When asked by a Westerner why I came to Russia, I give an MBA sort of answer, all about opportunity and growth, with statistics, etc., and of course that is right. When I am asked by a Russian why I came to Russia, I generally answer, “I like the music!” He nods, smiles, and says, “I understand.” Economic opportunity, sense of adventure, this is what the American wants to hear. But, the Russian understands other reasons. Really, it was the music.
I was unconscious of this until asked this question once by a Russian colleague, and I remembered my sister. The earliest music I remember was Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.” Winnifred was a Russophile when, in the university it was popular to get caught up in the utopian notions of our ally, the Soviet Union.
By the time I was fourteen, I had collected, on scratchy vinyl 78’s, Prince Igor, Tchaikovsky’s Symphonies 4, 5, and 6, Rachmaninoff’s 2nd and 3rd Piano Concertos, and Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia. Almost all of my tiny salary from working part-time in a department store went for recordings of Russian music.
They say Russian music, like Russian literature, is always excited about something. Why is it then that almost all Russian music, even Shostakovich, is written in a minor key? Mozart wrote over six hundred pieces of music and eighty percent are in a major key. What is the difference? Russia is a melancholy land.