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Russian culture

Russian culture is a crucial component of Russia’s soft power, in its widest historical definition. The most important for promoting the image of Russia is its classical culture, developed during the Russian Empire, especially in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The Soviet period is also important, especially in fine art and music. Among the Russian and Soviet composers who have gained worldwide recognition are Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Khachaturian and Schnittke. Russian musicians are also famous around the world: Shalyapin, Oistrach, Richter, Rostropovich.The modern ones - Gergiev, Spivakov, Currentzis, Hvorostovsky, Netrebko - perform on the best world stages.

The Russian and Soviet ballet schools throughout the twentieth century have been the gold standard in the world of classical ballet. The names of Matilda

Kshesinskaya,Anna Pavlova, George Balanchine, Maya Plisetskaya, Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov should be mentioned, among many. The Moscow Bolshoi Theatre and the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg are world-famous. The ‘Bolshoi ballet’ and ‘Mariinsky ballet’ brands always sell out concert halls.

Among the most important components of Russian culture is its world-renowned works of great literature by such writers as Alexander Pushkin, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Mikhail Bulgakov, Vladimir Nabokov, Boris Pasternak, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky. Many others have been translated into foreign languages and published outside Russia - Russian is fourth among languages which are most often translated. Five Russian writers have been Nobel laureates, including Ivan Bunin (1933), Boris Pasternak (1958), Mikhail Sholokhov (1965), Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1970) and Joseph Brodsky (1987). Leo Tolstoy was also nominated for the Nobel Prize every year from 1902 to 1906, but did not receive it (Kulturologia, 2013).

The influence of Russian literature on international culture and art has given Russia a form of soft power that has been constant, whatever the political regime and the state of international relations, boosted by numerous cinema adaptations of these great works by Western filmmakers throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This has promoted the image of Russia as a part of the European cultural tradition. The influence of Leo Tolstoy on European culture can hardly be exaggerated, as expressed by the French writer, Romain Rolland:

Tolstoy is the great Russian soul, the light shone on earth a hundred years ago, who illuminated the youth of my generation. In the sweltering twilight of the passing century, he became our guiding star; our young hearts gravitated towards him; he was our refuge. Along with others - and there are many people in France, for whom he was more than a favorite author, but a friend, the best, or even the only, true friend among all the masters of European art.

(Rolland, 1954)

Not surprisingly, the novels most filmed are those ofTolstoy, most notably his epic novel War and Peace and the doomed love story of Anna Karenina.The film of War and Peace (1956, US-Italy) directed by King Vidor was the first full-fledged film adaptation of the novel, with the main character, Natasha Rostova being played by Hollywood star Audrey Hepburn. The film received three Oscar nominations from the American Academy. A highly acclaimed Russian version of War and Peace, directed by Sergey Bondarchuk (1965-1967), became the first Soviet feature film to receive the ‘Best foreign language film’ Oscar nomination (Korsakov, 2016). In 1972, the BBC screened the longest, 20-episode dramatization of the novel, in which the role of Pierre Bezukhov was played by a young Anthony Hopkins. In 2007, a joint production by Russian, French and Italian artists was broadcast in four parts. A new version of the epic was made by the BBC in 2016, which received extensive feedback in Russia in official media and on social networks (Korsakov, 2016).

The novel Anna Karenina has also been filmed many times since the first silent version in 1910 (and about 10 silent film versions were made) and there are up to 30 foreign adaptations. The first was filmed not in Russia, but in Germany, six months before the death of Tolstoy in 1910, but unfortunately no reel of this has survived. Greta Garbo played the role twice, in Dive (1927) and Anna Karenina (1935), receiving for the latter the NYFCC award in the ‘female lead role’ nomination and the Mussolini Cup in the ‘Best foreign film’ nomination at the Venice festival. In the UK, Vivien Leigh played Anna Karenina in 1947 and Jacqueline Bisset was the lead in the 1985 version. In the Anglo-American version of 1997, filmed in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Anna Karenina was performed by a French actress Sophie Marceau and a British film of Anna Karenina in 2012 had Keira Knightley as Anna.

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novels and stories have also produced a variety of screen versions. The film of the story ‘White Nights’ in 1957 was released by Luchino Visconti with Marcello Mastroianni in the lead role and it also inspired a 2007 Bollywood film Saaivariya, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Akira Kurosawa, Jean-Luc Godard and Aki Kaurismaki all made films based on Dostoevsky’s novels ( The novel Doctor Zhivago by Pasternak has also led to cinematic adaptations, including the famous 1965 epic film directed by David Lean, starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie.

Russian cinema can also be considered one of the crucial elements of the country’s soft power. Soviet and Russian filmmakers have many times won the top prizes of the most prestigious film festivals - Cannes, Venice, Berlin and others, most notably Andrei Tarkovsky (winning in 1969, 1972, 1983 and 1986), who is widely regarded as one of the greatest masters of cinema with such internationally acclaimed and influential films to his credit as Mirror (1974), Andrei Rublev (1966) and Stalker (1979).

Russian fine art, especially painting, is also a positive element of the Russian image abroad and thus contributes to the soft power of the country. The most sought after in the world art auctions are the works of the Russian avant-garde school of artists of the early twentieth century, among them Nicholas Roerich, Kazimir Malevich, Vasily Kandinsky, Alexander Rodchenko, Marc Chagall and Natalia Goncharova. The value of works by these artists have increased in recent years: in 2008 ‘Suprematist Composition’ (1916) by Malevich (1879-1935) fetched S60 million at Sotheby’s and in 2013 ‘Madonna Laboris’ (1931) by Roerich (1874-1947) was sold for $13.5 million at Bonham’s, seven times higher than the estimate. At Sotheby’s over the past decade, six paintings by Kandinsky (1866-1944) were sold for a total of $52 million.

The nineteenth-century Romantic artist Ivan Aivazovsky, the most expensive sold Russian artist, in 2011, for the first time, entered the top ten most expensive paintings by Russian artists. Contemporary Russian artists are also in demand in the world art market and contribute to Russian soft power, for example, Ilya Kabakov, Eric Bulatov, Semyon Faibisovich, Grisha Bruskin, Vasily Komar and Alexander Melamid, who work as a duo. Their works are sold at Sotheby’s and Christie’s auctions for millions of dollars (Novosti iskusstva, 2014).

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