Ancient Russia (800-1200)
The early history of Russia, like those of many countries, is one of migrating peoples and ancient kingdoms. In fact, early Russia was not exactly "Russia," but a collection of cities that gradually coalesced into an empire. I n the early part of the ninth century, as part of the same great movement that brough the Danes to England and the Norsemen to Western Europe, a Scandanavian people known as the Varangians crossed the Baltic Sea and landed in Eastern Europe. The leader of the Varangians was the semilegendary warrior Rurik, who led his people in 862 to the city of Novgorod on the VolkhovRiver. Whether Rurik took the city by force or was invited to rule there, he certainly invested the city. From Novgorod, Rurik's successor Oleg extended the power of the city southward. In 882, he gained control of Kiev, a Slavic city that had arisen along the Dnepr River around the 5th century. Oleg's attainment of rule over Kiev marked the first establishment of a unified, dynastic state in the region. Kiev became the center of a trade route betweenScandinavia and Constantinople, and Kievan Rus', as the empire came to be known, flourished for the next three hundred years.
By 989, Oleg's great-grandson Vladimir I was ruler of a kingdom that extended to as far south as the Black Sea, theCaucasus Mountains, and the lower reaches of the Volga River. Having decided to establish a state religion, Vladimircarefully considered a number of available faiths and decided upon Greek Orthodoxy, thus allying himself withConstantinople and the West. It is said that Vladimir decided against Islam partly because of his belief that his people could not live under a religion that prohibits hard liquor. Vladimir was succeeded by Yaroslav the Wise, whose reign marked the apogee of Kievan Rus'. Yaroslav codified laws, made shrewd alliances with other states, and encouraged the arts. Unfortunately, he decided in the end to act like Lear, dividing his kingdom among his children and bidding them to cooperate and flourish. Of course, they did nothing of the sort.
Within a few decades of Yaroslav's death (in 1054), Kievan Rus' had broken up into regional power centers. Internal divisions were made worse by the depradations of the invading Cumans (better known as the Kipchaks). It was during this time (in 1147 to be exact) that Yuri Dolgorukiy, one of the regional princes, held a feast at his hunting lodge atop a hill overlooking the confluence of the Moskva and Neglina Rivers. A chronicler recorded the party, thus providing us with the earliest mention of Moscow, the small settlement that would soon become the pre-eminent city in Russia.
The Mongols and the Emergence of Moscow (1237-1613)
Kievan Rus' struggled on into the 13th century, but was decisively destroyed by the arrival of a new invader--the Mongols. In 1237 Batu Khan, a grandson of Jenghiz Khan, launched an invasion into Kievan Rus' from his capital on the lower Volga (at present-day Kazan). Over the next three years the Mongols (or Tatars) destroyed all of the major cities of Kievan Rus' with the exceptions of Novgorod andPskov. The regional princes were not deposed, but they were forced to send regular tribute to the Tatar state, which became known as the Empire of the Golden Horde. Invasions of Russia were attempted during this period from the west as well, first by the Swedes (1240) and then by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword (1242), a regional branch of the fearsome Teutonic Knights. In the best news of the era for Russia, both were decisively defeated by the great warrior Alexander Nevsky, a prince of Novgorod who earned his surname from his victory over the Swedes on the Neva River.
For the next century or so, very little seems to have happened in Russia, which other than the exorbitant tax requirement was relatively left alone by the Mongols. With the Tatars off to the southwest, the northeastern cities gradually gained more influence--first Tver, and then, around the turn of the 14th century, Moscow. As a sign of the city's importance, the patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church was transferred to the city, making it the spiritual capital of Russia. By the latter part of the century, Moscow felt strong enough to challenge the Tatars directly, and in 1380 a Muscovite prince named Dmitri Donskoy had the audacity to attack them. His decisive victory at Kulikovo Field immediately made him a popular hero, though the Tatar retaliation two years later maintained their rule over the city. It wasn't until 1480, after another century had passed, that Moscow was strong enough to throw off Tatar rule for good. Its ruler at that time was Grand Duke Ivan III, better known as Ivan the Great. Ivan began by subjugating most of Moscow's rival cities, and by the time he tore up the charter binding it to Tatar tribute he was effectively in control of the entire country. However, it wasn't until the reign of his grandson, Ivan IV (the Terrible), that Russia became a unified state.
Ivan the Terrible succeeded his father Vasily III as Grand Duke of Moscow in 1533 at the age of three. His mother served as regent until she too died, when Ivan was eight. For the next eight years, the young Grand Duke endured a series of regents chosen from among the boyars (the nobility). Finally in 1547, he adopted the title of tsar and set about crushing the power of the boyars, reorganizing the military, and preparing to smite the Tatars. In 1552 he conquered and sacked Kazan (the famous St. Basil’s Cathedral was built in commemoration of this victory), and in 1556Astrakhan, having thus destroyed the lingering power of the Golden Horde. Ivan's Tatar campaigns opened vast new areas for Russian expansion, and it was during his reign that the conquest and colonization of Siberia began.
Believe it or not, Ivan was not supposed to have been very terrible at all during the early years of his reign. However, as he grew older his temper worsened, and by the 1560s he carried out a pretty horrific campaign against the boyars, confiscating their land and executing or exiling those who displeased him. In 1581, in a rage, he struck his son and heir Ivan with an iron rod, killing him.
When Ivan the Terrible died in 1584, he was succeeded by his son Fyodor, who left most of the management of the kingdom to his brother-in-law, Boris Godunov, and it was not long before Godunov began to work to secure the succession for himself. In 1591, he murdered Fyodor's younger brother Dmitri in the ancient town of Uglich, a spot now marked by the magnificent Church of St. Demetrius on the Blood. When Fyodor died in 1598, Godunov was made tsar, but his rule was never accepted as entirely legitimate. Within a few years a pretender arose in Poland, claiming to be Dmitri, and in 1604 he invaded Russia. Godunov died suddenly the next year, and the "Time of Troubles" began. For the next eight years both the first and a second false Dmitri laid claims to the throne, both supported by invading Polish armies. Finally, in 1613, the Poles were ousted from Moscow, and the boyars unanimously elected Michael Romanov as Tsar. The Romanov dynasty was to rule Russia for the next 304 years, until the Russian Revolution brought an end to the Tsarist state.
The Romanovs (1613-1825)
For the first few generations, the Romanovs were happy to maintain the status quo in Russia. They continued to centralize power, but they did very little to bring Russia up to speed with the rapid changes in economic and political life that were taking place elsewhere in Europe. Peter the Great decided to change all of that.
Peter the Great
Peter was his father's youngest son and the child of his second wife. When his father, Tsar Alexis, died in 1676 Peter’s brother Feodor became Tsar, but his poor health brought an early death in 1682. The family of Peter's mother succeeded in having him chosen over his mentally retarded brother Ivan to be Tsar, but no sooner was he established than the Ivan's family struck back. Gaining the support of the Kremlin Guard, they launched a coup d'etat, which resulted in a joint Tsar-ship, with both Peter and Ivan placed under the regency of Ivan's elder sister Sophia.
