled head extended to the heavens, also links the material world
to the divine. The visual effect of Roerich's design is a parallel to the poet's
ritual celebration in words; the artist embellishes and restates the concept of
the World Soul in his collocation of synonymous images and in the
repetition of the Slavic Tree of Life across the fabric of the Queen's silvery-
white dress, all of which testifies to her power as creator and protector of all
Living things.
Tsaritsa nebesnaia is a complex symbolic composition that reflects
Roerich's convictions about the role of art in the whole life of modem man,
the spiritual as well as the material. This combination of ancient sacred
symbols follows his own statement in 1905, that ". . . a l l our treasure from the
divine being must not be forgotten. Even the distant paths."123 Likewise,
since it is a synthesis of images from Russian Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism,
Buddhism, and Slavic paganism, it is a visual representation of "the new
that Roerich expressed in "Joy in Art."
radiant path of 'neonationali~rn~'"~24
The divine unity inherent in the image of the Queen of Heaven illustrates
Roerich's lines from The Flowers of Moriia, "Above every beautiful thing
there is one/ Beauty that leads to/ Knowledge of the cosmos.'r125 Tsaritsa
nebesnnia links the material world of earthly creatures to the divine, spiritual

122~onstantin
Bal'mont. "Slavians koe drevo," Zhar-ptitsa (Moscow: Skorpion. 1907) 152.
123~erikh,"Vospominaniia o Talash kine" 368.
124~erikh,"Radost"' 89.
125~erikh,Tsvety 13.
world. The Queen of Heaven is more than the Mother of God; she is Christ
and the Buddha; she is the Mother of the World and the World Soul.
The image of the Queen of Heaven is not unique to Nikolai Roerich; it
is but one manifestation of the concept of the Divine Feminine espoused by
Solovfev in the last decades of the nineteenth century and reappearing in art,
poetry, and essays in the first decade of the twentieth Samuel Cioran refers to
this philosophical and religious tradition in modem Russian thought as
Sophiology, and summarizes it in this way:

As the word implies, wisdom lies at the root of the scheme. This
wisdom is in the possession of God who in creating the universe
did so with a dear purpose in mind. The universe, the world,
history and mankind are not random creations but all possess
meaning and are progressing towards specific ends. This
purposeful journey appears to b e directed towards an
achievement of, or restoration off oneness between heaven and
earth, God and man Mankind is capable of gaining this end if it
can discern the purpose or wisdom of God's creation. Indeed,
God Himself has sought to inspire man with the wisdom of His
divine plan by providing him with archetypes or prototypes
representative of the union of heaven and earth, such as the
perfect Godman, Christ, and the perfect Church in which
mankind as a whole is united with God.
God's purposeful scheme for the universe, the wisdom He
displays in its formulation, was associated. . . with Sophia, or the
Divine Wisdom of God.126
This single feminine archetype appears as Solov'evfs Divine Sophia
and the Divine Feminine. She is the feminine principle of nature, the Earth-
Mistress, the World Soul. She is both the spirit of material manifestation,
connected to earthly nature and darkness, while at the same time she is
attracted to the divine principle of God's Wisdom and Light. Roerich's

2 6 ~ a m u e lCioran, Vladimir Soloo'ev nnd the Knighthood of the Dioine Sophia (Waterloo,
Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier LIP, 1977) 1.
Tsaritsa nebesnaia echoes the image of the Earth-Mistress in Solov'ev's 1886
poem:

Earth-Mistress! To you I have bowed my head,


And through your Fragrant veil
I sensed the fire of a kindred heart,
I heard the trembling of the life of the world.
In the mid-day rays with such a burning delight
Descended the blessing of the radiant heavens,
And freely flowing river and rustling forest
Bore a melodious greeting to the silent gleam,
In the manifest sacrament again I see the union
Of the world soul with an otherworldly light,
And from the fire of love life's suffering
Is borne away like fleeting haze.127

Blok's realization of the Divine Feminine as the Beautiful Lady


(Prekrasnaia dama) in his early poetry gained him recognition as Solov'ev's
"legitimate successor."~28 By 1905 she had become the White Maiden (Belaia
deoa); in the poem "Delirium" (Bred), the poet, through the ravings of his
"impoverished sod" and clinging to the "hoary past," searches for the White
Maiden, the "Ancient Maiden." His soaety is dead to the old Life; he longs for
the White Maiden to bring him relief, but she remains asleep in a doud of
mist.129 Finally the Divine Feminine is realized in her most material form as
the Stranger (Neznakomka), the incarnation of mystery and beauty as an
ordinary urban female. After 1905, Blok abandons the image of the Divine
Feminine, replacing it with the unpredictable, irrational power of nature, as
expressed in "Stikhiia i kul'tura," where even "the churches, incarnations of
the Holy Mother, will pass from the hills. . .''I30
1 2 7 ~Solov'ev,
. "Zemlia-vladychitsa! K tebe chelo sklonil ia. . ." quoted in Cioran 58-59.
128see Cioran 139-261.
129~10k, "Bred," Sobranie sochinenii 1: 377-378.
130~lok,"Stikhiia" 121.
Many of Bely's works, including his 1905 essay "The Apocalypse in
Russian Poetry" (Apokalipsis n Russkoi poezii), also contain the image of the
Divine Feminine.'31 In this essay Bely responds to the war with Japan and
the following civil unrest in 1905, not in geopolitical terms, but as a battle of

world terrors (chaos) against the unity of the World Soul (cosmos). He wants
the World Soul, the image of the Woman Clothed in the Sun, to come to
earth to exercise her theurgic powers to recreate unity. Bely recalls Solov'ev's
insistence that one can struggle successfully against the mask of madness that
is encroaching upon the world only by delving more deeply into the eternal
feminine wellspring of the spirit and by setting her image before all people.
Bely writes that the goal of poetry, which he closely allies with religion, is to
find that muse's image and express the eternal truth of the whole world in
that image. Thus artists take on the role of priests in facilitating the
recreation of the world; when unity is restored to man's consciousness the
world will be transformed. In this way poetry is theurgic. Bely also invests
the World Soul with tones of Russian messianic nationalism; the Woman
Clothed in the Sun is a particularly Russian muse:

If humanity is the most genuine unity, then nationality


[narodnost'] is the first sub category of humanity. Here before us
is the way to unity through free and spontaneous development
of the people's strength. The image of the muse must crown the
development of national ~ 0 e t r y . l ~ ~
Bakst expresses in a Hellenic context what Roerich depicts in his
synthesis of Christian, Buddhist and pagan images in Tsaritsa nebesnaia.

131T'his article first appeared in Vesy 4 (1905):11-28. Citations are from A. Bely, "Apokalipsis
v russkoi poezii," Simuolizm kak miroponimnie (Moscow: Respublika, 1994) 408-417.
132~lok,"Apokalipsis" 41 1.
107

Bakst's 1908 panneau Terror Antiqtdtisl33 represents the constant presence


and power of the Eternal Feminine, even in the face of the cataclysmic end of
civilization. He gives the viewer a sense of the cosmic nature of the events
depicted by his use of an almost aerial perspective. The panel shows the
imminent destruction by flood of an ancient Greek city; images of chaos-the
storm and raging sea-threaten the buildings, temples, serene statues, and
ant-sized inhabitants of this ancient civilization. The original Chaos from
which the world was created according to Greek myth was a prominent image
at the turn of the twentieth century, when many felt that civilization was
again facing destruction. However, Chaos was not to be feared, but to be

celebrated and embraced as it brought new creation, as Bakst embraces it in


this work.
The smiling Cretan goddess in the foreground of Terror Antiqtilcs
represents the World Soul that preceded the civilization and its worship of
Apollo that is depicted below her; she holds a dove, the survivor of another
ancient flood. Her serenity balances the cataclysm. Bakst brings her into the
world of the viewer by placing her feet and the hill she stands on completely
out of the frame of the panel. She is seen against the ancient battle of
elements: sea, stony earth, fiery lightning, and sky. She has survived the
destruction of this ancient civilization, and her position in the panel tells the
viewer that she is constant and faithful and will survive the chaos that
menaces the twentieth century. The presence of the World Soul and the
cydic nature of the cosmos are affirmed. Both Blok and Ivanov found
important reflections of their philosophy in this work; Ivanov made it the

1 3 3 ~ h i spanel is reproduced in Kharitonova 83. The original work can be seen in the permanent
collection of the Russian Museum in S t Petenburg.
subject of a lecture and an article, "Ancient Terror" (Drmii zizhns) published
in 1909.13"
The Eternal Feminine is seen as a constant of the universe; she is a
divine manifestation that artists reflected in many different images: Divine
Sophia, Aphrodite, the Beautiful Woman, the Woman Clothed in the Sun,
the Virgin Mary, the Queen of Heaven. Roerich shares this belief in the
World Soul; the image of the Queen of Heaven presiding in the Temple of
the Holy Spirit, the very temple of the new Life in art, attests to Roerich's
belief in her powers and the power of beauty to transform the world.
Roerich embodied expertise in a wide range of disciplines, and he used
those disciplines to one end: his entire oeuvre can be viewed as his own
temple to the World Soul and his belief that beauty has healing power.
Unlike Blok, Ivanov, Bely, and Bakst, who were willing to embrace the chaos
that they believed would precede the transformation of the material world,
Roerich cherished the cosmic order held in place by the Queen of Heaven and
marked through time by the rituals and ornament of ancient civilizations.
This theme is fundamental to Roerichs work; series of paintings capture the
beauty and order of the ancient world while also depicting the ever-
threatening presence of Chaos; his essays reinforce this message through
scholarly discussion and through his lyrical recreation of the idealized ancient
world.
Velikaia zherfva is but one part of Roerich's temple to the healing
power of beauty. A dose look at Roerich's own description of the ballet leaves
no doubt about this. In 1910 in a published interview Roerich had stated, "I

13%. Ivanov, "Drevnii uzhas," Zolotoe runo 4(1909). It also appeared in his collection Po
zoezdarn in the same year.
want to express a bright summer night at the summit of a sacred hill, well-
known in the history of the stone labyrinth, a series of ritual ancient Slavic
dances culminating with the offering of a sacrifice."'35 Early in 1913 Roerich
wrote to Diaghilev:

In answer to your questions, I can say that I have been studying


Russian (and Slavic) antiquity for twenty years now, and I find
beautiful traits in it, wonderful scenes which the pubLic must be
reminded of. In the whirlwind of contemporary life the public
often forgets about the distant life when people knew how to
rejoice, when they understood the beautiful cosmogony of Earth
and Sky.
Sometimes people have tried to tell me that passion for the
beauties of antiquity are merely mine alone, but I have seen that
the better part of the public is ready to fall in love with ancient
delights since they are necessary stages of future creation. Even
fifteen years ago I spoke numerous times about the authentic
beauty of Russian icons, and only now have people come to
understand and believe in that beauty. I celebrate this.
In the ballet Same du Printemps, conceived by Stravinsky and
myself, I wanted t~ present scenes of the joy of Earth and the
exultation of Sky in a Slavic context. I won't list the program of
dances, - the program is not important to the scenes. I will
only point out that the first scene, "A kiss to the Earth" [Potselui
Zemle] transports us to the foot of a sacred hill, to green glades
where Slavic clans are gathering for spring games. Here is an old
sorceress who tells the future, here are the games "the abduction
of the women," "city against city," and "the circle dances."
Finally the most important moment comes: They bring the
oldest and wisest one from the village so he can give the sacred
kiss to the budding earth. Talented Nijinsky has beautifully
stylized the mystical terror of the crowd at the moment of that
mystery [taina].
After the bright earthly joy, in the second scene we are brought
to the heavenly mystery [mysteria]. Among enchanted stones
on the sacred hill, girls conduct mysterious games and select the
chosen victim whom they exult with songs. Now she will dance
the final dance and the witnesses to that dance will be the elders
who have domed bear skins as a sign that the bear is considered

1 3 5 ~ 1 :"Nashi besedy. U N. K. Rerikha," Obozrenie teatrov, No 1187, 30 Sept. 1910: 15.


Quoted in Zil'bershtein and Samkov 430.
the forefather of humans. The elders hand over the sacrifice to
the sun god Yarilo. I love antiquity, lofty in its joys and deep in
its intentions [designs].I36

The experience of ecstasy, both in the creation of art and in the appreciation of
its beauty, has the power to transform consciousness and therefore transform
the material world. For the ancients art was inseparable from the ritual that
preserved their life. Roerich believed that art can regain that power by
helping contemporary man remember and reconnect to the spiritual realm
represented by the beauty of ornament. The meaning of Velikaia zhertva
goes beyond its more obvious sources in folk arts, archaeology and
ethnography. Reinvested with their ancient connections to the spiritual
world, these sources were the foundation for the creation of a new ritual that
could restore order and harmony to contemporary man's troubled Life.

1 3 6 ~ . Rerikh
~ . to Diaghilev, undated letter from the beginning of 1913. Reprinted in
Zil'bershtein and Samkov 2: 120.
Chapter lII

Ecstatic Ritual and the Mysterium:


The Intellectual Context in Which The Exalted Sacrifice Was Born

This chapter will describe the intellectual context that gave impulse to
Stravinsky's and Roerich's collaborative efforts. First, I will argue that the
collaborators were unified in thcir vision; subsequent disavowals and
dissociations on Stravinsky's part are not evidence that he did not share
Roerich's view as they worked on this project. Next, I will demonstrate that
the common interpretation of the ballet as subhuman barbarism fails to take
into account the Russian intelligentsia's search for religious renewal, in part
by a return to ecstatic ritual, as exemplified in the work of Viacheslav Ivanov
and Alexander Scriabin. I will also discuss the prevalence of these attiiudes
and ideas across educated and artistic culture-
As noted in Chapter I, attempts in western schoiarship to account for
the ideas motivating Stravinsky and Roerich still fail to find a unified
concept; in most analyses Stravinsky becomes the primary focus. Taruskin
claims that Stravinsky's musical advances in The Rite of Spring "left the
dreamy pastoral visions of Roerich and the rest far behind."' While it is true
that Stravinsky later abandoned the extra-musical elements of the project, he
may not have left Roerich's views entirely behind- As I have demonstrated
in Chapter 11, Roerich's contribution was not confined to what Taruskin calls

I~aruskin,Stravinsky 949. Elsewhere Taruskin states, "Stravinsky's music certainly subverted


the rosy idyll that desgner/scenarist Nikolai Roerich conceived his Sacre du Prhtemps to be."
Richard Taruskin, "How He Did It," rev. of Art and Enterprise in Diaghilm's Ballets Rrrsses,
by Lynn Carafola, New Republic 9 Oct. 1989: 30.
a sentimental view of Slavic antiquity. Furthermore, Taruskin reconstructs
an intellectual context as a motivation for Stravinsky's later work, Soadebku
(Les N ~ c e s ) ,that
~ dearly derived horn the intellectual climate of Stravinsky's
and Roerich's Russia; he also documents Stravinsky's contact with these ideas
as early as 1911.3 These Eurasian and Scythian ideas that were so attractive to
Stravinsky in emigration grew out of the ideas that the philosophers
Solovfev,Sergei and Evgenii Trubetskoy, and others discussed in philosoph-
ical journals and religious-philosophical societies from around the 1890's.
Taruskin, however, points to Lev Karsavin and Nikolai Trubetskoy (the son
of Sergei) as the influential parties. He discusses Karsavin's messianic view
of Russia that stressed all-in-oneness (oseedinsfoo), the simultaneous self-
affirmation and self-surrender of the individual, the wholeness of the church
(specifically the Orthodox Church) both within itself and in connection to all
aspects of "the worldly," and the wisdom of a people who are
uncontaminated by Western empiricism. Nikolai Trubetskoy's Eurasian
writings idealize a Turkic proto-culture (which he extends to include the
Slavs) that possessed qualities of nonreflective, "organic" wholeness.
Taruskin links these ideas directly to nineteenth century Slavophilism, and
while he briefly notes para11eis to Saiabin's and Ivanov's mysticism, he skips
a generation of thinkers and writers, one of whom is Sergei Trubetskoy, the
philosopher who asserted that the Russian mind, through its ability to
synthesize reason and belief, could offer an antidote to western philosophy's
dependence on reason. The reader will see similarities to the ideas Roerich
expressed throughout his writings: the integration of religion into all aspects
- -

