Where did Petersburg’s organ-grinders go in winter?

I fear only some of them migrated with the swallows. Featuring Boris Sadovskoy, Yuri Norstein, Aleksey Batalov, Rolan Bykov and Gogol.

Two films Friday night: Tralala Land, a preppy ramble contra elevator music, set to elevator music (Slate/Observer/Vice); then Aleksey Batalov and Rolan Bykov’s extraordinary 1959 version of “The Greatcoat” (in which story Gogol showed Russians how to write) – similar percentage of jazz, but with proper dancing (staggering), a professional score, drinking, smoking, crime, heartfelt singing… No organ grinders, though:


English: click the subtitle icon and select from the gear icon.

Grigorovich touches on the fate of the Petersburg organ-grinders during winter, which was marginally better than that of the livestock left to freeze to death in Haymarket Square in order to save on their pre-sale bed & breakfast. The following anecdote hints at what must have been a dreadful experience (translation corrections welcome). It’s from the the recollections of Boris Sadovskoy, one of the most curious literary figures in the run-up to the October Revolution, which is saying quite something, and posh but not preppy:

Many organ-grinders roamed Lower [Petersburg], 1 playing Italian arias and the inevitable Kamarinskaya. 2 During the winter of 1897, a couple of organ-grinders strayed into the shared courtyard. One turned the handle of the box while the other beat the tambourine dashingly and whistled like a nightingale. The latter was a cheerful, tough lad in a fashionable, fur jacket. In spring they played again, haggard, grim, in rags. The boy somehow whistled Kamarinskaya and stretched out to my window a ragged cap with a pitiful, pleading smile. He could barely stand from weakness. They visited the courtyard along with a classic Petrushka. From behind the screen, to the sounds of the barrel organ, jumped in turn his bride, the soldier, the apothecary, and the devil.

По Нижнему бродило много шарманщиков. Игрались итальянские арии и неизбежный камаринский. Зимой 1897 г. два шарманщика зашли на удельный двор. Один вертел ручку ящика, другой лихо бил в бубен и свистал как соловей. Это был веселый крепкий парень в щегольском полушубке. Весной они играли опять, испитые, угрюмые, в лохмотьях. Парень кое-как просвистал камаринского, протянул к моему окну рваный картуз с жалкой умоляющей улыбкой. Он еле стоял от слабости. Заходил к нам на двор и классический Петрушка. Из-за ширм, под звуки шарманки, выскакивали поочередно невеста, солдат, аптекарь и черт.

“The Overcoat” the world has been awaiting for the last 40 years is Yuri Norstein’s:

I’m confident there won’t be any barrel organs in that either. But, as you know, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

Stuff

  1. Nieder-/Ober-? Can’t find anyone else who classifies Petersburg geography this way. Class – lowlife? Then why the capitalisation?
  2. Early and quickly ubiquitous nationalist ditty-dance by Glinka – a kind of Russian Birdie Song. The least dull version features Donald Byrne and Bobby Fischer:

A sensational 1810 Parisian fire scene on top of an 1840s Russian barrel organ

But who are the three noseless Austrian ladies?

Before Christmas a kind person sent me Heinrich Riggenbach’s German translation of Dmitri Grigorovich’s 1843 anthropological essay, The Organ-Grinders of St. Petersburg (Петербургские шарманщики), produced for the Zurich publishing house Sanssouci, whose founder, Peter Schifferli, was a notorious barrel-organ enthusiast. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but some questions remained unanswered, such as the function of the automata of Napoleon and three noseless, foil-clad Austrian ladies, observed by Grigorovich on top of a small organ:

Napoleon mit blauem Rock und Dreispitz dreht sich um Damen ohne Nase, die von Kopf bis Fuss mit Folien beklebt sind. Ist der Besitzer dieser Kostbarkeit ein Italiener, dann wird er bestimmt ein Gespräch mit euch anknüpfen und es nicht unterlassen, tüchtig auf Napoleon zu schimpfen, und weiss Gott warum, auf die österreichischen Damen, die sich mit ihm drehen, wenn er die Bedeutung der Puppen der Reihe nach erklärt.

Riggenbach makes no comment, so I got hold of the Russian original:

Наполеона в синем фраке и треугольной шляпе, вертящегося вокруг безносых дам, с ног до головы облепленных фольгою. Если владелец этого сокровища итальянец, то он непременно вступит с вами в разговор и, объясняя значение каждой куклы порознь, не утерпит, чтоб не выбранить хорошенько Наполеона и бог весть почему кружащихся с ним австрийских дам.

… discovered a series of minor elisions during the entire course of Riggenbach’s translation, and foolishly thought I’d translate the whole thing into English & elucidate during festive downtime. I got to the Austrian ladies, still had no idea what they represented, and googled around. First find was Arkadiy Haimovich Goldenberg’s 2009 article about a dilettante organ-grinder and wastrel in Gogol’s Dead Souls, “What is Nozdryov singing with the barrel organ?” (“О чем поет шарманка Ноздрева?”), which suggests that the ladies might be images of death accompanying an early 18th century French song set during the War of the Spanish Succession, Malbrook s’en va-t-en guerre, which had become popular in various (updated and/or localised) forms across Europe.

Second up was a Thomas G. Marullo‘s translation – hitherto unknown to me – of Grigorovich’s piece and the rest of the 1844 Nekrasov anthology, Petersburg: The Physiology of a City:

a figurine of Napoleon, dressed in a blue coat and a three-cornered hat, twirling about the figures of ladies who are without noses and who are covered from head to foot with shiny foil. If the owner of this treasure is Italian, he will invariably engage you in conversation. He will explain to you the significance of each and every puppet, and for your benefit, he will not restrain from scolding Napoleon and the Austrian ladies who twirl about him. (God knows why.)

His explanation:

In 1810 Napoleon divorced the childless Josephine and married Marie-Louise, daughter of Emperor Francis I. As a result, the Austrian court had little choice bur to submit fully to Napoleon’s many prescriptions and demands.

Immediately more convincing, but I doubted whether Russian peasants would really appreciate such elderly geopolitical metaphor, so I googled again, and came up with a third idea which I believe fits the bill.

Napoleon’s wedding in 1810 was celebrated with a great ball organised by the Austrian Ambassador to Paris, Karl Philipp von Schwarzenberg. The hall caught fire, killing a dozen or so, predominantly women because their clothing was more flammable. This created a European sensation, mostly for the manner of death of the most celebrated victim. Karl Philipp’s sister-in-law, Pauline, “was discovered under the remains of the burnt timber of the ball-room. She had succeeded in extricating herself, but had returned in search of her children, not having seen them effect their escape.” 1

If Pauline is the first Austrian portrayed on the organ-top, the second is probably Maria Pauline, her daughter, who was severely burned and died aged 23 in 1821. 2

As to the third, Rovigo lists three other female victims, amongst whom you may wish to choose: Sophia Theresia Walpurgis, Countess von der Leyen, Rhineland nobility; the wife of the Russian consul-general; and the wife of a French artillery officer, Touzard.

I don’t really know whether to finish the translation. On the one hand, translating something far beyond one’s capabilities is, along with pillow dictionaries and the composition of doggerel, a crucial step in learning a language; I can certainly contribute from a musical perspective; and selling little books is proving a nice little sideline. On the other, life is short and busy, and Marullo is obviously rather good anyway.

Animated Napoleonic scenes are quite common on top of Germanic barrel organs, but I don’t know of an illustration of this particular example. Tips welcome!