In 1689, just as Peter was to come of age, Sophia attempted another coup--this time, however, she was defeated and confined to Novodevichiy Convent. Six years later Ivan died, leaving Peter in sole possession of the throne. Rather than taking up residence and rule in Moscow, his response was to embark on a Grand Tour of Europe. He spent about two years there, not only meeting monarchs and conducting diplomacy but also travelling incognito and even working as a ship's carpenter in Holland. He amassed a considerable body of knowledge on western European industrial techniques and state administration, and became determined to modernize the Russian state and to westernize its society. In 1698, still on tour, Peter received news of yet another rebellion by the Kremlin Guard, instigated by Sophia despite her confinement to Novodevichiy. He returned, defeated the coup attempt and hung all of the rebels. The following day he began his program to recreate Russia in the image of Western Europe by personally clipping off the beards of his nobles.
Peter's return to Russia hit the country like a hurricane. He banned traditional Muscovite dress for all men, introduced military conscription, established technical schools, replaced the church patriarchy with a holy synod answerable to himself, simplified the alphabet, tried to improve the manners of the court, changed the calendar, changed his title from Tsar to Emperor, and introduced a hundred other reforms, restrictions, and novelties. In 1703 he transferred the capital from Moscow to a new city to be built from scratch on the Gulf of Finland. Over the next nine years, at tremendous human and material cost, St. Petersburg was created.
Peter himself died in 1725, and he remains one of the most controversial figures in Russian history. Although he was deeply committed to making Russia a powerful new member of modern Europe, it is questionable whether his reforms resulted in significant improvements to the lives of his subjects. Certainly he modernizedRussia's military and its administrative structure, but both of these reforms were financed at the expense of the peasantry, who were increasingly forced into serfdom. After Peter's death Russiawent through a great number of rulers in a distressingly short time, none of whom had much of an opportunity to leave a lasting impression. Many of Peter's reforms failed to take root in Russia, and it was not until the reign of Catherine the Great that his desire to make Russia into a great European power was in fact achieved.
Catherine the Great
The future Catherine the Great was born a German princess in one of the tiny German states, but turned out to be a powerful and enlightened ruler of the vast Russian Empire. In 1745 she was married to prince Carl Peter Ulrich, the heir to the Russian throne (the future Emperor Peter III). Being a bright personality with a strong sense of determination she joined the Russian Orthodox Church, learned the Russian language and by doing a lot of reading acquired a brilliant education. In June 1762 she took an active part in a coup against her husband Emperor Peter III. He was overthrown and soon killed "in an accident", while Catherine became Russia's ruler.
Catherine went on to become the most powerful sovereign in Europe. She continued Peter the Great's reforms of the Russian state, further increasing central control over the provinces. Russia's influence in European affairs, as well as its territory in Eastern and Central Europe, were increased and expanded. Catherine was also an enthusiastic patron of the arts. She built and founded the Hermitage Museum, commissioned buildings all over Russia, founded academies, journals, and libraries, and corresponded with the French Encyclopedists, including Voltaire, Diderot, and d'Alembert. Although Catherine did in fact have many lovers, some of them trusted advisors and confidants, stories alleging her to have had an excessive sexual appetite are unfounded.
With the onset of the French Revolution, Catherine became strikingly conservative and increasingly hostile to criticism of her policies. From 1789 until her death, she reversed many of the liberal reforms of her early reign. One notable effect of this reversal was that, like Peter the Great, Catherine ultimately contributed to the increasingly distressing state of the peasantry in Russia.
When Catherine the Great died in 1796, she was succeeded by her son Paul I. Paul's reign lasted only five years and was by all accounts a complete disaster. Paul was succeeded by his son Alexander I, who is remembered mostly for having been the ruler of Russia during Napoleon Bonaparte's epic Russian Campaign.
In June of 1812, Napoleon began his fatal Russian campaign, a landmark in the history of the destructive potential of warfare. Virtually all of continental Europe was under his control, and the invasion of Russia was an attempt to force Tsar Alexander I to submit once again to the terms of a treaty that Napoleon had imposed upon him four years earlier. Having gathered nearly half a million soldiers, fromFrance as well as all of the vassal states of Europe, Napoleon entered Russia at the head of the largest army ever seen. The Russians, under Marshal Kutuzov, could not realistically hope to defeat him in a direct confrontation. Instead, they began a defensive campaign of strategic retreat, devastating the land as they fell back and harassing the flanks of the French. As the summer wore on, Napoleon's massive supply lines were stretched ever thinner, and his force began to decline. By September, without having engaged in a single pitched battle, the French Army had been reduced by more than two thirds from fatigue, hunger, desertion, and raids by Russian forces.
Nonetheless, it was clear that unless the Russians engaged the French Army in a major battle, Moscow would be Napoleon's in a matter of weeks. The Tsar insisted upon an engagement, and on September 7, with winter closing in and the French army only 70 miles (110 km) from the city, the two armies met at Borodino Field. By the end of the day, 108,000 men had died--but neither side had gained a decisive victory. Kutuzov realized that any further defense of the city would be senseless, and he withdrew his forces, prompting the citizens of Moscow to begin a massive and panicked exodus. When Napoleon's army arrived on September 14, they found a city depopulated and bereft of supplies, a meager comfort in the face of the oncoming winter. To make matters much, much worse, fires broke out in the city that night, and by the next day the French were lacking shelter as well.
After waiting in vain for Alexander to offer to negotiate, Napoleon ordered his troops to begin the march home. Because the route south was blocked by Kutuzov's forces (and the French were in no shape for a battle) the retreat retraced the long, devastated route of the invasion. Having waited until mid-October to depart, the exhausted French army soon found itself in the midst of winter--in fact, in the midst of an unusually early and especially cold winter. Temperatures soon dropped well below freezing, Cossacks attacked stragglers and isolated units, food was almost non-existent, and the march was five hundred miles. Ten thousand men survived. The campaign ensured Napoleon's downfall and Russia's status as a leading power in post-Napoleonic Europe. Yet even as Russia emerged more powerful than ever from the Napoleonic era, its internal tensions began to increase.
The Path to Revolution (1825-1920)
Since the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the Russian Tsars had followed a fairly consistent policy of drawing more political power away from the nobility and into their own hands. This centralization of authority in the Russian state had usually been accomplished in one of two ways--either by simply taking power from the nobles and braving their opposition (Ivan the Terrible was very good at this), or by compensating the nobles for decreased power in government by giving them greater power over their land and its occupants. Serfdom, as this latter system was known, had increased steadily in Russia from the time of Ivan the Terrible, its inventor. By the time of Catherine the Great, the Russian Tsars enjoyed virtually autocratic rule over their nobles. However, they had in a sense purchased this power by granting those nobles virtually autocratic power over the serfs, who by this time had been reduced to a state closer to slavery than to peasantry.
