В.С. Непомнящий, ред. «Моцарт и Салиери», трагедия Пушкина. Движения во времени 1840е-1990е. Москва: Наследие, 1997. стр. 935. ISBN: 5201132758. В преплете.

Robert Reid. Pushkin's "Mozart and Salieri": Themes, Character, Sociology. Amsterdam: Rodopi. 1995. (Studies in Slavic Literature and Poetics, 24) 199 pages. ISBN: 9051838115.

As was to be expected, the years leading to the Pushkin bicentennial resulted in an explosion of Pushkin-related publications, including numerous anthologies. Valentin Nepomniashchii’s collection presents 150 years of Russian engagement with Mozart and Salieri. The book’s 935 pages and 65 authors suggest that Nepomniashchii has chosen an encyclopedic approach to his material; unfortunately, it is that of Soviet encyclopedias. The ideological criterion for the selection of material informs and undermines the scholarly value of this publication. The sheer amount of information, however, makes it an essential volume for any Pushkin scholar.

In the tradition of Soviet encyclopedias, Nepomniashchii dismisses anything published abroad, be it Western scholarship or the work carried out by generations of Russian émigrés. Marina Kostalevsky’s excellent essay is the only exception to this editorial rule, helped, no doubt, by the fact that it was previously published in Russia. The editor bases his exclusionary policy on the need to expose an “historical experiment conducted over a nation and its culture” and to demonstrate the results of “ideological and spiritual terror” in its purity (23). This excuse, however, is unjustified, since the comparison with works published abroad would have only sharpened his argument. One can also question the wisdom of such an instrumental approach to Pushkin’s text—the use of his poetry to achieve an ideological goal—as if Russia did not suffer enough from that. Regardless of these reservations, one must still congratulate Nepomniashchii with the completion of his project, since no matter what it omits, it includes a multitude of authors, some familiar to any Slavist, some unknown even to Pushkinists.

Scoring belated political points is not Nepomniashchii’s central task, however. Instead, he argues that the 150 years of scholarship devoted to the play demonstrates above all the presence of an unquenchable “spiritual thirst,” a thirst that refuses to be satisfied by any surrogates. For Nepomniashchii, the Soviet epoch forced Russian interpreters of the play to go in circles, until they finally realized that without the guiding light of Orthodoxy they would never escape the maze of psychologizing and sociologizing (863–64). The comparison between the best of pre-Revolutionary theological and philosophical criticism included in the collection (S. Bulgakov, Ch-v, N. Lerner, D. Darsky, M. Gerzhenzon) with the recent entries written in the same vein (M. Virolainen, A. Belyi, M.Novikova, Nepomniashchii) makes one question the concept of a maze, however. Certainly, Bakhtin’s ubiquitous dialogism makes its appearance; certainly there are some first-rate textual observations, like Virolainen’s discovery of the “principle of inversion” that informs structural, thematic, and even the verbal level of the play (822); yet, all these insights are generated to demonstrate either the play’s ambivalence or its similarity to “the classical sacral texts” (839). Sacred, Bakhtinian, or both: is it not, in the words of Yogi Berra, “déjà vu all over again”? Grateful as one should be that Russians are now free to probe into religious or philosophical issues, one does not have to share Nepomniashchii’s enthusiasm for the fact that Russian thought broke the walls of ideological control, only to be lost in a maze of religious philosophizing.

Taking the editor at his word, and approaching the collection as a window into the Russian cultural predicament, one can trace several patterns. While the works of the thirties and forties seem to be rather enthusiastic in their attempt to merge Marxist dogma with the study of Pushkin (M. Iof′ev, M. Zagorskii, B. Bukhshtab, G. Gukovsky), later essays, particularly those of the Brezhnev period, are by far more dogmatic. Rather than revealing any spiritual thirst, these perfunctory, long-winded, stifling pieces demonstrate primarily opportunism, mediocrity, and pedantry. It was during the Stalin period, however, that the dogma of Salieri as the despicable self-centered individualist took final shape and began to travel from one piece to another. It was also during this time that Salieri began to be denounced as an aristocrat, bourgeois, or elitist as opposed to the democratic Mozart (the pieces by N.N. Ardens and A. Glumov are the most typical examples of such rhetoric).

