Women in Russia
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6. Women and Music

Philip Ross Bullock

In comparison to the related fields of literature and the visual arts (examined by Rosalind Blakesley and Arja Rosenholm and Irina Savkina in this volume),1 the place of women – whether individually or collectively – in modern Russian music has barely begun to be studied. The rise of the so-called ‘new musicology’ in Anglo-American criticism, which has done so much to foreground discussion of gender and sexuality, has thus far, had relatively little impact on Russian studies. Despite the transformation of academic priorities that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russian musicology remains to a great extent occupied by issues relating to the life and works of canonical male composers, such as the homosexuality of Petr Chaikovskii (1840–93) or the alleged anti-Soviet opinions of Dmitrii Shostakovich (1906–75). Even where scholars have begun to reassess the historiography of Russian music, as in the case of work by Marina Frolova-Walker and Richard Taruskin on the discourses of nationalism, the role of gender in cultural production has received scant attention.2 Yet, whether as teachers, performers, scholars, composers or patrons, women have played a central role in the development of modern Russian musical culture, even if this role has not enjoyed the prominence it deserves. As Rosalind Blakesley argues in her chapter on the visual arts:

It is important […] to consider the earlier period of relative inactivity as much as the high-profile artists at the dawn of the twentieth century; as charting the transition of women artists in Russia from marginal figures to practitioners of world renown raises significant questions about the role of women in Russia’s creative and cultural life.

Of course, many of the barriers that have prevented women from participating fully in the cultural sphere were not unique to Russia and the conventional narrative of European women’s increased involvement in aspects of public and professional life from the eighteenth century onwards is one that can be told of Russia too (albeit with constant reference to specific, local factors).

Before the beginning of the eighteenth century, female participation in Russia’s musical institutions was necessarily limited by the fact that women were confined to the terem (separate quarters). Women could not appear on the stage (especially in the religious dramas that formed the core of the pre-Petrine theatrical repertoire) and Nikolai Findeizen’s survey of ‘singers, composers, and music theorists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’ implies an entirely male tradition (at least as revealed by the study of official documents).3 Such restrictions (usually motivated by considerations of ecclesiastical propriety) did not, though, apply to popular culture. Contemporary accounts of the skomorokhi (minstrels) suggest that women often took part in dancing and revelry. Giles Fletcher (1548–1611), the sixteenth-century English diplomat, observed that the Tsar would entertain himself ‘with jesters and dwarfs, men and women that tumble before him and sing many songs after the Russian manner’.4 Similarly, Adam Olearius (1603–71), who visited Muscovy in the middle of the seventeenth century, noted: ‘The dancers, particularly the women, hold varicoloured, embroidered handkerchiefs, which they wave about while dancing although they themselves remain in place almost all the time’.5 Women were also deeply involved in the musical manifestations of peasant culture, such as seasonal songs, marriage rituals, laments, spells, charms and divinations (many of which would – like performances by the skomorokhi – be censured by the Church on account of their pagan origins).6

The roots of women’s modern involvement in secular and society music-making, however, go back to the beginning of the eighteenth century. Indeed, it was three of Russia’s three eighteenth-century empresses – Anna (1693–1740, reigned from 1730), Elizabeth (1709–62, reigned from 1741) and Catherine the Great (1729–96, reigned from 1762) – who did much to establish Western-style music and music-making at the heart of the cultural life of the court and the capitals (Peter the Great’s interest in music was limited largely to ceremonial functions). It was during Anna’s reign that music first became ‘an indispensable part of court life – an embellishment and a required entertainment’.7 This can be seen most obviously in her decision to invite a series of Italian opera troupes to visit Russia from 1731. The tradition of female imperial patronage was continued by Catherine the Great, who brought a French opera company to Russia and, conversely, encouraged Russian composers to study in Western Europe. She also supported the nascent institutions of Russian opera, as well as writing the libretti for five comic operas on folk themes and The Beginning of Oleg’s Reign (Nachal’noe upravlenie Olega), an historical pageant that made extensive use of choruses and songs.8 Music soon became one of the social accomplishments of the all-round enlightenment citizen, as can be seen in the case of Ekaterina Dashkova (1742–1810), the first president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who sang at Catherine’s court, kept an album of favourite pieces and took a lively interest in the musical issues of the day.9 The important role played by the salon in establishing norms of civilized behaviour and cultural intimacy meant that if women did turn their hand to composition, it was in the form of songs and small instrumental works suitable for domestic performance.10 Of those that made it into print, such as the Huit romances, composées et arrangées pour le harpe par la princesse Natalie de Kourakin (1795), a few were attributable to a particular composer. Yet many other works were published either anonymously or behind a series of initials (where only the grammatical ending allows us to discern the gender but not the identity of the author).11

A further factor in inhibiting women’s compositional activities may have been the absence of comparable role models in Western Europe more generally. Figures such as Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1755–1842) or Madame de Staël (1766–1817) – both of whom visited Russia – offered examples of female creativity in painting and literature,12 yet there were few, if any, well-known women composers who might serve as archetype and inspiration. Indeed, it would not be until well into the late nineteenth century that women would achieve any degree of prominence as composers in Europe. Chaikovskii, for instance, was impressed by the abilities of the British composer, Ethel Smyth (1858–1944), whom he met in 1888:

