COLOUR photos of the Coronation of Nicholas II

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The following text is a short introduction of the preparations and ceremony, to prepare readers for the wonderful colour photographs of the Coronation of Russia’s last emperor which follow – PG

Preparations

On 13 January (O.S., 1 January) 1896, the manifesto “On the upcoming Holy Coronation of Their Imperial Majesties” was published, according to which the coronation ceremony was to be held in May, and inviting the Government Senate in Moscow, and other representatives of the Russian Empire, to attend. Responsibility for organizing the ceremony was assigned to the Ministry of the Imperial Court, on the basis of which the Coronation Commission and the Coronation Office were organized.

From 6 May to 26 May 1896 was the official coronation period, with 25 May being the birthday of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. On 26 May, a manifesto was published that expressed the gratitude of the monarch to the inhabitants of Moscow.

It was proposed that all persons participating in the 9 May ceremonial entrance of the imperial couple to Moscow arrive in Moscow no later than 5 May. The ceremonial entry was to be from the Petrovsky Palace on Petersburg Highway and further along Tverskaya-Yamskaya and Tverskaya streets.

Preparations for the celebrations were the responsibility of the Minister of the Imperial Court Count I. I. Vorontsov-Dashkov. The High Marshal was Count K. I. Palen; the supreme master of ceremonies was Prince A. S. Dolgorukov. The duties of the herald were performed by E. K. Pribylsky, an official of the Senate. A coronation unit was formed from 82 battalions, 36 squadrons, 9 hundreds, and 28 batteries, under the command of the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, under whom was a special headquarters with the rights of the General Staff led by Lieutenant General N.I. Bobrikov. Vladimir Alexandrovich arrived in Moscow and took command on 3 May 1896.

Coronation ceremony

The coronation of Emperor Nicholas II and his wife, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna was the last coronation during the Russian Empire. It took place on 26 May (O.S. 14 May) 1896, in the Assumption Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin.

On 26/14 May, the day of the Coronation, the liturgy was read and prayers of thanksgiving recited in all the churches in St. Petersburg. The metropolitan cathedrals could not accommodate all the worshippers, in view of which prayers were also recited in the squares near a number of cathedrals and some churches, as well as in the Horse Guards.

The coronation ceremony began at 10 am, with the emperor, his mother, and his wife seated on thrones on a special raised platform installed in the middle of the cathedral. The emperor sat on the throne of Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich, Empress Maria Feodorovna on the throne of Tsar Alexy Mikhailovich Tishayshy, and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna on the throne of Grand Prince Ivan III.

The ceremony was presided over by Metropolitan Palladium, of St. Petersburg, the pre-eminent member of the most Holy Synod (the Synod at the time of the coronation having been transferred to Moscow). During the liturgy, the metropolitan con-celebrated with the metropolitans of Kiev, Ioanikiy (Rudnev), and of Moscow, Sergius (Lyapidevsky). At the end of the liturgy the emperor and empress were anointed and then took communion of the Holy Mysteries at the altar. In the ministry of the liturgy, among others, John of Kronstadt also took part.

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© Paul Gilbert. 25 January 2020

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CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO ORDER

THE CORONATION OF NICHOLAS II
Edited by Paul Gilbert

385 pages, over 200 photos and illustrations
Price $30 + postage

AVAILABLE FROM THE ROYAL RUSSIA BOOKSHOP

The pomp and pageantry surrounding the Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II is told through the eye-witness accounts of six people who attended this historic event at Moscow, held over a three week period from May 6 to 26, 1896.

The authors came from all walks of life and different nations. They recorded their observations in diaries and letters, leaving to posterity a first-hand record that allows modern-day readers to relive the crowning of Russia’s last tsar and the splendour and opulence of a world that is gone forever.

These exceptional memoirs offer a wealth of information that include the preparations and events leading up to and during the coronation festivities, the tsar’s entry into Moscow, the procession to the cathedral, the crowning of the tsar and the celebrations that followed. No two memoirs are alike; each of the authors guides the reader through this historic event through his or her own eyes.

This book includes biographical notes and photos of each of the six authors. A collection of over 200 rare photographs and illustrations from the private archives of Royal Russia complement this book offering the largest collection of this historic event ever assembled in one volume.

Nicholas II’s Diaries 1894-1918

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Pages from the 1912 diary of Emperor Nicholas II

The future Emperor Nicholas II began keeping a diary in 1882, at the age of 14 when he was Tsesarevich and living at Gatchina. The last entry in his diary is dated 13 July (O.S. 30 June) 1918, just 4 days before his murder in Ekaterinburg:

“Alexei took his first bath since Tobolsk: his knee is getting better, but he still cannot straighten it completely. The weather is warm and pleasant. We have absolutely no news from the outside.”

