No poet is more revered in Russia than Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837).  His biography reads like a romantic novel: an ancestry that included Russian aristocrats and an Abyssinian prince, numerous amorous adventures (he claimed to have been in love 114 times), constant quarrels with the authorities, membership in secret societies, exile to the distant reaches of the Russian Empire, and death in a duel fought to defend his wife's honor.

 

Who was Pushkin?

 

For a Russian, this question is similar to who was Shakespeare for the Englishman or who was Goethe for a German.  Pushkin is the very lodestar of the creator of the Russian literary language. Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, and Nabokov are all unthinkable without him.

 

He is the creator of Russian poetry.  It is said that everything written in English poetry prior to Wordsworth sounds somehow odd and old-fashioned.  Yet everything written afterwards sounds somehow like Wordsworth.  The same could be said of Pushkin—all Russian poetry before his age sounds outright archaic.  He, on the other hand, brought to Russian poetry the ease and flow of the living language.  His verse is very carefully constructed, yet it flowed from his pen with ease simplicity of Mozart’s music.  It is infused with something what Italians call sprezzatura—a certain sophisticated nonchalance. 

 

At the age of 20 Pushkin was expelled from Saint Petersburg for his rebellious poetry.  He spent six long years travelling through the vast Russian empire visiting the Caucasus, Crimea, Moldova, and Ukraine.  Pushkin in Exile is a recording project based on a lecture-recital by Anton Belov. It leads the audience through Pushkin's extraordinary journey as depicted in the art songs of Glinka, Gurilev, Dargomyzhsky, Rachmaninoff, Glazunov, Medtner, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rubinstein, Gretchaninov, and Shaporin.

An 1827 portrait of Alexander Pushkin by Vasily Tropinin

The Songs:

 

1. Alexander Glazunov: Dream

2. Alexander Gretchaninov: The Captive

3. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: The Floating Chain of Clouds is Turning Thin

4. Alexander Gurilev: To the Fountain of the Bakhchisarai Palace

5. Anton Rubinstein: Night

6. Yuri Shaporin: Invocation

7. Nikolai Medtner: A Winter Evening

8. Mikhail Glinka: My Blood is Ablaze with Desire

9. Alexander Glazunov: My Blood is Ablaze with Desire (an Oriental Romance)

10. Alexander Dargomyzhsky: My Sister's Garden

11. Mikhail Glinka: I Recall the Wonderful Moment

12. Sergey Rachmaninoff: Arion

13. Alexander Dargomyzhsky: You and Thou

14. Mikhail Glinka: Do not Sing to Me, Oh Beauty (Georgian Song)

15. Sergey Rachmaninoff: Do not Sing to Me, Oh Beauty

16. Alexander Dargomyzhsky: I Was in Love with You

17. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: The Prophet