Miss Smyth is one of the comparatively few women composers who may be seriously reckoned among the workers in this sphere of music. She had come to Leipzig a few years before and studied theory and composition very thoroughly; she had composed several interesting works (the best of which, a violin sonata, I heard excellently played by the composer herself and Mr Brodsky), and gave promise in the future of a serious and talented career.13

Yet what appear to modern critics as distinct constraints on feminine creativity may, nonetheless, have granted women some greater freedom of manoeuvre than at first seems to be the case. With the shift from sentimentalism and neo-classicism to a form of romanticism in the early nineteenth century, the salon was no longer necessarily the realm of the accomplished society amateur and hostesses could aspire to more than simply the modes of politeness and patronage that had been their lot previously. The Moscow salon of Zinaida Volkonskaia (1792–1862) – one of the greatest admirers of de Staël in Russia – became one of the most significant musical and literary venues of the 1820s.14 Her opera – Giovanna d’Arco – was performed in her Roman salon in 1821 (with Volkonskaia herself taking the lead role), and she staged a private performance of Paisiello’s La bella molinara during the Congress of Vienna in 1822.15 Another important Russian salon was that held in St Petersburg by the virtuoso Polish pianist and composer Maria Szymanowska (1789–1831), who toured extensively through Russia and Europe, and was eventually appointed ‘court’ or ‘first’ pianist.16 It was in such quasi-domestic settings – as much as in the public spaces of the court and the theatre – that Russia first consolidated its status as a cultural power, and women played a crucial role in this process.

Nevertheless, a professional career in music long remained closed to Russian women of the nobility or gentry, and public performance long remained the domain of foreigners, or of serfs and townspeople (meshchane), whose presence on the stage was less likely to upset Russia’s feudal code or to transgress social propriety. Indeed, the relationship between class and gender was crucial to the world of musical theatre, governed as it was by what one scholar has dubbed ‘the erotic bond linking serf-performer and master-spectator’.17 One leading actress and singer from serf background was Praskov’ia Kovaleva (1768–1803), nicknamed the ‘Pearl’ (‘Zhemchugova’).18 The mistress of Count Nikolai Sheremetev (whom she married clandestinely in 1801), she performed extensively at the Sheremetev family theatre at Kuskovo (one of Russia’s leading musical venues) throughout the 1780s and 1790s. Another leading singer of the era was Elizaveta Uranova (1772–1826), who trained at the St Petersburg theatrical academy, known principally by her married name of Sandunova. Her marriage to the actor Sila Sandunov (1756–1820) was achieved only after a struggle with one of Catherine’s ministers, Aleksandr Bezborodko (1747–99), who desired the singer for himself. Although the Sandunovs were eventually allowed to marry as a result of Catherine’s direct intervention (a case of female imperial benefactor defending a female performing artist), the case, nonetheless, illustrated that even the most talented and popular artists could still be treated as little more than the property of noble patrons.19 (The position of women actresses in this period is treated in greater detail by Julie Cassiday elsewhere in this volume.)

The emphasis placed by Russia’s rulers on the values of enlightenment and civilized behaviour (in both public and private) had significant consequences for women’s involvement in culture more generally. Led by Aleksandra Fedorovna (1798–1860), wife of Nicholas I (1796–1855), the imperial household took a keen interest in music, giving a lead to members of the nobility, gentry and middle classes to do the same. As Richard Wortman writes: ‘Alexandra was an active patron of the musical life of the court and the capital. She organized numerous family musicals, where she played the piano and Nicholas played the trumpet’.20 In particular, women’s education (whether at home, or at boarding schools such as the Smolnyi Institute in St Petersburg, the Ekaterininskii Institute in Moscow, or similar institutions in provincial cities) came to include not only formal literacy, but also a whole range of accomplishments – music, as well as drawing, dancing, a rudimentary knowledge of history and geography and a command of modern foreign languages – that were explicitly designed to improve the marriage prospects of girls from the nobility and gentry. Well into the nineteenth century, girls acquired often impressive abilities as singers and instrumentalists (whether on the harp, guitar or the keyboard), something reflected in the literature of the time. As Richard Stites notes: ‘Few Russian novels about the gentry failed to feature a piano performance or song by a young marriageable girl’.21 From the late eighteenth century onwards, cheap and accessible collections of song texts circulated, evidence of the extent to which the cultivation of the arts in polite company had begun to spread, both socially and geographically. As their titles make clear The Latest Songbook for Tender Maids and Amiable Women (Noveishii tualetnyi pesennik dlia milykh devits i liubeznykh zhenshchin) (Orel, 1820), or The Latest Songbook for Beautiful Girls and Amiable Women (Noveishii pesennik dlia prekrasnykh devushek i liubeznykh zhenshchin) (Moscow, 1820) – there was a distinct association between femininity and music. Indeed, the emphasis placed on the cultivation of polite conversation, the unmediated expression of tender emotion and the role of women as teachers meant that culture more generally underwent a process of feminization, even if female creativity itself was constrained.22 As Arja Rosenholm and Irina Savkina suggest about the impact of sentimentalism on women in the late eighteenth century: ‘on the one hand it legitimized femininity as publicly significant and creative; on the other, it laid down strict limits for the creative representation of the female’.