By the nineteenth century, both of these relationships were under attack. In the Decembrist revolt in 1825, a group of young, reformist military officers attempted to force the adoption of a constitutional monarchy in Russia by preventing the accession of Nicholas I. They failed utterly, and Nicholas became the most reactionary leader in Europe. Nicholas' successor, Alexander II, seemed by contrast to be amenable to reform. In 1861, he abolished serfdom, though the emancipation didn't in fact bring on any significant change in the condition of the peasants. As the country became more industrialized, its political system experienced even greater strain. Attempts by the lower classes to gain more freedom provoked fears of anarchy, and the government remained extremely conservative. As Russia became more industrialized, larger, and far more complicated, the inadequacies of autocratic Tsarist rule became increasingly apparent. By the twentieth century conditions were ripe for a serious convulsion.
At the same time, Russia had expanded its territory and its power considerably over the nineteenth century. Its borders extended to Afghanistan and China, and it had acquired extensive territory on the Pacific coast. The foundation of the port cities of Vladivostok andPort Arthur there had opened up profitable avenues for commerce, and the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway (constructed from 1891-1905) linked the European Russia with its new eastern territories.
In 1894 Nicholas II acceded to the throne. He was not the most competent of political leaders, and his ministers were almost uniformly reactionaries. To make matters worse, the increasing Russian presence in the far east provoked the hostility of Japan. In January of 1905, the Japanese attacked, and Russia experienced a series of defeats that dissolved the tenuous support held by Nicholas' already unpopular government. Nicholas was forced to grant concessions to the reformers, including most notably a constitution and a parliament, or Duma. The power of the reform movement was founded on a new and powerful force that entered Russian politics. The industrialization of the major western cities and the development of the Batu oil fields had brought together large concentrations of Russian workers, and they soon began to organize into local political councils, or soviets (“soviet” means council or advice). It was in large part the power of the soviets, united under the Social Democratic party, that had forced Nicholas to accept reforms in 1905.
After the war with Japan was brought to a close, Nicholas attempted to reverse the new freedoms, and his government became more reactionary than ever. Popular discontent gained strength, and Nicholas countered it with increased repression. In 1912, the Social Democrats split into two camps--the radical Bolsheviks (“bolshe” means bigger) and the comparatively moderate Menshiviks (“menshe” means smaller). In 1914, another disastrous war once again brought on a crisis. If the Russo-Japanese war had been costly and unpopular, it was at least remote. The First World War, however, took place right on Russia's western doorstep. Unprepared militarily or industrially, the country suffered demoralizing defeats, suffered severe food shortages, and soon suffered an economic collapse. By February of 1917, the workers and soldiers had had enough. Riots broke out in St. Petersburg, then called Petrograd, and the garrison there mutinied. Workers’ soviets were set up, and the Duma approved the establishment of a Provisional Government to attempt to restore order in the capital. It was soon clear that Nicholas possessed no support, and on March 2 he abdicated the throne in favor of his brother Michael. No fool, Michael renounced his claim the next day.
The Provisional Government set up by the Duma attempted to pursue a moderate policy, calling for a return to order and promising reform of worker's rights. However, it was unwilling to endorse the most pressing demand of the soviets--an immediate end to the war. For the next 9 months, the Provisional Government, first under Prince Lvov and then under Alexandr Kerensky, unsuccessfully attempted to establish its authority. In the meanwhile, the Bolsheviks gained increasing support from the ever more frustrated soviets. On October 25, led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, they stormed the Winter Palace and deposed the Kerensky government.
Although the Bolsheviks enjoyed substantial support in St. Petersburg and Moscow, they were by no means in control of the country as a whole. They succeeded in taking Russia out of the war (though on very unfavorable terms), but within months civil war broke out throughout Russia. For the next three years the country was devastated by civil strife, until by 1920 the Bolsheviks had finally emerged victorious.
The Soviet Era
The first few years of Soviet rule were marked by an extraordinary outburst of social and cultural change. Although the Bolsheviks had maintained complete control of the economy during the civil war, Lenin decided at its end that a partial return to a market economy would help the country recover from the destruction of the previous three years. His New Economic Policy, or NEP, brought about a period of relative prosperity, allowing the young Soviet government to consolidate its political position and rebuild the country's infrastructure. This was also the period during which the Russian Avant-Garde reached its height, developing the radical new styles of Constructivism, Futurism, and Suprematism. Although the country still faced enormous challenges, there was a widespread sense of optimism and opportunity.
Lenin's death in 1924 was followed by an extended and extremely divisive struggle for power in the Communist Party. By the latter part of the decade, Joseph Stalin had emerged as the victor, and he immediately set the country on a much different course. The NEP was scrapped, to be replaced by an economic plan dictated from the top. Agricultural lands were collectivized, creating large, state-run farms. Industrial development was pushed along at breakneck speed, and production was almost entirely diverted from consumer products to capital equipment. Art and literature were placed under much tighter control, and the radical energy of the Russian Avant-Garde was replaced by the solemn grandeur of Soviet realism. Religion was violently repressed, as churches were closed, destroyed, or converted to other uses. Stalin purged all opposition to himself within the party as well as all opposition to party policy in the country. By the end of the 1930s, the Soviet Union had become a country in which life was more strictly regulated than ever before. Experimentation had ended, and discipline was the rule of the day.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, the Soviet Union found itself unprepared for the conflict. Political purges had stripped the military of much of its experienced leadership, and industrial production was slow in converting from civil to military production. Although its non-aggression pact with Germany (1939) served for a while to forestall an attack by Hitler, the Soviets were caught by surprise by the invasion of June 1941. By the end of the year, the Germans had seized most of the Soviet territory in the west, surrounded St. Petersburg (having been renamed once again as Leningrad), and advanced to within a few hundred miles of Moscow. With tremendous effort, a Russian counter-offensive pushed back the advance on the capital, but in the summer of 1942 the Germans launched a new invasion against the southern front in an attempt to gain control of the rail center of Stalingrad on the Volga and the vital Caucasus oil fields. Despite an overwhelming disadvantage in numbers and inferior weaponry, the Russian army succeeded in holding out against the enormous German army. In November, a relieving force managed to encircle the attackers and compel the surrender of the entire force, marking a decisive turning point in the war. From that point onward, the Russian army remained on the attack. By 1944 they had driven the Germans back to Poland, and on May 2, 1945, Berlin fell.
As was the case with the Napoleonic Wars, the Soviet Union emerged from World War II considerably stronger than it had been before the war. Although the country suffered enormous devastation and lost more than twenty million lives, it had gained considerable territory and now ranked as one of the two great world powers along with the United States. Nonetheless, life in the country continued to suffer. Industrial production was once again concentrated on heavy industry, agricultural failures produced widespread famine, political freedoms were restricted even further, and another huge wave of purges was carried out. As the Cold War got underway, an increasing proportion of the Soviet Union's resources were funneled into military projects, further exacerbating the quality of life. Stalin remained in power until 1953, when he died of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Almost immediately after the death of Stalin, many of the repressive policies that he had instituted were dismantled. Under the leadership of Nikita Khruschev, political controls were to some degree relaxed, and cultural life experienced a brief period of revival. However, opposition to Khruschev gradually gained strength within the party, and in 1964 he was ousted. In a notable break with historical traditions, Khruschev was permitted to quietly retire. By the 1970s, Leonid Brezhnev, as general secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), had become the next prominent Soviet leader. His tenure was marked by a determined emphasis on domestic stability and an aggressive foreign policy. The country entered a decade-long period of stagnation, its rigid economy slowly deteriorating and its political climate becoming increasingly pessimistic. When Breshnev died in 1982 he was succeeded as general secretary first by Yuri Andropov, head of the KGB, and then by Konstantin Chernenko, neither of whom managed to survive long enough to effect significant changes. In March of 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary, the need for reforms was pressing.