It is interesting to note that the Bolsheviks began publishing excerpts from the diaries of Nicholas II simultaneously in Pravda and Izvestia of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, shortly after the murder of the Imperial Family on 9 August 1918. The Berlin publishing house Slovo published the Diary of Emperor Nicholas II in 1923.

All of the Sovereign’s voluminous 51 diaries have survived to this day, and are currently stored in Fund No. 601, of the *Novo-Romanov Archive in the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) in Moscow. They are among the most popular and widely researched materials by post-Soviet historians and scholars.

On 18th May 2017, the day marking the 149th anniversary of the birth of Emperor Nicholas II, the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library in St. Petersburg published the diaries in electronic form, each diary is presented as a separate PDF-file with electronic bookmarks by year, month and date.

* for more information about the Novo-Romanov Archive, please refer to the article:

The History of the Novoromanov Archive: The Document Collection of the Last Russian Emperor and His Family in 1917-1919

by B.F. Dodonov, O.N. Kopylova, S.V. Mironenko

First English Translation published in Sovereign: The Life and Reign of Emperor Nicholas II, No. 1. 2015 pg. 125-138. 

“The history of the archives of Nicholas II and his family is one of the least explored areas of our archivistics. It was only in recent years that we have finally studied one of its pages — namely, the publication of the Romanovs’ papers and documents that had begun almost immediately after the Royal family’s murder. And still there isn’t enough attention drawn to the fate of the Romanovs archives. Various publications either copy information from archive guides or quote inconsistent and unverifiable sources. In this article we will attempt to use the available sources to shed light on the history of the creation of the so-called Novoromanov archive: the collection of Royal documents dating 1917-1919. By this name the archivist literature understands the entire body of Romanovs’ documents that had been amassed by the time of its 1929 transfer from the Central State Archive of the October Revolution to the newly created State Archive of the Feudal-Serfdom Era” – Dodonov, Kolylova & Mironenko.

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Pages from the 1896 diary of Emperor Nicholas II

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Contemporary historians and biographers often use Nicholas II’s diaries as a means to discredit him, often citing his mere scribbling of the days events as evidence of his alleged indecisiveness, and his inability to rule efficiently. This, however, is not only an unfair assessment, but also an example of a bad historian.

Russian historian Alexander Nikolaevich Bokhanov (1944-2019) summed up Nicholas II’s diaries, when he wrote the following:

“For more than 36 years, Nicholas Alexandrovich wrote a few sentences every evening in his diary. After the fall of the monarchy, both scholars and laymen began to study his diaries, interested to learn what kind of man and monarch he was. Sadly, the crushing majority of them stuck with a negative assessment of Nicholas II.

“Their conclusions, however, were based on his diaries, which in all fairness do not offer any broad historical conclusions. Nevertheless they have been made and continue to be made to the present day. In actuality, Nicholas II’s diaries are often nothing more than a daily list of meetings and events which allow one, fully and accurately, to establish only two biographical aspects about him: where he was and whom he dealt with.

“In his daily entries, he names more than a thousand people who lived both within the Russian Empire and abroad, including his family and relatives, figures from his inner circle, courtiers, statesmen, representatives of the world of culture and science, and even just casual acquaintances or ordinary people, who merely attracted the Sovereign’s attention.

“His diaries are a completely personal and official document reflecting the daily events, nothing more. His diary entries rarely reflect any emotion, and with the passage of time they disappear almost completely. Any kind of political judgement or evaluation are extremely rare.

“In keeping a diary, Nicholas II was not thinking about leaving a historical testimony for his descendants. He never would have imagined that his daily, terse, personal remarks would be studied for political purposes. Only during the last months of his life, finding himself in the degrading position of a prisoner, did he record on paper his pain for the fate of his dearly beloved Russia.”

The Дневники императора Николая II. 1894-1918 / Diaries of Emperor Nicholas II. 1894-1918., were published in a handsome 2-volume set in 2011. Volume 1. 1894-1904 (1,101 pg); Volume 2. 1905-1918. Part 1. 1905-1913 (824 pg); and Part 2. 1914-1918 (784 pg). Edited by Sergei Vladimirovich Mironenko, Director of the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF). Available in Russian ONLY!