The cultivation of amateurism and the association of music-making with a feminine (or feminized) sensibility began to be challenged around the middle of the nineteenth century. Talented musicians from the nobility such as Vladimir Odoevskii (1803–69) and the Viel’gorskii brothers

(Matvei, 1787–1863, and Mikhail, 1788–1856) had already moved in this direction, but the most decisive step came in 1859 with the foundation of the Russian Music Society, whose primary aim was ‘the development of musical education and musical taste in Russia and the encouragement of native talents’.23 Russian musicians had long been aware that they lacked the kind of professional training and institutional identity offered by the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. Only with the opening of the St Petersburg conservatoire in 1862 (the Moscow Conservatoire followed in 1866) could musicians – both men and women – aspire to some sort of professional status in Russian society (see, for instance, Blakesley’s discussion of the evolving position of women in the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, also in this volume). Although much of the credit for these achievements belongs to Anton Rubinshtein (1829–1894), nothing could have been done without the support of his imperial patron, Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna (1807–73), who lent the official authority of the state to the new undertaking and encouraged other patrons and subscribers to participate.24 The most obvious beneficiaries of this new form of conservatoire training were largely men, whether composers such as Chaikovskii, or the many native performers who could now aspire to a professional career (not least former peasants and members of the urban lower classes who studied orchestral instruments).25 Yet the majority of conservatoire students were in fact young women of talent and dedication, but who were unlikely – because of considerations of wealth, gender and class – to embark on public careers.26 Such women went on instead to make up the large and largely unsung body of music teachers who were so central to Rubinshtein’s overall aim of developing ‘musical education and musical taste’. Just as Elena Pavlovna illustrated the persistence of eighteenth-century notions of aristocratic patronage in the service of Russia’s liberalization under Alexander II, so too did an appeal to women’s pedagogical abilities constitute a modernization of traditional feminine accomplishments and gender roles.

It would thus be some time before women came to play a more visible role in Russia’s musical life, and even when women were able to cultivate their skills as teachers and performers, the ultimate beneficiaries of this process would often still be men; many male musicians received their earliest musical education at home from their mothers. A further way of supporting the careers and aspirations of men was by providing the kind of substantial financial support that could not yet be provided by fees and royalties alone. In the case of Chaikovskii, it was the assistance of Nadezhda fon Mekk (1831–94) that proved essential in dealing with a succession of personal and professional difficulties. The widow of a recently deceased railway magnate, and consequently extremely wealthy, she first approached Chaikovskii in 1876 with a request to provide arrangements of his own works for violin and piano for her to play (she was a gifted amateur violinist). In the wake of his disastrous marriage to Antonina Miliukova (1849–1917) in 1877, Chaikovskii suffered a breakdown and fled to Western Europe. It was at this point that fon Mekk stepped in, offering not only to pay off his outstanding debts, but also to provide a regular monthly allowance. This allowance – which would be paid until 1890 – was instrumental in allowing Chaikovskii to give up his position at the Moscow Conservatoire in 1878 and thus establish himself as Russia’s first full-time professional composer. By mutual arrangement, the two never formally met (although they did encounter each other occasionally in society and at her country estate) and their relationship was conducted through a series of long and demonstrative letters (in his, Chaikovskii gave some of the most detailed commentaries on his own works).27 A commonplace in the secondary literature (derived ultimately from Chaikovskii’s earliest biographers) has been the juxtaposition of the selfless and devoted supported of fon Mekk and the hysterical distractions of the egotistical Miliukova, a juxtaposition in which the traditional gendered opposition of women as either angelic or malevolent can clearly be discerned.28

Known variously as the Balakirev circle, the New Russian School, or the Mighty Handful (moguchaia kuchka), the five members of the ‘nationalist’ school were all men: Milii Balakirev (1837–1910), Aleksandr Borodin (1833–87); Tsezar’ Kiui (1835–1918); Modest Musorgskii (1839–81); and Nikolai Rimskii-Korsakov (1844–1908). Opposed to conservatoire training and often earning their livelihoods by other means (at least during the heyday of the movement in the 1860s and 1870s), they did without the kind of female patronage observed in the cases of Rubinshtein and Chaikovskii. Nonetheless, as Vladimir Stasov (1824–1906) observed, two sisters – Aleksandra and Nadezhda Purgol’d (1845–1929 and 1848–1919 respectively) – played a crucial role in the artistic life of this close-knit group:

Mention must also be made of two gifted women who played an important rôle in the fortunes of the new Russian school. These were the Purgold sisters, both of whom were exceptionally talented musicians and quite unique among the multitude of women who pursued this art in the days of Glinka and Dargomïzhsky, or, in fact, who pursue it today. The elder sister, Alexandra Nikolayevna (Alexandra Molas, by marriage) was a singer who was taught first by Dargomïzhsky and later by Mussorgsky. Her singing style, not being of the conventional operatic variety, was excellently suited to the interpretation of honest and unaffected music, whether passionate, tragic, comic or tender – to the recitative style which forms the basis of all the songs and much of the operas written by our new school. Indeed, her singing was so true to the spirit of the music that now and then one of these composers would say that his work had two authors – himself and the performer. The other sister, Nadezhda Nikolayevna (later the wife of Rimsky-Korsakov), was not only more highly educated musically than any of our other women engaged in music; she not only had an instinctive grasp of music and its forms but she was, herself, a gifted composer. Her compositions include an orchestral fantasy Night based on Gogol’s story St. John’s Eve, and a piano fantasy. She transcribed many of her friends’ orchestral compositions for piano four-hands and orchestrated several passages of The Maid of Pskov. Moreover, even while under Dargomïzhsky’s tutelage, she as such an excellent accompanist that Musorgsky constantly referred to her as ‘our orchestra’. From the end of the sixties and beginning of the seventies, the Purgold sisters took part in preliminary readings of all the songs and operas being composed by the members of the group and afterwards also participated in full rehearsals of their works.29