The only truly exciting piece of this thirty year hiatus is that of I. Nusinov, a thoughtful, if excessively long essay, which explores the concept of inner peace (pokoi) in the play. According to Nusinov, what drives Salieri to the murder of Mozart is his need for emotional comfort, his desire to regain peace of mind and rid himself of the anxieties that Mozart and his music engender in him. Mozart, on the other hand, seems to thrive on anxieties and premonitions, and turns them into harmonious art. Nusinov’s suggestive interpretation is marred, however, by his rather dogmatic conclusion: that Mozart’s tragedy, consisting in the conflict between a disharmonious world and a harmonious self, is inevitable in class societies, as opposed to future classless ones. Whatever utopian solutions Nusinov entertains, the very contrast of the two tragedies, that of Salieri, capable of registering harmony, but not producing it, and that of Mozart, totally committed to beauty and harmony in an inharmonious world, is very much to the point.

While the Stalin decades witness the formulation of the doctrine of the individualistic Salieri, the majority of the later works use it as a kind of a shibboleth. Condemning Salieri for either rationalism or individualism became the safe ground upon which to exhibit one’s scholarly prowess. This tendency is obvious in the work of even serious scholars such as Nepomniaishchii and Dmitrii Blagoi, whose essays hardly exhibit any signs of “thaw,” even though they represent the decade of the sixties in the anthology.

The essays written during the seventies and eighties do seem to be quite in tune with their times. It is therefore quite unclear why 425 pages, that is, almost half of the book, are devoted to this period. In fact, most of the texts here remind one of Brezhnev’s own speeches, formulaic, and leading nowhere, while containing some key words and phrases. That Soviet scholarship tends to be needlessly verbose is hardly a new point; yet, the contrast between the style of Pushkin and that of his scholars still strikes one as being quite dramatic. Probably, the greatest offender against Pushkin’s ideal of brevity and clarity is Tatiana Glushkova’s 50-page long attack on Salieri. Her diatribes against Salieri’s individualism, selfishness, godlessness or rationalism would probably make any reader jump to Salieri’s defense. Pushkin specialists would not find anything new in this piece, yet, viewed from the cultural perspective, this and many similar essays make one wonder why Salieri is the man that Russians love to hate, what makes him such a perfect scapegoat for their fears and anxieties?

While there are plenty of earlier texts whose absence would not have harmed the collection in any way (like those of Lev Shestov, A. Gornfeld, Iu. Aikhenval′d, D. Ovsianiko-Kulikovsky, V. Veresaev, B. Gorodetsky, I. Belza, S. Danelia, and B.Meilakh), it is the seventies that need the most drastic cuts. I fail to see any reason for inclusion of the works by Ia. Bilinkis, D. Ustiuzhanin, G. Makogonenko, D. Urnov, V. Korovin, V. Fedorov, Glushkova, M. Ustinov, B. Tseitlin, and even that of Iuri Chumakov, who wastes his time and talent trying to argue that the meaning of the play becomes more complex and exciting if we admit that Mozart knowingly drinks the poison. Since the more evocative pieces (V. Soloviev, S. Rassadin, A. Gukasova, N. Fridman, M. Novikova, D. Granin), the ones that enter into a genuine dialogue with the text, still contain perfunctory ideology, clichés, wooden language and other signs of the stagnation that Nepomniashchii set out to demonstrate, a few cuts would not even have been noticed.