Gorbachev's platform for a new Soviet Union was founded on two now-famous terms--glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). Like Khruschev, Gorbachev intended to revitalize the Soviet economy by loosening up a bit on social control, opening some room for new ideas, relaxing control of the economy, and generally allowing for a little fresh air. Restructuring began in earnest, with a vigorous housecleaning of the bureaucracy and a significant investigation into corruption. Glasnost, however, lost some credibility right at the outset when it was discovered in April 1986 that the government had waited several days before admitting to the infamous nuclear disaster at Chernobyl--a reactor explosion that had thrown radioactive material over a wide area of the country. Backed into a corner on Chernobyl, Gorbachev countered with the dramatic removal of all controls on reporting--and at that point the fresh air really began to howl.
For the first time in decades, the problems of the country became subjects for open public discussion. Poverty, corruption, the enormous mismanagement of the country's resources, the unpopularity of the Afghan war, and a host of other problems and grievances were raised. Radical reform leaders emerged, including the new Moscow Party chief Boris Yeltsin, and prominent dissidents like Andrei Sakharov were able to voice their views for the first time. For some peculiar reason, the government found that it was the target of most of the criticism, but it also found that it wasn't any longer in much a position to do anything but try to move with the flow of events. Early in 1989, Soviet troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan. In the spring of 1989, the first open elections since 1917 were held, allowing voters a novel choice of more than one candidate for seats in the Congress of People's Deputies. The governments of the Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe, subjected to the same rising tide of public criticism, fell one after the other in a rapid series of revolutions culminating in the fall of the Berlin wall.
In 1990, the Soviet Union itself began to unravel. Its own constituent republics began to issue declarations of independence. In the Russian Republic, Yeltsin was elected chairman of the Parliament, taking a lead in the independence movement. Large scale strikes shattered the Communist Party's traditional claim to be the representative of workers' rights. Demonstrations against the government and the party intensified. The economy worsened, food shortages became a problem, and the crime rate began to skyrocket. Gorbachev, caught between popular demands for more radical reform and party demands for the re-imposition of strict control, failed to satisfy either side.
The following summer, the radical reform movements became strong enough to openly defy the government. In the press, criticism of Gorbachev intensified. Yeltsin, on the other hand, was the overwhelming victor in June elections for the Russian presidency. On August 18, party conservatives made a desparate bid for power. A group led by Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov and Vice President Gennady Yanayev detained Gorbachev at his country retreat in the Crimea. After he refused to support the imposition of military law, the head of state was placed under house arrest. The next morning the coup leaders issued the announcement that Gorbachev had resigned and that a state of emergency had been declared. Military units were dispatched to enforce the authority of the new government, but they were met with overwhelming popular protest led by Yeltsin and the other presidents of the republics. After three days the attempted coup had collapsed. Gorbachev was reinstated, only to realize that his position had become completely obsolete. By the end of the year the Soviet Union had been voted out of existence, to be replaced by a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). On December 25, Gorbachev resigned, and on midnight of December 31, the Soviet flag atop the Kremlin was replaced by the Russian tricolour.
Post-Communism to the Present
While personal liberties took a turn for the better following the fall of communism, life in the former Soviet Union failed to improve for the vase majority of its people. Both politics and economics were radically changed in Russia and the former Soviet Union , unfortunately resulting in massive inflation and economic collapse in the early 1990s and again in 1998, severe unemployment, and the loss or reduction of many established social services, including health care. Several fundamental problems faced the Soviet Union in its attempt to convert from communism to capitalism.
The first major problem facing Russia was the legacy of the Soviet Union 's enormous commitment to the Cold War. In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union devoted a quarter of its gross economic output to the defense sector (at the time most Western analysts believed that this figure was 15 percent). At the time, the military-industrial complex employed at least one of every five adults in the Soviet Union . In some regions of Russia , at least half of the workforce was employed in defense plants. (The comparable U.S. figures were roughly one-sixteenth of gross national product and about one of every sixteen in the workforce.) The end of the Cold War and the cutback in military spending hit such plants very hard, and it was often impossible for them to quickly retool equipment, retrain workers, and find new markets to adjust to the new post-Cold War and post-Soviet era. In the process of conversion an enormous body of experience, qualified specialists and know-how has been lost, as the plants were sometimes switching from producing hi-tech military equipment to making kitchen utensils.
A second obstacle had to do with the distribution of workers and resources. Roughly half of Russia 's cities had only one large industrial enterprise (ie: glass manufacturing), and three fourths had no more than four. Consequently, the decrease in production caused tremendous unemployment and underemployment. When the Soviet Union collapsed and the economic ties were severed, the production in the whole country dropped by more than 50%.
Thirdly, post-Soviet Russia did not inherit a functioning system of social security and welfare from the USSR . Since Russian industrial firms were traditionally responsible for a broad range of social welfare functions—building and maintaining housing for their workforces, and managing health, recreational, educational, and similar facilities— the towns possessing few industrial employers were left heavily dependent on these firms, which were the mainstay of employment, for the provision of basic social services. Thus, economic transformation created severe problems in maintaining social welfare since local governments were unable to assume financial responsibility for these functions.
Finally, there was the problem of human capital. The problem was not that the Soviet population was uneducated. Literacy was nearly universal, and the educational attainment level of the Soviet population was among the highest in the world with respect to science, engineering, and technical specialties. However, the average Soviet worker was not well prepared to work within a market economy. The system struggled (and still struggles) with concepts such as cost-effectiveness, efficiency, creativity and improvements. During communism, the need to create employment led to huge inefficiencies and redundancies in the workforce (a favorite example: you go to the store. You first walk up to the meat counter, tell one person what you want. They give you a ticket with the price. When you’ve ordered everything, you go to the cashier. They ring you up. You pay. They give you a receipt. You take the receipt back to the meat counter. One person takes the receipt, another puts your meat into a bag for you. This process is repeated for other food types that you want to buy, and for packaged things like coffee there are people just standing behind the counter waiting to hand you your items… and this is after the end of communism!). After so many years of working under a system that rewarded obedience over creativity and did not tolerate questions or suggestions for improvement, most workers needed to radically shift their mindset to encompass a competitive market economy. Understandably, the adjustment has been quite difficult, and is still in process.
In June 1991, Boris Yeltsin became the first directly elected President in Russian history when he was elected President of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, which became the independent Russian Federation in December of that year. During and after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, wide-ranging reforms including privatization and market and trade liberalization were undertaken, including radical changes along the lines of "shock therapy" as recommended by the United States and the International Monetary Fund. All this resulted in a major economic crisis, characterized by a 50% decline in both GDP and industrial output between 1990 and 1995.