Stasov’s approval of the Purgol’d sisters (notwithstanding Nadezhda’s gifts as a composer) is based largely on their noble and altruistic support for the male composers of the nationalist school (although the influence of Nadezhda’s thorough academic training on her husband was also treated with suspicion by Stasov and Balakirev, who felt she was leading him away from the nationalist cause).30 Stasov’s admiration of the Purgol’d sisters was, moreover, in inverse proportion to his dislike of ‘the multitude of women who pursued this art in the days of Glinka and Dargomïzhsky, or, in fact, who pursue it today’. Despite the widespread sympathy for female emancipation among members of the radical intelligentsia in the second half of the nineteenth-century (Stasov’s own sister, Nadezhda Stasova (1822–95), was a leading member of the women’s movement and was involved in philanthropic work to improve the material conditions of working women),31 Stasov appears to be expressing here a distaste for the feminization of musical life (whether in dilettante society or the lower levels of the profession) that was then widespread.32 The distinctive role played by women in supporting the work of the nationalist composers can in fact be traced back to Liudmila Shestakova (1816–1906), the sister of Mikhail Glinka (1804–57). Not only did she organize Glinka’s own indolent and disorderly life, but she also assiduously promoted his posthumous reputation by preserving and publishing his scores, compiling biographical material about him (indeed, she had earlier encouraged him to write his own memoirs) and encouraging renewed interest in the performance of his compositions. Moreover, through her close relationships with Stasov and the nationalists, she contributed to the historiography of Russian music by endorsing them as heirs to Glinka’s legacy (one commentator has even dubbed her the ‘handmaid to Russian music’).33 If Shestakova did much to encourage these composers at the beginning of their careers, then their subsequent popularity owes much to Mariia Olenina d’Al’geim (1869–1970), who studied with Aleksandra Purgol’d-Molas in 1887 and did much to promote the songs of Musorgskii, first in France and then in Russia itself, around the turn of the century.34

If women were adept at playing the role of handmaids to masculine creativity (in a way that parallels the patronage of figures such as Mariia Tenisheva at Talashkino, discussed by Blakesley elsewhere in this volume), then they were also beginning to explore their own talents more confidently, whether as performers or (less frequently) composers. The position of foreign women in Russian musical life remained, as before, prominent. Clara Wieck Schumann (1819–96) had toured Russia in 1844 and again in 1864 as one of Europe’s leading virtuoso pianists, but perhaps the most durable impression made by a female musician from Europe was that made by Pauline Viardot (1821–1910), who arrived in St Petersburg in 1843 (with her husband, Louis) to sing in a series of Italian operas. It was at this time that she met Ivan Turgenev (1818–83), who immediately fell in love with her and who was to spend the rest of his life living with or near to the Viardots (who left Russia in 1846).35 Despite her association with the Italian opera in St Petersburg, Viardot, nonetheless, made a significant contribution to

Russian music itself. In the singing-lesson scene in Rossini’s Barber of Seville, she famously inserted a Russian romance – Aliab’ev’s Nightingale (Solovei) – as well as setting a number of verses by Russian poets as songs herself. Her most famous collaboration with a Russian writer, however, took the form of the operettas which she composed to librettos (in French) by Turgenev, such as Trop de femmes (1867), L’ogre (1868), Le conte de fées and Le dernier sorcier (both 1869), which were performed at her home in Baden-Baden.

The position – whether social or material – for Russian performers had also begun to improve around the middle of the century. An important element in the establishment of a professional system of conservatoire training was the fact that graduates obtained the title of ‘free artist’ (svobodnyi khudozhnik), which granted them an increasingly secure sense of social status than had been the case under the former system of feudal patronage. Alongside professional respect came a greater sense of aesthetic worth. As the national arts began to play an even larger part in Russian life and it became ever more possible for individual artists to make a living on the basis of their creative work, native performers began to enjoy more of the respect once accorded to foreign virtuosi. Anna Vorob’eva-Petrova (1816–1901) – herself the daughter of two of Russia’s leading singers – created the roles of Vania and Ratmir in Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar (Zhizn’ za tsaria, 1836) and Ruslan and Liudmila (Ruslan i Liudmila, 1842) respectively. Iuliia Platonova (1841–92) claimed to have brought about the staging of the revized version of Musorgskii’s Boris Godunov, first by creating the role of Marina Mniszek in the partial version of the opera that was performed in 1873 and then by using the occasion of a benefit concert to insist on a full production of the work (although scholars have since disputed her version of the story).36 Aleksandra Panaeva (1853–1942) was the first to sing the role of Tat’iana in Chaikovskii’s Eugene Onegin (Evgenii Onegin) in a performance at the Moscow Conservatoire in 1879 (he would dedicated his Seven Romances, op. 47 to her the following year). Around the turn of the century, Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel’ (1868–1913) sang in many of the premieres of Rimskii-Korsakov’s operas at the private opera house belonging to Savva Mamontov (1841–1918) in Moscow and created the part of Sirin in the first performance of Rimskii-Korsakov’s The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniia (Skazanie o nevidimom grade Kitezhe i deve Fevronii) at the Mariinskii Theatre in St Petersburg in 1907.

