I’ve just got back from Russia and had the absolute best time. I can’t recommend the place enough – both St Petersburg and Moscow are drenched in music and history, and you can hardly walk down a street without seeing a plaque with a famous name on it (particularly Lenin’s).
There are numerous individual musical locations I’m going to talk about later, but I thought I’d start off with a musical mooch I took, taking in a few locations within a 30 minute walk in the centre of Moscow.
We start off at Theatre Square (1). [Take the (beautiful) Moscow Metro to Teatral’naya, and walking to the square from whichever exit you manage to get out of. We found this bit confusing!]. On this square, sitting opposite a Soviet statue of Karl Marx, we find the world-famous Bolshoi Theatre immediately opposite, and the Maly Theatre to the right.
The Maly Theatre (meaning small theatre, as opposed to the big bolshoi) dates back to 1824, though there was a theatre on this site in the century before. It’s mostly known for straight-theatre (as opposed to music, opera etc.) and staged works of Pushkin whilst he was still alive. Throughout the theatres history, works by Chekov, Toslstoy and Gogol have all been performed here. However the reason it’s on our musical tour is because it was the location of the premiere of my favourite opera, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. It was performed by students of the Moscow Conservatory in 1879.
The Bolshoi has a much busier musical history – it held the premieres of, amongst others:
- Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar (1842) and Ruslan and Ludmilla (1846)
- Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (1877)
- Rachmaninoff’s Francesca da Rimini (1906) (he was also chief conductor here for a couple of years).
- Prokofiev’s War and Peace (full premiere in 1959)
The Bolshoi was also the location of Stalin’s viewing of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in 1936, which led to the article denouncing Shostakovich in Pravda, titled ‘Muddle instead of music.’
Basically, we’re definitely following in musical footsteps here! I decided to poke my head in to take some pictures, but because everywhere in Russia is high security, I could only get as far as the foyer. I asked if it was ok to take a picture and my only reply was an eye-roll….I decided to take that as a yes!
At the front of the Bolshoi, with your back to Karl Marx, take the undercover walkway to the left of the theatre.
Go most of the way along this walkway and turn left, so there is another theatre on your left-hand-side. The street is called Kopyevskiy. At the end of this short street turn right, and the Moscow Operetta Theatre (2) will be on your right-hand-side (conveniently showing Anna Karenina when I walked past). To be honest this isn’t somewhere I knew anything about, but my guide book told me that the careers of composer Sergei Rachmaninoff and opera singer Feodor Chaliapin began here. When the theatre was run by impresario Mamontov, Rachmaninoff was a conductor here, and Chaliapin sang Boris Godunov here, which became his signature role. This was also the site of various Rimsky-Korsakov premieres, including The Tsar’s Bride.
With the theatre still on your right, walk up to the next crossroads, and take a left on to Kamergersky street. You should be walking towards a main road, Tverskaya, now. It’s a busy street, with the Moscow Art Theatre on your right. But you may notice someone who isn’t moving very quickly at all – frozen in time, here stands Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev, outside the apartment where he lived for the last six years of his life. (3) The statue of Prokofiev looks like he’s out for a stroll, with his hat and coat on, and a pile of manuscript papers tucked under his arm. There is a plaque on the apartment where he lived, 6 Kamergersky street, and it’s also
been turned into a Prokofiev museum. (Russia loves a house-museum). In this house Prokofiev worked on, amongst other pieces, his Seventh Symphony, and he was host to his friends and visitors, including amongst them the violinist David Oistrakh, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, and pianist Sviatoslav Richter. It was also in this apartment that Prokofiev died, as fate would have it on the same day as Stalin, 5th March 1953. There were no flowers left for Prokofiev’s funeral because they had all been used for the funeral of the Soviet General Secretary.
Keep walking towards Tverskaya and take the underpass to
the other side of the street (roads in Moscow are enormous, busy and quite dangerous, judging by the amount of cars with huge dents in the side of them. Don’t attempt to cross the road and take the underpasses wherever possible). Go straight along the road the underpass brings you on to – you’ll go past a McDonalds and a blue church on your right. At the end of this street turn right and walk up for 30 seconds or so. Here you’ll see a monument to Tchaikovsky, and his namesake Moscow PI Tchaikovsky Conservatory. It was named after him in 1940, and he was one of the first professors appointed when the school opened.
The list of other musicians associated with the Conservatory is practically a who’s-who in Russian music. Here’s a list of just some of the graduates: Vladimir Ashkenazy; Yuri Bashmet (also a professor there now); Sofia Gubaidulina; Aram Khachaturian; Radu Lupu; Sergei Rachmaninoff and his aforementioned friends Oistrakh, Rostropovich and Richter. Shostakovich was a professor, and his Fourth, Eighth and Fifteenth Symphonies were all premiered here.
There’s an obvious musical atmosphere here too, as the sound of students practising floats down from the windows. If you were a music student that sound may well set your heart racing, for good or for bad! But I have to admit I love the sound – particularly as I’m not doing it myself anymore! And also it helped that one of the students was practising Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. It’s like they knew I was coming! And here ends our walk. If you want to continue exploring after this, follow your own footsteps back to Tverskaya and turn right – you’ll see Red Square in front of you.
I can highly recommend these self-guided tours from Moscow 360 if you want to explore further – there’s tours of the Kremlin, Red Square, and the Moscow Metro. Great for history nerds!
Pins on this post
- Maly Theatre
- Bolshoi Theatre
- Moscow Operetta
- Prokofiev apartment and statue
- Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory
- Tchaikovsky monument