Music as Text in the Works of Bulgakov

  • Edna Andrews et
  • Yana Lowry

…plus d’informations

  • Edna Andrews
    Duke University

  • Yana Lowry
    Saint Leo University

Couverture de J. M. Lotman, Volume 35, numéro 1, 2015, p. 3-162, Recherches sémiotiques

Corps de l’article

“Текст в тексте – это специфическое риторическое построение при котором различие в закодированности разных частей текста делается выявленным фактором авторского построения и читательского восприятия текста. Переключение из одной системы семиотического осознания текста в другую на каком-то внутреннем структурном рубеже составляет в этом случае основу генерирования смысла”.

Ю.М. Лотман (1992a : 110)

Text within a text is a special rhetorical construction where the difference in the codification of various parts of the text is the critical factor in understanding the author’s vision and the reader’s response to and perception of the text. In this instance, switching from one system of semiotic comprehension of the text to another across something like an internal structural boundary provides the basis for the generation of meaning”.

Juri Lotman (translation by authors)[1]

We begin our analysis with a quote from Lotman’s seminal article, “Text within a text”, in which he explores the phenomenon as an important system-level, semiospheric notion, as well as a key to understanding artistic (художественный) and cultural texts and their ability to generate multiplicities of meaning. This is particularly interesting in the context of examining Bulgakov’s use of what we will refer to as musical texts.

One of the fundamental principles of the Tartu-Moscow school of semiotics focuses on defining culture texts, a structure through which cultural information about the self and the surrounding context are acquired (Ivanov et al. 1973/1998 : 3.0-3.1). Culture texts are broadly conceived to include not only artistic forms of literary/visual/sound texts, but also simple speech acts and other meaning-generating systems (Andrews 2003 : 165). Lotman’s later work on artistic textual space and artistic texts is contingent upon at least two basic principles of semiospheric organization : (1) all semiospheres[2] are a multiplicity of variegated, potentially hierarchical and multileveled languages and culture texts, and (2) the codes correlated with specific texts may be lost if the text is inadequately contextualized in a given semiospheric space, and thus may be “untranslatable” at given moments on the space-time continuum (Lotman 1992b : I. 11-24). The distinguishing properties of the artistic text from other text types are given at the structural level, where the text must be organized such that the reader perceives semantic signals pointing to the artistic text (Lotman 1992b : 1.204-5). Lotman is very keen on the notion that, in distinction to other textual types, the artistic text presents a complex of conflicting indices as a result of its essence, which is to represent the general principles of a culture’s organization :

Только художественные тексты могут быть предметом взаимоисключающих аксиологических оценок. Хотя художественным текстам в общей иерархии культуры отводится определенное место, они постоянно проявляют тенденцию к расположению на противоположных концах лестницы, то есть в исходной позиции задают некоторый конфликт, создающий потенциальную возможность дальнейшей нейтрализации в некоторых амбивалентных текстах.... Внутренная организация художественной литературы... изоморфна культуре как таковой, повторяет общие принципы ее организации. Литература никогда не представляет собой аморфно-однородной суммы текстов : она не только организация, но и самоорганизующийся механизм. На самой высокой ступени организации она выделяет группу текстов более абстрактного, чем вся остальная масса текстов, уровня, то есть метатекстов.

Only the artistic text may be the object of mutually exclusive axiomatic values. Even though artistic texts in the general hierarchy of culture have a particular place, they are constantly demonstrating tendencies toward movement to the opposite end of the spectrum, i.e., in their initial point there already exists a specific conflict that creates the potential for further neutralization in ambivalent texts… The internal organization of literature is isomorphic to culture as such and repeats the general principles of [cultural] organization. Literature never presents itself as an amorphous, unilateral sum of texts : It is not only organizing, but a self-organizing mechanism. At the highest level of organization literature selects the group of more abstract texts, that is, metatexts.

1992b : I. 206-7; trnaslated in Andrews 2003 : 79

The notion of music as text in Bulgakov is central to understanding his oeuvre, is fully integrated into the verbal and aesthetic functions of his work, and is best understood from the perspective of Lotman’s notion of text within a text. As Lotman explains, what may appear to be an intrusion of a fragment[3] into a “foreign” language may become a generator of new meanings (1992a : 110) :

Вторжение “обломка” текста на чужом языке может играть роль генератора новых смыслов. Это подчеркивается, например, возможностью введения говорений на “никаком” языке, которые, однако, оказываются черзвычайно насыщенными смыслом.