2 ~ e eRichard Taruskin, Defining Russia Musically, Historical and Hemeneutic~i Essays


(Princeton: Princeton UP, 1997) 393-409.
3~aruskin,Dflning Russzh Musically 400401.
of man's life, the wholeness of an apparently dualistic world, the collectivity
of primitive society. In this chapter I will demonstrate that not only by his
association with Roerich, but through contact with artistic and intellectual
circles including the World of Art, Stravinsky was familiar with these ideas
well before he emigrated to Switzerland.
We must also remember that the dissociation of Stravinsky's music
from the scenic and choreographic elements of that first production was the
result of circumstances that had nothing to do with any disagreement about
the concept of the ballet before its premiGre.4 Stravinsky's letters to Roerich,
written between 1910 and 1913, show his dependence on Roerich and his
delight with Roerich's designs, with his own music, and his hopes for
Nijinsky's choreography.5 I believe the perception that there is no unified
concept in this ballet is due to an apparent reluctance to recognize, to
understand, and then to accept as a motivating concept of this ballet Roerich's
conviction that in order to strive for something new, man must first know
"the refined primitiveness of our ancestors, for whom rhythm, the sacred
symbol, and refinement of gesture were great and sacred concept^."^ Roerich

4 ~ Garafola
y ~suggests that the original mounting of The Rite of Spring disappeared from the
repertoire of the Ballets Russes because of Diaghilev's sense of enterprise. See Richard
Taruskin, "How He Did It," 31-32. Millicent Hodson cites a backlash from opera house
managers, financiers, and critics who urged Diaghilev to abandon "this path of Nijinsky's."
because it was too avant-garde for their taste. Diaghilev had also expelled Nijinsky from the
Ballets Russes in the summer of 1913 after the dancer married Romola da Pulska. See Hodson,
Nijinsky's Crime Against Grace, xii. In a letter to Benois written in October 1913, Stravinsky
expresses deep concern over the future of "his child," given Diaghilev's change of attitude
toward both Nijinsky and this work- Stravinsky can't imagine Sacre without Nijinsky. See L.
Diachkova, 477478. Whatever the reason, what has come to be called Nijinsky's Sacre
effectively disappeared after its first and only season.
S~travinskymakes several references to "our child" in these letters. He writes to report his
own progress and to get information from Roerich. On December 1, 1912, after receiving
Roerich's sketches for the costumes Stravinsky wrote, "I have seen [the sketches] and my Cod, I
really like them, they're a miracle!" See Vershinina, "Pis'ma I. Stravinskogo N. Rerikhu" 57-
63.
6 ~ o e r i c h"Sacre"
r 188.
continued t o profess his ideology in poetry, essays, and paintings for the rest
of his life- For example, in his 1930 lecture "Saue" w e can see that his w o r k
has p r o c e e d e d along the same path of celebrating the "constructive striving of
the spirit. . . in connecting our e a r t h l y existence with a SupremeM7that h e
f o u n d e v i d e n t b o t h in ancient rituals and in primitive societies that live
scattered across the world. In this somewhat r a m b l i n g account o f recent
travels and reminiscences, Roerich's agenda is stated as clearly and in the
same i m a g e r y as it had b e e n in his writings in the first d e c a d e o f the century.
In the context o f New York in the 1930s Roerich's message seems s o m e h o w
marginal, even "crackpot," and therefore e a s y to dismiss.8 Yet, as I h a v e
shown in Chapter 11, Roerich was serious in expressing this message and w a s
taken seriously by his contemporaries. The Rite of Spring must b e r e t u r n e d
to this religious c o n t e x t as I will demonstrate below, this b o d y o f thought w a s
neither marginal nor something to b e dismissed lightly.
Roerich does not seem bothered that Stravhsky's m u s i c Lives on alone;
a s late as 1930 he reports that it is "acclaimed everywhere ;ind there no longer
exists any conventional prejudice against this expression."'' It seems that for
Roerich the music f u l l y e m b o d i e s the o r i g i n a l c o n c e p t and continues to
disseminate its message:

7 ~ orich,
e "Sacre" 188.
8 ~ v e nin the late 1980's Roerich's work was haunted by westerners' ignorance and condescension.
In an editorial "The Two Roerichs Are One" the writer devotes one paragraph to the recent
revival of The Rite of Spring performed by the Joffrey Ballet and the remaining seven
paragraphs to Roerich's unseemly influence on Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace in the
1930s, including influencing Wallace to persuade the Treasury to engrave the Great Seal's
mystic pyramid on new dollar bills. By the time Wallace became Roosevelt's running mate in
1940, this scandalous involvement with Roerich and his ideas was kept quiet by the Democrats'
threatening to bring up Wendell Willkie's adulterous affairs should the Republicans publish
Wallace's letters. See Karl E. Meyer, "The Two Roerichs Are One," New York Times 22
January 1988: A30.
9~oerich,"Sacre" 189.
This constructive striving of spirit, this joy before the beautiful
laws of nature and heroic sacrifice, certainly are the essential
feelings of "Sacre du Printemps." We cannot consider "Saue" as
Russian, nor even Slavic-it is more ancient and pan-human.
This is the natural festival of the soul. This is the joy of love
and self-sacrifice, not under the knife of crude conventionality,
but in exuberance of spirit, in connecting our earthly existence
with a Supreme. . . .
And still "Sacre" is new and the young ones are accepting
"Sacre" as a new conception, and perhaps the eternal novelty of
the "Sacre" is because spring is eternal, and love is eternal, and
sacrifice is eternal. Thus in this new conception, Stravinsky
touches the eternal in music. He was modern because he
evoked the future; it is the great serpent ring touching the great
past.. . .
This should be very dose to us all because today we are striving
toward the next evolution. We are trying to discard old forms
and to create something new. But in order to strive for
something new we have first to know the old. Only then can we
attain the true enhancement of life.10
Throughout this chapter the connections between Roerich's speech and the
intellectual context of turn-of-the-century Russia will be made dear.
My primary task in this chapter is to redirect critical focus to this
intellectual context. The identification of musical and folkloric sources and
the verification of ethnographic authenticity, while interesting and
informative in assessing the artistic achievements of each of the coIlaborators,
should not be the main focus of understanding the ballet. Each successful
"find," as satisfying as it is, dishacts scholarship from asking other questions.
The meaning of the ballet lies in the motivation behind these selections and
reworkings; once this larger purpose is revealed, the innovation and skill of
each collaborator's art can be seen in relation to this motivating concept The
Rite of Spring was a n attempt to recreate the power of ancient myth by
116

returning an act of ritual worship to the temple of the theater. In Chapter I1 I


discwed Roerich's use of the past to restore spirituality in the life of modem
man. He synthesized his knowledge of ancient peoples into his grand view of
man in absolute harmony with his surroundings, with religion permeating
every aspect of man's ritualized, decorated Me.
Not only has there been a failure to understand the view of primitive
man intended by Stravinsky and Roerich, but there has also been a failure to
recognize the spiritual content of their work. Western scholars have been
distracted by their interpretation of the powerful forces depicted in the ballet;
they see destructive, barbaric violence, and some see a foreshadowing of the
violent sacrif5ce of youth in the coming world war." In this mindset it is
difficult to understand the seeming paradox of the ballet-that death creates
life. Taruskin, for example, generalizes Blok's apocalyptic view of the
anarchic potential of the masses and, influenced by barbaric images created in
Blok's later Scythian writings, he sees the ballet as oproshchenie which he
defines as "'going primitive,' the vulgar rejection of cult~re,"~2
a term he
borrows from Viacheslav Ivanov's and Mikhail Gershenzon's "A Comer-to-
Corner Correspondence" (Pnepiska iz dvukh uglov), written in 1920.1~
Simply, the model of oproshchenie represents embracing subhuman
barbarism and rejecting westernized, highly refined but spiritually bankrupt
culture (kul'tura). As noted in Chapter I, Taruskin's adoption of this model

llsee, for example, Jean Cocteau, "Le Sacre du Printemps," Straoinsky in the Theatre, ed.
Minna Lederman (New York: Da Capo P, 1975) 13. See also Roman Vlad, Stravinsky, trans.
Frederick Fuller (London: Oxford UP, 1978) 35-36, and Eric Walter White, St raoinsky's
Sacrifice to Apollo (London: Hogarth P, 1930) 43.
I 2 ~ rau skin, Stravinsky 855.
13v.1.Ivmov and M. Genhenzon, "A Corner-tocomer Correspondence," trans. Gertrude Vakar,
Russian lnteilectuni Histoy: An Anthology, ed. Marc Raeff (New York: Harcourt, 1966) 372-
401.
and the related metaphor of Scythianism depends 03 several careless readings
and misinterpretations of Roerich's ideas. In developing the concept of
oproshchenie, the misrepresentation continues; Taruskin draws our
attention to a text that reveals a message quite different from the one he
infers. He refers to Ivanov's role in this correspondence as "the unregenerate
voice of kul'turu," implying with the aid of an ellipsis-filled quote that
Ivanov stands for enlightened, rational, westernized culture.14 Further
investigation of this text, however, reveals the true nature of Ivanov's
preferred model, uproshchenie; it has a spiritual component that is crucial to
Ivanov's vision of modern man's path to salvation. Ivanov's model depends
on man's ability to ascend, to connect with the spiritual realm that has been
available to him throughout time. He writes:

This is how it will be, my dear friend, even if there are as yet
no signs of such a change. Culture will become a cult of God and
of the Earth. But it is Memory, the Primeval Memory of man,
that will bring this miracle about. . . .
An era of great, joyous, akomprehending return will come. . . .

The magic formula, to our intelligentsia, is oproshchenie; this


shows to what extent they are severed from the roots. They
think that by "becoming simple" they will put down roots, be
able to feel that they have roots. . . . Oproshchenie is betrayal,
oblivion, defection-a cowardly, listless reaction. The idea
makes as little sense in relation to culture as it would in
mathematics, which recognizes only uproshchenie, that is, the
reduction of a complexity to a simpler, perfected, unified form.
Simplicity is the supreme, crowning achievement, the victory of
completion over the incomplete, of perfection over
imperfection. The way to this longed-for and lovely simplicity
leads through complexity. It is reached not by defecting kom a
given society or country but by moving upward. Everywhere-I
repeat this again and again-there is a Bethel and a Jacob's
ladder-in the center of anyone's world. This is the way of
- --

1 4 ~ a r u kin,
s Straoinsky 854-855.
genuine, active, creative freedom; the freedom of oblivion is a
stolen, hollow freedom. Those who forget their ancestry are
runaways or manumitted slaves, not freeborn men. Culture is
the c u l t of ancestors and, of course, their resurrection-as
culture vaguely knows even now. The way man must follow is
an ever-clearer consciousness of himself as a "God-forgotten,
and by himself forgot." He has trouble remembering his
primogeniture, and no wonder-even the savage has already
forgotten i t The philosophy of culture I put in the mouth of my
Prometheus is my philosophy:

They will invent and practice commerce,


Art, mathematics, war,
And governing, and being slaves-
So that their days may pass in noise and fretting
And sensuality, to help them to forget
In dreams the straight and solid purpose of existence.
While in his desert
The savage roams despondent.

The savage finds no joy in his pointless freedom, nor does the
man who succumbs to the lure of oblivion and "simplifies"
himself into the likeness of a savage; he is dejected and sad.
The only way to avoid becoming "a dull guest on the dark
earth" is to die in the fire of the spirit15
This passage contains a theme found throughout Ivanov's work, the
restoration of spiritual life to man's daily life. According to Ivanov, man has
always been able to ascend to the "more real'' world above the material one,
to experience the universal spirit. Ivanov's use of the word "culture" is
neither positive nor negative; it describes all of its manifestations in man's
history. The culture he defends is one in which man reclaims "Primal
Memory" and finds access to the spirit. He shares Prometheus' critical view
of present culture's ills; his description of this culture is reminiscent of the
ant-like kul'fura described by Blok.16

15~vanovand Genhenzon, "A Corner-to-ComerCorrespondence"398-399.


l65ee my discussion of Blok's essay "Stikhiin i kul'tura" in Chapter 1.
Taruskin's real contribution lies in his analysis of Stravinsky's music,
but as I will point out in Chapter W , musical analysis that supports one
framework-the Scythian-like destruction of western musical traditions-can
also support another framework-man's ritualized venturing into chaos as a
means of his salvation. This second framework reflects ideas expressed by
Roerich and Stravinsky before the ballet's premike; it is not contaminated by
events surrounding the riotous first performance or by subsequent history.
As I will demonstrate in Chapter IV, this framework was shared by Roerich
and Stravinsky and communicated to Nijinsky when he joined the
coilaboration.
One must understand the nature of ecstatic ritual in order to
comprehend the religious framework of The Rite of Spring. The ritual is not
the glorification of the terrible powers of the universe that can transform
humans into "subhuman," or transport them to an animal-like oblivion, as
many critics have a.ll too often assumed.17 Daniel Albright, for example,
understands the ballet strictly from his own western framework. The
bearskin-clad dancers demonstrate that "the ballet consisted of men so
primitive that they were themselves half-bears."18 The ritual synthesis of
man and nature, male and female, mortals and gods, cosmos and chaos is
seen by Albright as evidence that The Rite of Spring is about the subhuman:

The Rite of Spring, then, concerns the human race before it has
become human, before sexual differentiation, when it is still
only a provisional manifestation of nature.