© Paul Gilbert. 23 January 2020

Traitors of Heroes? Officers of Nicholas II during the Great Patriotic War 1941-45

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Without the tsarist officers, the victory of the Reds in the Civil War would have been impossible
– Leon Trotsky

Despite the Civil War and the repression of the 1930s, a significant number of former officers of the Russian Imperial Army and the Russian Army of the Provisional Government survived both the 1917 Revolution and the Civil War to serve under the Soviet regime during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45).

They played an important role as “military specialists” who trained the new generation of the Soviet military, transferring the traditions and spirit of the old Russian Imperial Army to the Red Army. Up to 40% of the entire officer corps of pre-revolutionary Russia joined the Bolsheviks and forge their victory. The head of the Revolutionary Military Council, Leon Trotsky (1879-1940), believed that without the tsarist officers, the victory of the Reds in the Civil War would have been impossible.

Tsarist officers contributed to the victory of the Soviet Union in the Great Patriotic War, by contributing to the training of the armed forces and commanding the Red Army. Statistically – about 35% of all commanders of the Red Army divisions during the Great Patriotic War were officers of the old Imperial Army, 35% of the commanders at the fronts in 1941-1945, a third of the commanders and 13% of the comcors had become officers before 1917. Their presence in the infantry was especially great.

Many famous Soviet marshals and generals who impressed the world with their victories, were former officers of the Imperial Army. Among those were Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov (1896-1974) who was awarded the St. George Cross twice for military merit, and promoted to the rank of non-commissioned officer for his bravery in battle. There were also men of higher rank, such as Apollon Yakovlevich Kruse (1892-1967), who served as Lieutenant General of the Red Army corps. The legendary Lieutenant General Dmitry Karbyshev (1880-1945), and Lieutenant General Alexander Bakhtin (1885-1963) had both sworn allegiance to Emperor Nicholas II.

But the most illustrious commanders of the Red Army in the war against Germany, consisted of five marshals of the USSR.

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Alexander Mikhailovich Vasilevsky (1895-1977)

Alexander Mikhailovich Vasilevsky (1895-1977) had a strong Orthodox upbringing, his father was a priest, his mother was the daughter of a priest. He began his education in the local church school, and in 1909, he entered Kostroma seminary.

Vasilevsky began his military career during World War I, earning the rank of captain by 1917. Noted for his energy and personal courage, he took part in the famous Brusilov Offensive in 1916. After the October Revolution of 1917 and the start of the Civil War of 1917–1922 he was conscripted into the Red Army, taking part in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919–1921.

Vasilevsky served as a Russian career-officer in the Red Army, attained the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union in 1943. He served as the Chief of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces (1942-1945) and Deputy Minister of Defense during World War II, and as Minister of Defense from 1949 to 1953. As the Chief of the General Staff from 1942 to 1945, Vasilevsky became involved in planning and coordinating almost all the decisive Soviet offensives in World War II, from the Stalingrad counteroffensive of November 1942 to the assaults on East Prussia (January–April 1945), Königsberg (January–April 1945) and Manchuria (August 1945).

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Fedor Ivanovich Tolbukhin (1894-1949)

Fedor Ivanovich Tolbukhin (1894-1949) volunteered for the Imperial Army in 1914 at the outbreak of World War I. He was steadily promoted, and appointed to captain by 1916 under Emperor Nicholas II. He was also decorated for bravery multiple times.

In August 1918 Tolbukhin joined the Red Army, where he served as the chief of staff of the 56th infantry division. After the Russian Civil War ended (1921), Tolbukhin was given a number of staff positions.

Tolbukhin took part in the opening phases of Operation Barbarossa until August 1941, when he was made the chief of staff of the Crimean Front, which he held until March 1942. From May to July 1942, he was the assistant commander of the Stalingrad Military District. After that, he was the commander of the 58th Army until March 1943, and was involved in the Battle of Stalingrad, where Tolbukhin’s superior, Colonel-General Andrei Yeremenko, praised his command organization and military prowess. On September 12, 1944, Tolbukhin was promoted to Marshal of the Soviet Union.

Tolbukhin is generally regarded as one of the finest Soviet generals of World War II. Meticulous, careful, and not overly ambitious like some Soviet commanders, Tolbukhin was well respected by fellow commanders and also his men, especially since he had a dedication to keeping casualty rates low. Tolbukhin was the recipient of numerous awards and medals including the highest Soviet medal and rank, the Victory Order and Hero of the Soviet Union, respectively.

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Colonel Boris Mikhailovich Shaposhnikov (1882-1945)

Colonel Boris Mikhailovich Shaposhnikov (1882-1945) joined the army of the Russian Empire in 1901 and graduated from the Nicholas General Staff Academy in 1910, reaching the rank of colonel in the Caucasus Grenadiers division in September 1917 during World War I. Also in 1917, he supported the Russian Revolution, an act unusual for an officer of his rank, and in May 1918 joined the Red Army.

