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Part Three - Khovanchina - Sacre du Printemps - Time for the Ball - Russian Dress - Malachite Room - Dinner Served by Skorokhods
How personal and unforgettable is that first understanding of the Russian idiom in music! Apart from little things, in the writer's instance it was Mussorgsky's Khovantchina, when fourteen years old. From a stall at the right hand side of the orchestra, where the brass instruments were playing. To be told this was a drunken genius, and be shown his portrait, that of a drunken monk out of his own opera; and listen to the declamation, which is Shakespearian in its impressiveness and sense of tragedy. This was, of course, Rimsky-Korsakov's edition of Khotantchina. How much more wonderful must it be in the original, in which Rimsky-Korsakov thought the orchestration was so uncouth and clumsy! His neat, desk manner has tidied it too much. But who would know this in the first intoxication! The blare and frenzy of the Persian dances; the stabbing of a man who wore a high white bear-skin cap; the burning of the Raskolniki or Old Believers; now and then an aria for a woman, probably a wedding song or nursery song, in its Slav sort of freshness which is never that of flower or fruit but fresh like a mushroom, come out of the soil, not from the rain and air; fresh like a crayfish from the clayey brook; like the tall sunflower near the house, if a flower at all; like the beetroot field; like the Northern berries in the dank autumnal wood; of such, or such, it is in simile; never of the rose, or vineyard, or the summer seas. The same character pervades all Russian music. We hear it in the opening of Le Sacre du Printemps, in a theme that argues or contradicts its own simplicity, but pre, sents, none the less, the familiar scene in an archaic setting. It is a Stone Age, but the very megaliths are Russian. The ancestors are from the steppe, where the rivers run into the Black Sea or the Caspian. In Khovantchina their eyes and cheekbones are no different; nor the pallor of the true Slav. These are the Russians, who are the Antipodes - to all other nations, born, it would seem, into a different perspective or proportion, often overtaken by disaster owing to ignorance and vastness, but wrongly blamed for never having been happy. They are the mute animal upon whom experiments are made, of one kind and another of inoculation. Disease may, or may not, have taken; but illness, ifit is not mortal, has a term of years.
Sacre du Printemps - Cold of St. Petersburg - Time for the Ball - The Arrival - At The Entrance
We cannot believe that it was its wickedness that struck it down. Poverty was appalling in the big towns, but it was the misery of African or Oriental cities. With this difference, the aching cold. Such conditions could not continue close to the European order. And, perhaps, it was more dangerous in the wide prospects and open spaces of a modern capital. In the muddy lanes, among the wooden tenements of an older world, life was less heartless. There was more of human company than in a capital that was laid out upon too large a scale, even, for its million population, and that in the same wide street, eternal to walk along, one street, from Bond Street to the Mile End Road, ended in shacks and hovels. How, ever, for many, if not for most, snow on the roofs and street is a soft covering, something which makes the winter pretty. Tonight, in the year we see it, this is how many would remember it from their childhood.
This was the reality they loved, and that was their home. This is the vision that has been taken from them, for more poverty and a more enslaving servi, rude. No need to foresee that. It hides at the wind, rubbed corner, on the facade of granite, and in the nameless, doss house cellar. It will come. And it is better not to think of it. Nothing could have prevented it. Or so it is better to believe. But behold this city that glitters in the snow! There are persons still living who were little babes tonight. Or, even, can remember this winter, of many winters, and how warm it was at home. They sleigh, every evening, and bring back the parcels. It is the little world of mothers and governesses. One evening, among many evenings, of the interminable years. But the Christmas snow is not only for the children. All the world drives in sledges. No one talks of poverty. The beggars are professional, as in Eastern cities. Tonight is tonight: and tomorrow will be just the same. Why waste a moment of it! It is our's, and your's, to spend. In the winter this city only lives at night.
And in the summer, too. Tonight there is the ball. In less than an hour, in a few moments, it will begin. It is time to get ready. It is time to go upstairs. The candles are lit upon the dressing table. The stove gives out its warmth. The sleigh waits at the door.
