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.

© 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

 

 

 

Original works of art will decorate recreated rooms in the Alexander Palace

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The Rosewood (Pallisander) Drawing Room in the Alexander Palace in the 1930s. ‘The Annunciation
can be seen to the left of the mirror, and ‘The Madonna and Child’ to the right of the mirror.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve

The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve has announced that they will recreate picture frames for paintings, that originally hung in the interiors of the Alexander Palace. The project of creating the frames, will be based on historic photographs and inventory descriptions.

The first two paintings will be The Annunciation by Susanna Renata Granich and The Madonna and Child by Paul Tuman. Both canvases will be placed in the Rosewood (Pallisander) Drawing Room, where they originally hung before the Imperial Family were sent into exile in 1917. The Rosewood Drawing Room is among first eight rooms of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, which will open to visitors in the summer of 2020.

The frames for the two paintings from the Rosewood Drawing Room were made by the specialists of the Rokail workshop of Pavel Yankolovich (The Annunciation) and Svetlana Fedorova (The Madonna and Child). Photographs taken in the 1930s from the museum’s collection and descriptions from the 1939 Inventory Book helped in the reconstruction of the picture frames, including the sizes, material, and decor technique. The recreated frames are made of two types of wood – beech and pine, ornament – using the technique of mastic moulding.

The Rosewood Drawing Room of the Alexander Palace was decorated by Roman Meltzer in 1896–1897. The architect chose rosewood as the main finishing material – an expensive wood, which was imported from abroad. High wall panels with a shelf, framing of a fireplace installed in a corner and furniture were also made of rosewood. In the first years of their life in the palace, Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna often spent time in this room. It was here that the Imperial family took breakfast and dinner together. In recent months, the Rosewood Drawing Room has been transformed into its historic original, including wall finishes, drapes, panels and a rosewood fireplace.

The selection and acquisition of porcelain, household items, and paintings to replace those that were lost during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45) is currently underway.

In addition to the two frames recreated for the Rosewood Drawing Room, the museum’s collection was replenished in 2019 with seven additional paintings: six were purchased from their owners along with a seventh painting, which was presented with a photograph.

© Paul Gilbert. 9 January 2020

Happy Orthodox Christmas

January 7

Today – 7th January – Orthodox Christians around the world
celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ

Merry Christmas to my Orthodox friends!

Счастливого Рождества моим православным друзьям!

Срећан Божић мојим православним пријатељима!

Καλά Χριστούγεννα στους Ορθόδοξους φίλους μου!

PAUL GILBERT
7 January 2020

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Olga Taratynova on the restoration of the Alexander Palace

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Director of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Olga Taratynova

According to the Director of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Olga Taratynova, historic documents and photographs have been extremely useful resources for restorers in the recreation of the private apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in the Alexander Palace.

In the summer of 2020, eight rooms located on the first floor of the east wing of the Alexander Palace will open to visitors – the result of almost five years of work. The building was seriously damaged not so much from the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), but as a result of the destruction of the palace during the Soviet years. Experts are currently attempting to restore the interiors as close to their historic original as possible.

As Olga Taratynova, noted during a recent interview with The Art Newspaper Russia, almost 90% of the private apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna will be recreated. The scrupulous use of all available iconographic material has been utilized to aid restorers to bring the project to fruition. “It was decided to restore the interiors as they looked at the beginning of the 20th century,” said Olga Taratynova. “We hope that the Alexander Palace will become as popular as the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo.”

The Alexander Palace was commissioned by the Empress Catherine II in the early 1790s for her beloved grandson, Tsearevich and Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich (the future emperor Alexander I), by the architect Giacomo Quarenghi. In 1905, Nicholas II made the palace his permanent residence, and it was then that the interiors underwent major changes – they were adapted for life in accordance with the fashion of their time, sadly little of the early 20th century interiors have been preserved.

In August, immediately after the Imperial Family were sent into exile to Tobolsk, the famous art historian Georgy Lukomsky took numerous photographs of the interiors – black and white and color, the so-called auto-chromes. These along with newsreels taken during the Soviet years, have provided restorers the basic material for their work.

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The eastern wing will house the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family in the Alexander Palace

Not long after the departure of the Imperial Family for Siberia, a museum was established within the Alexander Palace. It operated until the beginning of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45). From 1951, the Ministry of Defence occupied the building until 2009, when the palace was transferred to the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve.

In the autumn of 2015, the palace was completely closed for restoration. The project of reconstruction, technical re-equipment and adaptation was the studio of Nikita Yavein Studio 44, the general contractor was LLC PSB ZhilStroy.

According to the Chief Architect of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Maria Ryadova, the project for reconstructing the interiors had to be adjusted after the Lukomsky autochromes were acquired for the museum at an auction in Paris in 2012. “When we saw these colour photographs, we saw for the first time, exactly how the apartments actually looked in 1917,” said Maria Ryadova. “Unfortunately, the ceiling lights and floors were not visible in them, therefore, we left them the way they were.”

Aside from the numerous photographs of the interiors, were the preserved albums with samples of fabrics for decorating walls and furniture. This made it possible to recreate the upholstery as accurately as possible. The room-by-room inventories made by Vsevolod Yakovlev, the keeper of the palace, have also survived to this day. Restorers had many doubts about the Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II (after the military vacated the palace in 2009, only the plastered walls remained). But when work began on the room, excavation of the floor revealed fragments of ceramics. A vintage Soviet newsreel showed the general appearance of the room. As a result, the interior of this room has been restored in all its beauty and with historical authenticity.

The first eight rooms are now scheduled to open to visitors in the summer of 2020. A total of 14 rooms will be restored in the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace, which will be known as the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family in the Alexander Palace. All work in the palace will be completed by 2022.

Click HERE to review 14 additional articles on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace, which include a total of 110 photos + 2 videos

© Paul Gilbert. 5 January 2020