The intrusion of a fragment of text into a foreign language may become a generator of new meanings. This process is emphasized, for example, by the possibility of introducing speech in “not any kind of” language, which, however, turns out to be exceedingly saturated with meaning.

This is precisely what we see as a variety of musical texts “intrude” into the artistic space-time continuum of Bulgakov’s works. In the case of Zoya’s Apartment, (henceforth abbreviated as ZK), we will demonstrate how the interaction of musical and verbal texts leads to a fascinating and unexpected re-evaluation of the narrative.

The manifestation of musical texts for Bulgakov includes not only a wide variety of genres (operatic arias, art songs, folk songs, popular and military melodies, children’s songs and liturgical music), but also an interesting array of realizations of music, where (1) musical works are played at particular moments in the text, (2) characters perform a piece of music in real time or refer to a musical piece they had performed in a different context, (3) musical scores and lyric are present in the text, (4) specific instruments are present in the text, (5) the source of the background music is specified in the text, (6) characters bear the names of famous composers or musical instruments, and (7) even the name of the performer of the musical piece is specified (cf. Chaliapin is singing Mephistopheles’ aria from Gounod’s Faust at the beginning of Zoya’s Apartment).

Bulgakov’s usage of music as text as described above is found in all of his major works, and is a powerful, dynamic characteristic of polysemic meaning generation. It also presents an interactive challenge to the reader that compels him or her to actively participate in the narrative. That is, if the reader takes up the challenge, then the narrative becomes more synthetic and “explodes” multidimensionally in its realization. There are altogether nineteen occurences that qualify as examples of music as text in Zoya’s Apartment (compared with 16 in Days of the Turbins). Fifty percent of the musical examples in Zoya’s Apartment (henceforth alternatively refered to as ZK) are based on 2 works : Rachmaninov’s Ne poj, krasavica, and the aria Parigi o cara from Verdi’s La Traviata. In the following sections, we will examine each of the examples from Zoya’s Apartment in terms of the types of music as text in order to demonstrate how Bulgakov creates, through his use of music and musical imagery, a parallel textual world that can be “read” on par with the verbal text.

Zoya’s Apartment (1926/1997)

We will not summarize the entire storyline of Zoya’s Apartment here (relevant lyrics and musical notation are given in Appendix A), but we would like to remind the readers that this play, listed as a “tragicomedy”, has been enjoyed on theatrical stages around the world time and again until the present day, despite the fact that, as Proffer notes, it was not seen as an espacially innovative play that broke new ground (1984 : 228-234).[4] Bulgakov himself noted his affection for his characters (including Zoya, Obolyaninov, Ametistov, Xeruvim, Manusya, Goose, Alla), flawed as they may be, and his disagreements with the stage director, Andrej Popov, concerning the major themes of the play – “depravity and comedy” (пошлость и комизм) (Petelin 2007 : 8). Bulgakov specifically notes in disbelief that Popov wanted the “musical and noise coloring” to reinforce precisely these themes. What we will demonstrate in the following analysis is that Bulgakov did not abandon his vision and used music as text for a very different purpose.

Central Musical Texts of Zoya’s Apartment : Gounod, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Verdi

ZK (Act I, Scene 1) opens with specific set directions and music : Mephistopheles’ aria about human greed and adoration of “The Golden Calf” from Gounod’s opera Faust (Act II, Scene 3), the first lines of the first and second verses (“На земле весь род людской, Чтит один кумир священный…, В умилении сердечном, прославляя истукан…” [All people on the earth worship one holy idol…, with tenderness in the heart, glorifying the calf…] (1997 : 52)) sung by Fyodor Chaliapin. It is well attested that Bulgakov was an avid opera lover and often went to the opera in Kiev beginning early in his life (Proffer 1984). His favorite opera was Gounod’s Faust, and he would have heard it and others translated into Russian as that was the convention of the day.[5] Not only are the opera, specific aria and text important, but also the fact that the performer is designated.