As we get nearer, driving through the great arch of the Etat Major, the entire Winter Palace comes into view blazing with lights from every window. The horses' hooves sound loud in the archway, and more and more of the endless palace unrolls in perspective, in front across the square. Carriages and sledges come in from every direction and make for different entrances, the stream of all that silent traffic being broken by the Alexander Column, a huge monolith of granite with a statue of an arch, angel a hundred and fifty feet into the air, and great braziers burning at its foot. The polished granite looks so cold; but, turning back, the great archway, behind, and the advancing wings of the Etat Major, so immense in scale, enclose the square and seem to shelter the coachmen and footmen who warm them, selves at the braziers, and watch more sleighs arriv, ing and the glittering lights. We are halfway across the square, passing other sledges that have their harness covered with blue netting in order that the snow shall not blow back upon the dresses for the ball. At this moment the whole bulk of the palace, with its three storeys, rises up like a ship before a rowing boat. The further windows, at both ends, lose their separate illumination and flatten out into one great whole that lies to either side, and high above. There is an advancing portion, with a porch in which we wait for the sledge in front to drop its passengers, and drive away. This is the Ambassador's entrance. There are four other entrances. Grand Dukes come in by the Saltykov: Court officials by the Imperial: Civil officials by the Jordan: military officers by the Commander's. Court servants come forward and take the coats and furs. We are at the foot of the great staircase, the Escalier des Ambassadeurs, with wide and shallow steps of marble, thickly carpeted, and climbing in two flights. Upon the four other staircases, at different ends of the palace, it is the same. Every step is crowded, and the guests climb slowly into the golden halls above.
But we must begin our acquaintance with the particular inhabitants of the Winter Palace. In the hall at the foot of the staircase, on duty at the others, too, are Grenadiers of the Golden Guard of the Palace. This is a special body, a full company in strength, who post the sentries at the Alexander Column, and guard the room in which Nicholas I died. They are his creation, and wear the uniform he designed for them. Picked for their great height, out of all the regiments who wore the Russian bear, skin in the various European armies, these, in the land of their invention, are the most gorgeous of the whole creation. The Grenadiers of the Winter Palace in a golden travesty of the bear hunters from the Ural mountains.
Grenadiers of the Golden Guard - The Kalpack - Russian Dress - Dames a Portrait - The Malachite Room
Outside, at the Alexander Column, they wear long grey coats. Here, they are in gala uniform. White trousers, which button from knee down, wards into their boots, so that only the black toe of the boot is visible, and the effect is white trousers, and white spats or leggings. A black tunic, cut like a tight waistcoat with a breast of gold braid edged with red, with red and golden cuffs and collars, a golden bandolier crossed in front but carried in two broad golden bands straight down their backs to the cut-away tails, gold lined with red, upon which is fastened a cartridge case embossed with a golden double-headed eagle. They carry a sword at their side, and a musket and fixed bayonet. Their musi, cians, who are on duty, too, have more elaborate golden sleeves. But the chief feature is the enormous bearskin kalpack, immensely high and bulky, with a golden headpiece and a golden chain looped through it, with a golden grenade at the back, in symbol, and in front, a golden tassel hanging by the ear. They are on duty in a hall which is entirely of this period; the walls are gold and lapis lazuli, with a painted vase of blue and gold against a marbled panel, great doors with golden ornaments, and a red and gold carpet. They are shown, thus, in our frontispiece. To the top of their kalpacks may be as much as eight feet high, or nearly as much, and they are really formidable and magnificent with the golden ornaments upon the glossy bearskin. But they are at, tached, in particular, to the ground floor of the Palace, the first line, as it were, of its gala defences, their bear, skins being appropriate to the falling snow outside, and more impressive for being worn indoors against this Regency interior. And we continue up the marble staircase into the line of glittering halls.
Cossacks of the Guard in their scarlet uniforms, sword in hand, stand in two ranks and the guests move on between them, through room after room, till the flow from the other staircases joins in with them, and we reach the St. George's Hall, the Throne Room, the White Chamber and the gallery where the Corps Diplomatique are waiting. The procession is already forming. It is the important moment in the whole ceremony. For the ball has not begun. There has been no music yet. Our dis, embodiment, which lets us move freely where we will, seeing everything, but invisible ourselves, has this advantage that, we need not enter into conver, sation. We study the inhabitants of this world of candle light, for every room has the glitter of many hundreds of wax lights, and choose the peculiar and significant.
All the ladies of the Court wear the 'Russian' dress, of white silk, cut low with a close fitting bodice and red velvet train, gold embroidered, and the kokoshnik of red velvet and gold braid, like that worn by nurses and peasant women, only more sumptuous, diadem shaped, with a soft veil hanging from it. The jewels are astonishing.' Other ladies, who do not hold Court appointments, wear different colours, but always the long train and the kokoshnik. There is the distinction, so like a fairy story, between the Dames 'a portrait and those who wear the monogram. The Dames a portrait, middle aged or old women, have a miniature of the Czarina framed in diamonds upon the left side of their bodice, which is esteemed a great honour; while the Demoiselles d honfieur have but the Imperial monogram set in diamonds. Ruby velvet is the colour worn by the Demoiselles d'honneur; while the Dames du palais, not always Dames a portrait, wear olive green. In addition, all the Grand Ducal families have their distinctive colours worn by their Duchesses and ladies-in-waiting: some, white and silver, rose, turquoise blue, or cornflower blue. There are Court ladies wearing the blue ribbon of the Order of St. Catherine with its diamond cross. In all this galaxy the Dames a portrait, with the miniatures upon their bodices, look like personages come down from the Contes de Perrault.