Shaposhnikov was one of the few Red Army commanders with formal military training, and in 1921 he became 1st Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army’s General Staff, where he served until 1925. He was appointed commander of the Leningrad Military District in 1925 and then of the Moscow Military District in 1927. From 1928 to 1931 he served as Chief of the Staff of the Red Army.

In May 1940 he was appointed a Marshal of the Soviet Union. Despite his background as a Tsarist officer, Shaposhnikov won the respect and trust of Stalin. His status as a professional officer—he did not join the Communist Party until 1939—may have helped him avoid Stalin’s suspicions.

Fortunately for the Soviet Union, Shaposhnikov had a fine military mind and high administrative skills. He combined these talents with his position in Stalin’s confidence to rebuild the Red Army leadership after the purges. He obtained the release from the Gulag of 4,000 officers deemed necessary for this operation. In 1939 Stalin accepted Shaposhnikov’s plan for a rapid build-up of the Red Army’s strength. Although the plan was not completed before the German invasion of June 1941, it had advanced sufficiently to save the Soviet Union from complete disaster.

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Leonid Aleksandrovich Govorov (1897-1955)

Leonid Aleksandrovich Govorov (1897-1955), was mobilized in December 1916, and sent to the Konstantinovskye Artillery School, from which he graduated in 1917. He became an artillery officer with the rank of podporuchik.

When the Russian Revolution broke out and the Russian Imperial Army disintegrated, Govorov returned home, but was conscripted into the White Guard army of Aleksandr Kolchak in October 1918, serving in an artillery battery in the Russian Civil War. Govorov fought in the Spring Offensive of the Russian Army, a general drive westwards by White forces in the east. He deserted in November 1919, fleeing to Tomsk, where he took part in an uprising against White authorities as part of a fighting squad. Govorov joined the Red Army in January 1920, serving in the 51st Rifle Division as an artillery battalion commander. With the division, he fought in the Siege of Perekop in November, during which Soviet forces drove Pyotr Wrangel’s White Army out of Crimea.

In World War II, Govorov rose to command an army in November 1941 during the Battle of Moscow. He commanded the Leningrad Front from April 1942 to the end of the war. He reached the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union in 1944, was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union and many other awards.

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Ivan Khristoforovich Baghramyan (1897-1982)

Ivan Khristoforovich Baghramyan (1897-1982), joined the Russian Imperial Army as a volunteer on 16 September 1915. He was assigned as a private to the 116th Reserve Battalion and sent to Akhaltsikhe for basic training. With his training complete in December, he joined the 2nd Caucasus Frontier Regiment of the Russian Expeditionary Corps, which was sent to dislodge the Ottomans in Persia. Bagramyan participated in several battles in Asadabad, Hamedan and Kermanshah, the Russian victories here sending Ottoman forces reeling toward Anatolia.

Learning about the exploits of the men in the outfit, the chief of staff of the regiment, General Pavel Melik-Shahnazaryan, advised Bagramyan to return to Tiflis to enroll in the Praporshchik Military Academy. But in order to attend the school, Bagramyan needed to satisfy the academy’s requirement of having completed school at a gymnasium. This did not deter him and, after preparing for the courses in Armavir, he passed his exams and began attending the academy on February 13, 1917. He graduated in June 1917 and was assigned to the 3rd Armenian Infantry Regiment, stationed near Lake Urmia. But with the overthrow of the Russian Provisional Government in the midst of the October Revolution of 1917, his unit was demobilized.

Bagramyan’s experience in military planning as a chief of staff allowed him to distinguish himself as a capable commander in the early stages of the Soviet counter-offensives against Nazi Germany. He was given his first command of a unit in 1942, and in November 1943 received his most prestigious command as the commander of the 1st Baltic Front. As commander of the Baltic Front, he participated in the offensives which pushed German forces out of the Baltic republics.

Bagramyan was a Soviet military commander and Marshal of the Soviet Union of Armenian origin. During World War II, Bagramyan was the second non-Slavic military officer, after Latvian Max Reyter, to become a commander of a Front. He was among several Armenians in the Soviet Army who held the highest proportion of high-ranking officers in the Soviet military during the war.

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It seems ironic that “Nicholas the Bloody” should play a much greater role in the history of 20th century Russia, than the Soviets would ever give him credit for. It is thanks to the excellent training during the reign of Russia’s last emperor, that former soldiers of the Russian Imperial Army should live through the 1917 Revolution and the Civil War to become marshals and generals, who fought heroic battles during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45.

