6: Writing About Music
Any author who chooses to write about music faces an immense task. The most abstract of all arts, music forces the writer to put into words and descriptions – much more concrete things by comparison – its ephemeral nature. Writing about music is indeed a form of translation: it comes with its sacrifices, but it also opens up new perspectives that would otherwise remain undiscovered.
17: The Resurrection of Mozart
Berberova sets her haunting story in a France on the verge of invasion in 1940. The image of an unexpectedly resurrected Mozart represents the immortality of art and culture.
:: Translation by Marian Schwartz
45: Sculpture, Painting and Music
Written in 1834 and published the next year in Gogol’s collection of essays Arabesques, this brief statement compares and ranks the three titular arts. Curiously, Gogol pays little attention to verbal art, focusing instead on the transcendent qualities he sees in music.
:: Translation by Deborah Hoffman
53: The Sixth Night
This selection is taken from Russian Nights (1844), a novel by Odoyevsky that probes a great number of topics, genres, and philosophical questions. Odoyevsky was a talented music critic in his own right and a huge proponent of the works of Mikhail Glinka.
:: Translation by Olga Koshansky-Oleinikov and Ralph Matlaw
In this short story, Nabokov’s protagonist, Victor, encounters his ex-wife at a concert. Despite his proclamation that he has “no ear for music,” the experience awakens profound memories and feelings in him, as the music acts a shield from the chaos of the everyday world.
79: Rothschild's Fiddle
In this, one of Chekhov's last stories, a man nears the end of his life and finds that music is one of the few things that has ever given him comfort. And he uses it to make amends.
:: Translation by Marian Fell
93: The Tambourine of the Upper World
With his early stories and novels, Pelevin established himself as one of Russia’s leading contemporary writers. “The Tambourine of the Upper World” showcases many of his usual themes and interests: social satire, mysticism, metaphysical border crossings, and upturned expectations.
:: Translation by Andrew Bromfield
Religion & Spirituality
111: Safe Conduct
Before committing himself to poetry, Pasternak considered pursuing a career in music. In these early chapters from his memoir he recounts his early fascination with music and his relationship with the composer Alexander Scriabin.
:: Translation by Robert Payne
126: The Song
Babel’s “The Song” comes from his Red Cavalry cycle, a volume of short stories about the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921). As in many of these pieces, Babel contrasts the narrator’s intellectual, poetic outlook with the brutalities and horrors of war.
:: Translation by Peter Constantine