The privatization largely shifted control of enterprises from state agencies to individuals with inside connections in the government. Many of the newly rich moved billions in cash and assets outside of the country in an enormous capital flight. The depression of the economy led to the collapse of social services; the birth rate plummeted while the death rateskyrocketed. Millions plunged into poverty, from a level of 1.5% in the late Soviet era to 39–49% by mid-1993. The 1990s saw extreme corruption and lawlessness, the rise of criminal gangs and violent crime.
The 1990s were plagued by armed conflicts in the North Caucasus, both local ethnic skirmishes and separatist Islamist insurrections. From the time Chechenseparatists declared independence in the early 1990s, an intermittent guerrilla war has been fought between the rebel groups and the Russian military. Terrorist attacks against civilians carried out by separatists, most notably the Moscow theater hostage crisis and Beslan school siege, caused hundreds of deaths and drew worldwide attention.
Russia took up the responsibility for settling the USSR's external debts, even though its population made up just half of the population of the USSR at the time of its dissolution. High budget deficits caused the 1998 Russian financial crisis and resulted in a further GDP decline.
On 31 December 1999, President Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned, handing the post to the recently appointed Prime Minister,Vladimir Putin, who then won the 2000 presidential election. Putin suppressed the Chechen insurgency although sporadic violence still occurs throughout the Northern Caucasus. High oil prices and the initially weak currency followed by increasing domestic demand, consumption, and investments has helped the economy grow for nine straight years, improving the standard of living and increasing Russia's influence on the world stage. While many reforms made during the Putin presidency have been generally criticized by Western nations as undemocratic, Putin's leadership over the return of order, stability, and progress has won him widespread admiration in Russia.
On 2 March 2008, Dmitry Medvedev was elected President of Russia while Putin became Prime Minister. Putin returned to the presidency following the 2012 presidential elections, and Medvedev was appointed Prime Minister.
In 2014, after President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine fled as a result of a revolution, Putin requested and received authorization from the Russian Parliament to deploy Russian troops to Ukraine. Following a Crimean referendum in which separation was favored by a large majority of voters, but not accepted internationally, the Russian leadership announced the accession of Crimea into the Russian Federation. On 27 March the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of a non-binding resolution opposing the Russian annexation of Crimea by a vote of 100 in favour, 11 against and 58 abstentions.
In September 2015, Russia started military intervention in the Syrian Civil War, consisting of air strikes against militant groups of the Islamic State, al-Nusra Front (al-Qaeda in the Levant), and the Army of Conquest.
Russian Literature and music
Section dedicated to some of the main Russian writers, compositors and artists, who have delighted the world with their masterpieces in the literature, art and music from 19th century.
Russian literature (most famous writers)
Pushkin Aleksandr Sergeevic
(Moscow, 6 June 1799 – St. Petersburg, 10 February 1837) was a Russian poet, playwright, and novelist of the Romantic era who is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature.
Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin was born to Sergei and Nadezhda Pushkin on May 26, 1799. On his father's side he was a descendant of Russian nobility. On his mother's side he was related to an African lord. But by the time Aleksandr was born, the family had gradually lost most of their wealth and influence, and they were lowered to the position of minor nobility. Aleksandr's family life was far from ideal. His father was domineering and easily irritated, and his mother often left the young child alone in pursuit of her social ambitions.
Between 1811 and 1817 Pushkin attended a special school for privileged children of the nobility. Pushkin was not a very good student in most subjects, but he performed brilliantly in French and Russian literature.
After finishing school, Pushkin led a wild and undisciplined life. He wrote about 130 poems between 1814 and 1817, while still at school. Most of his works written between 1817 and 1820 were not published because his topics were considered inappropriate.
In 1820 Pushkin completed his first narrative poem, Russlan and Ludmilla. It is a romance composed of fantastic adventures but told with the humor of the previous century. However, even before Russlan and Ludmilla was published in June 1820, Pushkin was exiled to the south of Russia because of the political humor he had expressed in his earlier poems. Pushkin left St. Petersburg on May 6, and he would not return for more than six years.
Pushkin spent the years from 1820 to 1823 in various places in the southern part of Russia, including the Caucasus and in the Crimea. He was happy there at first, but later, he felt bored by the life in small towns and took up again a life of gambling and drinking. He was always short of money. He worked as a civil servant (government worker), but did not make much money and his family refused to support him.
Pushkin began to earn money with his poetic works, but not enough to keep up with
his wealthy friends. In 1823 he was transferred to Odessa, a larger city more to his liking. Then he moved to Mikhailovskoye, an estate owned by his family.
When Pushkin arrived at Mikhailovskoye, his relations with his parents were not good. His father was angry at him. The family left the estate about mid-November, and Pushkin found himself alone with the family nurse. He lived alone for much of the next two years, occasionally visiting a neighboring town and infrequently entertaining old Petersburg friends. At this time the nurse told Pushkin many folk tales, and it is believed that she gave him a feeling for folk life that showed itself in many of his poems.
Pushkin's two years at Mikhailovskoye were extremely rich in poetic output. Among other works, he wrote the first three chapters of Eugene Onegin, and composed the tragedy Boris Godunov. In addition, he composed many important lyrics (poetic dramas set to music) and a humorous tale in verse entitled Count Nulin.
Pushkin was eventually forgiven by the new czar (Russian ruler), Nicholas I (1796–1855). The czar promised Pushkin that all of his works would be censored (edited for approval) by the czar himself. Pushkin promised to publish nothing that would harm the government. After some time this type of censorship became a burden for Pushkin.
Pushkin continued to live a wild life for awhile, but wanted to settle down. He proposed to Nathalie Goncharova in 1830. He asked his future in-laws for money and convinced them to provide him with land and a house. He continued to work on Eugene Onegin, wrote a number of excellent lyrics, and worked on, but did not finish a novel.
Eugene Onegin was begun in 1824 and finished in August 1831. This is a novel in verse (poetry) and most regard it as Pushkin's most famous work. It is a "novel" about life at that time, constructed in order to permit digressions (the moving away from the main subject in literary works) and a variety of incidents and tones. The heart of the tale concerns the life of Eugene Onegin, a bored nobleman who rejects the advances of a young girl, Tatiana. He meets her later, when she is greatly changed and now sophisticated. He falls in love with her. He is in turn rejected by her because, although she loves him, she is married.
After 1830 Pushkin wrote less and less poetry. He married Nathalie Goncharova in 1831. She bore him three children, but the couple were not happy together. His new wife had many other admirers. He challenged one of her admirers to a duel that took place on January 26, 1837. Pushkin was wounded and died on January 29. There was great mourning at his death.
Many of Pushkin's works provided the basis for operas by Russian composers. They include Ruslan and Ludmilla by Mikhail Glinka (1804–1857), Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893), Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881), and The Golden Cockerel by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908).