The most successful essays of the collection are those that are more limited in scope. Concentration on a particular dimension of the play precludes the authors from being needlessly verbose: the result is an essay indispensable for any anthology of Pushkin’s play. Such are Belinsky’s observations on the conflict between genius and talent; Gukovsky’s idea of the characters representing two cultural epochs; S. Bondi’s analysis of dramatic ironies; Vadim Vatsuro’s exploration of the Pushkin-Beaumarchais connection; V. Victorovich’s insightful exposition of Dostoevsky’s indebtedness to Pushkin’s protagonists; Fazil′ Iskander’s inspired reading of Mozart’s immortal maxim on the incompatibility of genius and evil; and Iuri Lotman’s analysis of the scape-goating mentality of Salieri. These texts are considerably more productive than those that strive for bigger fish and approach the play from an ontological, metaphysical, or religious perspective. Yet it is precisely the latter works that Nepomniashchii decides to foreground in his collection.

There is another aspect that unites these latter essays: they tend to present the conflict of protagonists in terms of some cultural paradigm so abstract and huge that it makes one think of the worst excesses of nineteenth century thought. This tendency started with the brilliant Gukovsky, the scholar who put Hegelian and Marxist schemes to better use than probably any other student of Russian literature. From Gukovsky on, the need to present Pushkin’s text in terms of a clash of broad historical or cultural forces became a tick of scholarship, so that Salieri appears alternately as a representative of the Medieval outlook (Novikova), of the Renaissance (L. Grossman), as an ideologue of the Enlightenment (Glushkova, A. Belyi), a Faust-like figure (Novikova again), a Romantiic rebel (Fridman), or a Superman-individualist à la Nietzsche (Rassadin, Nepomniashchii, Ustiuzhanin).

The compilation is concluded with a 75-page-long afterword by V. Nepomniaschii, his profession de foi, so to speak. He begins by dismissing many of the critics that he compiled, faulting them for their inability to even comprehend such a concept as “sin” (847). Having observed that the majority of the critics concentrate on the human or horizontal reading of the play, while others, like Marina Novikova, stress only the vertical or religious dimension, Nepomniashchii calls for and tries himself to articulate a necessary synthesis (893). While not being particularly original or profound in this endeavor, Nepomniashchii manages, nevertheless, to provide a rather specific yet brilliant commentary on Pushkin’s stage directions (880–89). I was particularly impressed by Nepomniashchii’s demonstration of tremendous psychological and moral weight carried by individual words in these remarks (cf. the word
pospeshno from The Covetous Knight: “brosaet perchatku. Syn pospeshno ee podnimaet”), or by his ability to detect profound meaning in a seemingly innocuous remark of the type: “[Mozart] brosaet salfetku na stol,” as well as by his observations on the situational rhyming and complex parallelism of the remarks referring to the process of falling in The Stone Guest.

All in all, Nepomniashchii’s afterword is a perfect emblem of the whole collection: in parts verbose, mean-spirited, and opinionated, in parts searching, generous, and insightful. I want to believe that the good elements are due to the encounter with Pushkin, the bad ones—to Soviet years of studying him.


The encyclopedic approach also seems to mar Robert Reid’s discussion of the play. As the book’s subtitle (“Themes, Character, Sociology”) suggests, it is a book in search of a focus and a theme. In his introduction, Reid provides a rather useful if sketchy summary of both Russian and Western approaches to the play. He thus fills in an important lacuna ignored by Nepomniashchii’s collection. Advocating a cross-disciplinary approach to the play, Reid provides summaries of various psychological, sociological, and aesthetic theories with the help of which he hopes to explore the play. Reid’s deliberate attempt to take Pushkin’s text out of its immediate literary and cultural background and to place it within the context of social science theories never coheres, however. The sheer diversity of various sociological and psychological theories, coupled with the haphazard manner of their application, obfuscates rather than illuminates the play’s problematics.

