Nietzsche's Orphans


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Music, Metaphysics, and the Twilight of the Russian Empire

Rebecca Mitchell

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A prevailing belief among Russia’s cultural elite in the early twentieth century was that the music of composers such as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Aleksandr Scriabin, and Nikolai Medtner could forge a shared identity for the Russian people across social and economic divides. In this illuminating study of competing artistic and ideological visions at the close of Russia’s “Silver Age,” author Rebecca Mitchell interweaves cultural history, music, and philosophy to explore how “Nietzsche’s orphans” strove to find in music a means to overcome the disunity of modern life in the final tumultuous years before World War I and the Communist Revolution.

Rebecca Mitchell is assistant professor of history at Middlebury College. She lives in Vermont.

"Putting music at the center, where it belongs, Rebecca Mitchell has cast the widest net yet in pursuit of the volatile culture of late imperial Russia. Like a Scriabin finale her book roars and soars, prestissimo volando."—Richard Taruskin, author of the Oxford History of Western Music

“Modernity fragments, but music unites: such is the thesis of this haunting, provocative book.  Highlighting Scriabin, Rachmaninoff and the Medtner brothers, Mitchell examines those intense pre-Bolshevik decades when Russian musicians and music-lovers drew on Schopenhauer, Soloviev, and the youthful Nietzsche to elevate and harmonize their homeland. Their ‘musical metaphysics' promised apocalyptic synthesis. Like Orpheus, all was soon dismembered.”—Caryl Emerson, Princeton University

"In this fascinating and poignant analysis of a nation’s search for its musical and cultural destiny, Rebecca Mitchell is a shrewd but sympathetic guide through the dizzying optimism, haunting self-doubt and finally, the despair of Russia’s cultured elite as the spectre of revolution first stalked, then overwhelmed, their country."—Pauline Fairclough, University of Bristol

"A fascinating and deeply informed study of how cultural elites in late imperial Russia invested music with salvific power -- of how 'musical metaphysics' formed their worldview and shaped their search for meaning in the midst of crisis, war, and revolution."—Randall A. Poole, The College of St. Scholastica

“Extensively documented, with an immense range of published and archival materials quoted, and some elegantly presented music illustrations.”—Linda Edmondson, Slavic Review

Won the 2016 W. Bruce Lincoln Book Prize given by the Association for Slavic, East European & Eurasian Studies.
ISBN: 9780300208894
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
336 pages, 6-1/8 x 9-1/4
24 b/w illus.
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