Women also enjoyed successful careers as teachers, with professorships at the conservatoires offering a particularly visible marker of professional success (often alongside operatic and concert careers). The Swedish mezzo-soprano Henriette Nissen-Saloman (1819–79) had taught singing at the St Petersburg Conservatoire from its very opening. There, her pupils included Natal’ia Iretskaia (1845–1922), who later taught at the St Petersburg Conservatoire, and Elizaveta Lavrovskaia (1845–1919), who also studied with Viardot. Lavrovskaia went on to sing the roles of Vania and Ratmir that had been created by Vorob’eva-Petrova, and famously suggested Eugene Onegin as a suitable subject for an opera to Chaikovskii (she also taught at the Moscow Conservatoire). These direct connections between generations of female teachers and performers did much to establish a distinct Russian vocal tradition that was to last well into the next century. If a career as a singer had always been a possibility (however constrained by social convention) for a musical woman, then that of a concert pianist was somewhat more unusual, as can be seen by the career of Anna Esipova (1851–1914), who toured Europe extensively in the late nineteenth century before being appointed professor at the St Petersburg Conservatoire, where her pupils included Sergei Prokof’ev (1891–1953). A performing career was not without its perils, though, as can be seen from the career of Evlaliia Kadmina (1853–81), whose fate can be seen as an example of what Julie Cassiday refers to, in her chapter in this volume on nineteenth-century actresses, as ‘a distinctively Russian tendency to blend art and life, often to the tragic detriment of the latter’. Of mixed merchant and gypsy origin, she was educated initially at the Elizavetinskii Institute for the daughters of the nobility, before going on to study singing with Aleksandra Aleksandrova-Kochetova (1833–1903) at the Moscow Conservatoire. After a successful career in both the capitals and the provinces, and a period studying in Italy, she was, nonetheless, subject to increasing criticism and eventually gave up singing in favour of acting. An unhappy love affair led her to take her own life – she took poison and collapsed on stage, dying a few days later. The potency of her myth was fictionalized in a number of literary versions of her suicide, including Turgenev’s ‘Klara Milich’ (1882), Anton Chekhov’s ‘Tat’iana Repina’ (1889) and Aleksandr Kuprin’s ‘Her Final Debut’ (‘Poslednii debiut’, 1889).37

If Kadmina’s life and death were memorialized in a number of works of Russian fiction, then the careers of a number of singers of popular music were facilitated by the development of new technologies. Early-twentieth-century artistes such as Nadezhda Plevitskaia (1884–1940), Varia Panina (1872–1911) and

Anastas’ia Vial’steva (1871–1913) engaged with ever wider audiences through concerts, recordings, photography and the often melodramatic stories that circulated about their lives (although it is only recently that the study of urban middle-brow culture has attracted serious academic study).38

The legend of Kadmina illustrates both the possibilities and perils of a performing career in the mid-nineteenth century. Yet if the role of diva and teacher was increasingly (although not entirely) an accessible, acceptable and attractive one for educated women in nineteenth-century Russia, then that of composer was altogether more difficult, although not entirely impossible. Valentina Serova (née Bergman, 1846–1924) had joined the St Petersburg Conservatoire in 1862 in order to study the piano with Rubinshtein. The following year, she married the composer and critic, Aleksandr Serov (1820–71), with whom she also studied. Her debut as a composer came in 1871, when she completed (along with Nikolai Solov’ev (1846–1916)) the final act of her husband’s opera, The Power of the Fiend (Vrazh’ia sila), which had been left incomplete on his sudden death. She went on to write four operas of her own, including Uriel Acosta (1885, performed at the Bolshoi in Moscow) and Il’ia Muromets (performed at Mamontov’s private opera in 1899).39 Another important woman composer was Ella Shul’ts (1846–1926), who took the pseudonym Adaevskaia. A virtuoso pupil of pianist Adolf Henselt (1814–89), she went on to study at the newly-founded St Petersburg Conservatoire from 1864 to 1868, thanks to the generosity of Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna (something she was forbidden to reveal). Her first opera – The Homely Girl (Neprigozhaia, 1873), also known as The Boyar’s Daughter (Doch’ boiarina) – was followed by The Dawn of Freedom (Zaria svobody, 1877). However, this was turned down by the censor – despite being dedicated to the reformist tsar Alexander II – on the grounds that it included a depiction of a peasant uprising. Having undertaken a number of European concert tours,

Adaevskaia eventually settled in Western Europe, first in Venice, and then – from 1911 – in Germany, where she was part of the circle of women surrounding Elisabeth, Queen of Rumania (1843–1916), who published poetry in a variety of languages under the pen-name of Carmen Sylva. That the first monograph about Adaevskaia was published only in 2005 suggests just how belated the study of Russia’s women musicians has been.40

Adaevskaia was also a keen ethnomusicologist and studied not only Russian folksong, but also Orthodox Church music and even the music of Ancient Greece (she perceived affinities between Greek music and Slavonic chant and one of her most significant compositions is her Greek Sonata (Grecheskaia sonata) for clarinet or violin and piano of 1880, which draws on her studies of musical modes). Indeed, some of the earliest studies in Slavonic folk music were pioneered by women, such as Ol’ga Agreneva-Slavianskaia (1847–1920). But the most prominent female musicologist of the time was Evgeniia Lineva (1853/4–1919). Having begun her career as a professional singer (and, indeed, as a clandestine revolutionary, responsible for translating some of the works of Marx and Engels into Russian), she then became one of the first people to employ the phonograph in order to transcribe Russian folksongs.41 Famed for their accuracy (recording for the first time the multiple parts of a folksong in performance rather than a single melody), they also provided Igor’ Stravinskii (1882–1971) with material that was to be incorporated into his Rite of Spring (Vesna sviashchennaia, 1913). In addition to further researchers into Slavic folk music, Lineva helped found the People’s Conservatoire in Moscow (1905–18) in order to give lessons in choral singing to the less well-off.

