Notes to "Shostakovich and Bulgakov"

It is suggested that the reader opens these notes as a New Window.

[1] Having appealed to Stalin for help in 1930, Bulgakov was appointed as a literary consultant to TRAM, a job which entailed vetting playscripts. Detesting the work, he wrote nothing for the company. Coincidentally, he toured the Crimea with Moscow TRAM in late July 1930 while Shostakovich was there writing The Bolt (having done The Shot for Leningrad TRAM two months earlier). There is no reason to believe that they met then. By 1931, like most individualist artists, Bulgakov was exhausted and ill from the pressures of the Cultural Revolution. He gave up working for TRAM in March 1931, shortly before the Central Committee decree banning all Leftist cultural organisations.

[2] Further entries document Madame Bulgakov's shocked - and naive - reactions to the Pravda attacks on Lady Macbeth ("I suppose Shostakovich was mistaken to tackle such a gloomy and painful subject") and The Limpid Stream ("I feel sorry for Shostakovich, he's been drawn into hack-work; the authors of the libretto were just trying to please"). By March, the anti-Formalist campaign was in full swing ("in Pravda they are printing one article after another, and one person after another is being sent flying"). Her entry for 29th January 1938 records that "this evening we're going to listen to Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, which has created such a sensation." No further references to Shostakovich occur. (Source: J.A.E. Curtis, Manuscripts Don't Burn, Cambridge University Press, 1991.)

[3] Bulgakov met Akhmatova in Leningrad in July 1933. Himself a highly magnetic character, he was accustomed to recharge himself by contact with people - usually artistic - of similar charisma. Uninterested in poetry, he was nevertheless very struck by Akhmatova (and she by him). That her beauty and wit had a stimulating effect on him is clear from the fact that, soon afterwards, while still in Leningrad, he was seized by "devilish" inspiration and began what was to become the definitive version of The Master and Margarita, a novel he had started in 1928 but scrapped after three drafts in 1930. By October, he had written 500 pages and worked out the final structure of the book, which he finished in this draft in July 1936. Later, during Akhmatova's evacuation in Tashkent, Bulgakov's widow and literary executor Yelena Sergeyevna showed her the manuscript of The Master and Margarita which the poetess read avidly, glancing up every so often to remark "He's a genius".

[4] Diaboliad (which included The Fatal Eggs) was the only full-length book by Bulgakov to be published in the Soviet Union during his lifetime (Mospoligraf, May 1925, in an edition of 5000). Apart from a couple of instalments of The White Guard, published in 1925, and two slim volumes of feuilletons, it is the only Bulgakov work Shostakovich could have known apart from the plays.

[5] For example, thousands of bourgeois "hostages" taken during the Civil War were, from 1920, shipped to the Solovetsky Islands (Solovki) in the White Sea, embarking for their hellish destination at Archangelsk. Though this was never officially acknowledged, everyone in Leningrad knew about it and when, in 1923, news slipped into Pravda of the prison-revolt of the SRs (consigned to Solovki after Lenin had repressed them in 1922), neither general surprise nor public discussion was forthcoming. In The Fatal Eggs, Bulgakov referred to the creeping wave of political arrests in a casual digression about a "chicken-plague" supposedly spreading over Russia which, in the north, had got only as far as Archangelsk "since, as everyone knows, there are no hens in the White Sea".

[6] As brother-in-law of Genrikh Yagoda, head of the GPU (secret police), Averbakh, like Yagoda, was shot during the Terror in 1939. He may have been the prototype for Bishop Charron in Bulgakov's A Cabal of Hypocrites.

[7] Theodore Van Houten, Always the Unexpected, Buren, 1989.

[8] Bulgakov saw Meyerhold as a flashy manipulator, wilfully unfaithful to the text. The Fatal Eggs, written in 1924 but set futuristically in 1928, refers drily to "the late Vsevolod Meyerhold, who, of course, died in 1927 during rehearsals for his version of Pushkin's Boris Godunov when a platform full of naked boyars collapsed on him".

Back to article. Back to Contents. Back to Shostakovichiana.