St. Petersburg State Museum of theatre and music

History of the St. Petersburg State Museum of theatre and music. The museum collections. History of russian theater. The Museum exhibitions. Collection of playbills and programmes. Photographs and negatives collection. The painting and graphics.

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The Saint Petersburg University

Departments of Philosophy Studies

St. Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music

Research Work

Created by

2nd year students

Belousova Alesya and Kalita Maria

History of the Museum

St. Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music is located in the historical centre of the city, in the building, which belongs to one of the most splendid architectural ensembles of the city - the ensemble of Alexandrinsky Theatre. This architectural masterpiece, as well as the street, bearing nowadays the name of its creator, was built by the great Carlo Rossi.

In 1840 in one of the buildings, surrounding the Theatre, the office of the Imperial Theatres Management settled. It was here that the fate of Russian Theatre was decided. Here the contracts with famous actors were signed. Modest Mussorgsky, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Alexander Ostrovsky, Anton Chekhov and other great men of Russian theatre brought here their works to be produced on the stage.

In 1918 the Management was reorganized and it was decided to organize the first Theatre museum in St. Petersburg. The decree about the museum was confirmed by the People's Commissar of Enlightenment Anatoly Lunacharsky. But in fact, the Theatre Museum was founded in 1908 when in Saint-Petersburg "First Russian Theatre exhibition" was opened in the premises of Panaev Theatre. There for the first time different exhibits, later on made up the base of the present collection of the Museum, were presented to the public.

The basis of the museum archives was formed by the private collections of the celebrated Alexandrinsky Theatre actors Ivan Gorbunov, Maria Savina, Vladimir Davydov, and the people who were close to the Theatre - Anatoly Molchanov, Vladimir Protopopov, Levky Zheverzheyev, Sergey Svetlov, as well as the archives of the Imperial Theatres Management.

The first exhibition opened for the visitors on 16 May 1921. The year 1971 was marked by the creation of the museum's first branch - the N.A.Rimsky-Korsakov Museum (Zagorodny Prospekt, 28), where, in the apartment # 39, the last 15 years of the great composer's life had passed. In 1975 the F.I.Chaliapin Museum in the celebrated singer's former house (Ul.Graftio, 2b) opened. In 1985 the museum received the State Collection of Musical Instruments. In 1989 the museum was given one more building - the palace of Counts Sheremetev, the famous Fountain House, built in the 18 century. (Nab.Fontanki, 34). When the State Collection of Musical Instruments moved to the Palace, the branch became known as the Museum of Music in the Sheremetev Palace. In 1994 the other branch - the Actors Samoilov Family Museum opened in the house # 8 on Ul.Stremyannaya.

The first two years of the museum's existence were the period of intensive collecting. As early as in 1923 the following departments opened for the visitors: drama, ballet, opera, set modeling, set design, theatrical books, posters and placards. It was planned to open the departments of circus, cinema, foreign theatre and foreign actors in Russia. However, subsequently the museum's mission became to collect and display the materials, mainly connected with the history of Russian drama theatre. When the new musical branches (the Rimsky-Korsakov and Chaliapin Museums) opened and the museum received the State Collection of Musical Instruments, the history of music and musical theatre became an important direction of the museum's activities.

The museum and its branches offer various tours and lectures on the history of theatre, audio and video-concerts, meetings with outstanding actors, artists, musicians, small-scale productions, one-man shows, chamber concerts. As a cultural and educational centre, the museum receives more than 100 000 people annually.

In all the buildings of the museum there are halls where concerts and performances, meetings with famous actors and singers, musicians and artists, take place. The museum's aim is to connect the past and the present. The museum not only preserves the memory of the old art, but also is a hospitable house for the modern art and probably a cradle for the art of the future. Non-surprisingly, a considerable number of productions, subsequently famous, were first presented here, and many future celebrities made their debut here.

museum theatre russian

The main building of St. Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music

The Museum Collections

The Painting, Graphics and Applied Art Department possesses 40,000 items. Here there is a collection of theatrical portraits, miniatures, etchings, set and costume designs, sculptures, set models. The earliest pieces date back to mid-18th century, when outstanding Italian designers Antonio Bibbiena, Giuseppe Valeriani, Antonio Canoppi brought glory to the Russian theatre. The latest acquisitions: works by artists Eduard Kocherguin, Boris Messerer, Teimuraz Murvanidze - were made in 1997.