It is important to recognize that each of them committed treason by breaking their oath of allegiance to Emperor Nicholas II and the Russian Empire, but should they be condemned? Certainly not. These marshals and generals, demonstrated sincere patriotism and a willingness to sacrifice themselves for the Soviet Union, and saved the country from certain oblivion at the hands of the Nazi war machine. Their acts of bravery saved the lives of millions of Russians, had they not pushed the invaders back to Berlin, we may very well be living in a very different world today.

© Рaul Gilbert. 22 January 2020

Cossacks visit the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo

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Members of the Cossack Convoy of the Holy Tsar Passion-bearer Nicholas II at the
Monument to Nicholas II on the grounds of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral
© Духовно-просветительский центр

On 8th October 2019, members of the Cossack Convoy of the Holy Tsar Passion-bearer Nicholas II organized a tour of St. Petersburg and Tsarskoye Selo.

Among the places visited by the Convoy was the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral, which is situated near the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo. The cathedral was constructed between 1909 – 1912 by order of Emperor Nicholas II to serve as the regimental church of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Convoy.

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Russia’s first monument to Nicholas II by the sculptor V.V. Zaiko
© Духовно-просветительский центр

The Cossacks also visited Russia’s first monument to Nicholas II, which was established on the grounds of the Cathedral on 19th May 1993, and consecrated on 16th July 1993. The bronze bust was created by the sculptor Victor Vladimirovich Zaiko (born 1944).

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Trees planted by the Emperor and his family in 1909
© Духовно-просветительский центр

The bust was installed near a group of trees, planted by the Emperor and his family in 1909. Of the seven trees planted, only four have survived to the present day.

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Icon of the Holy Royal Martyrs
© Духовно-просветительский центр

The Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral was closed from 1933 to 1991. When the building was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church in the spring of 1991, it was in a terrible state of neglect and disrepair. It took more than 20 years to restore the Cathedral to its historic original, including the magnificent iconostasis in the Upper Church, and the Lower Church, where the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna came to pray.

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Members of the Cossack Convoy of the Holy Tsar Passion-bearer Nicholas II
© Духовно-просветительский центр

© Paul Gilbert. 20 January 2020

Nicholas II celebrates the Blessing of the Waters, 1904

Note: the video above features a compilation of vintage photographs, set against the ‘Troparion on the Feast of the Epiphany’ sung by the Sretensky Monastery Choir

On 19 (O.S. 6) January 1904, Emperor Nicholas II took part in the annual celebrations marking the Feast of the Epiphany in St. Petersburg.

The Emperor along with members of the Imperial Court, and senior members of the Russian Orthodox Church proceeded down the Jordan Staircase from the first floor of the Winter Palace to the bank of the Neva River for the Blessing of the Waters at Epiphany in commemoration of Christ’s Baptism in the river Jordan.

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Nicholas II descends the stairs leading down to the Neva for the Blessing of the Waters

Situated near the northern entrance to the Winter Palace, a temporary wooden pavilion was constructed on the embankment in front of steps leading down to the Neva. The Metropolitan of St. Petersburg dipped a cross in a hole made in the ice. A small cup was then dipped into the water and presented to the Emperor, who took a sip and then handed the cup back to the Metropolitan. Prayers were said for the health of the Tsar and his family.

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The above photo shows the spot on the embankment of the Neva River, where the temporary wooden pavilion was constructed for the Blessing of the Waters in the early 20th century.

© Paul Gilbert. 19 January 2020

Imperial Family seen through the eyes of children

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Metropolitan Demetrius of Tobolsk and Tyumen with the winners of the competition

In December 2019, The Holy Royal Martyrs in the History of Siberia was held in Tyumen, as part of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Tobolsk Metropolis. The events included a competition of paintings by children depicting Emperor Nicholas II and his family. 

More than 40 children participated in the competition. The ceremonial awarding of the finalists took place on 10th December as part of the Christmas holiday for students of the Tyumen Orthodox Gymnasium. Organizers noted that the children submitted “colourful, creative work”, distinguished by each child’s skill and dedication.

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“The Imperial family out for a walk”

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“The Imperial family out for a walk in Tobolsk”

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“From Tobolsk to Yekaterinburg”

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“In One Prayer”

Diplomas and gifts were presented to the best 10 colorful works, in addition to several other participants. The names of the paintings speak of the children’s involvement in the contest theme: “The Imperial family out for a walk”, “The Imperial family out for a walk in Tobolsk”, “From Tobolsk to Yekaterinburg”, “In One Prayer”. 

