Bolshoi Theatre archives reveal lives of musicians

Mon Jul 18, 2011 9:59am EDT
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By Anna Andrianova

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The death of a tyrant, abduction by the secret police and insight into the minds of some of the greatest composers in history are all part of the details that Russia's Bolshoi Theater have discovered in the margins of the centuries-old sheet music in its archives.

The discoveries have been made during the digitalization of the Bolshoi's music archives, which are some of the oldest and most extensive in the world and include rare treasures such as a 15th century Italian songbook score containing handwritten words in Latin.

Amid the pieces of music are also notes and doodles by ordinary musicians, written and drawn during countless hours spent in the orchestra pit or rehearsal rooms of the 18th century theater, bringing touches of humor and reality.

At the bottom of one music score, written in Cyrillic capital letters are the words "The Great Stalin is Dead," referring to the Soviet dictator who died in 1953.

The word 'Great' has been scratched out. No one knows whether that was the original author or one of the next musicians to use the score.

Until the Soviet Union collapsed two decades ago, the theater was the scene of official events and performances and it is clear the musicians had their own opinions on the political climate of the day, said Bolshoi archivist Olesya Bobrik.

"It seems they came for Tatiana," one violinist wrote during rehearsals of Pyotr Tchaikovsky's opera "Eugene Onegin" in 1968, referring to the frequent disappearances of people taken away by the Kremlin's secret police for interrogation.

Another note from 1940 on the side of an opera by composer Carl Maria von Weber read: "It was 8 degrees today (Celsius) and we played. Some people's noses froze."   Continued...

<p>Branches of a tree in front of the Bolshoi theatre in central Moscow are covered with ice, December 26, 2010. REUTERS/Mikhail Voskresensky</p>