Gogol Nikolai Vasilievich
(Bolshie Sorochintsi, 20 marzo 1809 – Moscow, 21 February 1852) was a Russian dramatist, novelist and short story writer ofUkrainian ethnicity. Russian and Ukrainian scholars debate whether or not Gogol was of their respective nationalities. He contributed to Russian literature through his magnificently crafted dramas, novels and short stories. He was one of the major proponents of the natural school of Russian literary realism. His notable works include Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, The Government Inspector and “The Portrait”.
Born on March 31, 1809 in Sorochyntsi, Poltava Governorate, Ukraine, Gogol was raised by a Polish mother and an amateur Ukrainian playwright and poet father. His family spoke both Russian and Ukrainian. From a very young age Gogol developed a keen interest in Ukrainian-language plays and helped his uncle stage them. His father died when he was fifteen. During 1820’s, Gogol received education from higher art school in Nizhyn. It is here that he learned the art of writing and practiced his skills. He became an outcast in his class and his fellow students called him a “mysterious dwarf”. Such incidents engendered a situation for him to embrace his dark side secretly. Upon completion of his studies, Gogol moved to St. Petersburg to join civil service. His lack of wealth and social connections made him realize that in order to attain a respectable job he would have to work hard. He had already penned a Romantic poem on German idyllic life, titled Hans Küchelgarten. He published it at his own expense, under the pseudonym V. Alov. As he met rejection and ridicule of the publishing magazine he destroyed all the copies of his poem in utter dejection. Later, he embezzled his mother’s money on a trip to Germany but eventually returned and became an underpaid government employee.
However, he became a preeminent figure in short story writing as he occasionally wrote for a periodical. The young storyteller achieved overnight success. He was endowed with great respect by twentieth century literary giants like Alexander Pushkin and Vasily Zhukovsky for his contributions. In 1834, he was offered position of a senior professor of medieval history at St. Petersburg University. Feeling ill-equipped for the job, he left after teaching a year long.
Gogol’s first collection of Ukrainian stories, Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, was published in 1931. It was followed by a number of volumes, one of them entitled Mirgorod. The subject matter of his stories varies sometimes from devils and witches to idyllic village life. His miscellaneous prose was published in a volume, titled Arabesques. The critics applauded his work for having a distinct Ukrainian voice. Gogol’s literary work highlighted the supposed difference between Ukrainian and Russian social aspects. His early prose was inspired by contemporary writers, such as Vasily Narezhny and Hryhory Kvitka-Osnovyanenko. Still his work had a distinctive quality that is his use of unconventional and sophisticated satire. Moreover, the colloquial nature of the prose became a breath of fresh air in Russian literature.
The second volume, Arabesques brings out the realism as it shows a romantic’s struggle to expose the evil and duplicity of the world that he can neither embrace nor evade. Gogol’s highly acclaimed satirical play, The Government Inspector, is a comedy of errors. It draws attention to politically corrupt Imperial Russia by underlining human attributes, like greed and foolishness. Gogol is held in esteemed regard for constructing original work that avoids clichéd sympathetic characters and love interest. Another of one of his play, Dead Souls, lampoonsthe double-standards of Imperial Russia. Afterwards, his creative genius took a sudden nosedive and eventually deserted him. He died on 4th of March, 1852 after burning up some of his manuscript and refusing to eat food.
Dostoevsky Fyodor Mikhailovich
(Moscow, 11 November 1821 – St. Petersburg, 28 January 1881) was a Russian novelist, short story writer, essayist, journalist and philosopher. Dostoyevsky's literary works explore human psychology in the troubled political, social, and spiritual atmosphere of 19th-century Russia. Many of his works are marked by a preoccupation with Christianity, explored through the prism of the individual confronted with life's hardships and beauty.
He was the second of seven children born to a former army surgeon, who was murdered in 1839 when his own serfs poured vodka down his throat until he died.
Following a boarding school education in Moscow with his older brother Mikhail, Fyodor was admitted to the Academy of Military Engineers in St. Petersburg in 1838. He completed his studies in 1843, graduating as a lieutenant, but was quickly convinced that he preferred a career in writing to being mired in the bureaucratic Russian military. In 1844 he published a translation of Balzac's Eugenie Grandet, and he followed this two years later with his first original published work, Poor Folk, a widely-acclaimed short novel championed by the influential critic Vissarion Belinsky.
His works over the next three years were not as well accepted. The "literary lights" whose acquaintance he had made started to treat him with contempt and mockery. Under the influence of Belinsky, Dostoevsky turned to a materialist atheism. In 1847, he broke with Belinsky's group to join the socialist Petrashevsky group, a secret society of liberal utopians, where he associated himself with the most radical element.
On April 23, 1849, Dostoevsky was arrested with other members of the Petrashevsky circle and was sentenced to death. He was placed in solitary confinement in the Petropavlovsky Fortress for eight months. During this time, Tsar Nikolai I changed his sentence but ordered that this change only be announced at the last minute. On December 22, Dostoevsky and his fellow prisoners were led through all the initial steps of execution, and several of them were already tied to posts awaiting their deaths when the reprieve was sounded.
Dostoevsky's sentence of eight years' hard labor in a Siberian prison was reduced to four, followed by another four years of compulsory military service. During the latter, he married the widow Marya Dmitrievna Isaeva, with whom he returned to St. Petersburg in 1859.
Dostoevsky's harrowing near-execution and his terrible years of imprisonment made an indelible impression on him, converting him to a lifelong intense spirituality. These beliefs formed the basis for his great novels.
After his release, Dostoevsky published a few short works, including "Memoirs from the House of the Dead" (1860-1861), which was based on his prison experiences, in the journal Time, which he had co-founded with his brother Mikhail. In 1862, he made his first trip abroad, to England, France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. While abroad, he had an affair with Apollinaria Suslova, a young and attractive student whom Dostoevsky considered an intellectual equal. He also made observations on Western society that fueled his rejection of Western philosophies as models for Russian society.
In 1863, Time was banned, so Fyodor and Mikhail founded another magazine, Epoch, which in 1864 published the complex Notes from Underground, generally considered the preface to Dostoevsky's great novels.
In that same year, both Marya Dmitrievna and Fyodor's beloved brother Mikhail died, leaving Dostoevsky saddled with debts and dependents. Apollinaria Suslova declined a marriage proposal, and in an attempt to win money through gambling, Dostoevsky mired himself further in debt. With creditors at his heels and with debts of around 43,000 rubles, Dostoevsky escaped abroad with 175 rubles in his pocket and a "slave contract" with bookseller F. T. Stellovsky. This agreement stipulated that if Dostoevsky did not produce a new novel by November 1, 1866, all rights to Dostoevsky's past and future works would revert to Stellovsky.
Time passed, and Dostoevsky, preoccupied with a longer, serialized novel, did no work on the book he had promised Stellovsky until at last, on the advice of friends, he hired the young Anna Grigorievna Snitkin as his stenographer. He dictated The Gambler to her, and the manuscript was delivered to Stellovsky on the very day their agreement was to expire. Through November, Dostoevsky completed the longer novel Crime and Punishment, which was published that year to immediate and abundant success. Fyodor proposed to Anna, and they soon were wed on February 15, 1867.
