Lermontov & Balakirev

Portrait of the poet done in 1837,
the year he went on exile
and when Balakirev was born.
by Pyotr Zabolotsky
Moscow, October. A cold wind was blowing thousands of yellow dried leaves, sometimes circling in high tornado like swirls but usually ending under the feet of the few that ventured on the streets that night. A few drops of rain began to fall when at the door of a white two story house a man was knocking, nervously shouting "open, it's me, Yuri". Mikhail Lermontov was born in this house on 15 October 1814 to captain Yuri Petrovich Lermontov, who prided himself with a Scottish descent, and Maria Mikhaylovna Lermontova. Their marriage was a total failure ending with Maria's death at the age of 21, as a result of finding about her husband's infidelity (and her tuberculosis). Mikhail grew up in the village of Tarkany being raised by his maternal grandmother in luxurious comfort and enjoying an excellent education. He became fluent in French and German and learned to play some musical instruments. Eventually, because of bad health, he was sent to the Caucasus, a place that greatly influenced him and where he will eventually return to.

One of Lermontov's paintings
during his exile in 1837
To summarize his biography, in 1827 along with his grandmother they will move to Moscow were he will begin formal studies at the Moscow University's boarding school. Things don't go that well there and he finally enters the School of Cavalry Junkers and Ensign of the Guard. Passing the exams in 14 November 1832 he became a junior officer in the Life-Guard Hussar regiment. Pushkin's duel and subsequent death motivated him to write "Death of the Poet" which will bring him to the attention of Tsar Nicholas I and also guaranteeing him a short exile in the Caucasus. The poem also gave him a reputation, effectively marking his debut. After another exile and rest assured, many tales left untold, Mikhail found a fate not very different from Pushkin's. On July 27, 1841, he died in a duel with Nikolai Martynov because he ridiculed his behavior. Martynov and Lermontov had been colleagues at the Cavalry School and Martynov actually praised his upbringing and personality.

This is indeed a special Duo as it is dedicated to Lermontov. Mily Balakirev will have his own feature on this site soon but until then I will have to settle with writing a few things about the present symphony. Tamara is directly influenced by Lermontov's poetry and as such I thought it was the perfect combination. Balakirev's orientalism in this symphony is at times delicate and shy and other times powerful and proud, clearly a touchstone of the style, building on the work undertaken by Glinka.


The Prophecy
A year will come, the year of Russia, last,
When the monarchs' crown will be cast;
Mob will forget its former love and faith,
And food of many will be blood and death;
When the cast off  law will not guard
A guiltless woman and a feeble child;
When the plague on bodies, sick or dead,
Among the gloomy villages will spread,
To call from huts with pieces of a rag,
And dearth will maim this poor earth as plague;
And on the lakes will fateful glow lay:
A mighty man will come in this black day.
You'll recognize this man and understand,
Why he will have the shining knife in hand:
And woe for you! -- Your moans and appeals
He will consider just as funny things;
And all his image will be awful now,
As his black mantle and his lofty brow. 

Where waves of the Terek are waltzing
In Dariel's wickedest pass,
There rises from bleakest of storm crags
An ancient grey towering mass.

In this tower by mad winds assaulted,
Sat ever Tamara, the Queen--
A heavenly angel of beauty,
With a spirit of hell's own demesne.

Through the mist of the night her gold fires
Gleamed down through the valley below,
A welcome they threw to the pilgrim,
In their streaming and beckoning glow.

How clear rang the voice of Tamara!
How amorous did it invite!
The heart of the stranger enticing,
Seducing with magic delight!

The warrior was snared by her singing,
Nor noble, nor herd could withstand--
Then noiseless her portal was opened
By eunuchs of shadowy hand.

With pearls rare adorned and strange jewels,
Reposed on a billowy nest,
A prey to voluptuous longing,
Tamara awaited her guest.

With passioned and thrilling embrace,
With straining of breast unto breast,
With sighing and trembling and transport--
In lust's unrestrained, giddy zest--

So revelled 'mid desolate ruins,
Of Lovers,--past counting at least!
In their bridal night's wild distraction,
And in truth at their own death feast.

For when from the peaks of the mountains
The sun tore the night's veiling soft,
There reigned anew only the silence
On turret and casement aloft.

And only the Terek bewailing
With fury broke in on the hush,
As dashing her billows on billows
Her writhing floods onward did rush.

A youth's form her currents are bearing,
Ah vainly they murmur and swell!
A woman, a pale and a fair one--
Cries down from her tower 'Farewell!'

Her voice has the sound of faint weeping,
So amorous, tender and sweet--
As if she in love's holy rapture
Did promise of meeting repeat!

translator unknown

Death of a Poet

The Bard is killed! The honor's striver
Fell, slandered by a gossip's dread,
With lead in breast and vengeful fire,
Drooped with his ever-proud head.
The Poet's soul did not bear
The shameful hurts of low breed,
He fought against the worldly  "faire,"
Alone as always, ... and is killed!
He's killed! What for are late orations
Of useless praise; and weeps and moans,
And gibberish of explanations? --
The fate had brought her verdict on!
Had not you first so hard maltreated
His free and brave poetic gift,
And, for your pleasure, fanned and fitted
The fire that in ashes drifts?
You may be happy ...  Those tortures
Had broken his strength, at last:
Like light, had failed the genius gorgeous;
The sumptuous wreath had weathered fast.

