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Tag archive: Moscow

Harshly Critical

Sergei Prokofiev, photographed in about 1918

1916: The music critic Leonid Sabaneyev described the first Moscow performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite as bad, cacophonous and barbaric. Sabaneyev wrote the review off the top of his head; he didn’t bother to attend the performance. If he had, he would have known that it was cancelled at short notice.

Source: Nicolas Slonimsky, Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven’s Time (2000), p. 129

Papal Divisions

1935: During a visit to Moscow, the French foreign minister, Pierre Laval, urged Joseph Stalin to improve the lot of Catholics in the Soviet Union. Stalin was utterly contemptuous of Catholics and the Vatican. “The Pope!” he snorted. “How many divisions has he got?” (To which the perfect riposte would have been: “The same number that Karl Marx had.”)

Source: Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, I: The Gathering Storm (1950), p. 121

Turned Out Nice

1997: No one wants it to rain on their parade. To make sure that wet weather didn’t spoil Moscow’s 850th anniversary pageant, the city’s mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, sent up aircraft to seed approaching clouds with silver iodide as a way of encouraging them to shed their rain before they reached the celebrations.

Source: Gavin Pretor-Pinney, The Cloudspotter’s Guide (2006), p. 270

Nuclear Annihilation Averted

1983: American President Ronald Reagan didn’t mince his words. The previous year, he had predicted that the West would consign Marxism and Leninism to the “ash heap of history”. In March 1983, he labelled the Soviet Union “an evil empire”.

Also in March, Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative, intended to protect the United States from attack by strategic nuclear ballistic missiles. In April, the United States Navy conducted a large fleet exercise in the northern Pacific. An important NATO exercise was planned for Europe in November, around the same time that Pershing II medium-range ballistic missiles were to be deployed in West Germany.

Viewed from Moscow, all this bellicose rhetoric and activity was highly alarming. Was it the prelude to a sneak attack on the Soviet Union?

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Senior Comrades Drop Like Flies

Moscow by night, with Lenin’s mausoleum at the side of Red Square and the Kremlin behind, photographed by Andrew Shiva

1983: After years of arteriosclerosis, severe coronary disease, leukaemia and emphysema, the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev died in November 1982 at the age of 75. Yuri Andropov was already seriously ill with chronic kidney disease and diabetes when he stepped into Brezhnev’s shoes, and died 15 months later. Andropov’s successor, Konstantin Chernenko, suffered from emphysema, cirrhosis and hepatitis, and survived only 13 months in the top spot.

In the summer of 1983, and perhaps indicative of the doddery health of the Soviet leadership, an escalator was installed in the Kremlin to help ailing elderly comrades cope with the short climb to the platform on top of Lenin’s mausoleum in Red Square.

Source: Dmitri Volkogonov, The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire: Political Leaders from Lenin to Gorbachev (1998), pp. 371–2

Queen Charms Soviet Leader

1956: Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev visited Britain, where he was charmed by Elizabeth II – “the sort of young woman you’d be likely to meet walking along Gorky Street on a balmy summer afternoon.”

Source: Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers, ed. Strobe Talbott (1971), p. 406

Moscow’s Gorky Street, since renamed Tverskaya Street, photographed in 1957 by Manfred and Barbara Aulbach

Double Take

1980: The gold medals in the men’s coxless pairs rowing event at the Moscow Olympics were won by identical twins, likewise the silver medals. Bernd and Jörg Landvoigt of East Germany finished in first place, with Nikolai and Yuri Pimenov of the Soviet Union in second.

Source: David Wallechinsky, The Complete Book of the Olympics (2004), p. 19

Eisenstein Cuts It Fine

Poster for Sergei Eisenstein's film The Battleship Potemkin

Poster for Sergei Eisenstein’s film The Battleship Potemkin

1925: On 21 December, Sergei Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin was first screened at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Eisenstein had toiled for three weeks to edit the film in time, and was still putting the finishing touches to it on the opening night.

His assistant Grigori Alexandrov recalled, “I spent the evening riding on a motorcycle between the cutting room and the theatre, carrying the reels one at a time. When Eisenstein was finally happy with the last reel, he sat on the back of my motorcycle with the can of film under his arm. . . . but when we were in the middle of Red Square, and about a quarter of a mile from the Bolshoi, the motorcycle broke down. So we ran the rest of the way!”

At that time, films were shown with a break between each reel. “All went well, except that the break between the last two reels was nearly twenty minutes long!”

Source: Ronald Bergan, Eisenstein: A Life in Conflict (1997), pp. 111–12