This second marriage brought Dostoevsky professional and emotional stability. Anna tolerated his compulsive gambling, managed his career, and nursed him through depression and epilepsy. His great works, notably The Idiot (1868), Demons (1871-1872, also known as The Devils or mistranslated as The Possessed), and The Brothers Karamazov, were all written in this last phase of his life.
Despite this relative success, the Dostoevskys were dogged by the massive debts left by Mikhail's death and Fyodor's gambling until about 1873. At this point, Anna became his publisher and he (according to his wife) gave up gambling. Their newfound financial stability enabled the Dostoevskys to purchase the house they had been renting in 1876, and between 1877 and 1880, Dostoevsky worked on The Brothers Karamazov, regarded by many as the apex of his career. During these last years of his life, he enjoyed prominence in his public life as well as his literary career.
Fyodor Dostoevsky died on January 28, 1881, of complications related to his epilepsy. At the funeral procession in St. Petersburg, his coffin was followed by thirty to forty thousand people. His epitaph reads, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit," which is the quotation Dostoevsky chose for the preface of The Brothers Karamazov.
Dostoevsky is one of the first writers to explore the ideas of psychoanalysis in his works. His religious ideas are still relevant in theological debate. He also is one of the seminal creators of the ideas of existentialism. Despite his varying success during his lifetime, today Dostoevsky is considered to be one of the preeminent Russian novelists—indeed, one of the preeminent novelists—of all time.
Tolstoy Lev Nikolayevic
(Yasnaya Polyana, 9 September 1828 – Astàpovo, 20 November 1910) was a Russian author best known for his novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina which are considered to be the greatest novels of realist fiction. Tolstoy is also regarded as world’s best novelist by many. In addition to writing novels, Tolstoy also authored short stories, essays and plays. Also a moral thinker and a social reformer, Tolstoy held severe moralistic views. In later life, he became a fervent Christian anarchist and anarcho-pacifist. His non-violent resistance approach towards life has been expressed in his works such as The Kingdom of God is Within You, which is known to have a profound effect on important 20th century figures, particularly, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi.
Born in Yasnaya Polyana on September 9, 1828, Leo Tolstoy belonged to a well known noble Russian family. He was the fourth among five children of Count Nikolai Ilyich Tolstoy and Countess Mariya Tolstaya, both of whom died leaving their children to be raised by relatives. Wanting to enter the faculty of Oriental languages at Kazan University, Tolstoy prepared for the entry examination by studying Arabic, Turkish, Latin, German, English, and French, also geography, history, and religion. In 1844, Tolstoy was accepted into Kazan University. Unable to graduate beyond the second year, Tolstoy returned to Yasnava Polyana and then spent time travelling between Moscow and St. Petersburg. With some working knowledge of several languages, he became a polyglot. The newly found youth attracted Tolstoy towards drinking, visiting brothels and most of all gambling which left him in heavy debt and agony but Tolstoy soon realized he was living a brutish life and once again attempted university exams in the hope that he would obtain a position with the government, but ended but up in Caucusus serving in the army following in the footsteps of his elder brother. It was during this time that Tolstoy began writing.
In 1862, Leo Tolstoy married Sophia Andreevna Behrs, mostly called Sonya, who was 16 years younger than him. The couple had thirteen children, of which, five died at an early age. Sonya acted as Tolstoy’s secretary, proof-reader and financial manager while he composed two of his greatest works. Their early married life was filled with contentment. However, Tolstoy’s relationship with his wife deteriorated as his beliefs became increasingly radical to the extent of disowning his inherited and earned wealth.
Tolstoy began writing his masterpiece, War and Peace in 1862. The six volumes of the work were published between 1863 and 1869. With 580 characters fetched from history and others created by Tolstoy, this great novel takes on exploring the theory of history and the insignificance of noted figures such as Alexander and Napoleon. Anna Karenina, Tolstoy’s next epic was started in 1873 and published completely in 1878. Among his earliest publications are autobiographical works such as Childhood, Boyhood and Youth (1852-1856). Although they are works of fiction, the novels reveal aspects of Leo’s own life and experiences. Tolstoy was a master of writing about the Russian society, evidence of which is displayed in The Cossacks (1863). His later works such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) and What Is to Be Done? (1901) focus on Christian themes.
In his late years, Tolstoy became increasingly inclined towards ascetic morality and believed sternly in the Sermon on the Mount and non violent resistance. On November 20, 1910, Leo Tolstoy died at the age of 82 due to pneumonia.
Russian classic music - (most famous composers)
Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich
(Kamsko-Votkinsk, 7 May 1840 – St. Petersburg, 6 November 1893). Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is widely considered the most popular Russian composer in history. His work includes the The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.
Composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born on May 7, 1840, in Vyatka, Russia. His work was first publicly performed in 1865. In 1868, his First Symphony was well-received. In 1874, he established himself with Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat Minor. Tchaikovsky resigned from the Moscow Conservatory in 1878, and spent the rest of his career composing yet more prolifically. He died in St. Petersburg on November 6, 1893.
He was the second eldest of his parents' six surviving offspring. Tchaikovsky's father, Ilya, worked as a mine inspector and metal works manager.
When he was just 5 years old, Tchaikovsky began taking piano lessons. Although he displayed an early passion for music, his parents hoped that he would grow up to work in the civil service. At the age of 10, Tchaikovsky began attending the Imperial School of Jurisprudence, a boarding school in St. Petersburg. His mother, Alexandra, died of cholera in 1854, when he was 14 years old. In 1859, Tchaikovsky honored his parents' wishes by taking up a bureau clerk post with the Ministry of Justice—a post he would hold for four years, during which time he became increasingly fascinated with music.
When he was 21, Tchaikovsky decided to take music lessons at the Russian Musical Society. A few months later, he enrolled at the newly founded St. Petersburg Conservatory, becoming one of the school's first composition students. In addition to learning while at the conservatory, Tchaikovsky gave private lessons to other students. In 1863, he moved to Moscow, where he became a professor of harmony at the Moscow Conservatory.
Pyotr Tchaikovsky's work was first publicly performed in 1865, with Johann Strauss the Younger conducting Tchaikovsky's Characteristic Dances at a Pavlovsk concert. In 1868, Tchaikovsky's First Symphony was well-received when it was publicly performed in Moscow. The following year, his first opera,The Voyevoda, made its way to the stage—with little fanfare.
After scrapping The Voyevoda, Tchaikovsky repurposed some of its material to compose his next opera, Oprichnik, which achieved some acclaim when it was performed at the Maryinsky in St. Petersburg in 1874. By this time, Tchaikovsky had also earned praise for his Second Symphony. Also in 1874, his opera, Vakula the Smith, received harsh critical reviews, yet Tchaikovsky still managed to establish himself as a talented composer of instrumental pieces with his Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat Minor.
Acclaim came readily for Tchaikovsky in 1875, with his compositionSymphony No. 3 in D Major. At the end of that year, the composer embarked on a tour of Europe. In 1876, he completed the ballet Swan Lake as well as the fantasy Francesca da Rimini.
