Arthur Vincent Lourie's Opera on Pushkin's Black Great-Grandfather

Article excerpt

The four texts below were delivered orally and in tandem at the interdisciplinary conference "Alexander Pushkin: An Historic Symposium at Harvard, Exploring the Dual Heritage of Russia's Greatest Poet, Father of Modern Russian Literature and the Black Russians of the 20th Century," held at Harvard University on April 4, 2008. We opened with a brief biographical introduction to the modernist composer Arthur Vincent Lourie (1891-1966), reproduced here as a timeline, followed by a summary of the plot of his Apart [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Then Klara Moricz provided a musical and thematic interpretation of the opera. Caryl Emerson closed as a discussant, commenting on three themes from that presentation. To date the opera has not been recorded or staged.

I

Biographical-Musical Prelude

Caryl Emerson

Arthur Vincent Lourie [ApTyp Aypbe] (1891-1966)

* Born Naum Izraelevich Lur'ya, 1891 St. Petersburg, son of a timber merchant; d. 1966 Princeton, NJ and buried behind St. Paul's Catholic Church on Nassau Street.

* Student of Glazunov's and classmate of Prokofiev's at the Petersburg Conservatory; active in Symbolist-Decadent, pre-Revolutionary St. Petersburg (idolizes Alexander Blok, Velimir Khlebnikov). Gains fame among the poets of his generation for his wit, superb piano skills, and fastidious dandy-like dress.

* Early career is avant-garde: by 1913 he is well-known as a minimalist "musical Futurist," indebted to Debussy, Scriabin, and, briefly, to the Futurist Nikolai Kul'bin, a rarefied modernist composer who worked with microtones and an altered piano.

* 1912: Prior to marrying the pianist Yadwiga Tsybul'skaia (Polish by birth), Lourie is baptized in the Roman Catholic faith. (Later influences of this religiosity on the opera: Ibrahim gets a patron saint, "St. Benedict the Moor"; portions of the score resemble oratorio and medieval chant.)

* 1921-22: Intimate of Olga Glebova-Sudeikina and Anna Akhmatova. Among the first to set Akhmatova's verse to music; also one of her early lovers.

* 1921-22: Serves Lunacharsky as Head of Music Division of the Commissariat for Popular Enlightenment. Possible financial mismanagement.

* 1922: Defects to Berlin during a business trip, leaving his wife and daughter in Russia.

* 1924: Settles in Paris; works as musical arranger and public spokesperson for Igor Stravinsky.

* 1920s: Lourie's music, like Stravinsky's at the time, is an exotic mix of styles with a strong neoclassical accent: influence of Palestrina, Monteverdi, sacred genres of the Roman Catholic church (masses, motets). While remaining a minimalist, he filters these medieval Western sounds through dense bass sonorities of Russian liturgical chants.

* 1920s-30s: Contact with Parisian Russian Eurasianists.

* 1920s: Befriends French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) and his Russian-Jewish wife Raissa.

** Maritain, a celebrated interpreter of St. Thomas Aquinas, founds a Catholic social action movement and "liberal Christian humanism." In Paris associates with Nicholas Berdiaev.

** In 1940 Maritain moves to USA, teaches at Princeton (1941-42) and Columbia (1941-44); 1944-48 serves as French ambassador to the Vatican.

** In 1960 Maritain returns to France, and wills his Princeton house to the Louries.

* 1926, March 12: Lourie appears at Pougny's ball on 14 rue de la Croix-Nivert in turban and blackface, anticipating the Parisian craze for la negritude in the 1930s. According to Stefan Hulliger, head of the Lourie Gesellschaft in Basel (November 30, 2007, personal communication), Lourie relished such outre masquerades. He chose to remain an outsider among aristocratic Russian emigres in Paris, where he was known as the "Bolshevik commissar who had been 'nationalizing' their Stradivarius and Amati instruments for the Communist regime. …