Lineva also enjoyed a prominent reputation in the West. Between 1890 and 1896, she lived in emigration in the UK and the USA (where she raised money for the émigré community by organizing performance of Russian folksongs by her own choir). Even after her return to Russia she participated in international musicological congresses and published her research in international journals. The part played by women in promoting Russian national music (whether in the form of ethnomusicological research or the composition of art-music) was noted by one British critic in 1914: ‘The student of Russian music will notice ere his researches are far advanced that the development of Russian musical nationalism owes very much to the efforts of women’.42 The list included not only the Purgol’d sisters, fon Mekk, Olenina-d’Alheim and Lineva, but also two Western women who had done much to popularize Russian music in Europe. The first was the Countess Mercy-Argenteau (1837–90), who organized a series of concerts of Russian music in Belgium from 1885, translated a number of opera libretti and song texts and whose 1888 book on Kiui was one of the first works devoted to Russian music in any Western language.43 The other was Rosa Newmarch (1857–1940), who studied with Stasov at the Imperial Library in St Petersburg, helped promote the performance of Russian works throughout Britain (especially at the Queen’s Hall Promenade Concerts) and published a great number of books and articles on aspects of Russian music (and the arts more generally).44 In many ways, Newmarch’s career was a successful fusion of the traditional feminine accomplishments prized in British middle-class society (in particular, modern languages and music) and modes of female participation in the cultural sphere (patronage, popularization and education) that had also evolved within the context of nineteenth-century Russian society.45

By the start of the twentieth century, then, Russian women had begun to participate more fully in various aspects of musical life: not just as lower-class entertainers, or noble patrons and amateurs; but as teachers, composers, musicologists and performers. Many of the transformations that had taken place in the late Imperial era were to be consolidated and further built upon by the nominal commitment to female emancipation and equality that characterized the whole of the Soviet era (although as Marxism-Leninism was a class-based system of social and economic analysis, gender issues as such were often marginalized or even repudiated altogether under the heading of ‘bourgeois feminism’). One of the clearest instances of continuity between the pre-revolutionary radical tradition and the Soviet period can be seen in the career of Nadezhda Briusova (1881–1951), sister of the poet Valerii Briusov (1873–1924). Briusova and Lineva had been the only two women involved in the foundation of the People’s Conservatoire in Moscow. Moreover, Briusova shared both Lineva’s interest in the folk music repertoire, and her commitment to educating the masses in the performance and appreciation of music more generally. Not only was Briusova active as a teacher (first at the People’s Conservatoire, then at the Moscow Conservatoire), but she was also one of the few women to achieve prominence in the Commissariat of Enlightenment and other agencies of state and political power. As a woman, Briusova was able to contribute in the cultural sphere because of durable notions of women as educators and enlighteners, especially in the arts. At the same time, however, she was confronted with attendant prejudices against the system of professional music education in Russia, which was often denigrated on account of its perceived gender bias. As Amy Nelson argues: ‘Briusova struggled both to overcome the stigma associated with teaching music as a profession and to orient the pedagogy programme to the needs of Soviet popular education programmes. Before the revolution, teaching was considered a fall-back option for failed performers and a money-making pastime for bourgeois women’.46 If the advancement of women in Soviet academic institutions had its roots in the achievements of the pre-revolutionary intelligentsia, then the possibilities open to Soviet women composers also had a direct link to the late Imperial age. Rimskii-Korsakov’s wife, Nadezhda Purgol’d, had given up her own ambitions to serve her husband (and the nationalist cause more generally), but his daughter-in-law, Iuliia Veisberg (1880–1942) was able to embark on a more independent career. After studying in St Petersburg and Berlin, she married Andrei Rimskii-Korsakov (1878–1940) and together they edited the journal, The Musical Contemporary (Muzykal’nyi sovremennik), from 1915 to 1917. After the Revolution, Veisberg would become a leading member of the Association of Contemporary Music (a modernist grouping of composers that maintained close links with the West), although it would be her compositions for children (operas and songs) for which she was most praised; clearly, female creativity continued to be linked with notions of social enlightenment.

If histories of Soviet and post-Soviet musical life contain the names of some of Russia’s most illustrious female figures – think, for instance, of composers such as Galina Ustvol’skaia (1919–2006) or Sof’ia Gubaidulina (b. 1931), of performers such as Galina Vishnevskaia (b. 1926) or Mariia Iudina (1899–1970), or the immense contribution made by women to twentieth-century Russian musicology47 – then it is nonetheless important not to view developments before 1917 as little more than a preparatory act for the achievements that were to follow. As can be seen, the history of women’s on-going involvement in Russian music is a complex and evolving one. Gender is far from being an absolute or essential category which rigidly determines the participation of any single group within the institutions and expectations of a given society. Exactly what constitutes appropriate behaviour for women differs from generation to generation, as do women’s own attitudes to whether their gender shapes their place in the social realm or not (and if so, to what extent and in what specific ways). What is clear is that women have made a series of vital contributions to Russian musical culture, and that the impact of gender on the intricate interplay between individuals and the broader social context remains to be studied in detail.