Tchaikovsky resigned from the Moscow Conservatory in 1878 to focus his efforts entirely on composing. As a result, he spent the remainder of his career composing more prolifically than ever. His collective body of work constitutes 169 pieces, including symphonies, operas, ballets, concertos, cantatas and songs. Among his most famed late works are the ballets The Sleeping Beauty (1890) and The Nutcracker (1892).
Struggling with societal pressures to repress his homosexuality, in 1877, Tchaikovsky married a young music student named Antonina Milyukova. The marriage was a catastrophe, with Tchaikovsky abandoning his wife within weeks of the wedding. During a nervous breakdown, he unsuccessfully attempted to commit suicide, and eventually fled abroad.
Tchaikovsky could afford to resign from the Moscow Conservatory in 1878, thanks to the patronage of a wealthy widow named Nadezhda von Meck. She provided him with a monthly allowance until 1890; oddly, their arrangement stipulated that they would never meet.
Tchaikovsky died in St. Petersburg on November 6, 1893. While the cause of his death was officially declared as cholera, some of his biographers believe that he committed suicide after the humiliation of a sex scandal trial. However, only oral (no written) documentation exists to support this theory.
Rachmanikov Sergei Vasilyevich
(Veliky Novgorod, 1 April1873 – Beverly Hills, 28 March 1943). Sergey Vasilyevich Rachmaninov, born in Semyonovo, Russia, on April 1, 1873, is today remembered as one of the most formidable pianists of all time and the last truly great composer in the Russian Romantic tradition. Rachmaninov came from a music-loving, land-owning family; young Sergey's mother fostered the boy's innate talent by giving him his first piano lessons. After a decline in the family fortunes, the Rachmaninovs moved to St. Petersburg, where Sergey studied with Vladimir Delyansky at the Conservatory. As his star continued to rise, Sergey went to the Moscow Conservatory, where he received a sound musical training: piano lessons from the strict disciplinarian Nikolay Zverev and Alexander Siloti (Rachmaninov's cousin), counterpoint with Taneyev, and harmony with Arensky. During his time at the Conservatory, Rachmaninov boarded with Zverev, whose weekly musical Sundays provided the young musician the valuable opportunity to make important contacts and to hear a wide variety of music.
As Rachmaninov's conservatory studies continued, his burgeoning talent came into full flower; he received the personal encouragement of Tchaikovsky, and, a year after earning a degree in piano, took the Conservatory's gold medal in composition for his opera Aleko (1892). Early setbacks in his compositional career -- particularly, the dismal reception of his Symphony No. 1 (1895) -- led to an extended period of depression and self-doubt, which he overcame with the aid of hypnosis. With the resounding success of his Piano Concerto No. 2 (1900-1901), however, his lasting fame as a composer was assured. The first decade of the twentieth century proved a productive and happy one for Rachmaninov, who during that time produced such masterpieces as the Symphony No. 2 (1907), the tone poem Isle of the Dead (1907), and the Piano Concerto No. 3 (1909). On May 12, 1902, the composer married his cousin, Natalya Satina.
By the end of the decade, Rachmaninov had embarked on his first American tour, which cemented his fame and popularity in the United States. He continued to make his home in Russia but left permanently following the Revolution in 1917; he thereafter lived in Switzerland and the United States between extensive European and American tours. While his tours included conducting engagements (he was twice offered, and twice refused, leadership of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), it was his astounding pianistic abilities which won him his greatest glory. Rachmaninov was possessed of a keyboard technique marked by precision, clarity, and a singular legato sense. Indeed, the pianist's hands became the stuff of legend. He had an enormous span -- he could, with his left hand, play the chord C-E flat-G-C-G -- and his playing had a characteristic power, which pianists have described as "cosmic" and "overwhelming." He is, for example, credited with the uncanny ability to discern, and articulate profound, mysterious movements in a musical composition which usually remain undetected by the superficial perception of rhythmic structures.
Fortunately for posterity, Rachmaninov recorded much of his own music, including the four piano concerti and what is perhaps his most beloved work, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1934). He became an American citizen a few weeks before his death in Beverly Hills, CA, on March 28, 1943
Stravinsky Igor Fyodorevich
(Lomonosov, 17 June 1882 – New York, 6 April 1971). Igor Stravinsky was one of music's truly epochal innovators; no other composer of the twentieth century exerted such a pervasive influence or dominated his art in the way that Stravinsky did during his seven-decade musical career. Aside from purely technical considerations such as rhythm and harmony, the most important hallmark of Stravinsky's style is, indeed, its changing face. Emerging from the spirit of late Russian nationalism and ending his career with a thorny, individual language steeped in twelve-tone principles, Stravinsky assumed a number of aesthetic guises throughout the course of his development while always retaining a distinctive, essential identity.
Although he was the son of one of the Mariinsky Theater's principal basses and a talented amateur pianist, Stravinsky had no more musical training than that of any other Russian upper-class child. He entered law school, but also began private composition and orchestration studies with Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov. By 1909, the orchestral works Scherzo fantastique and Fireworks had impressed Sergei Diaghilev enough for him to ask Stravinsky to orchestrate, and subsequently compose, ballets for his company. Stravinsky's triad of early ballets -- The Firebird (1909-1910), Petrushka (1910-1911), and most importantly, The Rite of Spring (1911-1913) -- did more to establish his reputation than any of his other works; indeed, the riot which followed the premiere of The Rite is one of the most notorious events in music history.
Stravinsky and his family spent the war years in Switzerland, returning to France in 1920. His jazz-inflected essays of the 1910s and 1920s -- notably, Ragtime (1918) and The Soldier's Tale (1918) -- gave way to one of the composer's most influential aesthetic turns. The neo-Classical tautness of works as diverse as the ballet Pulcinella (1919-1920), the Symphony of Psalms (1930) and, decades later, the opera The Rake's Progress (1948-1951) made a widespread impact and had an especial influence upon the fledgling school of American composers that looked to Stravinsky as its primary model. He had begun touring as a conductor and pianist, generally performing his own works. In the 1930s, he toured the Americas and wrote several pieces fulfilling American commissions, including the Concerto in E flat, "Dumbarton Oaks."
After the deaths of his daughter, his wife, and his mother within a period of less than a year, Stravinskyemmigrated to America, settling in California with his second wife in 1940. His works between 1940 and 1950 show a mixture of styles, but still seem centered on Russian or French traditions.Stravinsky's cultural perspective was changed after Robert Craft became his musical assistant, handling rehearsals for Stravinsky, traveling with him, and later, co-authoring his memoirs. Craft is credited with helping Stravinsky accept 12-tone composition as one of the tools of his trade. Characteristically, though, he made novel use of such principles in his own music, producing works in a highly original vein: Movements (1958-1959) for piano and orchestra, Variations: Aldous Huxley in Memoriam (1963), and the Requiem Canticles (1965-1966) are among the most striking. Craftprepared the musicians for the exemplary series of Columbia Records LPs Stravinsky conducted through the stereo era, covering virtually all his significant works. Despite declining health in his last years, Stravinsky continued to compose until just before his death in April 1971.