The pearls of the collection are the works of artists who belonged to the "World of Art" group - Boris Anisfeld, Lev Bakst, Alexander Benois, Alexander Golovin, Konstantin Korovin, Sergei Sudeikin, and masters of the early 20th century avant-garde art: Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin, Natan Altman, Leonid Tchupyatov, Nikolai Akimov, Tatyana Bruni, Alexander Tyshler, Vladimir Dmitriev.

The Manuscript and Document Department (21,000 items) includes music autographs of Alexander Borodin, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Dmitry Shostakovich; the director's explications of Vsevolod Meyerhold, Georgy Tovstonogov; the diaries and notebooks of Anna Pavlova, Olga Spesivtzeva; letters of Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Sergei Diaghilev, Konstantin Stanislavsky. Of major importance among the Department's treasures are the personal archives of Marius Petipa, Fyodor Chaliapin, Agrippina Vaganova, Fyodor Lopukhov, Tatyana Vyacheslova.

There is a large collection of manuscripts, connected with the work of the main St.Petersburg theatres: the Alexandrinsky (former Pushkin) Drama Theatre, the Mariinsky (former Kirov) Opera and Ballet Theatre, the Musorgsky (Maly) Opera and Ballet Theatre. The dates range from 1725 to 1997.

In the Museum collection there are authographs of A.Blok, M.Gorky, V.Mayakovsky, V. Nemirovich-Danchenko, K.Stanislavsky, M. Petipa, A.Chekhov, S.Eisenstein, M.Battistini, A.Patti, J.Rossini, M.Taglioni and others.

Memorabilia Department (8,000 exhibits). Here are actors' personal belongings, decorations, orders and memorial medals, conductor's batons, articles of the 18-20th centuries theatre life, touching gifts of the audience to its idols - ballerinas Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, conductor Eduard Napravnik, singers Nikolai Figner and Ivan Yershov. The gem of the Museum collection is a set of ballet shoes - from Maria Taglioni's to Natalia Makarova's. It allows one to trace the evolution of the female dancing technique.

There is also an extremely rare Collection of Theatrical Costumes, 2,000 in number. It reflects the artistic versatility of the different theatrical epochs. Here there are costumes of the legendary first night performance of M.Petipa's "Sleeping Beauty" (1890); the costumes of Fokin's ballets, designed by Benois, Bakst, Anisfeld, Golovin, Roerich; as well as the costumes for the experimental ballets of the 1920's- '30's of the choreographic innovator Fyodor Lopukhov.

Photographs and Negatives Collection (240,000 items) is the largest of its kind in Russia. There are portraits of actors in life and on the stage, the unique photographs of Diaghilev's "Russian Ballets" rehearsals, the mise en scenes of opera, ballet and drama performances, photographs from the family albums of the Stravinsky, Komissarjevskaya, Kshesinskaya.

Collection of Playbills and Programmes (56,000 items) recreates the chronicle of theatrical events, from late 18th century and up to our days. Here we may learn about the Petersburg-Leningrad tours of the Moscow Art Theatre of Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko, the Moscow Chamber Theatre headed by A.Tairov; about the Russian tours of the European celebrities Maria Taglioni, Enrico Caruso, Titto Ruffo, Sarah Bernhardt, Anna Magnani, Jean-Louis Barrault, Peter Brook.

History of Russian theater

Looking back for the roots of theatre in Russia we find that the first theatricals were pagan shows with dramatic recitations of fables, tales and proverbs, and singing and dances, performed by skomorokhi, traveling minstrels. The Orthodox Church and authorities persecuted those daring lovers of liberty who were sort of spiritual guides for country folks maintaining close link to pagan traditions. The skomorokh tradition was so strong that in spite of the vehement persecution it lasted for a long time - till the end of the 17th century.

As an alternative to the pagan theatre in the 16th century there appeared church theatre performing Biblical stories.

The year 1672 saw the opening of the first theatre in Russia that would stage plays on Biblical subjects. That was the theatre at the court of tsar Alexei Mikhailovich.

In 1702 Peter the First ordered to build a public theatre on Red Square. The theatre seated several hundred spectators. Finally, in 1720 Englishman Medox put Peter's Theatre at the corner of Theatrical Square to stage operas and dramas.