The second and third musical examples (1997 : 57), also from Act I, Scene 1, refer to Franz Liszt’s Rhapsodie Hongroise No. II and Sergei Rachmaninov’s Ne poj, krasavica (Sing No More, My Lovely Woman) :

Here again, Bulgakov is careful to specify the works and even how they are played (cf. бравурно). Rachmaninov’s art song, Ne poj, krasavica, is one of two central musical texts evoked throughout the entire play. There are 12 specific references to this important piece (lyrics based on a poem by A.S. Pushkin) in Act I, Scene 1, Act I, Scene 3, and Act III, Scene 1 (1997 : 58-59, 61, 63-64, 72, 100, 117) :










As these examples clearly show, there is a very strong textual tie between Obolyaninov, the melancholic superfluous former aristocrat and lover of Zoya, and Rachmaninov’s music and Pushkin’s verse – “напоминают мне оне другую жизнь и берег дальний” (“they remind me of another life and far away shore”).[8]

The second major musical text that begins in Act I, Scene 3 (1997 : 65) and reappears multiple times, through Act III, Scene 2 (1997 : 86, 124), is the famous duet of Violetta and Alfred from Verdi’s La Traviata.[9] However, Bulgakov makes an interesting change to the lyrics. Compare the following :

Verdi/Piave : (original Italian) Parigi o cara noi lasceremo, La vita uniti trascorreremo. De’ corsi affanni compenso avrai, La tua salute rifiorirà. Sospiro e luce tu mi sarai tutto il futuro ne arriderà. (We’ll leave Paris, my dearest, Together we’ll go through life. In reward for your past sorrows, You’ll bloom into health again. Breath of life, sunshine you’ll be to me, All the years to come will smile on us.)

Verdi/Piave : (standard Russian libretto translation of original Italian) Париж покинем, где так страдали, где было столько мук и печали; мир светлый счастья вновь к нам вернется в тихом приюте дальней страны. Там снова радость нам улыбнется, и наше горе забудем мы!

Bulgakov : “Покинем, покинем край, где мы так страдали…” (We will abandon the land where we have suffered so terribly)

Bulgakov repeats this specific musical passage three times throughout the play. All three times are associated with Obolyaninov and Zoya, and the final appearance of this aria near the end of the play is particularly interesting as it is sung by Mymra in the “play within the play” staged in Zoya’s apartment. If we examine the first two instances carefully, we see that they are (1) almost identical in presentation and (2) both are directly related to being in Paris by Christmas :

In all three instances, Bulgakov makes an important change to the original libretto. In La Traviata, Violetta and Alfred sing of leaving Paris, a place where they had suffered, and moving to a new place where they can be happy and healthy. In ZK, Zoya and Pavel talk of leaving for Paris to start a new life and leaving Moscow, a place where they have suffered. This significant revision is a key to revealing an entire network of connections between the musical texts and the theme of emigration. And it is not just any emigration, but emigration to Paris.

In fact, all of the artists mentioned by Bulgakov, whether they be performer or composer or both, had fates that involved emigration from their homelands (Chaliapin and Rachmaninov left Moscow in 1917 and had residences and summer homes in Paris, Liszt emigrated to Paris in 1823 with his family). Additionally, Liszt and Rachmaninov were known as two of the greatest pianists in the world in their respective centuries, both having very large hands. Obolyaninov is also a pianist.

The importance of Franz Liszt as a figure relevant to Bulgakov’s play is fascinating. There are several facts from Liszt’s biography that make Bulgakov’s choice quite compelling. For example, Liszt composed the famous Faust-Symphonie in 1854. (The importance of Faust [Goethe’s and Gounod’s] cannot be overestimated in Bulgakov’s oeuvre.) As Walker states (Walker 2001 GMO : Liszt 16) :

Liszt had been introduced to Goethe’s Faust by Berlioz in 1830, and had long nourished a desire to reflect that literary masterwork in music. (Appropriately, Liszt’s score is dedicated to Berlioz.) For many years his itinerant lifestyle had placed one obstacle after another in his path, and had prevented the realization of his plan. Once settled in Weimar, however, a city which still resonated with Goethe’s presence, the work took possession of him and he put the best of himself into it.

Frank Dawes (2001 GMO : Piano Duet) discusses Liszt’s important contribution to piano duets, and here again there is an interesting connection to Gounod’s Faust :

Liszt arranged his orchestral rhapsodies, all his symphonic poems and even Via crucis; and such intractable or seemingly intractable works as Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Haydn’s The Creation, Verdi’s Requiem, all Strauss’ tone poems and symphonies, as well as complete operas (e.g. Wagner’s entire Ring cycle and Tristan, Gounod’s Faust), appeared in duet form. It was at one time possible to buy almost the complete works of Saint-Saëns as duets.[10]

But there is also a connection between Rachmaninov, Liszt and Gounod’s Faust (see Rachmaninov’s performance diary ( Specifically, Rachmaninov performed the Gounod/Liszt Waltz from Faust many times, beginning in Moscow on January 30, 1892, with numerous performances in 1919-20, 1924-25 and 1938-39.