There are not many beauties among this large assembly. As with the original and authentic Russian ballet, from the Imperial School, the dancers are seldom beautiful. They were part of the whole scheme, not to be noticed individually, and so it is tonight. There are, however, those two contrasting types of Russians, men and women; those who from their eyes and bone formation, or from their colouring, could be nothing else than Russian; and those who, handsome or otherwise, could pass for any other race. A Dame a portrait here and there, could come from Marly or Versailles: another, or some other lady, is the Muscovite of legend.
But the procession is nearly formed. This is, in fact, the great ceremony of the Winter Palace, taking place upon other occasions of religious import, when the Imperial family proceed, in state, through the palace to the chapel; and process back again. Tonight it is no less of a ritual. But it is the opening of the ball. A pair of great halls is given over to the ceremony. First comes the Concert Room. Into this those persons are allowed to enter who have the peculiar right of 'going past the Chevaliers Gardes'. A number of this regiment are posted at the door, way, in their white tunics and silver helms and breastplates, sword in hand, and the privilege con, sisted in being allowed to approach nearer than their persons to the sovereign. Beyond, lies the Mala, chite Room, into which only members of the Im, perial family are allowed. The door of this room is guarded by Court Arabs.
Court Arabs - A La Cosaque - The Mazurka - Schamyl
This special corps is as romantic in origin as the peyks or tressed halberdiers of the Grand Seraglio. They are termed Arabs because that is the old Russian name for all coloured men. In actual fact they are gigantic negroes. They wear white turbans and are dressed, a l'Oriental, in blue and red, subtly differenced, so that their long coats and baggy trousers and the silken scarves across their shoulders are never identical, but belong to the same scheme of colours. They wear Turkish slippers, and remain completely silent. These are no mere negroes: they are Christian Abyssinians. In the first place, in the eighteenth century, they will have been recruited as Court blackamoors who belonged to the Eastern Church. The exact time is uncertain, but it was probably in the reign of the Empress Elizabeth (1741-1761). Under Catherine the Great and her successors the Court Arabs became an intimate symbol of the Romanov ambitions. We may see in them, and they existed until 1917, the designs of Catherine upon Constantinople, and the reasons for which her second grandson was christened Constantine; the project, also, of Alexander I, at Tilsit, to divide the world into East and West for himself and Napoleon. Under Nicholas I, when they might have been abolished, the Court Arabs were maintained. This guard of Christian negroes in the Winter Palace, like an image borrowed from Byzantium, shadow every move against the Turkish Sultans. In the Crimean war; and, as we see them tonight, in times yet to come, when Alexander III liberated the Christians of the Balkans and his troops were encamped upon the Bosphorus in 1878. The unity of all Christian nations of the Eastern Church was the project, Slavs and Greeks among them; and, in a dream, it might include Copts and Ethiopians. They are stage extras, hired negroes standing against the painted wings of Bakst or Benois; but do not mistake them! They come down to us from the golden age of the theatre, contemporary with Bibiena, and these playthings of the Russian Court, in an age of rococo, have their significance.
There is more of the Court Arabs that an enquiring mind would seek to know. In later times, in this present reign of Alexander II, they are recruited by the Russian Consul in Ethiopia, and, before that, by some diplomatic agent. They must be Christian negroes, of the negro type, not the Hamitic Ethiopian, who is aquiline and with a straight mop of hair. They live in the Winter Palace, and are taken, in summer, to Tsarskoe Selo. Do they return to Abyssinia? May there be Court Arabs, in 1941, who went back to their country after the revolution, and if they could be found, having learnt no Russian, could recall being on guard at the door of the Malachite Room when the polonaise was about to begin? How remote this would sound, interpreted, upon the shores of Lake Tana, where there are Christian monasteries and the Blue Nile rises! Or at Gondar, not far away, with its Portuguese ruins from the reign of Prester John! They would remember the Neva frozen into solid blocks of ice, the falling snowflakes, and the interior splendour. The back staircases, and the attics below the roof, whence they looked out upon the Northern capital. How were they brought from Ethiopia to St. Petersburg? How many Court Arabs were there? It is impossible to know. At the coronation of Alexander II, in 1856, eight 'nigres de la cour' walked in the procession: at that of Nicholas II, in 1896, their number was reduced to four. An English account of the, marriage of the Tsarewitch (Alexander III), in 1866, to the sister of Queen Alexandra, describes a banquet in the Winter Palace at which there were covers for 2,200 guests, and a lacquey standing behind every chair. The banquet was followed by a ball. 'At twelve the supper rooms were thrown open. During the meal the Imperial party were surrounded by a number of black Mamelukes, who were on duty for the occasion.' This has the sound of more than eight Court Arabs; and perhaps there may have been as many as twenty, or more, at their full strength. In that immense book which illustrates the coronation of Alexander II they are to be seen, at the banquet, handing round wines and refreshments. Six or eight are on duty at the entrance to the Malachite Room. And their function, so near to the Imperial family, past the picket of Chevaliers Gardes in the next room, makes them more than ever like guardians of the Grand Seraglio.
