Question for Discussion: The Role of Music in The Master and Margarita
One of the more obvious, and delightful, elements of this story is the role of music in The Master and Margarita. Notably, many characters bear the names of famous composers: Berlioz, Rimsky, and Stravinsky, to name a few. In addition, a number of scenes feature actual music, either being played, or heard on the radio. Consequently the novel often seems to provide its own soundtrack. So what are among the ways Bulgakov uses music in this novel, and what do these say about his musical tastes?
Some things to consider include:
How does he present Jazz music, which in his time was an American phenomenon that was sweeping the globe? What are we to make of the description, during the party at Satan’s, that the jazz band and the orchestra seem to be “warring” with each other?
Does the representation of characters reflect Bulgakov’s view of the music created by a character’s namesake? For example: can the music of Berlioz be said to be “bald, and terribly eloquent”? Should the “voice” of Rimsky-Korsakov compositions be described as “sharp and unpleasant”? And could Prokofiev’s music be characterized as ebullient, and with a certain joie de vivre, like Margarita’s housekeeper Natasha Prokofievna?
Another related question concerns how Bulgakov felt about radio broadcasts, which had begun airing in Moscow only a few years before he started to write this novel. Especially notable is the music from the opera Yevgeniy Onegin, booming from radios everywhere in Moscow; out of doors, windows, rooftops, basements, courtyards . . . accompanying, and torturing, Ivan as he searches the streets of Moscow for the devious consultant, or professor. Radio makes other intriguing appearances in the novel as well.
Feel free to comment on any of these questions, and pose others in this discussion of music in The Master and Margarita.
With two dreams, one after another in Master and Margarita, Bulgakov touches on some risky subjects.
As mentioned at the beginning of my last post (“Sympathy for the Devil in Russian Literature”), my efforts to translate Chapter XV of Master and Margarita, “Nikanor Ivanovich’s Dream,” led me to become fascinated with the use of dreams as a device in Russian novels. My first avenue for delving into this topic further was Dostoevsky’s use of it in The Brother’s Karamazov, specifically the chapter titled, “The Devil. Ivan’s Nightmare.” This provided not only another example of a dream sequence, but also another depiction of the devil, so I devoted that last post to a comparison of Dostoevsky’s devil with Bulgakov’s.
Aeroflot highlights efforts of the Russian service industry to improve customer service. Is paying people to smile, speak softly and kneel a good thing?
An article appeared yesterday (Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013) in the The New York Times reporting on Aeroflot’s successful efforts to improve service on its flights—‘Russian Service, and With Please and Thank You.’ Reporter Andrew E. Kramer sees the extensive training now given to flight attendants for the Russian airline as part of a “broad and transformative trend in the Russian service industry brought about by the rising demands of middle-class consumers.” On its way out, apparently, is the stereotypical gruff and taciturn response of the Russian service worker who has to actually provide a service. Is this a good thing? I wonder. Continue reading “Russian Service Industry: Better? Or Just (Better) Paid?”
One could be excused for imagining that a book with the title Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking might be a collection of recipes, with details about the finer points of food preparation in the former Soviet Union. The subtitle, “A Memoir of Food and Longing,” hints at a more personal account. Neither of these, however, prepare the reader for the epic of family history, biography, autobiography and scholarly assessment of the Soviet Union presented in this excellent new book by Anya von Bremzen, former citizen of the USSR and three-time James Beard Award winner. While this may seem like too much for a single volume, it is artfully stitched together using food, in all its meanings, as thread. The tale of the creation and eventual dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is one of, if not the grandest narrative of the 20th century. Anya’s stories of herself, her grandmother, and especially her mother, are engaging and endearing, and breathe life into the stock of familiar characters and events in the history of the USSR. Her well-crafted distillations of the theses and arguments of prominent academics on subjects such as the “nationalities question” and Stalinist totalitarianism are usually spot-on. All this is brought together by how it informs, and is informed by, food.
Any illusions that this is a book celebrating the quality of Soviet cuisine are quickly put aside when the author admits, in mentioning her mother’s love for sosiski, i.e.- Soviet hotdogs, that “besides sosiski with canned peas and kotleti (minced meat patties) with kasha, cabbage-intensive soups, mayo-laden salads, and watery fruit kompot for desert—there wasn’t all that much to eat in the Land of the Soviets.” Continue reading ““Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking—” Portraits of Life in the USSR, with Recipes!”
Getting back to another of my favorite subjects relating to Russian culture and history—80’s pop music—I decided recently to write a complete translation of Хочу Перемен! (Khochu Peremen, Eng.= I Want Change!) a singular song of its time and place, by the russian band Kino (see also my translation of Kino’s Aluminum Cucumbers).
Перемен!- I Want Change!
Instead of warmth- greens of glass, Instead of fire- smoke. From the calendar grid a day is torn. The red sun fires its entire mass, The day is burned out by its stroke. On the flaming city a shadow descends.
Bulgakov’s A Young Doctor’s Notebook to be aired in the U.S. on the cable channel Ovation.
An article in The New York Times today (July 14, 2013) announced that the British four part mini-series of A Young Doctor’s Notebook, based on the stories of Mikhail Bulgakov and starring John Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe, will air in the U.S. this Fall on the cable channel Ovation. This is especially good news for me as I had managed to view the first episode, but have been unable to find any version, paid or free, of subsequent episodes. Hopefully I will be able to view this series from Ovation’s website, and not have to get cable TV.
Previous to hearing about this production last year, I had not read the collection of Bulgakov’s stories that inspired it—Notes of a CountryDoctor. Having decided to read an English translation of this collection before viewingA Young Doctor’s Notebook, and now having seen the first episode, I am more eager than ever to watch the rest as I am interested in how they handled Bulgakov’s unexpectedly dark, and deeply disturbing conclusion. I don’t know what to expect, really, as this production introduces the new and significant element of having the older doctor (Hamm) visiting and engaging with his younger self (Radcliffe) as he stumbles through his first assignment as “a real doctor” in a hospital in remotest rural Russia.
Khlebnikov’s century-old poem resonates with the Russia of today.
I do love translating poetry, agonizing as it can be sometimes (see previous post- It Has to Be “Love”). My latest effort puts into English a poem written by one of the founders, and leading lights, of the Russian ‘Futurist’ movement, Velimir Khlebnikov (Viktor Vladimirovich; “Velimir” was his pen name). Below is my translation of Не Шалить (pron.-Ne Shalit’!= Don’t Be Bad!), followed by a discussion of Khlebnikov, the futurists and the resonance of this poem with Russian society today.
Don’t Be Bad!
Hey, cut-throat racketeers, Heads full of sludge! In old Cossack leathers Through Moscow I trudge! Not for its grandeurs Is truth on our side, So that in rich furs We may haughtily ride. Not in that strife Did blood flow without check, So that each merchant’s wife Could wear pearls round her neck. It’s no good to rail All the night long I will sing, I will sail The Volga, the Don! I will go tonight Ahead where fate tends Who’s with me in flight? There are with me–my friends