1 7 ~ a w k i nstates, "So where Scriabin's occultism sought to elevate human consciousness above
the human plane, the 'second sense' of The Rite of Spring plunged it down beneath, suggesting
the prehuman or subhuman reality that civilized consciousness cloaks but does not replace."
Taruskin, Defining Russia Musically 379.
1 8 ~ a n i e lAlbright, Stravinsky. The Music Box and the Nightingale (New York: Gordon &
Breach, 1989) 14.
. . . The Rite of Spring depicts the pre-human. It is strange that
Stravinsky despised Disney's cartoon of this ballet, in Fantasia
(1940)-Stravinsky called it an "unresisting imbecility"-for by
making the action a minuet of dinosaurs and volcanoes Disney
succeeded in eliminating the human presences that were always
to some extent an embarrassment to the spectacle-19
Albright, Taruskin and others miss the point that the goal of this ritual was to
transcend the individual, to achieve a collective consciousness or sobornost'
and finally, to experience a mystical oneness with the deity. These religious
rituals were recognized by Russian intellectuals to be an essential aspect of
ancient civilizations.
Once we understand the importance of the past for movements of
religious revival in turn-of-the-century Russia, and once we see the religious
significance of works that appear on the surface to be merely nostalgic or
ethnographic, the conclusion of The Rife of Spring with a maiden's self-
sacrifice should not seem out of place witJx either Roerich's or Stravinsky's
ideas. While it is plausible, as Taruskin asserts, that the idea of a maiden's
sacrifice came from Stravinsky as "someone steeped in the traditions and
dich6s of the romantic musical theater. . . ," the other part of his assertion,
"the idea of a ballet about a maiden sacrifice would never have occurred to
Roerich spontaneously, for he was too scrupulous a c o ~ o i s s e u rof authentic
Slavonic antiquity,"20 does not take into account Roerich's famed role as a
myth-maker, his awareness of the universality of sacrificial rituals in ancient
cultures, or, most importantly, the glorification of the universal spirit that
underlay his work. We must remember that Roerich was one of many artists

l 9 ~ 1 b r i g h t15.
Zo~aruskin,Stravinsky 864.
and intellectuals active in attempts to apply universal spiritual teachings to
their endeavors.
Sacrifice in The Rite of Spring takes on an altogether different meaning
when it is put into the context of tun-of-the-century religious revival.
Numerous essays and poems attest to the fact that ecstatic ritual was of great
interest to the inteIligentsia.2' Ivanov's thorough study of the Hellenic cults
of Dionysus is a n excellent example of the attempt to heal modem culture,
damaged by individualism and rationalism, with a return to ecstatic ritual.
In a 1905 essay, "The Religion of Dionysus," Ivanov sets forth his ideas about
the origin and nature of man's religious consciousness as evidenced in the
early cults of Dionysus.22 Ivanov describes ancient man's connection to
religion at every moment of his life; this is an example of man possessing and
using the capacity for ascent that he referred to later in "A Comer-to-Comer
Correspondence." The similarities between Ivanov's and Roerich's descrip-
tions of andent Life are immediately apparent- Ivanov writes:
. . . if we are able to sense how inseparably religion and daily life
flowed together into a unified whole, then we shall, with
heartfelt conviction, reconstruct in ourselves the spirit of that
distant time. Every form of life was sacred and there was no
action that would not be linked with the worship of divine
power as there would be no divine ritual which would not be a
function of life and a necessity for existence. There would be no
separation between prayer and the stewardship of everyday

21~eefor example, Alexander Blok, "Poeziia zagovorov i zaklinanii" me Poetry of Magic and
Spells], Sobranie sochmenii 8 vols. (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, (1960-1963) 5: 36-
65; Andrei Bely, "0 teurgii" [On Theurgy], Novyi putr 9 (1903): 100-123; Sergei Gorodetsky,
Iar': Stikhi liricheskie i liro-epicheskie [Iart: Lyric and Lyro-epic verses] (St. Petersburg:
Kruzho k molod;rkh, 1907); Konstantin Bal'rnont, Zhar-ptitsa [The Fireb ird] (Moscow :
Skorpion, 1907), Zelenyi oertograd [The Green Garden] (St. Petersburg, 1909), Poeziin kak
oolshebstoo poetry as Magic] (Moscow: Skorpion, 1915), plus numerous essays and poems by
Viac hes lav Ivanov.
22~iacheslavIvanov, "Religiia Dionisa. Ee proiskhozhdenie i vliianiia," Voprosy zhizni June
1905: 283-220,July (1905): 122-148.
matters; not to live in a god-pleasing way meant not to Live at
all. Man's devoted companions, the gods, sat as members of the
household at all of his meals. Like a gigantic shadow, the deity
was inseparable from man and was like his own relative, his
lord, and his double; truly, everything was "full of gods."Z3
The synthesis of religion and daily life was absolutely necessary because man's
existence was filled with danger:

Fear of death and fear of fate, the hostility of natural and


supernatural forces, the helplessness and uncertainty of mortal
existence, countless dangers, ceaseless threats both mysterious
and manifest-all of this made his life a race along the edge of
the abyss. However-
There is ecstasy in battle,
And on the edge of the gloomy abyss,
And in the ocean roused to fury
Among the tempestuous waves and stormy darkness,
And in the Arabian hurricane
And in the plague's breath.
Everything, everything that threatens destruction
conceals from the mortal heart
inexplicable delights-
Perhaps a pledge of immortality.24
Man's existence was punctuated with ecstatic ritual in an attempt to appease
the terrors of the abyss, but as the last four lines indicate, man must engage
the chaos of the abyss in order to have access to the mystery; "there is ecstasy
in battle." In ritual ecstasy the individual abandons consciousness of himself
as a separate individual; he surrenders completely to the whole community
just as the community surrenders to the chaos:

In religion one needs a presentiment of the unity of the


individual with everything that is outside him, and through
that, the illusiory nature of each individual. . . . The awareness
of one's own "I" outside of its individual boundaries incites the
individual to a negation of itself and to a crossing over to the

23~vanov,"Re[igiiaW6 : t 90.
24~vanov,"Religiia" 6: 195-196.
"not I," the essence of dionysian ecstasy. This consciousness is
the very origin of every mysticism.25
While Ivanovfs essay is a detailed investigation of the history and
influence of the cult of Dionysus, he draws conclusions about the nature of
religion and religious experience that provide direction for the spiritual
remaking of modem man.26 First, man's religious consciousness originated
in ecstatic states. Early religion was orgiastic; it depended on the frenzied
rhythms of dance, incantation, and song. Ivanov describes the ways in which
ritual leads man into the abyss, but at the same time it protects him as it
provides a "religious order" within the primordial chaos. To Ivanov the
constant presence of both order and chaos is an essential antidote to the order
imposed on man's consciousness by his submission to a life governed entirely
by reason:

. . . the tyranny of cosmos and [the tyranny] of order in


everything down to the very bottom has transformed our
internal primordial chaos; suggestions of rhythm rush past like a
light ripple along the surface of our soul and the expressiveness
and increasing intensity of the music barely keeps pace with our
proportionately increasing power of resistance to its orgiastic
magic.27

The past is vital for modem man because,

humanity will not ascend to high places from its contemporary


low place if it does not become like ancient humanity. . . . We
must renounce ourselves and become ancient in spirit in order
to restore the now diminished image of man.28

25~vanov,"Religiia" 7: 143.
26The concluding section of this article makes explicit ivanov's prescription for the revival of
religion in modem times. See "Religiia" 7: 136-148.
27~vanov."Relieiia" 7: 138.
Ivanov wrote, "what draws our minds to the pagan pole of our dualistic
culture is not the romantic dreamer's nostaZgie du passe, but the thirst for
synthesis."29
In ecstatic ritual all distinctions disappear: between spectator and
participant, between participant, priest, and sacrificial victim, between victim
and the deity.30 This is antinomy, the absolute, if momentary, synthesis of
polar opposites-male and female, man and god, matter and spirit, cosmos
and chaos. It will become dearer below that in this context The Rite of Spring
can be seen as a ritual aimed toward maintaining the balance between man
and the elements, both natural and supernatural, that hold the constant
potential of either sustaining life or destroying it. The sacrificial victim
becomes the "bride" of the sun god Yarilo, a mystical union that insures
fertility and abundance in the coming season. The scene, the costumes, the
choreography, and the music all support this concept.
In the context of religious revival, myths inspired writers and painters
in large part because they were evidence that mortals and gods were in active
contact. Myths figured prominently in Ivanov's discussion of ancient
religion; they externalize human experience and give man a way to
collectively understand his place in the divine world (realiora).3 Myths
presented an alternative way of knowing. They were a revelation of ultimate
reality, intuitively perceived; myths were quite separate from the Limited
truths made known by science and empirical reason. Not only did Ivanov
analyze the myths and rituals of the ancient Greeks, whom he held as an

2 9 ~ Ivanov,
. "Elinskaia religiia stradaiushchego boga," Nooyi put' 2 (1904): 59.
30~vanov,"Religiia" 6: 214.
3 1 ~ e eWest, Russian Symbolism 76-88 for a discussion of the function of myth in Ivanov's
theories.
example of people who lived in a "wholeness of spirit," but he promoted
modern mythmaking (rnifotoorchestno), a task especially suited to artists,
whom he sees as bearing a dose connection to the collective soul. Artists can
facilitate the return of art to its original sacred function in ritual:

A true talent cannot help but express the ultimate depths of the
consciousness of his age. . . . The artist imperceptibly widens our
horizons in harmony with the whole elemental striving of the
s o d of the people. . . .
Painting craves frescoes, architecture craves public gathering-
places, music calls for the chorus and the drama, the drama for
music; the theatre strives to unite in one "action" the whole
crowd gathered for the celebration. . . .
Through the overlying layer of everyday speech, the language
of poetry+ur language--must send forth shoots, and indeed it
is already sprouting from the subterranean roots of popular
language. . . .
. . .Through the strata of contemporary knowledge, (poetic]
knowledge is destined to surge up in a chill spring from the
depths of the subconscious. . . . Overcoming individualism as an
abstract principle, overcoming too the "Euclidean mind", and
glimpsing the faces of the divine, [poetry] engraves upon its
hipod the words: Chorus, Myth, and Action.
Thus art looks towards the sources of the soul of the people.32
The aspiration to a synthesis of the arts and the desire for the spiritual union
of those who participate in the artistic act or celebration are essential in this
view of art. At any stage in his history man is capable of living his life fully
engaged with the divine world, and the arts have an essential role in
facilitating this process.
Alexander Scriabin saw his role along just such lines. Through his
study of Solov'ev, through his association with the philosopher Sergei
Trubetskoy and regular attendance at the Moscow Religious-Philosophical

3 2 ~ Ivanov,
. "0 veselom remesle," Po m a d a m . Stat'i i aforizmy. (St. Petersburg, 1909) 226,
244. Quoted from West, Russian Symbolism 70-71. The article is the transcript of a public
Lecture, first published in the journal Zolotoe runo 5 (1907).
Society, through his immersion in theosophical texts and periodicals,
through his friendship with Russian mystical symbolists, and through his
own intuition, Scriabin created art that was directed toward the transfor-
mation of mankind through ecstatic ritua1.33
Scriabin's scant writings and the memoirs of his dose friends reveal
the constancy of his vision throughout his short career; for him art was
synonymous with spiritual transfiguration.34 The outline of an early,
unfinished opera seems to encapsulate his life. It was based on the myth of
Eros and Psyche: "The hero, 'a young unknown philosopher-musician-poe t,'
promises to transfigure mankind through the power of celestial harmonies,
the force of miraculous and boundless love, and the might of wisdom."35
Scriabin's final, unfinished work, the Mysterium, "may be described as a
dream of the unification of mankind in a single instant of ecstatic
Boris de Schloezer's description of Scriabin's artistic impulse
re~elation."3~
echoes the attitude of many members of the creative intelligentsia:

To a man divided within himself, wrestling with himself,


deprived of immediacy and pristine innocence by an intensified
self-consciousness, the Mys teriu rn promised to restore the
integrity of self-unity. For man had once aossessed innocence,
sincerity, and integrity, but he became b h d . As soon as he
developed consciousness of himself, he lost his inner unity. The
task of the Mysterium was to recreate this unity in the light of

3 3 ~ o ran overview of Scriabin's intellectual biography see Malcom Brown, "Skriabin and
Russian 'Mystic' Symbolism," Nineteenth Centuy Music 3 (1979):42-52.
34~oris de Schloezer, Scriabin, Artist and Mystic, trans. Nicholas Slonimsky (1923; Berkeley:
UCP, 1987) 103.
Scriabin's entire literary output was published posthumously. It included an unfinished
libretto in verse for an opera, several drafts, both in prose and poetry, for Le p o h e de I'extase
( P a m ekstnza), including a "poem of orgy," and two drafts of the text for the Prefatory Action
(Predvnn'tel'noe deistuie). See "Zapisi A. N. Skriabina," Russkie propilei, ed. M. Gershenzon,
6 vols. (Moscow: Sabashnikov, 2919) vol. 6,120-247.
35~rown45-46.
36~ch~oezer 161.
consciousness, so that man could acquire wisdom and
knowledge of himself and yet preserve his innocence. He would
then be clarified to himself, while retaining his sincerity and
integrity?
Following the Russian premiere of Le poPme de Z'exfase in St.
Petersburg in 1909 and his return to Moscow in 1910, Scriabin was active in
musical and intellectual circles; he attended many of the lectures, musicales,
art exhibits, and literary discussions of aesthetic and philosophical matters
that were sponsored by the Moscow Literary-Artistic Circle and the Society of
Free aesthetic^.^^ The writers who most dosely associated with him were
Briusov, Bely, Merezhkovsky, Baltrushaitis, Bal'mont, and I v a n ~ v . ~ ~
Scriabin was well acquainted with Ivanov's writings, and after 1909
they formed a dose friendship. The parallels in their philosophy of art are
clear: both studied the ancient Eleusinian mysteries and understood the
necessity of reviving this ancient way of knowing in a modem form of ritual.
They both emphasize the transcendence of the individual through this ritual;
all will become participants, and all participants will achieve a spiritual
collectivity. Leonid Sabaneev, Scriabin's dose friend from 1910 until the
composer's death, recalls Scriabin's early description of The Prefatory Action,
(Acfe priulable) or preliminary to the Mysterium, as he began to envision it
around 1911:

37~chloezer190.
38~rown47. Scriabin spent most of his time in Europe between 1904-1909. Scriabin's activities
are recorded in detail in Letopis' zhizni i toorchestva A.N. Skriabina, ed. M. P. Priashnikov
and 0.M. Tompakov (Moscow: Muzyka, 1985).
3 9 ~ a r t i nCooper, "Alexander Skriabin and the Russian Renaissance," Slavonic and Westem
Music. B a y s for Gerald Abraham, eds. Malcom Hamrick Brown and Roland John Wiley (Ann
Arbor: UMI Research P, 1985) 235. Cooper's essay is a fairly well-informed, but biased account:
he provides useful details surrounding this period, but he betrays a condescending attitude
toward mysticism, he portrays ideas and movements as distinct and compartmentalized, and he
ultimately marginalizes the theurgists.
There will be no question of the individual in the Mystery. It
will be a colledive (sobornyi) creation, a coIlective act. It will be
as one all-embracing, multi-faceted individuality, like the sun
refracted in a thousand droplets of water.*
The parallels in Ivanov's and Saiabin's ideas were dear to their contem-
poraries as well; at the end of a long analysis of Saiabin's philosophy and art,
Lapshin puts Scriabin in the very landscape Ivanov used in his description of
primitive man's dangerous existence:

Scriabin loves to walk along the edge of the abyss, to call up


extreme discord in his soul. When it seems that the last
harmony of the spiritual elements is destroyed, concordia discors
is realized; the disharmony of the soul is reconciled in a higher
synthesis when it seems we were just a hair's breadth from
falling into the abyss31
Scriabinfs ideas reflect his theosophical and neo-Platonic world view,
where mystical enlightenment is achieved through the seemingly impossible
reconciliation of opposites. Schloezer wrote:

[Suiabin's] ideology was essentially a theory of oneness and the


means by which it could be achieved. . . . When he was writing
Le P o h e de I'extase, he already realized that oneness could be
attained only by deepening and sharpening contradictions, and
not by their negation or forcible unification-a
Imagery in Scriabin's poetic text to Le P o h e de I'extase reveals the necessity
of conflict and contradictions. The spirit, "pinioned on its thirst for life," is
attracted to and derives energy from its negation, the dark chasm:

In the wondrous sublimity


Of pure aimlessness
And in the collision
Of counter-aspirations,

*teonid Sabaneev, Vosporninaniia o Skriizbine (Moscow, 1925) 150, quoted in Brown 49.
41~.I. Lapshin, "Zavetnye dumy Skriabina," Khudozhestoennoe tuorchestuo (Petrograd: Mysl,
1922) 325. tvanovrsdescription is from "Religiia Dionisa" 195-196, quoted above.
32Sch loezer 63.
In a common consciousness,
In a common love
The spirit perceives
The nature of
Its divine essence.
It understands
That it desires battle.43
The composer and critic Alexander Koptiaev recognized the
relationship of Scriabin's music to his ideas. In an article first published in
1910 he analyzes the "toolsrr Scriabin uses in achieving musical ecstasy:
chromaticism, full orchestration, syncopation and broken rhythm, and the
shuggle against the force of traditional cadences that restrict the elemental,
emotional essence of music.44 He concludes his article with Scriabin's own
definition of ecstasy, written in 1906 to accompany Le P o h e de I'extase:

Ecstasy is the supreme synthesis of a new world, summoned


into Life by the mighty will of the artist. To summon from the
depths of the soul the most forbidden and contradictory desires
and, after a battle, to take pleasure in their ultimate
reconciliation in miraculous harmony: the unending surge of
free will and heavenly power-this is ecstasy. As a supreme
synthesis [ecstasy] is able to extricate pleasure from evil: that
which threatened is now excitation; that which terrified is now
delight; and the bites of panthers and hyenas have become but a
new caress, a new torment; and the sting of the serpent [is] but a
burning kiss. And eternity resounds with the joyous cry, "I
am."45

In a speech delivered to the Moscow Scriabin Society, "The National


and the Universal in Scriabin's Work (Suiabin as a Nationalist Composer),"
Ivanov also describes the ecstatic effect of Scriabin's music. To Ivanov, the

4 3 ~ l e x a n d e rScriabin, "Poem of Ecstasy," trans. Hugh Macdonald. quoted in Hugh .