But the ball is about to begin. The Masters of Ceremonies are grouped at the door, each with his wand of office, a long staff of ebony ending in an ivory ball with a two,headed eagle perched upon it, and a bow of bright blue silk tied in the St. Andrew's knot. At a sign from the Grand Marshal they strike their wands three times upon the floor. Upon the third stroke, the Court Arabs, from both sides, fling wide the doors. The orchestra begins the polonaise. The Grand Marshal, with the Masters of Ceremonies behind him, precedes the Tsar, wand in hand, clearing the way before him, and the entire procession emerges from the Malachite Room. The giant Tsarewitch comes behind his father; and, after him, his four brothers, the Grand Dukes Vladimir, Alexis, Serge, and Paul, all men of great height. In the words of a contemporary: 'Amongst a nation certainly not remarkable for good looks, the Princes of the House of Romanov are conspicuous for their stature and kingly appear, ance, if the Russian people had to choose a Tsar on the same system as the children of Israel chose Saul, there are not, I think, many families in the Empire who would stand a better chance of election than the descendants of Rurik.' The Tsarina and the wife of the Tsarewitch take part in the polonaise with their husbands; the latter wearing a silver kokoshnik that is on fire with diamonds, great ropes of pearls, and the triple diamond necklace which was one of the marriage presents given to her by the Tsar. The other Grand Duchesses wear rubies, sapphires, or emeralds, that match the colour of their dresses. Three times the cortege passes up and down the room, while the orchestra plays overhead along the gallery. At the end of each turn they change partners. It is not a dance, exactly. But the pace is more rhythmic and regular than that of walking.
It is the polonaise from A Life for the Tsar, by Glinka. A Russian polonaise which is a little different from the Polish. To our ears, it has to sound a strange, barbaric march. We could not be accus, tomed, yet, to Russian music. But how fortunate and typical are the Russians in the mere name of their 'Primitive' of music! Glinka! In sound, it is military music in an unfamiliar key; and when you repeat his name it is a music of trumpets and kettle, drums, ending shrilly; or like a military march or dance that employs the cymbals, that is a la Cosaque, in strange time and rhythm, ending unexpectedly, with a dying ring, an echo in the metal. Glinka, once more! Listen to his two syllables! The name has onomatopoeia in it. An Ukrainian name, we will suppose, but it has the sound of brass and cymbals to it, with a dancing rhythm. The light shrill music of a mounted band. The music of this polonaise is set and formal, not romantic like a polonaise of Chopin, and with another fire, not of rebellion. It is odd and peculiar, in Cossack or Circassian rhythm, in harmony, therefore, with many of the figures round us whom as yet there has been scarcely time to study. But, above. all, this music has none of the Russian melancholy. Could we compare it, while listening to it, with the polonaise from the Polish scene of Boris Godonov, we would know that sinister preluding and its foretaste of tragedy to come. This, on the other hand, is of peasant loyalties; and in the ballroom of the Winter Palace its images call to mind platoons or beds of military planted in their rows, as in the reign of Nicholas I, and those wonders that it was supposed the liberation of the serfs would bring. Who could think, tonight, that Alexander II, the liberator, who leads the polonaise, will, one day, lie murdered in the snow! Its music, wild and barbaric as it may be, is so confident and patriotic for the future.
After it comes a mazurka, and the dancing is general. There is time to look round. We see hussar officers in white and gold: 'en dolman blanc, soutache d'or et fourre d'une bordure de zibeline'. It sounds better, thus, in French; tirailleurs in magenta shirts and dark green fur-trimmed tunics; officers from the Caucasus in long white coats. Innumerable Court gentlemen in gold-braided coats: Court chamberlains in blue frockcoats stiff with gold. Count Mossolov mentions, in a later generation, the 'national costumes of the Hungarian Magnates. The gold-embroidered kuntush, or Polish dress, of Marquis Vielopolski and Marquis Gonzago-Myskowsky, from Russian Poland; and the beshmets of the Caucasian nobles, shod in tchuvicks, or mocassins, in which they danced without a sound.' Tonight it is more varied still, for a ball under Alexander II, such as this, at which there are seven to eight thousand guests, never took place under his successors. This was the year in which the Russian armies entered Samarkand. Tashkent was already taken. We see the Khans of Central Asia in their snow-white turbans; and others in national costumes, or brocaded gowns patterned with great formal flowers, whose identity is unknown even to most Russians at the ball, so lately have they submitted and been given Russian status. They are Musulmans, and may come from Khiva or Bokhara. There are Tartars and Siberian Cossacks. But, also, the Caucasus was newly conquered. An old man, tall, and with a hooked nose like a scimitar, in a white cashmere robe and wearing an immense white turban, is Schamyl, the hero of the Caucasus. Young Circassians are to be seen in long close,fitting coats And high sheepskin hats, black or white, rising above the crowd, like the hats in Persian miniatures of the seventeenth century. They come from Transcaucasia, bordering on the Caspian. The Christian princes of the Caucasus gave up their kingdoms and were ennobled by the Tsar. There are the princes of Imeretia and the Bagrations. Georgia itself, and Tiflis its capital, was of old, Iberia, where the dynasty of the Bagratides reigned from the eighth century until 1801, the oldest reigning family in Europe, and claiming descent from King David. The last king was Heraclius, who willed his kingdom to the Tsar. Conspicuous among the Georgian and Circassian nobles are members of the family of Dadian, former rulers of Mingrelia, who surrendered their principality in 1867. The princesses of their family, famed for their beauty, had such names as Salome; and both male and female, the particular title of Dedophiles of Mingrelia.