The connections between Rachmaninov and Liszt do not end here. There is a famous gramophone recording of Rachmaninov playing Liszt’s Rhapsodie Hongroise No. II from April 23, 1919 recorded in New York by Edison Recordings ([11] Both Rachmaninov and Liszt produced brilliant works inspired by Paganini, Chaliapin and Liszt have strong connections to Gounod’s Faust, Rachmaninov and Chaliapin were very close friends, and all three have important connections to Paris. Gounod’s Faust premiered in Paris on March 19, 1859 at the Théâtre Lyrique.

There is one other moment from Liszt’s biography that is potentially interesting. Liszt was not admitted to the Paris Conservatory because he was a foreigner, and was interviewed unsuccessfully by the conservatory’s director, Luigi Cherubini (Walker 2001 : Liszt 2). The similarity of the names Cherubini, who Walker notes was also “a foreigner,” and Bulgakov’s Chinese character Xeruvim/Cherubim is intriguing. Liszt performed in Kiev in February, 1847 and spent 3 months at Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein’s home in Voronitsi/Woronince (autumn 1847 to January 1848) (Walker 2001 : Liszt 11).

Secondary Musical Texts in Zoya’s Apartment : Chopin, Peterson, Radoshevskaya, Liturgical, and Folk Music

There are four more musical references that include specific lyrics that occur once each : Karl Aleksandrovich Peterson’s famous Christmas verse/song, The Orphan (Сиротка) (1997 : 65-66), the well-known liturgical piece, Many Years (Многая лета) (1997 : 74), Radoshevskaya’s romance Chrysanthemums (Хризантемы) (1997 : 89), and the Russian folk song Quarter Moon is Shining (Светит месяц) (1997 : 96).[12] There is also a reference to the famous Gypsy folk song, Two Guitars, in Act III, Scene 2, where Lizan’ka is singing and Ametistov is playing the guitar, but with comical substitutions of the lyrics.[13]

Peterson’s song is used to introduce Ametistov into the play in Act I, Scene 3 (1997 : 65-66). The title of the piece, The Orphan, is an interesting commentary on Ametistov and his questionable origins. This piece is played on a “broken-down piano” («под аккомпанемент разбитого фортепиано» [1997 : 65]); it also has a close connection to Christmas and is referred to in Russian as a Christmas Verse (святочное стихотворение). It is precisely the connection of this piece with Christmas that ties it into the usage of Verdi’s La Traviata. The dialogue surrounding the appearance of Violetta and Alfredo’s duet not only includes mention of running away to Paris, but doing it “by Christmas” (1997 : 65, 86 [examples given in previous section]).

Finally, a Chopin “Nocturne” is mentioned, but we do not know which one Bulgakov has in mind. There are two very interesting moments in Chopin’s biography that suggest that it is Chopin himself who is most important in this reference and not the specific nocturne. First, Chopin emigrated from Poland in 1831, and while he was initially in Vienna, his destination was Paris (Michałowski & Samson : Chopin 2 GMO). Chopin, like Liszt and Rachmaninov, was a world-renowned pianist of the romantic tradition and child prodigy. Obolyaninov is playing Chopin’s nocturne on piano with Ametistov on violin (Act II, Scene 2, 1997 : 95).

“Для Булгакова, как для Пушкина

1830-х гг., культура неотделима от

интимной, сокровенной жизни”.

J. Lotman (1992b : I, 462)

Home/Anti-Home/Homelessness (Дом/Антидом/Бездомье) in Musical and Verbal Text

Lotman’s essays on Bulgakov clearly situate him in the tradition of Pushkin and Gogol. And one of Lotman’s strongest examples of this connection is revealed in Bulgakov’s use of what Lotman refers to as the opposition home/anti-home, which is one of the “universal themes of world folklore” (1992b : I. 457-463).[14] Lotman provides examples of Pushkin’s focus on “home” and Gogol’s focus on the contrast of home/anti-home and homelessness; and demonstrates how the “symbolism of home/anti-home becomes an organizing principle of all of [Bulgakov’s] works” (1992b : I. 458).