Metropolitan Demetrius of Tobolsk and Tyumen took part in the award ceremony and thanked the young people of Tyumen for their participation in the competition.

“It is gratifying that many participants reflected the most important essence, which is inherent in the title of the contest: the family of the last Emperor Nicholas II, the Royal Martyrs in the history of Siberia. Children approached the task responsibly, invested their souls, reflected the high moral and spiritual values ​​inherent in Nicholas II and his family,” noted Vladyka Dimitri.

© Paul Gilbert. 16 January 2020

Order of the Holy Empress Alexandra Feodorovna

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For caring for the Russian people

The International Church and Public Women’s Award (hereinafter referred to as the Order) ‘The Holy Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’ is a non-state award established by the Military Orthodox Mission with the blessing of the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Eastern Metropolitan Hilarion of America.

The Order is awarded to ladies who honour the memory of the Holy Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, representatives of aristocratic families, abbess of monasteries, members of the Russian monarchist movement, writers and historians, scientists and civil servants, military and civil servants, as well as female foreign citizens, for strengthening traditional spiritual values, acts of mercy and charity, patriotism, as well as in connection with the 400th anniversary of the accession of the Romanov Dynasty in Russia.

The Order was established on 2nd February 2015 by the Military Orthodox Mission. The Order has one degree.

Badge of the Order: a medallion with rays diverging in 4 directions in the form of lilac coloured lilies and the Empress’s personal monogram located between the rays.

On the front side in an enamel circle there is an icon painting of the Holy Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, on the edges of the circle on a red background there is an inscription: “For caring for the Russian people

Order bow: lilac with a black-yellow-white stripe in the center – colors of the Russian Imperial flag.

Cervical ribbon of the Order: lilac with a black-yellow-white stripe in the center – colors of the Russian Imperial flag, 32 mm wide.

© Paul Gilbert. 16 January 2020

The Emperor’s Musical Preferences: Favourite Performers of Nicholas II

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Design for the Imperial-era curtain of the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

In pre-revolutionary Russia, special attention was paid to the musical education of children from noble families. Girls were taught to play music and sing, and boys had to understand music. Naturally, the last Russian emperor Nicholas II was also musically educated. While he could play the piano, he was not fond of playing music and did not sing, even though he understood music, he loved romances and folk songs.

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Varya Vasilyevna Panina (1872-1911)

Varya Panina

In the early twentieth century, gypsy music was in fashion in Russia, and the first star was Varya Panina (1872-1911), whose voice was greatly admired by the famous Russian opera singer Fyodor Chaliapin himself, who often enjoyed the singer’s performances in the fashionable Yar Restaurant in Moscow.

Born into the family of Gypsy horse traders in Moscow, the performer was small in stature, suffered from being overweight, smoked cheap cigarettes and always performed while sitting in a chair, bowing infrequently simply to indulge her audience. However, she possessed outstanding vocal abilities. Famous for her deep contralto voice, Panina became one of the most popular music stars of early 20th century Russia.

In 1902 Varya Panina debuted on stage at the Dvoryanskoye Sobranye (The Gentry Assembly) in St. Petersburg. After her success, she performed only on stage, giving solo concerts, performing Gypsy songs and Russian romances to rapturous response. Among her fans were the poet Alexander Blok, writers Leo Tolstoy, Alexander Kuprin, Anton Chekhov, the artist Konstantin Korovin and members of the Imperial family. 

In 1906, Varvara Panina’s fame had reached the Imperial capital St. Petersburg and it was decided to invite her to the Mariinsky Theater with a solo concert.

The entire Imperial family was present at the concert, and after its completion, Varya Panina was invited to meet Nicholas II. The emperor jokingly chided the performer that his collection had not a single recording of the singer, one which all of Russia listened to. The representative of the Gramophone Company, who was present during the conversation between the tsar and Varya Panina, immediately took note of the tsar’s comment, and shortly thereafter, the emperor was presented with an amazing gift edition, which included 20 recordings of the gypsy singer.

Two songs from the repertoire of Varya Panin which the tsar enjoyed the most were: «Лебединая песня» Swan Song and «Мы были молоды с тобой» We Were Young With You. The words to the last romance were written by Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich (1858-1915).

Sadly, the talented performer died very young (age 38) of a heart attack on 28th May 1911, and was buried at the Vagankovo cemetery.