MacdonaId."Words and Music by A. Scryabin," Musical Times 113 (1972):26.
4 4 ~ l e x a n d e rKoptiaev, "Pevets ekstaza-A. Skriabin." K muzykal'nomu ideal11 (Petrograd.
2916) 204-205.
45Alexander Scriabin. "Poema ekstaza." quoted in Koptiaev 209.
failure of the West that is apparent in its rationalism and i
n its adherence to
order at all costs is also apparent in its music. Ivanov believes that the
desacralization of western music has resulted in empty, "despotic" f o r m 9
Ivanov celebrates Scriabin because his music embodies the solution to the
problem that has plagued music-and philosophy-since the beginning of
time: the problem of order and freedom. Suiabin, Like the ancient Greek
pagan priests, has succeeded in reconding these opposing forces:

This reconciliation was primarily the work of the Delphic


priesthood, the spiritual-legal body representing by their
authority the divine will of both brothers, Apollo and Dionysus
together, Like two inseparable, but still distinct hypostases of one
world-creating being.47
According to Ivanov, Scriabin's harmony embodies freedom or chaos, while
the melody embodies o r d e r 9 As evidenced in this lecture and in several
other essays dedicated to the composer, Suiabin represents to Ivanov the
ideal artist-priest whose successes have implications far broader than the
realm of music? Ivanov links Scriabin's genius to s o m e k g particularly
Russian He calls Scriabin a "national" composer, but is careful to put this
"nationalism" in the context developed by h i m s e l f and other "nationalist"
philosophers: Russians have the special gLft of being able to reconcile reason
and belief, cosmos and chaos. The Russian genius, then, transcends the
national as it looks toward the salvation of all mankind. In this way
46~iacheslavIvanov. "Natsional'noe i vselenskoe v hrorcheshre Skriabina (Skriabin kak
natsional'nyi kompositor)," Pamiatniki kul'tury: h y e otkytih 1983 (Leningrad: Nau ka,
1985) 98. The speech was delivered on April 14,1916, the first anniversary of Scriabin's death.
V~vanov,"Natsional'noe" 101.
M~vanov,"Natsional'noe" 102.
49See "Skriabin i dukh revoliutsii," Sobrunie sochinmii, vol. 3 (Brussels: Foyer Oriental
Chretien, 1979) 190-194; and "Vzgliad Skriabina na iskusstvo," Sobranie sochinenii. vol. 3.
(Brussels: Foyer Oriental Chretien, 1979) 171-189. Both articles along with a speech delivered
before a memorial concert in 1919 are reprinted in Parnintniki kul'tury: Nonye otkytiin 1983
(Leningrad: Nauka, 1985) 203-1 25.
Scriabin's "national" talent is messianic and universal, what Roerich would
call pan-human."
"

Perhaps Scriabin is singular in the sense that he succeeded in


producing art that communicated the essence of his mysticism. He gave
music a new language, and after a hiatus of some f&y years, scholars have
once again realized that his mysticism is inseparable from his music, and they
are exploring this relationship instead of sweeping the embarrassment of
Scriabin's beliefs (some would call it his madness) under the rugs0 Taruskin,
for example, understands that Scriabin's mysticism is an integral part of his
music and therefore analyzes the music to discover how these ideas are
manifested. He examines how Scriabin's harmony induces "a quality of
hovering, of time-forgetful stasis, altered consciousness, or tran~e."5~He
discusses the composer's elaborate methods of delaying harmonic resolution
by prolonging ambiguities of tonality and by the use of dissonance. Speaking
of Le P o k e de I'extase, Taruskin concludes:

. . . Scriabin's symphony consists in most general terms of a


single fundamental gesture, an agonizingly prolonged structural
anacrusis that at the very last moment achieves cataclysmic
resolution/consumrnation. . . .
The functional relationships in the P o h e de I'extase are thus
reduced to a single essential dualism: an almost infinitely
extended, graded and variegated dominant that in its ceaseless
flux and nuance is almost palpably sensuous, and a crushingly
asserted tonic, tantalizingly glimpsed and tasted in advance, but
for the most part withheld. Indeed the dualism is more than
just a harmonic functional relationship; it is the interaction
between two planes of consciousness.~2

50~aruskin'stechnical analysis of Scriabin's music in Chapter 13 of D e n i n g Russia Musically


integrates the composer's mystical ideas with his stylistic development. Taruskin gives a
summary documentation of the dismissal of Scriabin's mysticism since ca. 1930.
51~arus kin, Defining Russia Musically 330-331.
52~aruskin,Defining Russia Musically 336.
While he may appear a unique genius in the world of music, Scriabin was not
singular in the realm of ideas. His concerns mirrored those of numerous
other intellectuals, including Ivanov, Roerich, and Stravinsky.

As I have demonstrated above and in Chapter 11, Roerich was as much


a mystic as he was an archeologist and ethnographer, a fact that could not
have been hidden from Stravinsky. This alone is sufficient grounds to take
Stravinsky's words at face value when in a 1912 interview he refers to Le
Sucre du Printemps as a mysterium and a c h ~ r e o d r a m a .In
~ ~addition, recent
scholarship is reversing the trend of dismissing or completely ignoring
various manifestations of the occult in the arts a t the turn of the century.
Where scholarship once had the tone of expose, not at all unlike accounts of
pagan practices told from a hostile point of view in The Russian Primary
Chronicle,54 there is now serious scholarly investigation of the imagery and
influence of the occult evidenced in the works of many artists of this period
in Russia and elsewhere.55 Below I will demonstrate the widespread and
open interest in religious mysticism in Stravinsky's and Roerich's Russia.

53~travinsky'swords are taken from an interview in S t Petenburg. See M. Dvinskii, "U Igoria
Stravinskogo," Birzheoye vedomosti 25 Sept. 1912: 5, quoted in Krasovskaia 2: 432.
, example, the entry for the year 1071 in The Russian Primary Chronicle: Lnurmtian
5 4 ~ e e for
k t , ed. S. H . Cross, (Cambridge, MA, 2953) 150-154, where pagan priests (oolkh.oy) conduct a
ritual "stabbing" of the most distinguished women of Rostov. Christian &ronicIers, looking for
ammunition against the still active pagan priesthood, sensationalize the account, concealing
that it was, in fact, a ritual against k i n e . For a discussion of this account see Russell Zguta,
"The Pagan Priests of Early Russia: Some New Insights," Shvic Revim33(1974): 259-266.
A modem equivalent of this kind of hostite account can be found in Robert C. Williams, Russian
Art and American Money 1900-1940 (Cambridge, M A : Haward UP, 1980). Chapter 1,
"Mysticism and Money. NichoIas Roerich" begins with the words, "Nicholas Roerich always
saw a close connection between art and money" (111). It appears that Williams' major source
was U.S.State Department records. See also note 8.
55~ee,for example, Maria Carison's study of Russian Theosophy, "No ReZigion Higher than
Truth,'' Richard Taruskin's chapter on Scriabin in Dening Russia Musically, and Leon Surette,
The Birth of Modemism: Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats and the Occult, (Montreal &
Kingston: McCill-Queen's UP, 1993).
Theater, too, was part of this movement. At the turn of the century
there was a preoccupation with restoring the original religious function of
theater as a potential solution to the problem of man's fragmented Life.
Intellectuals envisioned a new theater that could take over the psychological
and social functions formerly served by religion; they experimented with
theater as ritual, theater as religion, theater as a d y i n g force in avilization,
theater as transformation. One can see the attempt to put into contemporary
practice the conclusions Ivanov reached in his studies of the cults of
Dionysus, discussed above. An apocalyptic movement called mystical
anarchism developed after the Revolution of 1905; it exemplifies the impulse
to create a new culture and a new society in which alienation would be
transcended and conflict resolved.56 The social ideal was sobornost'; society
would be ruled by aesthetic and religious principles including collective
creativity, myth-creation, and participatory theater where, ". . . each
participant in the rites had a dual role: to partidpate in the 'orgy of action' and
the 'orgy of purification,' to make holy and to become holy, to attract the
divine presence and to receive the divine @-a 'goal theurgic and active'
and a 'goal pathetic and passive.'"57
Characteristic of the times, the movement was eclectic; "The mystical
anarchists. . . sought a broader 'religious synthesis of Life' and based their
vague concepts of 'religious activity' and 'mystical experience' on a kind of
pantheism in which the relation of Christ, Dionysus, and the World Soul was

5 6 ~ o ar detailed discussion of the development and theories of the mystical anarchists see
Bernice Rosenthal, "Theatre as Church: The Vision of the Mystical Anarchists," Russian
History 4.2 (1977): 122-141, and Bernice Rosenthal, "The Transmutation of the Symbolist Ethos:
Mystical Anarchism and the Revohtion of 1905," Slavic Rmiew 36 (1977): 608-624.
57~osenthal,"Theatre as Church" 128-1 29.
not at all dear."58 The mystical anarchists had planned to stage ancient myths
in a Theater of Dionysus, but those plans were never realized. They were,
however, able to spread their ideas; after university reforms following the
Revolution of 1905, Georgii Chukov and Ivanov, the principal theorists of
mystical anarchism, were able to lecture frequently to large audiences of
students and young workers. Ivanovfs Wednesday "salons," a focal point of
the S t Petersburg intelligentsia, provided a forum for discussing mystical
anarchism among other topics of current interest-59
In 1906 a Moscow art journal, The Golden Fleece (Zolofoe rzlno), began
publication, taking up where Mir iskusstva left off, although in a more avant-
garde direction. The preface to the first issue reflects an attitude similar to
that held by the mystical anarchists; it proposes a healing role for art:

We embark on our path at a formidable time.


Around us, like a raging whirlpool, seethes the rebirth of Me.
In the thunder of the fight, amid the urgent questions raised by
our time, amid the bloody answers provided by our Russian
reality, the Eternal, for many, fades and passes away.
We are in sympathy with a l l who work for the rebirth of life,
we renounce no task of our contemporaneity, but we believe
that life without Beauty is impossible, that together with our
institutions we must attain a free and brilliant art for our
descendants, one that is illumined by the sun and induced by
tireless search; we believe that we must preserve for them the
Eternal values forged by many generations. And in the name of
this new life to come we, the seekers of the Golden Fleece,
unfurl our banner:
A r f is eternal for it is founded on the intransient, on that
which cannot be rejected.
Art is whole for its single source is the soul.
A r t is symbolic for it bears within it the symbol, the reflection
of the Eternal in the temporal.

58~osenthal,
"The Transmutation" 623.
5 9 ~ oar description of ivanov's salon see V. Piast, Vstrechi (1929; New York: Orfey, 1986).
135

Art is kee for it is created by the free impulse of creation.60

The idea that art is deeply c o ~ e c t e dto religion was not confined to
groups that could be considered marginal or extremist Ballet was also caught
up in retrospectivism which manifested itself, in large part, in a turn toward
hellenism and re-infusing dance with religious spirit. As in the other arts,
the conventions of the academy were challenged; in dance they were replaced
by the "expressive omnipotence of the body,"61 the exploration of dance
traditions other than western European, and the use of choreodrama, the
mass action of the entire corps de ballet.
In a 1908 volume of essays dedicated to the new theater, Benois wrote
"A Conversation about Ballet" (Beseda o balete), where the voice of tradition,
"the balletomane," debates the future of ballet with "the artist," clearly
Benois' o w n voice. The artist's arguments are not new to the balletomane;
when he speaks of ballet's liturgical quality, its power to express without
words, the balletomane responds, "I knew you would bring up liturgy, God,
sobornost '. Is it not possible to discuss art without touching on theological

60~refaceto Zofotoe mno, 1 (1906), attributed to the editor, Nikolai Riabushinsky. Quoted in
John E. Bowlt, ed. and trans., Russian Art of the Avant Gnrde. Theory and Criticism (New York:
Thanes and Hudson, 1991)8.
61~rnileJacques-Dalcroze, Swiss movement theorist and originator of eurhythmics, a method
for integrating the rhythms of music into bodily movement, recognized Russian dancers'
contribution to "new" ballet. In early 2913 he wrote to Stravinsky, "What is necessary to create
a consummate work of art is an intimate coupling of [plastique in motion] with [expressive dance
music]. It is an art of sacrifice that requires in addition a special technique, a natural one, one of
the mastering of oneself in the expression of simple emotions, one of the control of the body in
all the nuances of time and space. As soon as-in the Russian ballet-the sacrosanct frenzy of
movement intervenes, the dancers are as admirable as can be. As soon as the situation demands
poses, gestures, outbursts of pure feeling, the conventional ballet technique paraIyzes the
emotions and substitutes virtuosity for the spontaneous externalization of inner states." Robert
Craft, Straoinsky: Selected Correspondence 3 voIs. (New York: Knopf, 2 982-1985) 2: 78.
question^?"^^ Indeed it is not. Benois couches his description of the new
ballet entirely in the context of religion; dance, a high art on the level of
music (116),has a role to play in the remaking of the theater into a temple of a
religion far broader than conventional Orthodoxy:

. - . [E]verything comes from God, and our one and only God . . .
embodies the diversity of ancient Olympus. Our God is not only
Zeus, and Cronus, but Apollo, and Dionysus, and Ares, and
Hermes, and Aphrodite, and Eros (109-110).
Benois explains that in the temple of the ballet theater dancers become
priests who make possible the powerful unity of ail present. Ballet is about
divine truth:

A selection of artists [dancers] creates a theater, setting apart these


priests from the masses of the devout. From the very moment
of this selection a temple and liturgical service are created. The
priests continue to delight in their own actions. . . but at the
same time they are lifted and carried by a particular mood. . . that
results from the prayerful ecstasy of the entire audience. . . . We
must give heartfelt thanks to the divine presence for bestowing
this supernatural joy (109).
Benois is careful to add that this divine truth must also include the truth of
Slavic myth, especially at a time when c o ~ e c t i o n sto it are threatened by
encroaching industry (114).
Benois' vision of new ballet was not wishful thinking; he described
ideas that were widely practiced. Fokine staged "The Evening of Terpsichore"
at the Mariinsky Theater in 1908; in the publicity he described a program of
"dances of the past, present, and future" including dances from ancient Egypt,
Rome, Greece, and ancient Rust, as well as dances in the style of Isadora

62~leksandrk n u a , "Beseda o balete," Teatr. Kniga o nooom teatre (St. Petersburg: Shipovnik,
1908) 104. Further references to "Beseda o balete" in this section will be given in the text.
~uncm.63Her dance was viewed by one critic as "coincid[ing] with the rather
simpIified and vulgarized hellenism of our day, whose banner is bodily
freedom, the cult of plastic, tangible beauty-a cult nourished on beautiful
museum recollections. "64 Realism and historical authenticity were replaced
by imagined worlds and new myths. This same critic commented that
Duncan's dances were received as ancient artifacts by a public that preferred to
ignore their implausible authenticity and the fact that Duncan preferred to
discuss them as dances of the future.65
Fokine's boisterous choreography of the Polovtsian dances in Prince
Igor (1909) took the traditional, measured farandole (a spirited circle dance)
and transformed it into "an orgiastic round-dance, [a response] to symbolist
'communality' in a theater that united performer and audience in dionysian
ecstasy."66 One reviewer wrote:

Here is the finale, when all the lines of this severe design blend
into one no less well-formed, a stream; overtaking, seizing,
outrunning, struggling, one jumping across another-everyone
. . . rushing the hall with a thunder, crashing the footlights,
running in streams of complex figures, once again meeting and
again, with more furious rejoicing, renewing their assault. If the
curtain had been delayed for a second, it seemed that it couldn't
have held and would have torn out into the hall, onto the
square, the street, conquering and drawing everything with it.67

631nterview by "Teatal," Peterburgshin gazeta 21 January 1908: 4, quoted in Tim Scholl From
Petipa to Balanchine. Classical Revival and the Modernization of Ballet (New York:
Routledge, 1994) 54.
This evidence refutes Taruskin's statement that "...Russian ballet before Firebird (1910) was
actually French, and only the circumstances of its reimportation to France forced it to become
truly Russian." Richard Taruskin, "From Firebird to The Rite: Folk Elements in Stravinsky's
Scores," Ballet Reuiezu 10 (Summer 1982): 74.
..

