The incestuous intimacy of great Russian artists

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

scriabin pasternak

You knew that the author of Doctor Zhivago was a composer, right? 

You didn’t. Well sit back; this might take a while. One of the most iconic portraits of  the mystical Russian musician Alexander Scriabin was painted by the distinguished artist, Leonid Pasternak. The sitter so impressed the artist’s 14 year-old son that Boris Pasternak promptly decided to become a composer…

Click here or here to read the full review. 

If you have even the slightest interest in Russian civilisation, you will need to experience this music without delay.


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  • I am not sure whether I would call it incestuous; a curious man like Richter was bound to know everyone in the musical world, not to mention from the other arts, especially due to travel restrictions in the Soviet Union.

    Oh, and Ludmila Berlinskaia did play with Richter, but I am not sure if she did record an entire album with him.

    There are other recordings, but I am sure you can find them by yourself.

  • Oh, incestuous is definitely the word 😉 They were all terrible luvvies, really 😉

    Leonid Pasternak was chummy with Polenov (an artist with lordly pretentions – he acquired a large estate, now called Polenova, south of Moscow) and Levitsky. Polenov, in turn, became the scenery-designer for Savva Mamontov’s “Private Russian Opera”, where he met the young bass Chaliapine, and rubbed shoulders with Levitan and Vrubel.

    The Pasternaks were also friends of Count Lev (“Leo”) Tolstoy, and were frequent weekend guests at the Tolstoy manor house (Tolstoy had married very well, and come into a huge property) at Yasnaya Polyana (just outside modern Tula). Tolstoy asked Pasternak to make the illustrations for the early editions of works like War & Peace. Pasternak later realised full oil-paintings of some of these engravings.

    Through another of Leonid’s artistic friends, Serov (the most financially successful of the entire Polenova group) the family were even invited to summer parties and picnics organised by the Yusopovs – Russia’s wealthiest aristocrats.

    The St Petersburg surrealist author Daniil Kharms wrote lovingly humorous spoofs of all these luvvy gatherings – in which Russian artistic and literary figures of utterly different periods are pictured calling on each other, and even engaging in practical jokes on each other.

    • Let’s not forget their acquaintance with the milk man Ivan Fyodorovich, or the barber Ivan Ivanovich, or the post man Ivan Nikiforovich, or the maid Alexandra Leonidovna. It is as if they actually left the comfort of their study from time to time, and if that wasn’t enough, they were also well-behaved to other people! Ridiculous! An artist of genius must always be isolated from the world!

  • Actualy Boris Pasternak never was a student of Moscow Conservatory. From his childhood he adored Skryabin. Pasternak family was well connected in the russian artistic world.
    “Incestuous intimacy” it seems the wrong definition for this historical context.

  • Pasternak gave up to become composer because he didn’t have perfect pitch.Pancho Vladigerov’s Boris first cousin. Boris mother Rosa Kaufman was a promising concert pianist, studied with T.Leshetitzky in Vienna. She gave up professional career when married Leonid Pasternak. They were born in Odessa. Rosa kept performing with distinguish musician at private venue. In Moscow were they moved their house was visited by greatest artist of the time. I have book by Leonid Pasternak: “Memoirs of different years” with portraits of people that Leonid P. sketched: Rachmaninov, Scryabin, L.Tolstoy, V.Lenin. In his biografical poem Boris P. wrote:” Steps heard-seams to be Scryabin. O, where can I ran away from steps of my deity”

  • The headline reads, “Ludmila Berlinskaya releases a compelling take on Doctor Zhivago author/composer Leonid Pasternak and Scriabin.”

    I’m confused, is it Boris Pasternak or Leonid Pasternak that is the composer being discussed?

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