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Nadezhda Vasilyevna Plevitskaya (1884-1940)

Nadezhda Plevitskaya

She was a real prima donna, famous for her Russian folk songs. It was the Minister of the Imperial Court Count Vladimir Fredericks, through whose efforts the singer was invited to perform concerts at the Russian Court. It has been said, that during the performances of Nadezhda Vasilyevna Plevitskaya (1884-1940), Nicholas II sobbed without hesitation, having been so moved while listening to the singers heartfelt compositions about the hard life of the Russian peasants.

Nadezhda Plevitskaya began to sing in Kiev, in the chapel of Alexandra Lipkina, changing her maid’s uniform to a concert dress. The girl, born to a peasant family in the village of Vinnikovo, near Kursk, did not know and had not learnt music, but her vocal talent and  ear for music allowed her to become a professional singer. She performed in Minkevich’s Lapotniki Choir, and then began to sing in the same Yar Restaurant in Moscow, where Varya Panina had achieved her fame.

The famous opera singer Leonid Sobinov heard Plevitskaya in the Naumov Restaurant during the Nizhny Novgorod Fair, and from there helped the performer organize performances at the Moscow Conservatory. Nadezhda Plevitskaya enjoyed incredible popularity, was friends with the famous Russian opera singer Fyodor Chaliapin and actors of the Art Theater.

Through Nicholas II, the performer became known as the “Kursk nightingale”, and the wife of the emperor Alexandra Fedorovna even presented Nadezhda Plevitskaya with a beetle design diamond brooch.

Rising from the bottom, Nadezhda Plevitskaya began to receive very high fees for her performances, and she never refused to help those in need, becoming one of St. Petersburg’s most well-known philanthropists. During World War I, she worked as a nurse in a hospital, after the revolution she emigrated to France, where in 1937 she was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor for collaborating with the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) in the Soviet Union, and complicity in the abduction of Yevgeny Miller, the chief plenipotentiary for military and naval affairs under General P.N. Wrangel.

Nadezhda Plevitskaya died in a Rennes prison of a heart ailment on 1 October 1940, during the German occupation.

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Yuri Spiridonovich Morfessi (1882-1949)

Yuri Morfessi

Fyodor Ivanovich Chaliapin christened Yuri Spiridonovich Morfessi (1882-1949) “the accordion of the Russian song”, while journalists and fans hailed him as: “the prince of the gypsy song”. In the 1910s, Yuri Morfessi was at the peak of his fame, adored by fans, reaping unusually high fees for his performances. The handsome income of the artist allowed him to purchase a luxurious apartment on Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg, and open his own restaurant «Уголок» “Corner”.

In the summer of 1914, he performed a private concert on the Imperial yacht Polar Star «Полярная звезда» in the presence of the Imperial family. Nicholas II listened to the singer with undisguised pleasure, and then personally shook hands with Yuri Morfessi, thanking him for his performance.

A month after the performance, the performer was presented with a pair of diamond double-headed eagle cuff-links as a gift of thanks from the Emperor. In 1914, it was planned to invite Morfessi for a three-day guest voyage on the imperial yacht, but these plans were cancelled due to the outbreak of the First World War.

In the fall of 1917, while touring the Far East, Morfessi learned about the coup in Petrograd. He returned to Petersburg, but, after learning about the murder of the tsar and his family the following year, he left for Odessa. It was here, where he opened the Artist’s House and organized performances of famous artists.

In 1920, he emigrated to Europe, where he sang in Paris, Belgrade, and Zagreb. With the outbreak of World War II, he became a member of the concert crew of the Russian Corps, created by Russian emigrants in Yugoslavia. In 1943, he toured Berlin, where he recorded records.

Yuri Morfessi died of a heart attack on 12 July 1949 in Füssen, Bavaria. Obituaries were published in Russian Thought (France) and LDCs (USA). Sadly, the grave of the singer was not preserved..

© Paul Gilbert. 14 January 2020

Seven Letters from the Past

Back in July 2018, the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo hosted a unique exhibition Seven Letters from the Past timed to the 100th anniversary of the murders of Emperor Nicholas II and his family. 

The highlight of the exhibit were seven portraits of the Imperial family by the St. Petersburg artist Alexander Kondurov. 

The artist depicted the faces and figures of members of the Imperial Family through the mutilated walls of the shooting room of the Ipatiev House, where they were all brutally murdered on 17th July 1918.

Each composition includes a facsimile passage from a letter written by the family member during their captivity in the “House of Special Purpose’ and the outline of a black window frame in which a cross is clearly seen.

Exhibitions showcasing Alexander Kondurovs’ paintings have been held in Russia, USA, Germany, Finland. The artist’s works are in museums and private collections.