Supper - Grandson of Queen Louise - A Dinner served by Skorokhods - Tazze and Candelabra - Crystals and Sem-Precious Stones
After more mazurkas the time has come for supper. The Imperial family lead the way into the supper room preceded by Masters of Ceremonies armed with their wands. They sit, with backs to the wall, in strict precedence of rank, at a supper table raised upon a platform. None but those who wear the blue ribbon of the Order of St. Andrew can be seated at their table. Three or four hundred persons have their supper in this room, by invitation, and sitting twelve at a table in two long rows; but they are round tables, and an orange tree, a palm, or a camellia brought from the hothouse, rises from the middle of each table, its boards being placed over the cask or tub with an opening to allow for the stem. In the other supper rooms the long tables are ornamented in the same way with palms and flowering trees. It is the custom for the Tsar to walk about in the main supper room, from table to table, talking to the guests. A place is left empty for him at the tables where it has been arranged that he should sit, and behind each empty chair a skorokhod is standing. When the Tsar has finished talking the skorokhod makes a sign to the gentlemen-in-waiting, who come up to him, and precede him to the next table. If this is well managed, without nervousness, it is a great pantomime of courtly manners; and Alexander II is the person for it. He has the great height of his own family, so often referred to, and shared collaterally with his Prussian cousins, the Emperor William I and the Emperor Frederick, for his own mother, Alexandra Feodorawna, wife of Nicholas I, was daughter of Frederick William III, of Prussia. He has something, therefore, of Prussian military bearing, and through his father, Nicholas I, an inheritance of the good looks of Queen Louise of Prussia, and enough sanity with it to balance the madness of Paul I. But, withal, Alexander is very Russian. It could be, or not, the blood of Saltykov; for, if not, if Saltykov was not the lover of Catherine and father of Paul I, then there is nothing Russian in the Romanovs. But that is hardly credible in the presence of so many of the family. They could be nothing but Muscovite, for good or evil.
Who, and what, then are the skorokhods? They are Court runners or running footmen; another fantasy from the Court of King Florestan, come down from the Middle Ages, but surviving in the Winter Palace until the Revolution. A skorokhod, it will be remembered, called in the morning with the invitation. They run before the Tsar's coach to clear a way for it, though its progress is at a walking pace, but it is the tradition that they must learn the particular gait, half walking and half running, which is expected of them, and which is achieved by a peculiar step and a motion of the arms, in fact, a mime or dumb show of hurrying through a crowded street. They are dressed for running, that is to say, they wear knee breeches and light shoes; but their costume in other respects, too, is distinctive and original. It has become formalized, so that it is known, at once, though the reasons for it have long been lost in time. Once more, this is the Russian equivalent of the Contes de Perrault, a legend from mediaeval chivalry transmuted through the living fantasies of Le Roi Soleil, but transplanted long ago into Russian soil. As with the Court Arabs, we do not know their number. At the coronation of Alexander 11, six 'coureurs en grand panache' walked in the procession: forty years later, when Nicholas II was crowned at Moscow, only four 'coureurs' took part. From their complicated duties as messengers in the palace, and up and down the capital, and the frequent mention of them in all descriptions of the Court, as though they were a conspicuous feature of it, their number must have been more considerable than that. At one time they were in attendance not only at the Winter Palace but at Gatchina, Tsarskoe Selo, and other palaces. Gatchina, as already stated, was largely built by Paul I, who established the exiled Knights of Malta in the park. After his death it was the residence of Maria Feodorowna, his widow. An English, man who went there in 1828, driven in a sledge from the capital across the snow, concludes, unctuously: 'Her Majesty having condescended to send orders for that purpose, we partook of a magnificent repast in one of the dining rooms of the palace, served up by a number of Imperial footmen and couriers of the Court, whom I mention merely because they wear a curious costume, consisting of a short coat, of a dark green, with a red collar, and deep gold lace, and a round cap on the head, with a gold plate in front, and a bundle of black ostrich feathers falling on one side, with which they never part company.' It is, in fact, this round cap with a gold plate in front, and a bunch of black ostrich plumes falling on one side, which is characteristic of the skorokhods. At that date it would sound as though there were some scores of them in the Im, perial household, since they were in attendance, also, upon the Dowager Empress; and, even in 1828, they were looked upon as persons from a fairy story.