1.See, for instance, A History of Women’s Writing in Russia, ed. by Adele Marie Barker and Jehanne M. Gheith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); An Anthology of Russian Women’s Writing, 1777–1992, ed. by Catriona Kelly, trans. by Catriona Kelly et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994); Catriona Kelly, A History of Russian Women’s Writing, 1820–1992 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994); Jordana Pomeroy et al., An Imperial Collection: Women Artists from the State Hermitage Museum (New York: National Museum of Women in the Arts; London: Merrell; 2003) and Amazons of the Avant-Garde: Alexandra Exter, Natalia Goncharova, Liubov Popova, Olga Rozanova, Varvara Stepanova, and Nadezhda Udaltsova, ed. by John E. Bowlt and Matthew Drutt (London: Royal Academy of Arts; New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1999).

2.Marina Frolova-Walker, Russian Music and Nationalism: From Glinka to Stalin (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2007) and Richard Taruskin, Defining Russia Musically: Historical and Hermeneutical Essays (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997).

3.Nikolai Findeizen, History of Music in Russia from Antiquity to 1800, trans. by Samuel William Pring, ed. and annotated by Milos Velimorović and Claudia R. Jensen, with the assistance of Malcolm Hamrick Brown and Daniel C. Waugh, 2 vols (Indianapolis and Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008), I, 259–66.

4.Cited in Catriona Kelly, ‘The Origins of the Russian Theatre’, in A History of Russian Theatre, ed. by Robert Leach and Victor Borovsky (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 18–40 (20).

5.Cited in Findeizen, History of Music in Russia from Antiquity to 1800, I, 119.

6.Natalie Kononenko, ‘Women as Performers of Oral Literature: A Re-Examination of Epic and Lament’, in Women Writers in Russian Literature, ed. by Toby W. Clayman and Diana Greene (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994), pp. 17–33.

7.Findeizen, History of Music in Russia from Antiquity to 1800, II, 1.

8.Lurana Donnels O’Malley, The Dramatic Works of Catherine The Great: Theatre and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Russia (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), especially Chapter 5, ‘Comic Operas’, pp. 169–200.

9.E. R. Dashkova i muzyka, ed. by M. P. Priashnikova (Moscow: MGI imeni E. R. Dashkovoi, 2001).

10.A selection of such works can be heard on Music of Russian Princesses from the Court of Catherine the Great (Dorian Recordings DOR-93244).

11.M. G. Dolgushina, U istokov russkogo romansa: kamernaia vokal’naia kul’tura aleksandrovskoi epokhi (Vologda: Knizhnoe nasledie, 2004), p. 80.

12.Malcolm V. Jones, ‘Flirting Her Way round the Court of St Petersburg: Some Thoughts on Vigée-Lebrun’s Russian Period and Her Portrait of Varvara Nikolaevna Golovina’, in Diagonales dostoïevskiennes: mélanges en l’honneur de Jacques Catteau, ed. by Marie-Aude Albert (Paris: Presses de l’université de Paris-Sorbonne, 2002), pp. 273–89. Esteem for de Staël was far from universal, however, and a number of (male) commentators blamed her for ‘damaging women’s morals or simply for monopolizing the admiration for women readers at the expense of young (male) Russian writers’. See Alessandra Tosi, Waiting for Pushkin: Russian Fiction in the Reign of Alexander I (1801–1825) (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2006), pp. 141–42.

13.Cited in Rosa Newmarch, Tchaikovsky: His Life and Works, with Extracts from His Writings, and the Diary of His Tour Abroad in 1888 (London: Grant Richards, 1900), p. 194.

14.Thomas P. Hodge, A Double Garland: Poetry and Art-Song in Early-Nineteenth-Century Russia (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2000), pp. 225–26.

15.Lives in Letters: Princess Zinaida Volkonskaya and her Correspondence, ed. by Bayara Aroutunova (Columbus, OH: Slavica, 1994) and Maria Fairweather, Pilgrim Princess: A Life of Princess Zinaida Volkonsky (London: Robinson, 1999).

16.Anne Swartz, ‘Maria Szymanowska: Contemporary Accounts from Moscow and St Petersburg’, New Journal for Music, 1.1 (1990), 38–64.

17.Laurence Senelick, ‘The Erotic Bondage of Serf Theatre’, Russian Review, 50.1 (1991), 24–34 (29).

18.Douglas Smith, The Pearl: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in Catherine the Great’s Russia (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2008).

19.Lurana Donnels O’Malley, ‘Signs from Empresses and Actresses: Women and Theatre in the Eighteenth Century’, in Women in Russian Culture and Society, 1700–1825, ed. by Wendy Rosslyn and Alessandra Tosi (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), pp. 9–23 (15–16) and Wendy Rosslyn, ‘Female Employees in the Russian Imperial Theatres (1785–1825)’, in Women and Gender in 18th-Century Russia, ed. by Wendy Rosslyn (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003), pp. 257–77.

20.Richard S. Wortman, Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy, 2 vols (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995–2000), I: From Peter the Great to the Death of Nicholas I, 342.