64~ndreLevinson, "0 novom balete," Apollon 8 (1911): 43, quoted in Schol152.


65~choll52.
66~cho1165.
67~ergeiAuslender, "Tantsy v 'Kniaze igore,"' Apollon 1 (1909):30, quoted in Scholl 65.
In Russia the idea of new theater based on dionysian ritual was so widespread
that the concept of Vesna sviashchennnin was quite dear. Sergei Vokonsky
wrote in Apollon:

Le Same dn Prinfemps isn't a "ballet." It is a ritual, an ancient


ceremonial rite. Nothing could be less appropriate to prepare
one for this spectacle than the word "ballet" and all the
associations it carries with it.68
This retrospectivism spread beyond the dance stage. There was con-
siderable public interest in the past as evidenced in Petersburg charity balls on
classical and neoclassical themes.69 The ball held at the Winter Palace to
mark the bicentenary of the founding of St. Petersburg was attended by guests
clad in rich costumes of late Muscovite Russia. Nicholas II wore the costume
of Peter 1's father, Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich.70
In the years between 1890 and 1917 one hundred eighty plays that can
be linked to the Russian symbolist tradition were published in Russian art
and literary joumaIs.7~ Mystery plays were an important part of this dramatic
Literature, although they proved far more interesting and important in theory
than they were in practice. They were seen as original form of drama, that is,
a form of religious worship that was integrated with daily life. In a 1902
article "The Forms of Art," Bely writes:

Drama emerged out of the mystery play; drama is destined to


return to it. When drama draws near to the mystery play,
returns to it, then will it inevitably descend from the stage and
move out into life. Do we not see in this an inkling of the
transfiguration of life into a mystery play? Are people not
- --

%ergei Volkonsky, "Russ kii balet v Parizhe," ApoNon (1913):72, quoted in M o l l 75.
69~choll54.
7 0 ~ e eKirichen ko 258-259 for photographs.
o Ka lbouss, The Plays of the Russian Symbolists (East Lansing: Russian Language
7 1 ~ erge
Journal, 1982) n. pag. The discussion of mystery plays that follows is based on Kalbouss 23-26,
31-56.
preparing themselves right now to participate in some kind of
multi-colored mystery?72
Mystery plays also depicted a neo-Platonic universe where the ideal,
noumenal world is revealed to the real, phenomenal world through the
imagery of poetry. The central moment of the mystery play is usually
associated with a communion ritual with the other world. Fyodor Sologub's
article "Theater of One Will" (Teatr odnoi voli) is an attempt to apply his
concept of the Platonic universe to stage practice. The drama reveals the
presence of the all-knowing "I" or "world will" to all of the participants
through ritual and liturgy. "The only way for the resurrection lies in the
spectator becoming a participant in the mystery, through the liturgical
rite. . . -'f73 The stage was intentionally artificial, often presenting a stylized
two dimensionality. Mystery plays were undramatic and pretentious with
their poetic language; they were often unsuccessful, although they con-
tributed to the overall experiment in theater. By 1908 symbolist drama was
moving away from the mystery play to other forms of experimental theater.
In his survey of Russian symboList drama George Kalbouss states, "By 1906,
ritualistic and non-representational theatre was no longer regarded strange or
threatening; in short, symbolism had found a place in the theatrical
repert0ire."~4
Kalbouss states that experimental theatre did not attract large
audiences; they attended cabaret-type performances instead. This does not

72~orisBugaev, "Formy iskusstva," Mir iskusstua 8 (1902): 360, quoted in Kalbouss n.pag.
Bugaev is better known by his pseudonym Andrei Bely.
73~yodorSologub, "Teatr odnoi voli," Teatr, kniga o nooom teahe (St. Petersburg: Shipovni k,
1908) 185, quoted in Kalbouss 19.
7 4 ~ a ~ b o u12.
ss
indicate an aversion to the ideas motivating symbolist theater, however- We
recall Maria carlson's observation:

The Russian Spiritualist journal Rebzts reported in 1906 that


"according to our correspondent, all of Petersburg is caught up in
an unusually powerful mystical movement and at the moment
a veritable maelstrom of little religions, cults, and sects has taken
shape there. This movement embraces both the upper and
lower levels of society. Among the upper levels we find the
Theosophic-Buddhist trend. Admirers of Theosophy are uniting
and are even beginning to discuss the question of building a
Buddhist lamasery (a dormitory) and a Theosophic-Buddhist
temple." . . . And not only Petersburg was caught up in the
trend. Moscow and the provinces buzzed with new secret
societies, demonstrations of hypnotism, public Spiritualist
seances, gypsy fortune-tellers, and secret sectarian ecstasies
(radeniia). Every educated reader who was not a recluse had at
least a nodding acquaintance with Theosophy and Spir-
itualism.. . . People knew about these things, even if their
knowledge was based only on cafe gossip and sensational
newspaper artides in Noooe Vren~in.~~
John Bowlt also documents the wide range of esoteric topics that were
discussed at cabarets and dubs:

The St. Petersburg cabarets, . . . especially the Stray Dog and the
Comedians' Halt, attracted prominent intellectuals from all
disciplines, commissioned lectures and recitations, and Led
debates and polemics on "hot issues." They were at once more
international and more provocative, even though they too were
indebted to the new middle classes for financial support.
The Stray Dog, for example, . . . hosted many important
cultural events during its brief active life (1911-1915), and it
encouraged discussions on a wide if esoteric range of issues,
including the Tarot, theosophy, Alexandrian Christianity, the
French magic revival, Russian Orthodoxy, Neo-Platonism, Jacob
Boehme, and the monks of Athos. The Stray Dog did not
espouse the cause of the avant-garde as represented by Malevich
and Tatlin, but it was at the head of Russian intellectual life and
counted Anna Akhmatova, Balmont, Diaghilev, Nikolai
Evreinov, [Boris] Grigoriev, Tamara Karsavina, [Mikhail]
Kuzmin, Evgenii Lanc&ray, Olga Glebova, Pallada, Alexei
Radakov, Savelii Sorin and [Sergei] Sudeikin among its
habitues.76
The program of The Stray Dog reflects the eclecticism of the age. The
ties that members of this constellation of artists and intellectuals had with
one another and with "starss" not mentioned in this passage reveal the dose
contact members of the creative intelligentsia had with one another. For
example, Sergei Sudeikin, symbolist painter, active member of the World of
Art society, and designer of several of Diaghilevfs Ballets Russes productions,
was married to Olga Glebova. Yet in 1908, the year after their marriage,
Sudeikin began a homosexual affair with the poet Mikhail Kuzmin, who
happened to be sharing their apartment. In spite of this complication,
Sudeikin, Glebova, and Kuzmin continued to collaborate on plays, musical
evenings, and poetry readings. Kuzmin was closely associated with symbolist
circles; he also lived in two rooms that he rented in Ivanov's apartment, the
site of the "tower" evenings.77
Nikolai Evreinov was one of the founders of The Antique Theater
(Starinnyi teatr), an enterprise that attempted to restore "pre-realistic" dramas
in their original settings and costumes. Their repertoire included Greek
tragedies, medieval morality plays, miracle plays, and the pastorale. Lanceray
was one of several World of Art artists connected with this theater; others
involved with the two seasons of this theater (1907-1908, 1911-1912) indude

7 6 ~ o h nBowlt, ed. and trans., The Salon Albom of Vera Sudeikin-Straoinsky (Princeton:
Princeton U P, 1995) xiii - xiv.
n~owlt, The Salon Albom 13-14. The web of connections continued even into exile: Sudeikin
later married Vera Bossett, and in the years 1917-1920 they socialized with "leading
representatives of Russian Symbolism and Cubo-Futurism." Vera met Stravinsky in 1921,
became his mistress and companion, eventually marrying him in 1940 after the death of
Stravinsky's wife, Catherine.
Benois, who was general artistic and historical consultant as well as designer,
and the designers Dobuzhinsky and Bilibin. Roerich designed an eleventh
century lyrical drama, The Three Magi (Tri uolkhva), in 1907, and in 1911 he
designed Lope de Vega's Fuente ovejuna. 78
Tamara Karsavina was Diaghilev's first prima ballerina and sister of
Lev Karsavin, historian of religious philosophy, professor at St. Petersburg
University, and, in later emigration, "elder statesman of the Eurasianis t
movement," a movement derived from nineteenth- and early twentieth-
century messianic and religious philosophy discussed earlier in this chapter.
Stravinsky knew both Karsavins well; his family lived in an apartment below
the Karsavins in St. Petersburg, and he spent the spring of 1911 in close
association with the Karsavins before the Rome premigre of ~ e f r u s h k n . ~ ~
Stravinsky had occasion to be familiar with Karsavin's messianic religious
philosophy during the period in which he worked on The Rife of Spring.
Bal'mont leads us to a n important connection with Stravinsky.
Essayist, novelist and prolific poet, Bal'mont influenced many other
symbolist poets induding Bely, Blok, and Ivanov. In the early summer of
1911 Stravinsky set three of Bal'mont's poems to music, "The Forget-me-not,"
"The Dove," and "The King of the Stas" (Zuezdoliki). The last two poems
are from Bal'montfs collection Zelenyi omtograd and are based on Russian
spiritual verses and songs connected to Russian religious sects that practiced
ecstatic ritual, for example, the khlysty and the skoptsy. This was not the only

7 8 ~ o ra discussion of the activities of The Starinnyi Theater see R. I. Vlasova, Russkoe


teatral'no-dekoratsionnoe iskusstvo nachala u ueka (Leningrad: Khudozhnik RSFSR, 1984)
28-44. See also John E. Bowlt, The Siluer Age 716-117.
79~aruskinfDflning Russia Musically 400-401. Taruskin writes, "Not only these biographical
circumstances but also many detailed and ideosyncratic ideological affinities identi+ Lev
Karsavin as a thinker whose proto-Eurasianist 'ideocratic' impact on Stravinsky came early
enough to have affected both the conception [I9121and realization of Suadebkn."
time Stravinsky employed Russian sectarian verse. In 1908 he composed
"Mystic Song of the Ancient Russian Flagellants" (Khlystovskaia) based on
one of Sergei Gorodetsky's poems from his collection far'. He used sectarian
music and song in the final chorus of Khooanshchina (1913), in a song,
"Sektantskaia" (1919) and in an incomplete work, " K h i y ~ t . " ~According
~ to
Tar uskin:

Balmont removed most of the overt religious content from


["The Dove"], thus Stravinsky could treat it as a simple, pretty
lyric. . . . The poem's relative "neutrality" was the result of its
early appearance in Balmont's book, which, Like the radeniye
[ecstatic ritual] itself, gradually gathered momentum toward a
blazing "vision of the end of the world and eternal gl0ry."~1
He continues that the poem Zoezdoliki, "a masterpiece of eschatological
imagery. . . inspired by and patterned on the apocalyptic songs of . . . [the]
skoptsy," was appealing not because of its esoteric subtext but because "it
managed to h e this lurid sectarian vision with the long-standing tradition
of Promethean 'fire poetry' that had always been a hallmark of Russian
Symbolism."82 In this analysis Taruskin arbitrarily d e s out the possibility
that S t r a v h k y had anv interest in the esoteric aspects of these songs; he
concludes that it was simply the case that the songs were widely popular and
lyrically appealing to numerous composers.
Taruskin brings together important information in his discussion of
Bal'mont; he shows the textual relationship of Bal'mont's poem to khlyst
songs published in 1861, and he identifies the source of Bal'mont's poems
that Stravinsky probably used: twenty-one poems from the forthcoming

socraft, ed., Straninsky. Selected Correspondence 1: 421-422.


$l~arus kin, Straoinsky 787.
82~aruskin,Straoinsky 789.
volume Zelenyi uertograd were published in the September 1907 issue of
Vesy, which Taruskin himself recognizes as the chief organ of the Russian
Symbolist press.83 Taruskin explains the "code" contained in various titles:

"White Doves" was the name by which sectarians referred to


one another, and especially the way they were addressed as a
congregation by their prophet-evangelists.
. . . The title [Zelenyi vertograd] itself was a clue, for the word
omtograd was not only an archaic poet's word for garden. . . ,it
was also what the "white doves" called the circle in which they
whirled as the radeniye came to its dimax (from oertet', to
whirl) -84
Once again Taruskin f d s to see the sigruhcance of the information he has so
carefully gathered. However, if we acknowledge the context of religious
revival discussed above, we can argue that these poems were popular
precisely because they recreated ecstatic ritual. Gorodetsky's and Bal'mont's
poems are acts of restoring the power of myth to contemporary Life. These
poets reshaped ancient spiritual poeby to create art that could provide a way
for the spiritually impoverished intelligentsia to r e c o ~ e c tto their lost, non-
western roots.
The image of Stravinsky as somehow "aloof from avant-garde literary
circles,"85 does not stand up to the evidence; it is dearly wrong. First, as
Carlson, Bowlt, and others have documented, discussions of art and religion
were everywhere in pre-war St. Petersburg, in journals, newspapers, cafes,
and cabarets, and not limited to groups too long perceived as marginal to
Russian culture. While Taruskin asserts that evidence does not support the
assumption that "poets, artists, and composers traveled one path, arms

83~aruskin,Sraoinsky 784. The section "Bahont and Neonationalism" is on pages 780-791.


s Stravinsky 784-785.
8 4 ~ a r ukin,
85~aruskin,D@ning Russia Musically 393. Here Taruskin uses "avant-garde" in a general
sense that includes theurgic symbolists.
Linked, all fully conscious of each other's activity and joyously abetting it,"86
he often fails to interpret the sigruficance of evidence that he himself has
meticulously presented. If Shavinsky were uninterested in "avant-garde"
literature, or "the theurgic strain of Russian symbolism," why would he open
a copy of Vesy, "the chief organ of the Russian SymboList pressfWg7
and then
find and be inspired by Bal'mont's poems printed there?
Taruskin's argument draws unnecessary boundaries that create a false
impression; he sees both the journal The World of Art and the society named
for it foIlowing an aesthetic path that is neodassical, Apollonian, individ-
ualist, and formalist, a path that steers dear of the obstacles of utilitarianism
and messianism. To support his view Taruskin quotes Diaghilevfs 1899
editorial statement, "The great strength of art lies precisely in the fact that it is
self-sufficient, self-referential, self-purposeful, and above all, free."88 Bowltfs
observation concerning the graphic and decorative art in The World of Art is
also cited as evidence of the journal's emphasis on the forms of art:

