The Revolution in Art

From The Washington Post:

Solz_2 In 1994, when naked cellists and what-not graced the stages of Moscow night clubs, the last thing Russians wanted was adult supervision, least of all the hectoring pieties of a bearded old crank by the name of Solzhenitsyn. With much fanfare, the famous dissident writer and author of the monumental Gulag Archipelago returned to his homeland only to find his televised sermons falling on deaf ears. Few Russians wanted to hear about abuses in Chechnya, government corruption or repentance and salvation. What they really wanted was better telenovellas and more Ace of Base.

In recounting this episode, Solomon Volkov, in The Magical Chorus, doesn’t overstate the tragedy of a culture dumbed down. After years in which their only choice was between melancholic samizdat and the plodding fairy tales of socialist realism, the Russian people can be forgiven their new taste for entertainment over enlightenment, massage over message. Western readers might equally be forgiven for considering Volkov’s account of long-forgotten poets, choreographers and theater producers — including their drinking habits, love affairs and clashes with Soviet authorities — to be encyclopedic overkill. Famous names (Blok, Brodsky, Bulgakov, Shostakovich, Stanislavsky) also parade through this book but often in disconnected, thumbnail sketches.

Still, as a sweeping eulogy to one of the gilded eras of Western culture — Russia from the late 19th- to the mid-20th century — The Magical Chorus rewards readers with a gold mine of insider anecdotes and a story of sorts.

More here.