Of this most complete and glorious of Courts so little trace is left. There are no published works: no albums of lithographed drawings, although its existence, on a scale more elaborate than that of Louis XIV, is so recent. Thus it comes about that the skorokhods are vanished completely. Only in that huge folio of Alexander II's coronation is their image preserved, in the banquet scene. Two or three of them stand against the walls, in idleness, but nearly hidden by the crowd so that the detail of their costume is all but obscured. In a far corner of the room another bunch of black feathers nods upon one side, but no more of the skorokhod can be seen. He is hidden by a Court Arab and a group of foreign diplomats. The Court Arabs, likewise, are gone without a trace. This folio volume is the only document that shows the colours of their costume. With the skorokhods there is something equivocal in their appearance. If we now transfer ourselves from the library to the fictitious reality that is before our eyes, having but studied the book for reference and in order to be correct in detail, we come back to the supper rooms and behold the skorokhods standing by the empty chairs. Their high cheek bones and clean shaven faces, in this time of beards and whiskers, make them like male dancers. It is, perhaps, fanciful to think there is something of that in their movements; but, certainly, they walk with a soft read, while their feathered caps have the touch of Hermes from an old masque. Hermes was messenger of the gods and of Jupiter in particular. The skorokhods are Court runners of the Tsar. Such is the analogy; and in dress and feature they conform to it.
After supper, dancing begins again. The Grand Duchesses now have their moment, like the swan princesses, and each sends her Court Cavalier to inform the partner whom she has chosen. There is time to walk through the different rooms. Not that they are beautiful in themselves, but in the blazing candle light they make a splendid setting; and if some rooms are empty while the ball goes on, it is possible for the moment to admire nothing else than the vases and candelabra of precious marbles. In one room, a pair of stands for candelabra of violet jasper from Siberia: tables of porphyry and malachite: further on, more violet jasper in the form of vases or great tazze: vases and tables of lapis lazuli: more stands for candelabra of rose-coloured porphyry, or rhodonite: tazze of syenite and aventurine: a vase of Siberian jasper of a lilac colour: a jasper tazza and a pair of candelabra, seven feet high, recently arrived from Ekaterinburg: a tazza of hard marble, from Siberia, of a green tint with flesh, coloured streakings: and another of pale flesh, coloured aventurine. All of modern workmanship, not earlier than the reign of Nicholas I, and mostly from the Ural mountains. The marbles of the ancient world would seem, in imagery, to owe their beauty to volcanic fire, or to the sun of Africa or Asia. These, of Siberia and the Urals, are of an ice age. Their action has been glacial and not volcanic: both in the marbles and in the minerals. Of the crystals and semi-precious stones, worn as jewels, much might be written. Beryls and aquamarines: blue crystals of Murzinsk in Siberia: flesh-coloured crystals: beryls of an emerald colour: brown or yellow topaz: tourmalines, and the rose,coloured sort, called rubellite: uvarovites, or emerald green garnets: chrysoberyls from Siberia, called Alexandrites, emerald green by daylight, but lilac or amethystine if held before a candle: Siberian amethysts, and many others. The interior of the Winter Palace is remarkable more for its tables and vases of rare marbles than for its works of art. And the halls of the Hermitage, for all their wonders, are no less rich in this. They all come from the Imperial mines and quarries, and are worked in the Imperial work, shops. They are, in some sort, the wonders of Asia, but of the cold half of that continent, and in har, mony with the fur,trimmed robes and high lamb-skin hats of Tartar, Circassian, or Bokharan noble.