In the first part, entitled “Envy,” Reid discusses the theme of envy, and views the play from the perspective of various theories of envy that range from sociological (Helmut Schoeck) to psychological (Melanie Klein). Needless to say, the various impulses that, according to modern social scientists, constitute envy (rage for just distribution, equality, or atavistic childhood fixation) are also found in Salieri’s rhetoric. This is hardly surprising, given that Pushkin’s text deals with such quintessential human activities as envy and violence. Furthermore, what strikes this reviewer as peculiar is Reid’s deliberate tendency to dismiss what for Nepomniashchii is the key to the play’s problematics: its religious and biblical concerns. Thus, when discussing envy, Reid finds it necessary to quote a study of Greek concepts of fate and moira, yet ignores the obvious biblical background of Cain and his murderous envy. Such an omission prevents Reid from benefiting from Ricardo J. Quinones’s erudite The Changes of Cain (1991), a book that takes the combination of envy, violence, and rebellion against God as its central concern, and explores the treatment of these issues in various literary texts, including Peter Schaeffer’s Amadeus and Pushkin’s Mozart and Salieri.

The next section, “Music,” concentrates on various theories of genius, art, music, and genre. Observing that the play’s aesthetic discourse consists
of a perfectly matched set of polar opposites (inspiration v. industry, emotion v. reason, 30), Reid attributes the play’s popularity and “interpretational richness” to the presence of fundamental binary oppositions that go well beyond its aesthetic dimension (31). Reid also suggests that the line separating Mozart from Salieri was drawn by the ethics and aesthetics of Kant, with Salieri remaining thoroughly pre-Kantian (49–50).

In the part entitled “The Character,” Reid brings philosophical and psychological theories to bear upon the play’s protagonists and their conflict. While suggesting that the concept of power (the basis of Alfred Adler’s theories) underlines and binds together various psychological interpretations, Reid also considers such psychological issues as doubles, projection, conflict between one’s drives and capacities, the opposition of eros and thanatos, Freud’s views on civilization and its discontents, and Adler’s interpretation of sibling rivalry. Salieri, and to a lesser degree Mozart, are shown to reflect and embody many aspects of these theories. In comparison with the time spent explaining the fundamentals of these theories, the results are rather minimal, however. They consist of describing the play’s protagonists in terms of Ludwig Feuerbach on the one hand, and Adler, Freud, Fromm, and Ludwig Klages on the other. This constant rephrasing of the obvious and human into pseudo-scholarly and frequently esoteric (cf. “Salieri’s exordium is radically sujetized”) (20) is a rather typical outcome of Reid’s efforts.

Moving away from individual psychology, the final chapter employs theories of anthropology and sociology to elucidate the characters’ social predicaments and establish the patterns of their social/antisocial behavior. Several theories that Reid discusses, whether Hans von Hentig’s theory of criminality, Arnold Van Gennep’s distinction between the sacred and profane, or Clifford Geertz’s theory of the emergence of ideology, indeed seem relevant to the problematics of the play and deserve further elaboration. Yet, in the manner of some intellectual Don Juan, Reid tends to abandon a theory as soon as he introduces it.

Reid’s indiscriminate use of numerous theories is thus rather disappointing, since he fails to demonstrate what makes these theories so special or illuminating. Rubbing a given theory against the back of a literary text might be rewarding, providing one sticks to it, which Reid rarely does. His decision to concentrate on theories, while ignoring other Pushkin texts, as well as Pushkin’s thought in general, does not pay off. Had a hundred monographs on the play already been written, Reid’s approach would have been quite natural and legitimate, even if poorly executed; however, as the very first monograph on the play in English, the book is clearly inadequate. At its best it can be used in proseminars for graduate students as an introduction to some potentially useful social theories.

Vladimir Golstein
Yale University


Golstein, Vladimir. Rev. of В.С. Непонмящий, ред. «Моцарт и Салиери», трагедия Пушкина. Движение во времени 1840е-1990е and Robert Reid, Pushkin's "Mozart and Salieri": Themes, Character, Sociology. Pushkin Review 3 (2000): 173-78. Retrieved from: <http://www.pushkiniana.org/index.php/backissues/pr03-2000/126-vol03reviews/288-review-vs-nepomniashchii-reid-mozart-i-salieri>.