The graphic expertise in the decorative pieces of these artists


might be seen, in broader terms, as the result of their non-
philosophical approach to art; because without definite
ideological justification, their art was left to turn in on itself, to
manipulate to the fullest extent its own properties of line, color,
mass.89
The journal's motto, "art is free, Life is fettered," did not mean the
absence of social, religious, philosophical, and ideological programs of any
kind, as Taruskin suggests, but rather that the journal did not promote any

s Straoinsky 780.
8 6 ~ a r ukin,
s Straoinsky 784.
8 7 ~ a r ukin,
. Diagilev, "Slozhnye voprosy," Mir iskusstva 1-2 (1899): 52, quoted in Taruskin,
8 8 ~ P-
Straoinsky 442.
g g ~ u o t e din Taruskin, Stravinsky 447.
one aesthetic or philosophical theory over all others.gO The journal was
deliberately eclectic. We must keep in mind that the first principle governing
the aesthetic stance of The World of Arf was to promote a new Russian art in
direct opposition to the realism, social program, and the lack of artistic
individuality in the art of the nineteenth-century peredvizhniki. Bowlt's
complete discussion of the World of Art aesthetic begins with this point and
indudes the following tendencies: re trospectivism, integrating the arts, and a
cult of forrnegl In discussing each one of these tendencies Bowlt makes
strong co~ectionsto the ideas of the Russian symbolists.
The retrospectivism of The World of Art was directed toward the
rediscovery and appreciation of bygone cultures which were seen to offer a
wholeness and harmony to a modem civilization in crisis. This induded
interest in specific historical periods such as Versailles and Classical Greece,
and in the culture evidenced in popular myth and in the primordial state of
man. The efforts of Ivanov, Roerich, Scriabin, and others to restore religion
to life was part of this rehospectivism. Bowlt suggests that Diaghilev's
controversial use of Vasnetsov's art in the first issue of the journal, coupled
with his use of neo-nationalist art for minor decorations, is evidence that
"Diaghdev was, consciously or unconsciously, supporting basic principles of
the European and Russian Symbolists: to attain the 'essencef of reality by
penetrating to the roots of natural, organic cultures and hence to rediscover
the real force and potency of Life beneath the conventions of ~ivilization."~~

9 0 ~Filosofov
. made this observation in the journal Zolotoe run0 1 (1908): 71-72, quoted in
Kharitonova 131.
9 1 ~ e eBowlt, The Silver Age 69-85.
9 2 ~ o w ~The
t , Silver Age 71.
147

According to Bowlt, synthesis of the arts as a principle of The World of


Art aesthetic can be partly attributed to the widespread popularization of
Wagner's ideas, and to Benois' and Diaghilev's life-long interest in his works.
Bowlt connects ideas on the collective nature of Greek drama and the relation
of Greek drama to myth, expressed in a 1899 Mir iskusstva article, "Wagner's
Views on Art,"93 to those held by Bely and Ivanov. Bowlt cites Rimsky-
Korsakov, R a h a n i n o v , Nikolai Medtner, Ciuriionis, and Scriabin as artists
who experimented with synaesthesia and other possibilities of total art,
Gesamtkunstwerk.94 Scriabin was not alien to Diaghilev's world of art, "To
Diaghilev. . . Skriabin's exotic and mystical music meant much, witness to
which was his invitation to him to appear as soloist at the season of Russian
music in Paris in 1 9 0 7 . ~ ~Bowlt also discusses the presence of Russian
symbolist "myth-making" and "god-seeking" in works of World of Art
painters and poets.
Finally, the World of Art writers and artists did exhibit a concern for
the formal properties of art that "anticipated the distinct orientation towards
form, peculiar to the Russian avant-garde after 1 9 1 0 . " ~ Bowlt's
~ description of
the graphic and decorative arts, quoted above, is given as an example of the
"creative apotheosis" of the tendency toward emphasis on form and compo-
sition coupled with emotional restraint. This, however, did not exdude the
presence of philosophy:

9 3 ~ Likhtenberger,
. "Vzgliady Vagnera na iskusstvo," Mir iskusstua 7-8 (1899), quoted in
Bowlt, The Siher Age 77.
9 4 ~ o ra discussion of the synaesthetic experiences of Scriabin and Rimsky-Korsakov, see
Charles S. Myers, "Two Cases of Synaesthesia," British lournal of Psychology 7 (1914): 112-117.
9 5 ~ o w l t The
, Silver Age 78.
9 6 ~ o w l tThe
, Silver Age 81.
Still, the apolitical, asocial, even aphilosophical behavior of
many of the World of Art members should not allow us to apply
the label "art for art's sake" as a general and exclusive description
of the direction favored by all of them. Indeed, together with its
advocation of Ibsen, Nietzsche, Puvis de Chavannes, Vladimir
Soloviev, etc., the World of Art publicized names such as
Dostoevsky, Repin, Ruskin and Tolstoi. In this way, the World
of Art acted as a junction of interests rather than as the
champion of a single trend. As Filosofov remarked: "The
World of Art never had a definite program. . . . it was the cult of
dilettantism in the good and true sense of the word."97
By 1902 symbolist art and ideas were found more firequently on the pages of
Mir iskzisstna, for example, in the art of Bakst and Vrubel; in Briusov's article
"Unwanted Truth," a programmatic declaration of Russian symbolism;98 and
in Bely's discussion of theater as religion in "The Forms of Art."
Bowlt concludes his discussion with this observation:

. . . [Dlespite its admiration of Western culture, the World of Art


remained at heart a Russian phenomenon. Wibess to this was
its very aspiration towards artistic synthesism-since this, in
many ways, was the direct result of its members' reaction to the
social and political fragmentation evident during the last years
of Imperial Russia. It is a sad paradox, therefore, that the grand,
synthetic Ballets Russes, which owed so much to the World of
&t, should have been seen and applauded only outside
Russia.99
We can concur that Stravinsky was very much influenced by his association
with Diaghilev and the World of Art artists; although we must condude that
this influence was far broader than that assumed by Taruskin.
In this chapter we have seen how perceptions of social disintegration
and the breakdown of tradition, especially following the demonstrations and
revolution in 1905, fueled an already growing nostalgia for an idealized,

9 7 ~ o w l t The
, Silner Age 55.
98~haritonova54.
9 9 ~ o w l t ,The Silver Age 84-85.
149

primordial state in which all aspects of man's life formed a harmonious


whole. We have also seen how the healing power of primitive, ecstatic ritual
was offered as a solution to the spiritually bankrupt, fragmented life of
modern man The balance between chaos and order (as well as between a l l of
the polar opposites of the neo-Platonic universe) could only be achieved by
embracing chaos in ecstatic ritual. The idea was widespread that art and
artists, especially in their efforts to achieve a synthesis of the arts, held a
special responsibility for bringing about the transformation of civilization.
These ideas were not confined to Ivanovfs "tower," to a rarefied "avant-
garde," or to the mystical delusions of a very marginal minority; they were
"hot topics'' in the cafes, cabarets, and newspapers, as well as in the journals
of art, literarature, and philosophy. We have seen how Nijinsky's and
Roerich's art is a reflection of this cultural context. Next we will t u n to
Stravinsky's music and Stravinsky's own dedarations as the work progressed
to find evidence that he and Roerich shared one concept for The Rite of
Spring.
Chapter N

Stravinsky's Mysterium

Previous chapters of this study have looked closely at the cultural and
intellectual context that influenced Velikaia zherfna in an attempt to correct
the fdse impressions that have grown up around this work. Millicent
Hodson's work corrects Stravinsky's, Diaghilev's and others' fabrications
about Nijinsky's lack of musical knowledge, his insanity, and his inability to
do hard work.' The restored choreography invites us to look once more at
this pagan ritual in the full context of music, decor, and dance. It suggests the
power of such ritual to affirm the collective nature of primitive society and to
insure that man can appease the terrifying, chaotic, elemental forces of nature
by becoming one with them. Nijinsky's work reflects this cultural context: his
contemporaries recognized the ecstasy and terror communicated by his
choreography;2 his paintings also suggest his awareness of the delicate balance
between cosmos and chaos.
Evidence presented in Chapter 11 corrects the commonly held view that
Roerich contributed only ethnographic detail and an idealized view of the
past. It clarifies Roerich's commitment to healing modern man's spiritual
crisis by promoting the return to a way of life steeped in beauty and connected
to the elements of nature and to the spiritual world, especially through ritual.
Chapter III places Roerich's work in the context of religious revival in turn-
-
l ~ e eHodson, Nijinsky's Crime Against Grace vii-xix.
2 ~ e discussion
e of his choreography in Chapter I, Roerikh's letter to Diaghilev in Chapter U.
of-the-century Russian culture and offers another interpretation for this
ballet's sacrificial act, commonly interpreted by western scholarship as
subhuman and therefore devoid of spiritual meaning. Given the weight of
Hodson's work, given a more comprehensive understanding of Roerich's
spiritual purpose, and given the broad prevalence of religious revival among
the Russian intelligentsia and across popular culture, we must reexamine
Stravinsky's participation in this creation of a commanding ritual that
possessed the power to transform m&d.
Because Stravinsky is known for manipulating his memories, we must
restrict ourselves to comments he made contemporary to his work on
Velikaiu zhertoa if we want to come closer to an understanding of his artistic
intent. Even the "fleeting vision" that came to him in 1910 as he was
finishing The Firebird was first made public twenty-one years later.3 He "saw
in imagination a solemn pagan rite: sage elders, seated in a arde, watched a
young girl dance herself to death." They were "sacrificing her to propitiate the
god of spring." However, the direct sources we do have as evidence of
Stravinsky's concept of the ballet plus the circumstantial evidence of hs
attraction to the mythographic, ritualistic poetry of Gorodetsky and Bal'mont,
discussed in Chapter Kt, will be shown to support rather than contradict the
idea that Stravinsky shared Roerich's vision. After a discussion of this
evidence, I will turn to the music itself, where analysis reveals Stravinsky's

3 ~ h i swell-known version is from Igor Stravinsky, An Autobiography (1903-1934) 31.


Stravinsky told a somewhat different version to his biographer, Andre Schaeffner in 1931. "A
ballet unfolded, consisting of nothing but a young maiden dancing to the point of exhaustion
before a group of old men of fabulous age, dried out practically to the point of petrifaction."See
Andrti Schaefher, Stmwinsky (Paris: Editions Rieder, 1931)35, quoted in Taruskin, Strauinsky
862.
expression of the synthesis of chaos and cosmos in ecstatic ritual that
culminates with the union of all opposing forces.
Stravinsky communicates his vision of Vesnn soiashchennaza in a
letter to Nikolai Findeizen, dated December 15,1912.

In a few meetings with Roerich we worked out the libretto,


which, roughly, takes the foliowing form:

"The first part, which bears the name 'The Kiss of the Earth,' is
made up of ancient Slavonic rituals-the joy of spring. The
orchestral introduction is a swarm of spring pipes; later, after the
curtain rises, there are auguries, khorovod rituals, a game of
abduction, a khorovod game of rival c1ar.s- All of this is
interrupted by the procession of the 'Oldest-and-Wisest,' the
elder who kisses the earth. The first part ends with a wild
dancing-out of the earth, the people intoxicated with spring.

"In the second part, at night, the maidens perform secret rituals
on a sacred hill. One of the maidens is doomed by fate to be
sacrificed. She enters the stone labyrinth from which there is no
return; all the remaining maidens glorify the chosen one with a
tempestuous, aggressive dance. Then the elders enter. The
doomed one, left alone face to face with the elders, dances her
final 'Sacred dancef - the Exalted Sacrifice. These last words are
in fact the name of the second part The elders are witnesses to
her final dance, which ends in the death of the doomed one."

Throughout the whole composition, through lapidary rhythms,


I give the listener a sense of the people's closeness to the earth, of
the commonality of their lives with the earth. The whole thing
must be expressed in dance from the beginning to the end-not
one measure is given to pantomime.4
In this summary there are three points of particular interest. First, the
"dancing-out of the earth" (oypliasyvanie zmli) is a neologism that suggests
invocation by means of dance, a dancing forth. Translation of this title has
been problematic; it has been rendered as a "stomping dance upon the

(~'iachkova 470. Vesna miushchennaia is the Russian translation of Le Sacre du Printemps.


153

earthfW5as the "wearing out of the earthfM6as an untranslatable neologism


denoting the stamping nature of the dance,7 and "The Dance Overcoming the
Earth? The emphasis on stomping has obscured the relationship of humans
to the earth that both Roerich and Stravinsky had in mind. Stravinskyfs
words at the end of the letter clarify this relationship and his own purpose, "I
give the listener a sense of the people's closeness to the earth, of the
commonality of their lives with the earth." These words refer to a
relationship enriched by the ritual bestowing of a kiss upon the earth,
followed by a celebratory, incantatory, intoxicated dance, and by the "lapidary
rhythms" used throughout the music and dance.
Second, the "stone labyrinth" is present in the ballet on many levels,
although there is no such labyrinth on the stage in the literal sense. The
image refers to the Chosen One's destiny, which is inescapable and prede-
termined by the conventions of pagan society. In addition, Nijinsky's chore-
ography for "Mystic Circles of the Maidens" (Act II, Scene 1)' influenced by
Roerich's ornamental designs on the costumes, is based on square maze
patterns and "labyrinthine wanderings" in a circular form. Indeed, it is one
maiden's failure to execute the intricate pattern of the labyrinth that sets her
apart as the Chosen One? Stravinsky makes another reference to this
labyrinth in comments published on the day of the premike, "[the young
girls] trace out with their formations the snares within which the Chosen One

5~aruskin,Straninsky 874.
6 ~ o a n n aHubbs, " W E RITE OF SPRING: Folklore, Woman, and the Ballets Russes,"
Unpublished manuscript.
'~aruskin, "The Rite Revisited" 189.
I)craft, "The Rite of Spring: Genesis of a Masterpiece" 31.
9 ~ o d s o nNijinsky's
, Crime Against Grace xxv i, 130-137.
will be dosed at the end and from which she will be unable to escape-"l0 The
stones of the "labyrinth" echo Roerich's sacred and "enchanted stones," the
"sacred signs" that preserve past memories and point the way to oneness with
the spirit The boulder that occupies the center of Roerich's backdrop evokes
his incantation, "Know the stone. Presenre the stone. . . ."I1
Shavinsky's final words reflect the desire that the ballet be an actual
ritual rather than performed as some kind of dramatic spectacle for an
audience; "The whole thing must be expressed in dance from the beginning
to the end-not one measure is given to pantomime." This is consistent
with the contemporary view of theater as temple, for example as Benois
described it in "A Conversation about Ballel"

A selection of artists [dancers] creates a theater, setting apart these


priests from the masses of the devout. From the very moment
of this selection a temple and liturgical service are created. The
priests continue to delight in their own actions. . . but at the
same time they are lifted and carried by a particular mood. . . that
results from the prayerful ecstasy of the entire audience.12
Collectivity is achieved at a l l levels.
A second source of direct evidence is contained in a n interview
published in St. Petersbug in September 1912 in which Stravinsky states:

I have completed a rnysterium called "Le Sacre du Printemps"


("Sacred Spring") . . . It has practically no plot; rather it is an
outline of dances or ritual action in dance [fan tseoal'noe
deisfoo]. How do I envision contemporary dassical ballet? In
general I favor the so-called choreodrarna which must serve as a
type of contemporary ballet.13

'OI~OK Stravinsky, "Ce que j'ai voulu exprimer dans Le Sacre du Printemps," Montjoie! I/8 29
May 1913: 1, quoted in Bullard 3: 6, English translation in 2: 8.
l l ~ e r i k h ,"Zaldiatie," Tmety 18. The full incantation is quoted in Chapter 11.
12~enois, "Beseda o balete" 109.
Dvinskii W.M. Berrnan], "U Igoria Stravinskogo," Binheuye vedomosti 25 Sept. 1912: 5,
quoted in Krasovskaia 1:432.
Why does Stravinsky choose to call this work a mysterium rather than
simply "a ballet?" He is aware of the theurgic nature of the ritual he has
envisioned with Roerich; in the intellectual context of Russia the term
"mysterium" is a c~~unonplace,
not an anomaly. Stravinsky also supports
the tendency in ballet toward mass action of the entire corps de ballet, but
there is more to this than a different use of dancers. Stravinsky undoubtedly
understands the place of choreodrama in depicting the idealized past society
in which the future of the individual is insured only by his becoming one
with everything that exists outside himself. Further, the words
"tantseval'noe deistvo" (ritual action in dance) suggest Stravinsky's
awareness of the ballet as an act of worship in the same sense that classical
Greek drama was religious ritual. These words would have additional sig-
nificance for Stravinsky's Russian contemporaries; the somewhat archaic
word deistno connotes the performance of ritual worship, as in Dionisooo
deistoo, a term Ivanov frequently used in his discussions of dionysian ecstatic
ritual. In Stravinsky's sketchbook the word deisfuo is also used in the title of
the ritual dance of the elders, "Deist zto Startsev-Cheloaech'ikh Praottsev. "I
The third source of evidence, the notorious letter "Ce que j'ai voulu
exprimer dans Le Sane du Printmps," published in the May 29, 1913 issue of
Monfjoie! in Paris, is one which Stravinsky first disavowed within a week of
its publication, although it is dear horn contemporary documents that he did
indeed write it.15 It will be helpful to quote the entire letter:
--

14&or Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring Sketches, 1911-1913 (London, 1969).


t5~travinsky'scorrections to the Russian translation which appeared in the journal Muzyka in
August 2913 reveal changes that are matters of word choice more than substance. Ln letters to
Derzhanovsky, editor of Muzyh, Stravinsky refers to "my letter to Montjoie!" He adds, "The
style of this letter disturbs me a great deal. It war written practically on the run..." See Craft,
Strauinsky: Selected Correspondence 154-56. See also Vera Stravinsky and Robert Craft,
In the last few years the Parisian public has kindly tendered a
warm welcome to my Oiseau de Feu and Petrouchka. My
friends have noticed the evolution of the animating conception
which progresses from the fantastical fable in the first of these
works to the fully human generalization in the second. I am
afraid that Le Sacre, in which I make use neither of fairy tales
nor of the themes of human sadness and joy, but in which I
endeavor to portray a somewhat larger abstraction, may mislead
those who have, thus far, shown me such sympathetic
appreciation.
In Le Same du Printonps I have desired to express the sublime
growth of nature which renews itself: the total Panic ascent of
the universal sap.