21.Richard Stites, Serfdom, Society, and the Arts in Imperial Russia: The Pleasure and the Power (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 2005), p. 59.

22.Gitta Hammarberg, ‘The Feminine Chronotope and Sentimentalist Canon Formation’, in Literature, Lives and Legality in Catherine’s Russia, ed. by A. G. Cross and G. S. Smith (Nottingham: Astra, 1995), pp. 103–20.

23.Cited in Philip S. Taylor, Anton Rubinstein: A Life in Music (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007), p. 83.

24.Anne Swartz, ‘The Romanov Family’s Patronage of Music, 1820–1880’, in Encomium Musicae: Essays in Memory of Robert J. Snow, ed. by David Crawford (Hillsdale: Pendragon, 2002), pp. 717–32.

25.Lynn Sargeant, ‘A New Class of People: The Conservatoire and Music Professionalization in Russia, 1861–1917’, Music and Letters, 85.1 (2004), 41–61 (49–52).

26.Sargeant, ‘A New Class of People’, pp. 48–49, 52–54.

27.‘To My Best Friend’: Correspondence between Tchaikovsky and Nadezhda von Meck, 1876–1878, ed. by Edward Garden and Nigel Gotteri, trans. by Galina von Meck (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).

28.For a ‘revisionist’ account of the marriage from Chaikovskii’s wife’s point of view, see Valerii Sokolov, Antonina Chaikovskaia: istoriia zabytoi zhizni (Moscow: Muzyka, 1994).

29.Vladimir Vasilevich Stasov, ‘Twenty-five Years of Russian Art: Our Music’, in Selected Essays on Music, trans. by Florence Jonas (London: Barrie and Rockliff, 1968), pp. 66–116 (110).

30.Marina Frolova-Walker, ‘Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov’, in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, 2nd edn, 29 vols (London: Macmillan, 2001), XXI, 400–23 (401).

31.Barbara Alpern Engel, Mothers and Daughters: Women of the Intelligentsia in Nineteenth-Century Russia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 57–61, and Richard Stites, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism, 1860–1930 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), p. 66.

32.Sargeant, ‘A New Class of People’, pp. 52–53.

33.Serge Bertensson, ‘Ludmila Ivanovna Shestakova – Handmaid to Russian Music’, The Musical Quarterly, 31.3 (1945), 331–38.

34.Alexander Tumanov, The Life and Artistry of Maria Olenina-d’Alheim, trans. Christopher Barnes (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2000).

35.April Fitzlyon, The Price of Genius: A Life of Pauline Viardot (London: John Calder, 1964).

36.Caryl Emerson and Robert Oldani, Modest Musorgsky and Boris Godunov: Myths, Realities, Reconsiderations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 82–84.

37.Julie Buckler, ‘Her Final Debut: The Kadmina Legend in Russian Literature’, in Intersections and Transpositions: Russian Music, Literature, and Society, ed. by Andrew B. Wachtel (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1998), pp. 225–52. More generally, see Julie A. Buckler, The Literary Lorgnette: Attending Opera in Imperial Russia (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), especially Chapter 3, ‘Embodying Opera: The Prima Donna in Russia’, pp. 57–94.

38.Louise MacReynolds, ‘“The Incomparable” Anastassia Vial’tseva and the Cult of Personality’, in Russia – Women – Culture, ed. by Helena Goscilo and Beth Holmgren (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), pp. 273–94.

39.Malcolm Hamrick Brown, ‘Serova, Valentina Semyonovna’, in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, XXIII, 140.

40.Renate Hüsken, Ella Adaïewsky (1846–1926): Pianistin, Komponistin, Musikwissenschaftlerin (Cologne: Dohr, 2005).

41.E. Lineva, Velikorusskiia pesni v narodnoi garmonizatsii, 2 vols (St Petesburg: Imp. akademiia nauk, 1904–09), trans. Eugenie Lineff, The Peasant Songs of Great Russia as They Are in the Folk’s Harmonization, 2 vols (St Petersburg: Imperial Academy of Science; London: D. Nutt, 1905–12).

42.M. Montagu-Nathan, ‘The Influence of Women on the Russian School’, The Musical Times (1 July 1914), 442–44 (442).

43.Ctesse de Mercy-Argenteau, César Cui: Esquisse critique (Paris: Librairie Fischbacher, 1888).

44.These include Tchaikovsky: His Life and Works, with Extracts from His Writings, and the Diary of His Tour Abroad in 1888 (London: Grant Richards, 1900), Poetry and Progress in Russia (London: John Lane, The Bodley Head; New York: John Lane Company, 1907), The Russian Opera (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1914), The Russian Arts (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1916) and The Devout Russian (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1918), as well as translations of Alfred Habets, Borodin and Liszt (London: Digby, Long & Co., 1895) and Modest Chaikovskii, The Life and Letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (London: John Lane, the Bodley Head; New York: John Lane, 1906).

45.On Newmarch more generally, see Philip Ross Bullock, Rosa Newmarch and Russian Music in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century England (Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009).

46.Amy Nelson, Music for the Revolution: Musicians and Power in Early Soviet Russia (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania University Press, 2004), p. 166.

47.Ellon D. Carpenter, ‘Women Music Scholars in the Soviet Union’, in The Musical Women: An International Perspective, ed. by Judith Lang Zaimont et al., 3 vols (New York and London: Greenwood Press, 1984–91), III, 456–516.