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  • Marina Akimova

5 October 1868

It's a strange place, after all, St. Petersburg. It's impossible to just live under the sky there: the sky looks at you - or rather it doesn't – in a way that you feel: until you find yourself under it, you won't have peace. Like if it wanted something from you while they are walking over your head: the echelons of clouds, all in one direction, as if there is an important meeting beyond the horizon. What about you? What are you and who are you? Who's waiting for you?

A hundred years ago, under this sky - I can't help but think about it, at night by the conservatory, while there are white clouds running along the black field (does someone light them up?), - over there in those two dark windows on the second floor to the right of the rainwater pipe, in the auditorium #25 -this islet in the middle of the city which was essentially hostile (remember - "boy, aren't you ashamed to be a Jew?" – this is what Heifetz once was told) the dream of an entire nation was coming true in front of everybody, there was an explosion there, the echo of which had been rolling for decades, and only now seemed to finally calm down. It has never happened before and it will never happen after, never again. He wrote, they say, the wounded Carl Flash at the sight of the triumphs of Auer’s pupils: in Berlin's Hochschule there are only ten percent of the talented in the violin class, and in St Petersburg there are ninety, why is that? Yeah, hell, yeah, there was the Jewish Pale, all right, of course, they made a dead set at the violin, but how little the hell that explains. How many they were, making that dead set, in different countries, at all times... in any case there were more of them than in the twenty-fifth auditorium in 1901-1917.


I can't help thinking about his appearance in St. Petersburg, about his very first performance. There were newspapers, the recently opened conservatory enjoyed the attention and love of the public, and here the newly invited Professor... Someone had to write about it. Yes, but how to look if you don't even know what to look for? The reference book "Newspaper 1703-1917", by the way, can argue with "War and Peace" in terms of thickness - and these are only the titles ... In this case - I suppose that many of the readers do not know this - there is a fundamental work by Tamara Livanova, the very Professor whose manual we at the Conservatory used to learn the history of foreign music in our first year. "Musical bibliography of the Russian periodical press of the XIX century". This complex title, which I can never reproduce from the first time and even now had to cope with in the Google, means a simple and grandiose thing: Tamara Livanova once looked through all the newspapers, which could have something written on the theme of music (I'm even afraid to imagine this titanic work) and brought the mentioned names together in a six-volume index. That is, if we want to know something about Auer - we open Livanova to letter A and get some pages of links.


And here we are, the Newspapers Department at the State Public Library, the building next to the Fontanny Dom in St-Petersburg, opens a low door for me on the ground floor. It smells so badly of perennial book dust, that all you have of a stalker in you gets immediately excited... ...you can see the garden from the huge interwoven windows, which you don't even know from Fontanka, where children ride bikes on the sandy paths... Don’t you mind me to tell you that newspapers are not brought out, but are driven out on a cart. Why? Because they're thick binded together volumes of full newspaper format, which is the size of a small desk. Such volume weighs five kilograms, not less, and when you open it, you have to crawl on it like a fly - but for this purpose there are special inclined easels on the tables. The paper is dense, shiny and a little transparent. When you turn a page, it rattles all over the hall like a tin. Music news is on the front page, right after "Government Action". Yeah, just like that - Rubinstein five lines from Bismarck. There are incidents as well: fires, burglaries, murders. For some reason, a lot with the participation of children: the son of a bourgeois so-and-so fell out of a window on the fourth floor (broke his leg), then a so-and-so lady hit the boy in the service so that she broke his nose. And there's a polemic, too. “Some foreign newspapers," begins the anonymous writer in a high tone (I don't remember literally and convey the meaning), "write about the persecution allegedly suffered by Jews in St. Petersburg, and even mentions the rudeness with which the police allegedly behave. Meanwhile, everyone knows that the police only enter the apartments in order to check the residence permit that everyone in St. Petersburg is obliged to have, and if anyone does not have the aforementioned permit, including even Orthodox Christians, such cases are to be investigated. Thus, these persecutions are not a religious or national issue...” It has been a hundred and fifty years, I am thinkin, - nothing has changed, yet the same slyness, how familiar it is. The fact that it is harder for a Jew to get this permit than for a camel to get into the eye of a needle - it will not be written about, of course. But all this later, then, to the point! Where's our hero?


For the sake of brevity, I say that I suddenly managed to make a mini-discovery in my area. The task was simple: to find, read and scan what Livanova had already found before me. Livanova's first mention of Auer was on October 13, 1868. But when I opened the newspaper for this date, the review of Famintsyn began with the words "We already had a chance to write about the newly invited to the Conservatory Professor ... That's where the hands went shaking. When did he have a chance, I wondered? A feverish journey back through this rainy October, the pages rattle, eyes barely detach from all the interesting that glimpses along the way. And here it is: "On October 5th, in the new hall of the Conservatory... ...the first quartet evening... ...the newly invited Mr. Auer... literally struck the audience with his thick tone, taste and variety of phrasing, purity of play in the quartet... the reception he received was brilliant... in his person, we have a musician who is developed and versatile, and, importantly, young and full of energy and strength..."


It should be the same concert that Nadia Pelikan has remembered for the rest of her life, then a thirteen-year-old girl, his future wife - the concert to which they were riding in a carriage with Uncle Misha Azanchevsky who told that Auer was a great artist and was already known in Germany and London... So it all came to a close. The fifth of October, that is, in the New Style calendar, the eighteenth, is already quite late autumn, the afternoon is often dark and it is already at three o'clock to light the lamps. And if I've written all these many words, it's really just for the sake of one thing: to breathe in this October again, to see its mist and its leaves on the ground, up to your knees - the first St. Petersburg autumn for a young foreigner, what was it like? in the evening, under the lanterns, there should be buggies and fiacres in Theatre Street, in front of the entrance to the hall; and just as now, if you lift your head, you could see clouds running by echelons to their mysterious goal.

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