Theatrical life in St.-Petersburg starts from 1752 when Fyodor Volkov's amateurish troupe was invited from Yaroslavl town.

The end of the 18th - early 19th saw serf theatre springing up in many estates.

In the 19th century Moscow and St.-Petersburg become centres of theatrical life: the Maly (Small) Theatre was founded in 1824 and the Bolshoi (Big) Theatre replaced the burned Peter's Theatre in 1825. Alexandrinsky Drama Theatre was founded in St. - Petersburg in 1832.

The first masterpieces of Russian drama were brilliant plays by Griboyedov and Gogol. By the middle of the century there came forward Nikolai Ostrovsky's plays, which encouraged formation of a new generation of actors.

Russian opera theatre underwent enriching transformation thanks to new music compositions in the19th century.

The turn of the 20th century marked the burst of theatrical activities and searching for new styles. Strange as it may seem, the conservative art of ballet renovated comparatively fast. The powers and capabilities of the new Russian ballet found their full expression in Diaghilev's `Ballets Russes' in Paris, starting from 1907.

The most important event of the period was the foundation of Moscow Art Theatre of Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko in 1898. Russian drama theatre as we know it today is in many ways rooted in the school of those genius stage directors.

Later there came to life drama theatre in St.-Petersburg created by Vera Komissarzhevskaya with V. Meyerkhold as stage director, `Old Theatre' by Nikolai Yevreinov, `Modern Theatre' by Konstantin Mardzhanov, and Chamber Theatre in Moscow founded by Alexander Tairov in 1914, as well as Meyerkhold's studio in Petrograd and Yevgeni Vakhtangov' studio in Moscow.

In the Soviet period lively theatre innovations lasted for about 15 years, along with democratization of the theatre and engaging such gifted playwrights as Mikhail Bulgakov, V. Vishnevsky, V. Ivanov and N. Pogodin. However already in the 1930s innovative theatres became subject to suppression and their activities were cut short (Meyerkhold's Theatre, Jewish Theatre of Solomon Mikhoels and Tairov's Chamber Theatre).

Russian theatre as part of the Soviet theatre had to fit in the rigid frames of ideological dictatorship.

The renovation of musical theatre was prompted by ballet revival. However it was drama theatre that caused a real blow-up of public spirits resulting in creation of social theatres and basic transformation of other theatres.

Today the Russian theatre enjoys utter freedom of creativity, if happily overlooking commercial conditions and demands which still prove to be limiting, perhaps more than ever. In most cases it is the degree of promotion rather than the level of talent and artistry that determines the mass success of this or that production or theatre.

Meanwhile, theatrical life of Russia is spanless as the country itself; who knows on what stage (perhaps the most modest one) you chance to see the miracle created alive in front of you.

The Museum permanent exhibitions

The exhibition covers the history of the Russian theatre from its beginning up to the middle of the 20th century. The Museum's three halls have on display most precious materials: set and costume designs by A. Golovin, M. Dobuzhinsky, S. Sudeikin, B. Kustodiev, K. Malevich, set models, scenery, photographs, private belongings.

In the first hall the visitor has a chance to familiarize himself with the beginning of the theatre in Russia. Here there are lubki (popular prints) showing the first actors in Russia - travelling skomorokhs (minstrels and clowns). Trained bears and puppet shows were also extremely popular. Here there is also a set model for The Fiery Furnace - one of the most well known liturgical dramas in Old Russia. The scene depicts a Biblical story about the three young men who refused to worship the pagan god and, as a result, were thrown to the fiery furnace. However, the angel of God saved them from a martyr's death. His appearance during the drama was accompanied by sounds of thunder. The drama was usually performed on Christmas Eve and was popular in the 16th and 17th centuries.

However it took quite a long time for the skomorokh theatre and liturgical dramas to develop into a professional one. Early court theatre in the 17th and early 18th centuries was an unsuccessful attempt to transfer European models to Russia.

In 1756 Elizaveta Petrovna, daughter of Peter the Great, issued an edict establishing the State Russian Theatre in St.Petersburg. The company consisted mostly of amateur actors from Yaroslavl' headed by the legendary Fyodor Volkov whose portrait hangs near a copy of the edict.