In the Prelude before the curtain rises, I have entrusted to my


orchestra [the expression ofj that great fear which weighs down
every living spirit as it confronts things in their potentiality, the
"thing in itself" which can grow, can develop itself indefinitely.
A frail sound of the flute captures that capacity in its potentiality,
which then spreads through the whole orchestra. It is that
obscure and immense feeling shared by all things at the moment
when nature renews her forms; and it is the vague and
profound anxiety of a universal puberty. I have sought to evoke
this in the orchestration and in the interplay of melodies.
The entire prelude is based upon a steady unchanging "mezzo
forte." The melody develops from this along a horizontal line,
and the dynamics of it grow and diminish only through the
changing masses of instruments, through the intense dynamism
of the orchestra and not through the melodic curve itself.
As a result I have in treating this melody, avoided the over-
evocative strings, representative of the human voice with their
crescendi and diminuendi, and I have cast in the foreground the

Straninsky in Pictures and Documents 522-526, which includes Edward Hill's 1916 English
translation. See also Bullard 1: 133-135,2: 4-9,3: 3-6.
Stravinsky recants this letter, not because he wrote something "wrong" about his creation, but
more likely because he was unsure of Diaghilev's willingness to continue supporting the ballet.
It was rumored that Diaghilev wanted to cut performances from both the Paris and London runs,
and that he wanted to cut parts of the performance in London. Stravinsky undoubtedly wanted
to moderate his own comments on the ballet, since the more conservative Diaghilev was
worried at the time about box office revenues. Stravinsky was particularly vulnerable at this
time; he contracted typhus and spent five weeks out of circulation from June3 to mid-July, 1913.
See Vera Stravinsky and Robert Craft. Stravinsky in Pictures and Documents 100. 514-518.
woodwinds, more dry, more distinct, less rich in facile
expression, and for that very reason, more moving in my view.
In short I wanted to express in the Prelude the Panic awe of
nature, of the beauty which arises, a holy terror of the midday
sun, a sort of cry of Pan. The musical material itself swells,
grows large and bursts foIth. Every instrument is like a new bud
which sprouts upon the bark of a venerable old tree; it is a part of
a larger whole.
And the whole orchestra, all the ensemble, should sigrufy the
birth of Spring.

In the first act, some young people are seen with an old, a very
old woman; no one knows her age nor the century in which she
learned the secrets of nature or taught her sons prophecy. She
runs, bent over the earth, half-woman, half-beast. The young
men beside the girls represent the auguries of spring who,
standing in place, beat out with their steps the rhythm of Spring,
the beating pulse of Spring.
During this time the young girls come from the river. They
form a crown which mixes with the uown of the boys. These
are, then, the steps of those beings already formed; their sex is
unique and double, like that of a tree. They mix but in their
rhythms one can sense the dashing of groups which are being
shaped. Indeed they divide to the left and to the right. This is
the new form which emerges, a synthesis of the rhythms; and
the thing thus formed produces a new rhythm.
The groups separate and begin to battle; spokesmen run from
one group to the other and quarrel among themselves. This
signifies the definition of different forces through struggle, that
is to say, through the game.
But presently we hear the approach of a procession. It is the
Saint who arrives, the Sage, the High Priest, the eldest of the
clan. A great shudder of fear passes through the crowd. And the
Sage, stretched out on his belly, with his arms and legs extended,
blesses the earth, becoming himself one with the soil. His
benediction acts as a signal to [the start ofl a rhythmic
outpouring. Everyone covers his head and runs in spirals;
[people] gush out ceaselessly in great numbers like the new
energies of nature. It is the Dance of the Earth.

The second a d begins with a mysterious game of the young


girls. At first a musicai prelude is heard based upon the
mysterious change which accompanies the dance of the
maidens. They trace out with their formations the snares within
which the Chosen One will be dosed at the end and from which
she will be unable to escape. The Chosen One is she whom
S p ~ must
g consecrate, who must render to the Spring the force
which il2r youth has taken from him.
The young maidens dance a kind of glorification around the
Chosen One. Then comes the purification of the ground and the
evocation of the ancestors. The ancestors cluster around the
Chosen One as she begins the Sacrificial Dance.
When she is at the point of falling in exhaustion the ancestors
see this and, creeping around her like greedy monsters so that
she will not touch the earth as she falls, they lift her high in the
air and offer her to the sky.
In these essential rhythms the annual cycle of the forces which
are renewed and decayed in the bosom of nature is portrayed.

And I am happy to have found for this work of faith M.


Nijinsky, the ideal choreographic collaborator, and M. Roerich,
the creator of the pictorial atmosphere.16
Sh.avinsky devotes five paragraphs to the brief Prelude to establish the
context for the work which follows. He is describing the abyss itself, that
terrifying, yet essential dement of primitive man's reLigious experience from
which order (here in the forE of beauty) will emerge. ". . . I have entrusted to
my orchestra [the expression 04 that great fear which weighs down every
living spirit as it confronts things in their potentiality, the 'thing in itself'
which can grow, can develop itself indefinitely." Phrases Stravinsky uses in
this section, "the Panic awe of nature," "a holy terror of the midday sun, a sort
of u y of Pan," directly evoke Ivanov's image of the abyss discussed in the
previous chapter:

There is ecstasy in battle,


And on the edge of the glowing abyss. . .
Everything, everything that threatens destruction
conceals from the mortal heart

16~travinskyI "Ce que i'ai voulu exprimer dans Le Sacre du Printemps," quoted in Bullard 2: 5-9.
Bullard's translation varies only slightly from Edward Hill's. The bracketed words are
BuIlardfs.
inexplicable delights-
Perhaps a pledge of immortality.l7

At several points in this text Stravinsky refers to the unity or


collectivity that is achieved through the music, the orchestration, the chore-
ography, and the ritual itselk

Every instrument is like a new bud which sprouts upon the bark
of a venerable old tree; it is a part of a larger whole. And the
whole orchestra, all the ensemble, should sigrufy the birth of
SD&E.
In the games of the first act groups are formed and re-formed, and, following
the Sage's "becoming one himself with the soil," all are united in the frenzied
dancing-forth of the earth. The formation of something new out of the dash
of opposites is the founding principle of the choreography and the music, just
as it is the nature of the ritual itseLf:

. . . They mix but in their rhythms one can sense the dashing of
groups which are being shaped. Indeed they divide to the left
and to the right. This is the new form which emerges, a
synthesis of the rhythms; and the thing thus formed produces a
new rhythm.
I have shown that such synthesis or reconciliation of opposites was a
common image in turn-of-the-century Russian thought, citing examples
from work of both Solov'ev and Ivanov. Roerich, too, described the role of
synthesis in producing beauty, and it is no surprise that he called upon the
vocabulary of music to best express his idea. We recall his essay "K prirude"
in which he offers synthesis as a solution to the dash of man-made, urban
beauty with the beauty of nature:

I7v.Ivanov, "Religiia" 6: 196.


Just as beautiful contrasting tones do not annihilate one another,
but give forth a strong chord, so, in their opposition, urban
beauty and the beauty of nature go hand in hand, intensifying
the mutual impression, creating a strong mediant, the third note
through which the beauty of "the mysterious" resounds.'g
Stravhsky's description of the Chosen One's role underscores the ecstatic
union accomplished by the ritual sacrifice; "The Chosen One is she whom
Spring must consecrate, who must render to the Spring the force which her
youth has taken from him." As a surrogate for the entire community she
dies in order to insure the promise of life in the form of Spring. Death
precedes Life, life and death are one.
Echoes of Roerich's deep spiritualism resonate in Stravinsky's
summary. First, this ancient ritual is made ecumenical by the titles
Stravinsky gives to the elder who blesses the earth: "the Saint," "the Sage, the
High Priest, the eldest of the clan." This resembles Roerich's striving for the
universal through the synthesis of the best examples of beauty and piety.
Second, future harmony and prosperity depend on deep connections to the
past, a synthesis of the past and present, "In the first act, some young people
are seen with an old, a very old woman; no one knows her age nor the
century in which she learned the secrets of nature or taught her sons
prophecy." It is the eldest of the dan who performs the ritual kiss that brings
about the ecstatic union of man with the earth, and finally it is the ancestors
(in Russian pmottsy, "forefathers," and startsy, elder^"'^) who, with their
Lifting the Chosen One high in the air, complete the clan's ritual union of the
Earth and Sky.

18~erikh,"K prirode," N.K.Rerikh. Claz dobyi 73-74.


19stravinsky, The Rite of Spring Sketches.
The next short paragraph captures the essence of this and every ecstatic
ritual, "In these essential rhythms the annual cyde of the forces which are
renewed and decayed in the bosom of nature is portrayed." Essential rhythms
are the powerful elements of nature, the stikhiia, conveyed in Strrtvirsky's
changing and dashing rhythms, in the conbapuntal rhythms of the dance,
and in the massive presence of Roerich's stone and sky. Man is not
dehumanized by adopting the elemental rhythms; instead, he is able to find
order and preserve his humanity by embracing and becoming one with the
chaotic forces which surround him. Even Stravinsky's language reflects the
synthesis he describes; words denoting chaos (forces, essential, decayed)
become attached to words denoting the cosmic (cycle, rhythms, renewed)?'
Stravinsky concludes his letter with a brief reference to Le Sacre dzi
Printemps as a "work of faith," a remark that could be easily ignored by
readers not familiar with the intense religious revival that had occupied
Russian minds for more than a decade, and a remark that is totally
unnecessary to those familiar with the Russian intellectual dimate, for they
have already recognized Stravinsky's many allusions.

Analyses of Stravinsky's music support the conclusion that Vesna


soiashchennaia is ecstatic ritual, written and performed with the intent to
lead all who participated-audience, orchestra, and dancers alike-to
revelation of the Divine Unity through ecstasy. Boris Asaf'ev, a product of
the same intellectual climate in Russia, couched his commentary on
Stravinsky's music in the same religious context that I have put forth in this

2 0 " ~ ecycle annuel des forces qui renaissent et qui retombent dans le giron de la nature est
accompli, dans ces rythmes essentiels." Stravinsky, "Ce que j'ai voulu," quoted in Bullard 3: 6.
study. Asaf'ev's work on Stravinsky was largely ignored by the West because
it ~nderestimatedthe composer's ability to adapt to his new homeland. In
1929 AsaYev foresaw a crisis for Stravinsky, the "urban western European
composer" who relied on Russian content, because "the essence of this
content, industrialized by [Stravinsky, was] what secured and maintained his
position as the darLing of the European snobs;" Asaf'ev adds that Stravinsky
may have exhausted the epoch and the musical culture.21 Ironically Asafev's
work was ignored in The Soviet Union as well, at least until Stravinsky
returned for a concert tour in 1962, when the volume was re-issued. Today
Asaf'ev's work is recognized as insightful; for example, the following
observations made by Asaf'ev recognize aspects of Stravinskyfs stylistic
development that Taruskin later analyzes in very great detail:

Stravinsky had made himself a master of native Russian art, not


just a dever stylist who knows how to conceal quotations, not
just a native ethnographer who is unable to assimilate materials
and make artistic use of them, but a master of the speech of
Russian. In this sense Stravinsky had become the Pushkin22 of
Russian music (6).

For Stravinsky. . . Russian folk music was not just something to


which he could apply principles of development that were alien
to the material itself. . . the fofk music actually became a part of
his organically developing language. His taste and technical
facility made it unnatural for him to foist onto this music
characteristics that were alien to it--on the contrary: by letting
the folk art reveal its own qualities, vitality, and forms, he found
the key to its proper artistic- transmutationn(51).

2 1 ~ o r i Asaf'yev
s [Igor Glebov], A Book About Stmuinsky, trans. Richard F. French (1929; Ann
Arbor: ClMI Research P, 1982) 2. Further references to A Book About Strauinsky in this chapter
will be given in the text.
22~lexanderPushkin (1799-1837)was instrumental in legitimizing Russian as a literary
language, thus freeing Russian literary culture from French dominance.
Perhaps the highest recommendation for AsaPevfs work is Stravinsky's own
response, made sometime in the 1960s; he filled the margins of his copy with
protests and dismissals.23 This is no surprise, for A s a f ' i ~ 'analysis
~ is based
on images similar to those that Stravinsky himself used in his letter to
Montjoie!, which the composer repeatedly disavowed. This does not imply
that Asaf'ev had Montjoie! in hand as he worked. Rather, it is evidence of
the widespread presence of these ideas in pre-Revolutionary Russia.
AsaYev communicates his musical analysis primarily in verbal images
alongside quotations from the score. He is quite conscious of his method; in
his analysis of The Ritual Action of the Ancestors in the second act he writes:

'The color again becomes dark, sinister, suggesting otherworldly


apparitions. . . .
Important and essential elements of Stravinsky's music are
terrifying and unusual sounds that can be described by such
terms as "winds of autumn," "breaths of cold air," "muffled
crashes," "slippery, noiseless rustlings," "muted peals," "the
twinklings of silent flames." . . . I might have found other terms
more exact, but the most that I want to point out is that
awareness of such areas of sounds, whatever may be its
biological or psycho-physiological basis, lends an added
dimension to our perception of music. . . . My use of the term
"otherworldly apparitions," for example, was an attempt to
make the listener's ear aware of the undercurrent of sound in
silence, much as the trained eye might see details of a landscape
that would appear barren to the uninitiated (46-47).
Asaf'ev, like Shavinsky, uses the image of growth to describe the Prelude,
"The 'form' of this introduction to Sacre must be understood as a musical
texture in process of growth. The sensation of growth is achieved. . . by two
means: by varying the densities of the texture, and by introducing new
melodies as offshoots of the old" (31). Asaf'ev praises the transition

23~ichardFrench discusses Stravinsky's response in his preface to A Book About Strminsky.


