Opening a series of portraits of the Silver Age, we start off not with a musician, artist or writer, but rather begin with the portrait of a man who, in effect, himself created his profession – one that at first glance seems ‘secondary’ to “lofty art” itself. He was an entrepreneur. However, one of genius! Extraordinary! A unique persona in the history of Russian art. A man who created a turmoil, an upheaval in culture of not only Russia, but the world at large! His name – Sergei Diaghilev.
A “Napoleon of Russian Art”, “descendant of the great reformer Peter I”, “powerful alchemist of culture” — these were only some of the words applied to this remarkable person. He conceived a grand-scale Russian Empire of the Arts which would conquer the world. So what was it: the mad plan of an obsessed ambitious high-climber? He really was ambitious to the point of frenzy. …(“I have two idols: success and fame”, Diaghilev used to pronounce unabashedly). However, the result of his volcanic-like activity, obliterating all obstacles that stood in its path, were real tangible achievements, which to a great degree determined the directions for 20th century culture…
In the very first years of the 20th century there was a veritable boom in Russia’s art world. Sergei Diaghilev created a magazine, and later – a community of artists, which would make a name for itself all across the world – “Mir Isskustva” (World of Art). Alexander Benois, Konstantin Somov, Lev Bakst, Alexander Golovin — their exhibitions were sensations. The magazine dealing with new art circulated all across Russia and Europe in unbelievable runs. The great Russian writer Anton Chekhov wrote to Diaghilev: “you are the most ingenious chief editor there ever was and could be!”
A new sensation is soon forthcoming. Sergei Diaghilev writes a monograph about a forgotten Russian 18th century artist Dmitry Levitsky. And after this comes the revelation of the fantastically talented and quite unknown to anyone Russian 18th century!
The year 1903. Thunderous success of exhibitions comprising six thousand historic portraits, collected by Diaghilev all across Russia. To begin with Russia raved over them, then it was the turn of the heart of European culture — Paris. Revelations of Russian art – ranging from ancient icon art to Malevich and Kandinsky!
And in 1907 there began the triumphant march across the world of Russian music. Diaghilev’s first project – “5 concerts of Russian music” in Paris. And as the result – a storm of stunned amazement, sensations and revelations. “Rave reviews were abundant in newspapers and magazines all over the world, as it listened with bated breath to the music of Glinka, Mussorgsky, Scriabin, the conducting of Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff’s playing…
The year 1908. Overwhelming success of a production of “Boris Godunov” by Mussorgsky brought by Diaghilev to the Opera de Paris. A half century prior to the birth of the authentic trend in world art Diaghilev himself labored in the archives to restore the original score. Shining in all splendor in the revived production of “Boris” was the remarkable Fyodor Chaliapin, who at the time acquired international acclaim.
The year 1909. Presently the entire world is marking a very special date – the 100th birth anniversary of the famous “Russian Seasons”. No wonder, they are also dubbed “Diaghilev’s seasons”. His ideas were to ‘fire’ the entire world: opera and ballet productions, where the stage scenery, directing, performance act on a par with the music, singing and dance. All the participants — geniuses! Artists Benois, Bilibin, Golovin, Roerich, singers Chaliapin, Yershov, Sobinov, dancers, choreographers – Pavlova, Karsavina, Fokine, Nizhinsky. It was he – Sergei Diaghilev – who made them megastars!
The world churns in rapturous delight over productions of “Khovanschina” and “Tale of Czar Sultan”, ballets to music of Rimsky-Korsakov, Debussy, Ravel, Richard Strauss or the mesmerizing “Polovetsk Dances”…
Sergei Diaghilev possessed remarkable intuition, a gift of foresight. He was the one who introduced into the Russian language the words “modernism”, “constructivism” — and he was also the one to ‘provoke’ the further development and evolution of these innovative trends. It was none other than Diaghilev who revealed to the world the wondrous talent of Igor Stravinsky!
…A young composer demonstrates his music. Fifty eight times one ear-splitting chord is repeated… Diaghilev asks: shall this continue for long?!!”
“Up until the very end of the ballet, my Dear!” replies Stravinsky defiantly.
And Diaghilev accepts the challenge, and is quite enchanted when at the premiere in Paris the public rages, whistles and even spits!
“Excellent! This is a real victory. This is how people intuitively react to something brand new. I am not at all interested what the seniors will say, though they might be the wiser. I am interested what my grandchildren will think of the art of my time!”
That is how the world-famous “The Rite of Spring”, “Petrushka”, “Fire Bird” were born…
In 1929, Nikolai Roerich would write of him: “We can consider Diaghilev’s achievements as those of a great personality who left his mark in history.” While Igor Stravinsky would dub him a “unicum” possessing a unifying artistic willpower of universal scope”. Outstanding ballet master Serge Lifar, who once stared out in Ballets Russes, yet another of Diaghilev’s brainchild’s that became fantastically famous all over the world, summed up decades later: “If it were not for Diaghilev, so much in 20th century art might never have happened at all.”
Sources:The Voice of Russia,www.artpages.org.ua