This monument to the poet Alexander Blok is tucked away in a tiny square under a bunch of trees that rather dwarf it. I never see it when driving past, although it’s only a few meters from the roadside. And even when you walk past and stop to say hello, you almost feel like you’re engaging in some semi-secretive activity. Not far from here there’s a huge monument to Alexei Tolstoy (the latter) that is plopped prominently in the middle of an otherwise empty square. You can’t miss him. Also not far from here is a loud, pompous statue of Alexander Pushkin and his bride Natalya Goncharova encircled in an oversized gazebo with water splashing all over the place right in front of the church where they were married. But I’ll get to these and other notable locations around the Nikitskiye Vorota area of Moscow some other time. The semi-hidden Blok, meanwhile – rarely missed by pigeons, as you can see – is still another public art work created by the sculptor Oleg Komov. He must have known somebody. His work here is perfectly acceptable. It gives us a Blok who looks quite like what we expect him to. The thin, elongated figure seems to suit a poet of great style.
The statue was erected here in 1992 because it is located a stone’s throw from a building where Blok lived for a short spell in January 1904, a year and a half before the poet wrote his first play, which my friend and colleague Timothy C. Westphalen translates as A Puppet Show. You can read his verse translation of this and two other Blok dramas, The King on the Square and The Unknown Woman, in Aleksandr Blok’s Trilogy of Lyric Dramas (2003). Professor Westphalen is also the author of Lyric Incarnate: The Dramas of Aleksandr Blok (1998), the only existing monograph about the poet’s plays. As such there is no excuse for anyone ever to say that they don’t know where to find good information about Alexander Blok’s plays. Tim has taken care of that for us.
Sergei Rakhmaninov. Piano Concerto No. 2. You can hear Yuja Wang do a nice version of it on YouTube. I’m pretty sure this was the first classical record I ever purchased. Not the first classical record I owned – that was Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, a family heirloom I wore out the grooves on – but the first I bought. And even if it wasn’t the first classical record I bought, it is the first that ever competed seriously with records by Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Ray Charles, the Kinks and a few others for my attention. Rakhmaninov’s second piano concerto is some of the most moving, I would even say disturbing, music I have ever heard. At least that is true of the first few minutes and of those segments that reprise the stunning opening. In there you can hear the elements whirl and stir, you can hear the planet groan as it expands and contracts. In it you feel time racing ahead, out of control. There is in this music chaos and raw, elemental power.
The concerto itself is so unlike this monument on Strastnoi Boulevard, in which the composer looks to me to be a proper, self-satisfied dandy! His bow tie and his slicked-back hair, his tightly-fitting jacket and his vest, his long, loose fingers and his lithe, lanky body all suggest a man who is well-packed up in his formidable defenses against the kind of chaos we hear in the first few minutes of the piano concerto. I like this sculpture by Oleg Komov and Andrei Kovalchuk. And I love the setting amidst the flowers and the shivering, rustling greenery. But there’s something about it that’s a little too slippery. I slip and slide right by it without ever quite getting inside. The hands, though, are gorgeous. No two ways about that. Those are the hands of a pianist and composer. They have powerful music in them. [ADDED July 4]: If you doubt that last statement, go here to hear the man play his Piano Concerto No. 2 himself.
Mikhail Lermontov, who died in 1841 at the age of 27 in a duel , is a reproach to all of us who have ever looked up for a moment and wondered why we haven’t done more with our lives. Lermontov had just begun his life when he was cut down, and yet he left behind a legacy of poetry and drama that makes him one of the great Russian writers. This statue, which stands in the Muzeon Park near the Central House of Artists alongside the Moscow River, is an artist-authorized copy of Oleg Komov’s statue that stands in Tarkhany, the estate where the poet grew up and where he is buried. On one hand this sculpture is simple to the point of banality – it reminds me at moments of a student work, as if the artist were trying out the basic ABCs of his future profession. On the other hand, its simplicity is surely “built in” and intended. Lermontov sits there in a relaxed pose with a relaxed expression on his face. Yes, there’s a little concern in his gaze, but not too much. His military uniform, which can make him look stiff and very official in his portraits, here has a warmly and humanly haphazard air about it. The closer you get to the monument, the more you feel a living person inside it.
I don’t know why this particular statue is located in the “fallen monuments” section of the Muzeon Park, but it is a nice place for it. There are lots of guests always around it – I mean monuments and real people – and so there is always a sense of community to this little plot of land. If you look at the upper part of Lermontov’s thighs, you’ll see that the bronze has been worn to a shiny sheen. That is from people who can’t refuse the opportunity to take a seat in a great poet’s lap. That, too, adds to the personable feel of this otherwise deceptively modest statue.