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ARTS AND CRAFTS          Here there are two separate and distinct periods:   before and after 1800. Before 1800, creativity related  mostly to religion, in the form of icons, and to peasant  music, which was not written down and was merely  passed down orally through generations.  After 1800  began an accelerated Renaissance-like absorption and  development of all the major disciplines, which was the  result of:  1) Catherine the Great’s links to France  between 1762 and 1796 and  2)  The large number of  French aristocrats who fled their Revolution in 1789 and  moved to Russia.  All the while, there was still a distinct  pagan/peasant influence which kept Russian artists  mostly separated from Europe in the eyes  of  the critics  well into the late 1800’s.            This carried on until 1918, when Russian creativity  broke into 2 distinct camps:    1)  Conscripted Socialist Realism, practiced by those  who stayed in The USSR  and    2)  the independent work of those few, comparatively,  who left.  The latter include the composer Stravinsky  (he had actually left a bit earlier, in 1912), the artist  Kandinsky, and the novelist Nabokov.  Very few who left  ever returned, such as Prokopiev.  Many artists in the  USSR tried to maintain a outwardly-hidden sense of  creativity outside Socialist Realism, like the poet   Akhmatova, the writers Bulgakov and Pasternak, and  the composers Shastakovich and Schnitki.  Very few  have used their earlier, USSR-era art training to  achieve success outside of Russia, like the artist and  sculptor Shemiyakin.  Russian Ballet, established well  over 100 years ago, remains at the top in classical  style, specializing in favorites like Swan Lake and The  Nutcracker Suite.  Special notice is due the greatest  Russian bard, Vladimir Vysotsky.  He acted and sang  during the 1960’s and 70’s, and he best typifies the real  beauty and struggles of life in the Soviet Union, cast in  a greater perspective.  No one better understood the  Russian soul.  Under the protection of Brezhnev, who  loved his singing, Vysotsky spent a great deal of time  going back and forth between France and the U.S.A.,  
marvelling at the contrasts.  His inability to reconcile East and West  ultimately made his alcoholism worse and he died way too young at 44.   Since 1991, many Russians have toured the international stage  individually with great success but one  group  deserves special  commendation: The Russian National Symphony Orchestra.  It was  formed by the pianist/composer Michael  Pletnev  and is a compilation  of the best players from all of the symphony orchestras extant in the  USSR up to 1991.  This orchestra interprets Russian composers like no other.  To hear a good example of truly Russian classical music, try  Rachmaninoff’s 2nd symphony, ONLY as performed by The Russian  National Symphony Orchestra---universally panned by Western music  critics structurally but is a clear example of soaring and emotive  Russian musical imagery.   Generally, the arts and crafts have not fared  well since 1991 due to the loss of State subsidies and very little  philanthropy.  Most creative types are poor, and the attitude towards  poverty in Russia is not a happy one.  But the masses love the arts, are  avid readers and especially, they love poetry.         Finally, a story must be told.  It may be true, it may not be true.  It  can’t be proven conclusively but because it involves an intensely  personal and private man, a man considered to be one of the most  important in the last 100 years, Stalin, it has to be told.  It is a story told  through art, and could really be a window into the great tyrant’s soul.   The story comes in reference to the life of the composer Shastakovich,  and it goes that one evening in 1948, on the radio, Stalin heard  Mozart’s #23 piano concerto played live by an orchestra.  He liked it so  much that he ordered the orchestra to make a recording for him that  evening.  The story continues that in the room where Stalin died in  March of 1953, this record was on his record player.  So, maybe,  understanding this #23 helps to understand the man---and indeed, it  could.  It may be  interpreted as the story of Stalin’s entire life told  through music.  Stalin is the pianist, of course.  In the first part, there is  practically no piano.  This part represents Stalin’s life through 1914 or  so.  He was meaningless.  The second part is a slow, maudlin, listless,  and murky  interaction between the piano and the orchestra,  representing Stalin’s rise to power through 1929.  In the last part, the  piano is dominating and the orchestra follows.  This represents the final  chapter of Stalin’s life from 1929 on, when he was in absolute control.   Art and creativity are integral to Russian culture, and the Russian  people are extremely feeling, creative,  and talented.                                                          
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