Andrews (2003 : 74-77) argues in favor of expanding Lotman’s binary opposition of home/anti-home to an irreducible triadic relationship of home/anti-home/homelessness. Such a shift enriches the oppositional relationships between the three semiotic spaces, and also attributes more significance to homelessness, as both a state and a process (ibid.). Furthermore, a shift to triadic structures paves the way for yet another organizing principle of Bulgakov’s artistic-textual space, namely the road.[15] As Andrews states (2003 : 76), “It is precisely through homelessness that the plane of spatial development shifts to the road and its various structural types. Here, Bulgakov’s textual space is more of the nature of multiple planes as opposed to points or lines” (ibid.)

Another focus noted by Lotman is Bulgakov’s use of what he calls “false home” (ложный дом) in The MasterandMargarita. Examples from Bulgakov’s last novel include communal apartments, the insane asylum (сумасшедший дом), the Griboedov House (Дом Грибоедова), Margarita’s stately home (особняк, особнячок), Pilate’s palace in Jershalaim, and even Hell. The false home is juxtaposed to the “true home”, apartments where we hear the sounds of a piano (as opposed to a gramophone), and rooms of apartments where there are books, a fireplace or stove, and bronze lamps with shades, etc.[16] Lotman specifically identifies Zoya’s Apartment as one of many Bulgakov plays and works whose central structure is built around the home/anti-home opposition (1992b : I. 462-3). Lotman also characterizes ZK at the “lowest point” on the curve of the quintessential “anti-home” (1992b : I. 463). This interpretation is not surprising when one includes an active reading of the musical texts. Clearly, the play opens with Mephistopheles’ aria from Gounod’s Faust, where he sings about human greed, golden idols and how Satan is leading the ball (see Appendix A).

The example of the sound of piano vs. gramophone is one of the contrasts that occurs frequently in ZK. It is only when we hear classical fortepiano music, see the sheet music from Faust and other operas (as in Days of the Turbins) that we have contact with the notion of home and, in the case of Zoya’s Apartment, the remnants of a former home. The sounds of the broken-down piano and gramophone tell the reader that they are in a very different world in Moscow of the NEP period than we find the Turbin family in Kiev on the eve of the Bolshevik revolution.

If we bring together all of the musical textual examples that are found in ZK discussed above, it becomes clear that these musical images form a coherent and very compelling textual narrative. Whether we look at the composers themselves, the performers, the lyrics or the actual musical pieces, we consistently run into one of the “nameless” main characters of the play : Paris. Paris as a potential “new home”, serving as an escape from the Moscow “anti-home”. Paris as an artistic haven for aesthetic realization – the home of the premiere of Gounod’s Faust, the city where Liszt, Chopin, Rachmaninov, Chaliapin performed and lived. Paris as a haven where we will once again celebrate Christmas. (Consider Bulgakov’s focus on Christmas and his refusal to agree to the Bolshevik law to abolish it in 1918.) Paris where loving couples can realize their dreams (Zoya and Obolyaninov) or be reunited with their loved ones (Alla and her beau).

The tragedy of Paris is emphasized by the appearance of Verdi’s La Traviata and Bulgakov’s mdifications of the original lyrics. Parigi o cara is sung in the opera La Traviata as Violetta is dying. Alfredo and Violetta both know that they will never be able to leave Paris and move to a new land where they can be happy. This musical text belongs to Zoya and Obolyaninov in ZK. Zoya and Obolyaninov are not physically dying, as is Violetta. Their death is a spiritual one, where the life they are destined to live is one bound together with “homelessness” and “anti-homes” and not with a true, Bulgakovian “home”. Obolyaninov will never enjoy the opportunity of playing his music in Paris. Thus, in the end, Zoya’s Apartment is the prelude to the loss of home entirely, homelessness, a future of “wandering” (странствие) and a constant longing to emigrate.

Our analysis of the presence of music-as-text in Zoya’s Apartment shows that it is through the musical texts that the reader can apprehend the true tragedy of Bulgakov’s play – the longing for a “true home”, a “home” that is profoundly given in Pushkin, and Bulgakov allows Pushkin once again to be the spokesperson for this “home” through Rachmaninov’s heart-wrenching melody :

Не пой, красавица, при мне

Sing no more, my lovely woman, in my presence

Ты песен Грузии печальной

Your sad songs of Georgia/Gruziya.

Напоминают мне другую жизнь

They remind me of another life(time)

И берег дальной.

And far-away shore.

Parties annexes