In the first half of the 19th century theatre in Russia developed very rapidly. The legendary Inspector General by Gogol was first performed in the Alexandrinsky Theatre on April 19, 1836, but was rarely staged during the rest of the century.

It was Alexander Ostrovsky who established the Russian national repertoire. Generations of actors throughout Russia learnt their trade performing in his plays. At the exhibition you will find Ostrovsky's portrait, his table, the lamp and the blotting-pad he used are on display.

Maria Ermolova was an outstanding tragic actress who became famous in Ostrovsky's plays. Students adored her and presented to her on her jubilee the silver laurel wreath in the case. The number of leaves in the wreath equalled the number of roles she played over a period of 20 years and each leaf bears the name of one of the characters she played.

Ermolova was a Moscow star, whereas the idol of the Petersburg theatre fans at that time was Maria Savina. The attention of the museum's visitors is always attracted to the dress in which M.Savina played the part of Natalia Petrovna in I. Turgenev's A Month in the Country. The play had not been staged for thirty years, and there existed a strong opinion that it was unfit for the stage. In 1879 the twenty-five year old Savina chose it for her benefit performance, thus saving it from the oblivion. I.Turgenev enthusiastically applauded to the actress and paid a visit to her the morning after the performance. He gave her his inscribed portrait, and as a sign of gratitude presented her with a gold bracelet in the memory of the successful presentation of his play. All these can be seen at the exhibition.

Actors were the central figures in the Russian theatre up to the turn of the 20th century, when directors took the leading role. Vsevolod Meyerhold is certainly one of the greatest directors of the 1st half of the century.

The exhibition contains various materials on his work of different periods. Among them - a set model of Meyerhold's production of The Masquerade in Alexandrinsky Theatre in 1917. The great theatre director staged Lermontov's play in verse on the eve of the Revolution. This drama of love and jealousy, as experienced by the hero, was interpreted as a symbolic crisis of society as a whole. The values of the Classical epoch - power, faith, beauty - were depicted as the elusive ghosts of decaying harmony, as the traditional masks of the carnival of life and art.

In the design of this production, the director Meyerhold and artistic designer Golovin used the synthesis of artistic styles. In the sets, the costumes, the mis-en-scenes, the motives of the Russian Empire style, Italian folk comedy (comedia dell arte), and French pantomime were interlaced. (A single Empire-style portal was used for all the scenes. It reflected the auditorium of the Alexandrinsky Theatre and corresponded to the changing curtains used in different scenes.) Music by Glazunov accompanied the performance.

The Masquerade was five years in production. Golovin created about 4,000 sketches of sets, costumes, props, and furniture. All of the set decorations were created in the theatre workshops according to these sketches. It was the most grandiose, expensive, and tragic production of the Russian Imperial theatre.

Due to their work on this play, Golovin and Meyerhold became close friends. During the rehearsal period in 1916, the artist painted director's portrait which is also displayed at the exhibition. Meyerhold posed for the portrait in Golovin's studio in the Mariinsky Theatre. The artist juxtaposed the character and his reflection in the mirror, depicting two images of the subject. Meyerhold existed in two images in the theatre life of St. Petersburg as the director of the Imperial Theatres and as the Master of theatrical experiments; theatrical teacher and writer, hiding under the pseudonym of Doctor Dapertutto.

Another interesting item connected with Meyerhold is a reduced size reconstruction of a set designed by Liubov Popova for The Magnanimous Cuckold by the Belgian playwright F.Crommelinck staged by Meyerhold in 1922. This innovative production of Crommelinck's symbolist play in Moscow was the manifesto of the new post-revolutionary avant-garde theatre.

Meyerhold associated the destruction of the old aesthetics with the social revolution of October 1917 and called his new approach "October Theatre".

Constructivism and biomechanics were the slogans of "October Theatre ". In rejecting decorative sets, Popova together with Meyerhold constructed what they called a "machine" for the dynamic and harmonious movement of actors in the empty space of the stage. Instead of individual costumes all the actors wore similar clothes resembling those of working men, and no theatrical make-up. The poetry of machinery was proclaimed by the constructivists as the principle of liberated labour and a new artistic language, which was transferred to the sphere of acting. The acting technique was based on a training system elaborated by Meyerhold and called "biomechanics", which allowed him to vary the stage dynamics of the action.

Information sources

1). «A history of Russian theatre» by Robert Leach,Victor Borovsky



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