Stravinsky makes with the change in instrumentation at the end of the
Prelude, "The trill of the clarinet and the violin motive (from the next dance)
imply an impending change: the symphony of nature's vernal regeneration
gives way to human revelry, dance, play. The transition is masterful" (32).
Stravinsky commented on this instrumentation in Montjoie!.
In describing The Dance of the Rival Cities, Asaf'ev underscores the
dashing of groups:

The basic dynamic presence of this dance is the conflict between


the fast tempo and the weight of the massive layers of sound, in
which the tempo i s always trying to overcome the inertia of the
sounds. The element of struggle is also conveyed by the
collisions of dissonant sonorities. . .
The rest of the dance consists of variations, juxtapositions, and
collisions of the diatonic and altered versions of this basic
material. Through the harshness and severity of the
confrontations, Stravinsky conveys the impression of elemental
force, concentrated in itself and not yet differentiated into the
fluency, elasticity, and suppleness of human movement (36).
Asaf'ev's image of The Adoration of the Earth and The Dance of the Earth
reveals the same closeness of people to the earth that Stravinsky emphasized
in his letter to Findeizen, Asaf'ev writes:

The movements [of the first act] provide a sequence of


contrasting rhythms, melodies, and tempi. . . the texture
gradually becomes fuller and more encumbered. Indeed, it is by
the very cumbersomeness of the materials that Stravinsky is able
to evoke an image of pagan life in distant antiquity, of man
inseparable from and dependent on the earth that nourishes
him. . . . Arranged as it is in massive, hard complexes, the
material makes its heaviness increasingly felt, so that one is
even led to wonder what colossal forces must be expended
merely to propel the sounds.
. . . The heavy mass quivers-and begins the [ t e m p e s t u ~ u s ] ~ ~
Dance of the Earth, which is the final action of the first part.
This dance is of elemental primitiveness and solidity: there are
no melodic forrnations, only a cumbrous figuration suspended
naked over a whole-tone bass. It is not melody that reigns here,
but ponderous rhythms. . . . [This dance is] a heavy mass that not
only makes no attempt to free itself from the earth, but actually
lusts to blend with earth, to become earth itself. This is the orgy
of earth-worship, the Spring dance of hope, the trampling of the
grain (39).
Asaf'evfs analysis of the Introduction to the second part notes the
change of atmosphere from human revelry, dance, and play to the dark side
of human life, what we recognize as Ivanov's abyss:

The music of Part Two is not so much concerned with the


externals of primitive Slavic man's attitude toward nature, as it
is with his subconscious, emotional attitudes: the sense of
mystery, horror, and panic in the face of the unknown to which
he has for so long made so many sacrifices as propitiation. . . .
The atmosphere is one of fumbling, groping, as if it were snow,
or semi-darkness. Stravinsky, whose music embodies to a
masterful degree human gestures and bodily movements, shows
himself here a sensitive poet and symphonist in the realm of the
subconscious, that area of feeling where the palpable and the
tangible disappear, and where man, in a gloomy, shadowed
world devoid of objects, moves timidly and with the caution of
uncertainty and fear (40-41).
In the Mysterious Cirdes of the Adolescents Asaf'ev notices what Stravinsky
described as the "stone labyrinth." "Minus the last measure, the episode as a
whole conveys the magic, the fascination, and the web of panic from which
the maidens cannot escape" (43).
Asaf'evfs familiarity with the purpose of ecstatic ritual is apparent in
his analysis of the final Sacrificial Dance:

24~saf'evuses the word "buinoe" which can be translated as "violent" as French does, but it
has the connotation of "wild," "turbulent," "tempestuous," rather than "bloody."
The exaltation and fanatic enthusiasm of this dance . . . are
marvelously expressive of the ecstasy and nervous animation of
any individual whose fate turns on the accomplishment of a
great deed, even at the risk of life itself. Even if we reject the
entire set of archaic premises on which Sucre is based, two
themes remain: personal sacrifice, and the impossibility of
separating personal life from the Life of the masses. These two
ideas are the ineluctable conclusion of the whole sequence of
dances and events. The music itself, quite apart from the props,
costumes, or rites, cornmunicates this also (49-50).

I hope I have gone sufficiently into detail to show the inner


logic and order of the conception of the dance. Only if one
refuses to examine the new means of expression can one speak
of them as chaotic and confused. As a finale, the dance brings
the second part and indeed the whole action to its highest
intensity. It is also the logical conclusion of the symphonic plan
of the whole, and it conveys in sound the ultimate overcoming
of the "feeling of panic" through sacrifice, exaltation, ecstasy (57).
It is dear to Asaf'ev that Stravinsky's music most effectively portrays man's
ritual embrace of chaos as a way of insuring order or cosmos.
Other musical analyses of The Rite of Spring support the context of
ecstatic ritual that Stravinsky himself described. For example, ScbJoezer
writes of the synthesis of individual instruments into a unified whole:

In the Sacre the composer temporarily re-establishes timbre as a


self-sufficient element. . . again handling the orchestra not as an
ensemble of different elements, . . . but as a single, multi-
registered instrument open to exploitation in order to obtain
specific, independent effects.25
In discussing the "Formal, Real, and Problematic Unity" of this work, Andre
Boucourechliev articulates a feature of the music that perhaps played the
greatest role in transforming the audience into participants in the ritual:

2 S ~ o r ide
s Schloezer quoted in Andre Boucourechliev, Straoinsky, trans. Martin Cooper (New
York: HoIrnes & Meier, 1987) 71.
As far as form is concerned, the Sacre is a discontinuous,
compartmentalized work. . . . How, then, does Stravinsky
achieve that astonishing unity of which the listener is
immediately aware? . . .
The unity of the Sacre is, therefore, to be sought neither in
existing or traceable formal schemes nor in any theory of formal
organization, but in persistent characteristics of style and
technique that, as it were, impregnate the multifaceted and
heterogeneous elements of the work. The listener has therefore
a task to perform, which is fundamental-a rewarding activity
inseparable from all musical Listening worthy of the name, but
which in the case of the Sacre, is one of the main unifying
agents, inasmuch as the score exhibits this unity only in a
problematic form. Instead of explicit or conventional formal
schemes the score provides the listener with the material
necessary (though not in itself sufficient) for a creative
participation of this kmd.26
Taruskin's study of The Rife of Spring is primariiy comprised of his
meticulous collection of Stravinsky's musical sources from both folk and art
music traditions plus his thorough analysis of the composer's transformation
of those sources into a new musical language. From this formal framework
he sees what he calls "Stravinsky's antisymphonic zgenda," or the "apparent
subversion" of the German tradition in Russian art r n ~ s i c . 2 ~
I have argued
elsewhere that while it is dear that subversion may have been the result of
Stravinsky's music, there is no evidence that it was his primary goal. While
Taruskin allows the model of subversion to lead him into declaring that the
ballet is "Scythian," his musical analysis can and does support the concepts set
forth by Stravinsky in the sources cited above.
First, Stravinsky's transformation of the style, rhythms, and harmonies
of his source material into something totally new, but still recognizable to
both artists and his Russian contemporaries, is the very resurrection of

26~oucourechliev72-73.
a skin, Straoinsky 955.
2 7 ~m
ancient ritual engaged in by Roerich, Gorodetsky, Bal'mont, Ivanov and
many others. Speaking of the elemental force of the rhythms of this r.ew
ritual, Taruskin notes that Stravinsky was not alone in attempting to unleash
these forces, "but all alone in the r e a l i z a t i ~ n . " ~Taruskin
~ is correct that
Stravinskyfs work had a singular impact, although in many ways it was an
impact dictated more by the circumstances of the premiere and French
reception than by Stravinsky's and Roerich's intentions.
Second, Taruskin's analysis offers another explanation for the sense of
unity that is perceived in spite of the score's lack of formal unity. He
identifies a "tetrachordal partition" or "source chord" that:
i c --
- - - -- in h r t tho r l n s e s t c,h&r6"= ~ ~e3 f fi
---c u
.- U W
i tc a ~ ~ ~

unifier of this tonally enigmatic score. And such a nominee is


indeed an analytical necessity; for while no obvious surface
harmony, no theme, no progression, no key can be said to unify
The Rite over its entire span, its tonal coherence and integrity
are impressively evident to the naivest ear?
Taruskin also recognizes the effect of Stravinsky's rhythms:

The rhythmic novelties in The Kzte are of two distinct types.


One is the hypnotic type: the "immobile" ostinaro, sometimes
quite literally hypnotic, as when the Elders charm the Choseit.
One to perform her dance of death. That is what their Ritual
Action is all about, and that is why . . . the beat-rhythm of this
dance is the most rigid and relentless, and the most
undifferentiated as to stress . . .
The other is the "invincible and elemental" kind, and it was
truly an innovation-for Western art music, that is; in Russian
folklore it had been a fixture from time immemorial.30
Taruskin relates this rhythm to the rhythm of the elements, the chaotic
stikhiia ever present in the world of ancient man.

28~aruskin,
Stmuinsky 958.
2 9 ~ a m s k i nStrnvinsky
, 939.
s Stravinsky 958-959.
3 0 ~ a r ukin,
Taruskin's conclusion about The Rite of Spring, while framed
primarily in the history and language of music, comes dose to the line of
thought he has studiously ignored throughout his research; "The Rite,
Russian as no music before it had ever been, made the Russian universal-
which is to say, it Russianized the musical universe-and thus transcended
the R u ~ s i a n . " ~AsaPev
~ alluded to the same accomplishment when he
daimed that "Stravinsky had become the Pushkin of Russian Had
not Stravinsky voiced "the word," anticipated by Dostoevsky decades before?

. . . the solution to Europe's anguish is to be found in the


panhuman and all-unifying Russian soul, to enfold all our
brethren within it with brotherly love, and at last, perhaps to
utter the ultimate word of great, general harmony, ultimate
bra&cr+J --nrA ~f all tribes. . - 3 3
ULLuLU

Stravinsky came close to realizing this universal through V e s n n


soiashchennaia. It is a great loss that the original was never performed in
Russia where it could have been received by an audience that would have
recognized it for what it was. Separated
- from its religious
- contents, removed
from theaters-become-temples, Stravinsky's work achieved a different kind of
universalism, one defined in musical terms.
This study has corrected misconceptions in western scholarship about
Vesna saiashchennnia. Evidence demonstrates that it was conceived and
executed as ritual worship in dance, a restoration of the power of primitive
man's art and religion used then and now to one end-to insure and
preserve harmony through ritualistic entry into disharmony. Evidence also
reveals that Stravinsky, Roerich, and Nijinsky shared a common vision of

kin, Struvinsky 965.


31~arus
32~saf'ev6.
33~ostoevsky
1294.
170

this ballet; the observations of their contemporaries, their own


commentaries, and the art each one contributed to the project all attest to the
presence of this vision in the ballet as it was performed on May 29, 1913. This
study has also established that similar endeavors were commonplace in
Russia at that time. Vesna soiashchmnaia was not unique in its concept, nor
can it be solely explained as an anomaly of Stravinsky's genius. The impulse
to restore spiritual life in Russia, combined with the conviction that Russians
had a messianic calling to rescue modern man from the dominance of
spiritually impoverished rationalism, had fueled intellectual and artistic
endeavors since the 1880s and would continue to do so for at least another
decade.
Conclusion

At the turn of the twentieth century European artists and intellectuals


responded to the fragmentation they acutely felt in their own lives and
observed in their environment with this particular question: Whnt is real?
The worlds of empirical science, rationalist philosophy, and realist art and
literature were being replaced by theoretical physics and analytical psychology,
philosophical inquiry into non-rational modes of cognition, and the
appearance of abstract and modernist art, x-rays, and the cinema. Non-
objective, spiritual reality was felt to be more real than material reality.
Analysis, dassification, and naturalistic representation were rejected as artists
and thinkers followed paths that paralleled Viacheslav Ivanov's a realibus ad
realiora,
kt Riissia this, qursliun was addressed with parricuiar seriousness.
Russians' traditional experience with non-rational ways of knowing through
mysticism and the veneration of icons, plus their strong identification with
the East, the antithesis of the rational West, made them more confident in
their ability to find a solution. When open discussion was censored, Russians
had commonly turned to art, especially painting and the literary arts in the
nineteenth century, as a platform for political and philosophical argument
and propaganda for social reform. At the turn of the century writers and
artists were even more convinced that art could and should become a
powerful solution to the problems facing mankind. Philosophers, poets,
painters, and composers offered their answers, often using each other's media
172

as they worked to create a Grand Synthesis of science, religion, the senses, and
aesthetic consciousness. They valued and promoted the artist's ability to
bring expression to non-objective, spiritual reality. By separating itself from
the conventions of realism, art was more able to express the inner spiritual
h t h s that all were seeking to renew in their Lives. By approaching art as one

would approach an icon, that is without the tools of analysis and


dassification, but open to the message in the art, the viewer could experience
an intellectual transformation.
Abstract painting was closely connected to the spiritual in the first
decade of its development. Theosophical works that explored the mysticism
of form and color and their use in expressing "inner truth" were widely
circulated among avant-garde artists- It is critical that scholars not lose sight
of this essential component of the creative imp-dso In 1912 in Munich the
abstract painter Vasilii Kandinsky published a treatise iiber das Geisiige in dm
Kunst (Concerning the Spiritual in Art) that is a representative description of
what artists were now trying to achieve in their art. Kandinsky and others
considered art a form of religious action; artists could give material torm to
their own comprehension of the "essential." The spiritual could be expressed
in art that renounced all considerations of external form, including
naturalism on the one hand, and the arbitrary use of color and form in pure
patterning on the other.
Whether or not Stravinsky and Roerich were acquainted with
Kandinskyrs ideas, which were widely circulated among the Russian
intelligentsia, their work nevertheless seems to be exactly what Kandiwky
prescribed for the new art:
In dancing as in painting we are on the threshold of the art of
the future. . . . Conventional beauty must go by the board and the
literary element of "story-telling" or "anecdote" must be
abandoned as useless. Both arts must learn from music that
every harmony and every discord which springs from the innes
spirit is beautiful, but that it is essential that they should spring
from the inner spirit and from that alone.

The achievement of the dance-art of the future will make


possible the first ebullition of the art of spiritual harmony-the
true stage-composition.
The composition for the new theatre will consist of these
three elements:
(1) Musical movement
(2) Pictorial movement
(3) Physical movement
and these three, properly combined, make up the spiritual
movement, which is the working of the inner harmony. They
will be interwoven in harmony and discord as are the two chief
elements of painting, form and colour.1

Kandinsky recognized that his ideal was s t i l l in its budding stage; both
artists and audiences need to learn the language of pure art. He realized that
r;?drstanding the new art would be especially difficult for audiences. "To
those who are not accustomed to it the inner beauty appears as ugliness
because humanity in general indines to the outer and knows nothing of the
*nerY2 New art cannot be approached with old expectations:

The speaatcz is too ready to look for a meaning in a picture--


i-e., some outward connection between its various parts. Our
materialistic age has produced a type of spectator or
"co~oisseur," who is not content to put himself opposite a
picture and let it say its own message. Instead of allowing the
inner value of the picture to work, he worries himself in
looking for "closeness to nature," or "temperament," or
"handling," or "tonality," or "perspective," or what not. His eye

lwassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, trans. M. T. H. Sadler (New York:
Dover, 1977) 51.
l ~ a n d i n s k16.
~
does not probe the outer expression to arrive at the inner
meaning?
Kandinsky's caution to the spectator must be heeded by all scholars who
investigate the arts created in this time of renewal of spiritual life.
Kandinsky, Berdiaev, and others warned against the loss of the
spiritual in a r t They were critical of art forms that abandoned man in favor
of the forms and colors of the material, a tendency they observed in Cubism
and Futurism. Abstract art did move away from the spiritual, yet, in the very
brief interlude following the rejection of the conventions of rationalism, a
body of art was created and offered as a solution to man's loss of spiritual Life.
It is a mistake to experience this art with eyes and ears attuned to criteria
more appropriate to the art that preceded or followed; by dwelling solely on
the outer expression one cannot reach the inner meaning.
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Vita
Marilyn Meyer Hoogen

Born: September 18, 1945, in Seattle, Washington.


Education:
B.A. University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, 1967
M.A. University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, 1971
M S . State University College, Buffalo, New York, 1974
Ph-D. University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, 1997