La Fee Dragee - The White Klobouk - The Super-Vest - The Waltz - Valse des Fleurs
It is getting late. Come back, for the last time, into the ballroom! The wax lights are half-burned down, which throws a nearer glitter upon the dancers and draws the fire out of the diamonds. More especially in the mazurka. Because the dancers halt to the music, and go down upon one knee. There is a great concourse watching, and footmen walk among them with trays of drinks and ices: 'l'officiers de bouche portent I'habit rouge; la livree est verte, avec I'aigle noir a deux' tetes brodes sur un galon d'or.' In the next rooms, within sound of the music, there are Aladdin's chambers, treasuries of sweets and cakes made in the pastry kitchens of the Winter Palace in a variety and profusion that could fill a chapter to themselves. Many are inventions of the eighteenth century, sorbets and chocolates of French origin, but these have been surpassed in the extrava, gance of the Russian genius. Every morning a stand is brought up to the rooms of each Court lady living in the palace, whether here or in the country palaces, and this has eight or ten trays of sweets upon the tiers. Nearly all of them will go down at night uneaten. It is the prerogative of the servants to sell these cakes and sweets, and the best confectioners of the capital are supplied by them. In this manner it is possible for private persons to be served from the Imperial kitchens. On an evening such as this the Court pastry cooks have surpassed themselves. There are, as well, fruits and jellies, and grey-grained caviar of the finest sort. Huge blocks of ice, the size of a small iceberg, have been hollowed out to hold tubs with bottles of champagne. And flowers and palms ornament these sideboards and reach half, way to the ceiling, so that it is like a childhood's dream. Bishops and archimandrites are among those who help themselves, standing in a group at a table near a door into the ballroom. An archbishop, or one of the highest dignitaries of the Church, is at this moment talking to the Dowager-Empress in the ballroom, with his ecclesiastics in a group behind him. All the bishops wear the high white veil, the white klobouk, falling from the crown of their hats upon their shoulders and concealing their long hair. They wear violet or black robes. All have beards of great length and wear their hair long like women, some, in fact, would have curling masses of snow,white hair down to their waists. But, in the crowd of military uniforms and ladies wearing Court dress and the kokoshnik, what is peculiar in these priests is their snow white veils; till we remember the frozen Neva and the snow outside, and they become snow martens, Arctic foxes. Their white beards and white veils are in symbol of this land of winter. It is apparent, also, that they have been chosen for their height, or are a race apart. And we think of them driving back in sledges, three horses abreast, to their monasteries.
Priests or monks, and the military, are part of all ritual under the Tsars. In ceremonial, whether it be the coronation, a banquet, or a ball, the Tsar's body, guard have particular emphasis put upon them. It is only now, in the light of this, that certain figures find their explanation. They are of two kinds; and have been seen in the crowd and on the dancing floor. In their stiff magnificence they could be knights of a military order, for this is, indeed, probably the most splendid uniform ever invented. It is the full dress uniform of the Chevaliers Gardes and the Gardes a cheval. Their white tunics and silver or gilt breast-plates, respectively, are already familiar. It is in this garb that they mount the picket before the Malachite Room. But the officers on duty at the ball are subtly differenced. Instead of the cuirass they wear the super-vest. This is a scarlet waistcoat worn over their white tunics; and for the Chevaliers Gardes, in front and on the back, it has the star of the Order of St. Andrew. The super-vest is sleeve-less, so that the white sleeves of the tunic can be seen; and it has a scalloped edge at the waist which is lined with blue, the colour of the ribbon of the Order, while the collar is blue, also, and a thin line or piping of blue, on each side, runs from the shoulder to the waist. In the case of the Gardes a cheval the super-vest Is scarlet with large golden eagles on the front and back. The officers of both regiments posted to this interior duty, On guard, or as dancing partners at the ball, wear black Wellington boots and white elk-skin breeches. They carry their eagle crested helms. The officer who is on sentinel duty in the Winter Palace remains there for twenty-four hours. He is allowed an armchair; and may undo the chain of his helmet and take off one glove. Less could not be expected of Sir Galahad! The elk-skin breeches were exceedingly uncomfortable, worn next to the skins and could not be put on or taken off without two soldiers to assist. It was necessary that they should be damped and smeared with soap in order that there should be no crease in them. Certainly the super-vest had its difficulties, also. In the aggregate, the effect is magnificent, but most curious in ingredient. The elk skin breeches are those of the Northern hunter, but carried to the parade level, and dating in their meaning from the wars of Charles XII and the Tsar Peter. Definitely in fact, of Northern origins of the elk forest, not tiger or lion skin of the tropics. In place of the cuirass, for indoor duty, they wear the super-vest, which is a parallel to the surcoat of the Middle Ages, but suggests that the Knight or Paladin is under extreme scrutiny through the day and night. All the eyes of the tournament are upon him, whether it be a banquet or a ball. And it has been given an almost religious significance by the star of St. Andrew, as though he is Knight of a military order, even a Crusader, if a Chevaliers Garde; and, if a Garde a cheval, that the double-headed eagles of Byzantium upon his super-vest are the heraldic device of his sovereign, for all that may intend. Their eagle crested helmets, whether gold or silver, in this setting have nothing classical about them. They are knight's helms; and by reason of some vow all the knights have dressed the same. The date of this uniform, with the super-vest, is the reign of Nicholas I, and surely it takes rank with the literary or aesthetic achievements of that time. The officers dance, holding their helmets on one arm; but it does not interfere even in the mazurka, to which, indeed the stamping of their boots and jingling of their spurs give the necessary and martial emphasis. In the Polish mazurka the cavaliers should twirl their long moustaches'. But that is in the national character. The Poles shaved their heads and wore long moustaches. They twirled these: or put a hand upon the pommel of their swords. The Chevaliers Gardes, or their rivals, are more stiff and formal. There are no long flowing garments, or fur-trimmed robes. The super-vest is instead of a breastplate; and they hold a heavy helmet on their arm. The Russian mazurka in the Winter Palace is, in fact, military, more than martial. But the stranger might wonder who are the paladins upon the dancing floor. The gesture of dancing with a helmet on the arm. is as though the dance is a ritual, as much as war or prayer. And the long galleries echo to the mazurka.