His murderer, without mercy,
Betook his aim and bloody chance,
His empty heart is calm and healthy,
The pistol did not tremble once.
And what is wonder? ... From a distance,
By road of manifold exiles,
He came to us, by fatal instance,
To catch his fortune, rank and price.
Detested he the alien lands
Traditions, language and discussions;
He couldn't spare The Fame of Russians
And fathom -- till last instant rushes --
What a disaster grips his hand! ...

And he is killed, and leaves from here,
As that young Bard, mysterious but dear,
The prey of vengeance, deaf and bland,
Who sang he of, so lyric and sincere,
Who too was put to death by similar a hand.

And why, from peaceful times and simple-hearted fellows,
He entered this high life, so stiff and so jealous
Of freedom-loving heart and passions full of flame?
Why did he give his hand to slanders, mean and worthless
Why trusted their words and their oaths, godless,
He, who from youth had caught the mankind's frame?

And then his wreath, a crown of sloe,
Woven with bays, they put on Poet's head;
     The thorns, that secretly were grown,
     Were stinging famous brow, yet.
His life's fast end was poisoned with a gurgle
And faithless whisper of the mocking fops,
And died he with burning thrust for struggle,
With hid vexation for his cheated hopes.
    The charming lyre is now silent,
    It will be never heard by us:
    The bard's abode is grim and tightened,
    And seal is placed on his mouth.

And you, oh, vainglory decedents
Of famous fathers, so mean and base,
Who've trod with ushers' feet the remnants
Of clans, offended by the fortune's plays!
In greedy crowd standing by the throne,
The foes of Freedom, Genius, and Repute --
    You're hid in shadow of a law-stone,
    For you, and truth and justice must be mute! ...

But there is Court of God, you, evil manifold! --
    The terrible court: it waits;
    It's not reached by a ring of gold,
It knows, in advance, all thoughts' and actions' weights.
Then you, in vain, will try to bring your evil voice on:
    It will not help you to be right,
And you will not wash of with all your bloody poison,
    The Poet's righteous blood!
Смерть поэта
Погиб поэт! - невольник чести- 
Пал, оклеветанный молвой, 
С свинцом в груди и жаждой мести, 
Поникнув гордой головой!.. 
Не вынесла душа поэта 
Позора мелочных обид, 
Восстал он против мнений света 
Один, как прежде... и убит! 
Убит!.. к чему теперь рыданья, 
Пустых похвал ненужный хор 
И жалкий лепет оправданья? 
Судьбы свершился приговор! 
Не вы ль сперва так злобно гнали 
Его свободный, смелый дар 
И для потехи раздували 
Чуть затаившийся пожар? 
Что ж? веселитесь... - он мучений 
Последних вынести не мог: 
Угас, как светоч, дивный гений, 
Увял торжественный венок. 

Его убийца хладнокровно 
Навел удар... спасенья нет: 
Пустое сердце бьется ровно, 
В руке не дрогнул пистолет. 
И что за диво?... издалека, 
Подобный сотням беглецов, 
На ловлю счастья и чинов 
Заброшен к нам по воле рока; 
Смеясь, он дерзко презирал 
Земли чужой язык и нравы; 
Не мог щадить он нашей славы; 
Не мог понять в сей миг кровавый, 
На что он руку поднимал!..

И он убит - и взят могилой, 
Как тот певец, неведомый, но милый, 
Добыча ревности глухой, 
Воспетый им с такою чудной силой, 
Сраженный, как и он, безжалостной рукой.

Зачем от мирных нег и дружбы простодушной 
Вступил он в этот свет завистливый и душный 
Для сердца вольного и пламенных страстей? 
Зачем он руку дал клеветникам ничтожным, 
Зачем поверил он словам и ласкам ложным, 
Он, с юных лет постигнувший людей?... 

И прежний сняв венок - они венец терновый, 
Увитый лаврами, надели на него: 
           Но иглы тайные сурово 
           Язвили славное чело; 
Отравлены его последние мгновенья 
Коварным шепотом насмешливых невежд, 
И умер он - с напрасной жаждой мщенья, 
С досадой тайною обманутых надежд. 
           Замолкли звуки чудных песен, 
           Не раздаваться им опять: 
           Приют певца угрюм и тесен, 
           И на устах его печать. 
А вы, надменные потомки 
Известной подлостью прославленных отцов, 
Пятою рабскою поправшие обломки 
Игрою счастия обиженных родов! 
Вы, жадною толпой стоящие у трона, 
Свободы, Гения и Славы палачи! 
           Таитесь вы под сению закона, 
           Пред вами суд и правда - всё молчи! 
Но есть и божий суд, наперсники разврата! 
           Есть грозный суд: он ждет; 
           Он не доступен звону злата, 
И мысли, и дела он знает наперед. 
Тогда напрасно вы прибегнете к злословью: 
           Оно вам не поможет вновь, 
И вы не смоете всей вашей черной кровью 
           Поэта праведную кровь! 

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