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The Murder of the Imperial Family. 2018
by Alexander Kondurov. Private collection

© Paul Gilbert. 13 January 2020

God, Save the Tsar! Боже, Царя храни!

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Imperial Anthem of the Russian Empire

God, Save the Tsar! (Russian: Боже, Царя храни!; transliteration: Bozhe, Tsarya khrani!) was the national anthem of the former Russian Empire. The song was chosen from a competition held in 1833 and was first performed on 18 December 1833. The composer was violinist Alexei Lvov, and the lyrics were by the court poet Vasily Zhukovsky. It was the anthem until the Russian Revolution of 1917, after which Worker’s Marseillaise was adopted as the new national anthem until the overthrow of the Russian Provisional Government.

In 1833, Tsar Nicholas I ordered Count Alexey Fyodorovich Lvov (1799-1870), the violinist and army general who was his court composer and aide-de-camp, to compose new music to replace the air that since 1816 had served as the music for the Russian Empire’s Anthem God Save the Tsar, namely Henry Hugh Carey’s God, Save the King. The lyrics of “God Save the Tsar” (Bozhe Tsarya Khranii) date from 1815 and came from Prayers of the Russian People by Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky (1783-1852), an officer and poet who served as tutor to the Tsesarevich Alexander Nikolayevich, the future Tsar-Liberator Alexander II.

After some initial creative difficulties, the melody that would serve as the anthem of the Russian Empire for the remainder of its existence came to Lvov in the course of a single night’s inspiration; he succeeded in creating a work of majesty and power that was suitable for the army, the church and the people – indeed, for the entire realm. None other than the great Alexander Pushkin himself reworked Zhukovsky’s verses to adapt them to Lvov’s new hymn. It was the first national anthem in Russian history to feature music and lyrics by Russian authors.

Upon hearing its beautiful strains for the first time, Nicholas I ordered the work repeated several times. At the close of the final rendition, the Tsar – a stern and military-minded ruler who was to be vilified by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as the “Gendarme of Europe” for his crushing of the forces of revolution wherever they appeared – clasped the composer’s hand with tears in his eyes and uttered the single word: “Splendid!”

The public premier of God, Save the Tsar took place on 6 December 1833 at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, where it was performed by a choir of one hundred singers and two military bands. At Christmas that same year, by the Tsar’s personal order it was performed by military bands in every hall of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. A week later, the Emperor issued a decree declaring the anthem a “civil prayer” to be performed at all parades and official ceremonies. As was the case with the Preobrazhensky March, the most widely-used arrangement for military band of God, Save the Tsar was created by Ferdinand Haase; it was the shortest anthem in the world at eight lines.

During the Coronation of Tsar Alexander II in 1855, Lvov led one thousand singers and two thousand musicians in a rendition of God Save the Tsar, the first performance of the anthem at a coronation. As Lvov directed the choir and orchestra, he, by means of galvanic batteries, set off forty-nine cannons, one by one, sometimes on the beat. At the conclusion, hundreds of Roman candles and rockets soared into the sky.

God, Save the Tsar! remained the Russian Empire’s national hymn until the February Revolution of 1917.

Sources: Brandenburg Historica; Scenarios of Power (Wortman, Richard S.)

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LYRICS

Русский

Боже, Царя храни!
Сильный, державный,
Царствуй на славу, на славу нам!

Царствуй на страх врагам,
Царь православный!
Боже, Царя храни!

English translation

God, save the Tsar!
Strong, sovereign,
Reign for glory, For our glory!

Reign to foes’ fear,
Orthodox Tsar.
God, save the Tsar!

Below, are a selection of videos which present a variety of renditions of God, Save the Tsar! Боже, Царя храни!, performed by Russian Orthodox and professional choir ensembles – courtesy of YouTube:

1. Beautiful rendition of God, Save the Tsar! with vintage newsreels of the Imperial family. Duration: 2 minutes, 38 seconds

2. Performed by the Kuban Cossack Choir. Duration: 1 minute, 38 seconds

3. Performed by the Mikhailovsky Theatre Orchestra and Choir. Duration: 1 minute, 46 seconds

4. Performed by Varya Strizhak. Duration: 3 minutes, 19 seconds

5. Performed by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, and the State Academic Choir. Duration: 2 minutes, 33 seconds

6. Performed by the Alexander Nevsky Lavra Choir. Duration: 2 minutes, 10 seconds

7. Performed by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. Duration: 1 minute, 4 seconds

8. Performed by the Columbia Military Band in 1914. Duration: 3 minutes, 16 seconds

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© Paul Gilbert. 11 January 2020