But the music stops. There is silence, before the metamorphosis. A change is coming. Though the wax lights glitter, this is the darkness before the transformation.
Outside, the snow is falling. That is certain. Here, the camellia and orange trees are in blossom, and will be taken back, tomorrow, to the hothouses. The mazurka and the polonaise are spent. We have not heard the waltz.
It will come. When the ballroom is empty, perhaps, and the dancers have driven home in their sledges! When the air will be laden only with the other flowers and the camellia, which is scentless. How much will have fled then! It will be too late. The waltz is not yet written. But it was born of such a night as this, breathing from the flowers, and transforming living persons. It begins. We hear it coming. The opening or preluding is slow and gentle. It offers its different phases in this beginning, one after another, which will transform themselves and lead the dance. Slowly, slowly, and coming to a standstill, and a sweeping and soaring of the harp-strings, up and up, hovering at the flower mouth. In this throbbing of the harp strings the waltz intoxicates itself. it tries its plumes, and comes down, not to a standstill, but into position, ready for the dance.
The opening phrase of the waltz, known and loved since childhood, with that accent on the second line or couplet of the repetition, which gives the rhythm; and after much flourishing, its return again, no longer pleading but confident, mounting and mounting, no longer androgynous but masculine, and carrying all before it with its fire. Who does not love the Valse des Fleurs and cannot listen to it with our loving ears! But it starts again, in fuller and more plangent statement, with more de, tailed phrasing, and a fuller orchestration. This is the feminine exposition, the hen bird, wren or nightingale, the woman in the rose. And it is the moment to come away into the empty rooms; and look out through the window on to the frozen Neva. Every window in the Winter Palace glitters with lights, and the ice floes answer back. The preening and soaring of the Valse des Fleurs reaches us from the ballroom. How lovely and familiar its plumes and scented petals! We listen in an intoxication. The phrases are so clear and beautiful and the waltz is in full movement, round and round; nothing ordinary. inspired and exotic, miraculous in little, like the camellia petals, which can be white or red, or striped like the women's dresses. What a hot-house Tchaikowsky inhabited in his inspiration: of stephanotis, gloxinia, lapageria! This waltz can be scented like a gardenia, plucked from its tree, still damp with the water on it. Or more tropical plants: crotons or nepenthes, only for their sound, not for their scent, and for the heat they dwell in. It is the Valse des Fleurs: but they have, bright and variegated leaves.
Forget the music for a moment and look out on the night! There are thousands of persons, men and women, in Siberian prisons. Four years ago. in 1864 the Polish rebellion was bloodily suppressed. Here are the names of martyrs: Sierakowski, mortally wounded in action, and hanged by Muraviev when on the point of death: Cieszkowski, wounded in battle, and killed in bed next day: Padlewski and Frankowski, wounded, taken prisoners, and exe, cured with their bandaged heads: the butcher Muraviev killed thousands more, and exiled to Siberia in their tens of thousands. There are many in prison: and many starving, of Russian flesh and blood. How much longer will it continue! For forty years and more. Until the end: or the awakening. Wickedness or ignorance? There is no answer.
And the intoxication of the waltz returns, manoeuvering for the climax. More pellucid and crystal, line than ever in its orchestration; lovely in every little detail. It dances in itself, and shakes its lilies. The coda quickens even the dead walls into the waltz, turning, turning, in an ecstasy, a delirium. For it is the Valse des Fleurs which with a last crescendo leaves the dancers on their feet. It is the end of the ball. The procession has gone back again into its apartments. The Court Arabs close the doors of the Malachite Room behind them. The skorokhods, like dancers disguised as birds, usher the guests towards the different stairs. And, only now, their masters having retired, the Minister of the Court, the Masters of Ceremonies, and the Marshal of the Court, wand in hand, go up to the next floor, where their supper is ready for them. It is an exit up a Bibiena staircase when the Sleeping Beauty has been put to sleep. And they talk far into another snowflake dawn. Lights in the other windows are put out, one by one. The camellia sleeps. But all in their dreams, tonight, will hear the waltz. It is music that will never die.