Speech Melody Research as the Interdisciplinary Foundation of the Petrograd Institute of the Living Word
On the other hand, turning to this polemic on the interaction of music and poetry in the IZhS allows us to see the Formalists’ research projects of that period in the context of performance-related art practices and to discuss the influence that it had on them. This aspect rarely draws the attention of researchers, but it seems to me to be particularly important for understanding the Formalist’s legacy that is discussed in this article. The IZhS was responsible not only for the research, but for the art practices as well, and the academics were not only concerned with the verse, but also with poetry performance. To show the role that the experimental nature of the IZhS as an institution played in the process of establishing emerging literary and performance research, I am looking at the artistic practices of that time.
In A Sentimental Journey, Viktor Shklovsky described the conditions under which the literary work was carried out in the newly founded Soviet institutions after the Bolshevik Revolution:
When famine stood at the intersections in place of policemen, the intelligentsia declared a general peace.
Futurists and academicians, Kadets and Mensheviks, the talented and the untalented sat together in studios at World Literature and stood in line at the House of Writers.
What a fall was this!
Among the names of organizations mentioned by Shklovsky, it might make sense to add another one: the Institute of the Living Word. Although academics clearly outnumbered futurists, the IZhS was initially characterized by the extraordinary diversity of disciplines and methodologies. This institute opened in Petrograd in 1918 and ceased its work in 1924. The famine and harsh living conditions in general, mentioned in Shklovsky’s memoir, were a major reason for the Formalists’ attachment to the newly founded organization. However, their research contributed to the dynamically developing collective projects of the IZhS. Moreover, it was the collaborative nature of their efforts that allowed not only the Formalists but also other institute members to make a great contribution to the knowledge on intonation and performed word.
2. The IZhS and Artistic Speech Aesthetics of the Early 20th Century
We came together for the first time, for the first time under one roof: [Anatolii] K[oni], Eikhenbaum, [Yuri] Yur’ev.8 This gathering of ill-matched elements did a great deal, but on the other hand, they also undermined, made fragile the foundation on which this institute was created. […] The struggle between the representatives of these disciplines, on the one hand, artistic, and on the other hand, scientific, was the most heated, up to incredibly stormy meetings.9
First of all, we abandoned all the old traditional declamation skills and techniques, all that declamation peddled by professional actors. All of that was found to be untenable. […] Then, to start building something new, we took a completely new material for declamation: instead of the favorite Pushkin and [Aleksei Konstantinovich] Tolstoy texts, we took the poems of [Konstantin] Balmont, of poets from the Symbolists to the proletarian, including the Imaginists. Then we refused to accept poems based on their semantic and emotional figurative side only; we became interested in their musical side. This emphasis on speech music was the main characteristic of the newly formed declamation school.15
3. The Performative Dimension of Boris Eikhenbaum’s Conception
In a conversation with her, I said, though without confidence, that bylinas should be performed in the way they exist among the masses. In general, I added, the chanted performance of ballads, poems, and bylinas, i.e., of the whole epic poetry [stikhotvornogo eposa], is the only correct one, because it is organically inseparable from the verbal material.
It is worth mentioning here that the questioning of this hypothesis by Sergei Bernshtein will bring a significant advance in the study of sounding artistic speech in the following years.
In the first one, “On the Reading of Verse”, Eikhenbaum developed the notion, popular in the 1910s–20s, that an author’s recitation has essential qualities that differentiate it from one of non-authorial performers, especially actors. This opposition was not just a matter of aesthetic preferences but a dualist methodological attitude shared by Eikhenbaum’s colleagues at the Institute such as Siunnerberg, Bernshtein, partly Vsevolodskii-Gerngross, and Vladimir Piast, a poet and reciter who was actively involved in both the scientific and educational work of the IZhS. However, the final section of Eikhenbaum’s article is particularly interesting in terms of the interrelation of poetry and music. Eikhenbaum criticized Vladimir Piast’s views, calling the idea of the synthesis of the arts “a dull and barren metaphor”:
Piast speaks of the traditions of symbolism—we don’t need them. There is no painting or sculpture, no architecture (!), no music, and no pantomime in literary arts, but there are laws common to all art, as such, and there are its own laws, special ones, distinguishing verbal arts from the other.
In the article “On Sounds in Verse”, published a few months later in the Life of Art newspaper, he focused on the issue the previous article had just briefly mentioned, that is, the criticism of the Russian Symbolist’s art theory. The argument that introduced polemics with Andrei Bely’s ideas about phonetic orchestration of the verse was again related to the proximity between music and verse:
One talks about the ‘musicality’ of verse—but this is a metaphor, which only seems to be an explanation. There is no analogy between music and verse in this case because the matter concerns the sphere of speech, related to articulation, which is completely absent in music.
Now it seems to be a moment when the theory of verse (in particular of lyric composition) must, in order to solve a number of its problems, turn to comparisons drawn from the theory of musical form.
Up to now, the “musicality” of verse has been taken to mean phonetic orchestration. It is necessary to contrast this with the intonational aspect, whose connection with music is completely organic. At the same time, the issues of the pronunciation of lyrics, which have been so vague up to now, should be clarified. After all, the main difference between the actor’s and the poet’s declamation is in the ways of intonation. The actor, following his stage habit, keeps speech intonations intact, and if he changes them, then only in the direction of strength, “expressiveness”. The poet’s intonations are based on the rhythmic-syntactic structure—the melodization is obtained, and a special lyrical tune [liricheskii napev] appears. So far, this has been considered a subjective and therefore secondary fact. In connection with the general question of the melody of verse, the attitude to this fact must change.
Y. N. Tynyanov […] points out that A. Akhmatova’s songful recitation, given the spoken character of her poetry, presents the same contradiction between poetic and declamatory style as he noted between the narrative style of Blok’s poetry and the songfulness of his recitation. The speaker [Sergei Bernshtein] questions the correctness of defining Akhmatova’s poetic style as conversational. He notes that Akhmatova’s declamation, chanted in the way of melodizing, lacks intonational dominant [lishena intonatsionnoi dominanty]. The chairman [Boris Eikhenbaum] […] together with Y. N. Tynyanov, states, that between Blok and, especially, Akhmatova’s nature of poetic creativity, on the one hand, and the declamatory manner, on the other, there is a certain contradiction: the considerable variety of poetic styles she [Akhmatova] uses corresponds to a monotonous declamation, automated and not subjected to any variations. This moment of automatization must be taken into account especially seriously when one is going to consider the poet’s declamatory manner as a commentary on his artistic conception.28
Defamiliarization, according to the Formalists’ beliefs, was meant to overcome automatism. Therefore, being a result of automatism, as Eikhenbaum suggested, this monotonous speech melody of Akhmatova‘s and Blok’s reading does not belong to the sphere of artistic techniques at all. Yet, in his article “On Chamber Declamation”, he returned to his early impressions of Alexander Blok’s reading of his poem on the occasion of actress Vera Komissarzhevskaya’s death in her memory in 1910. This time he related them to his understanding of poetry as a movement:
Blok’s reading was muffled and monotonous, he read somehow in separate words, evenly, pausing only after the ends of the lines. But thanks to this I perceived the text of the poem and experienced it the way I wanted to. I felt that the poem was being presented to me [stikhotvorenie mne podaetsia], not played out [ne razygryvaetsia]. The reciter helped me, not hindered me like an actor with his “feelings”—I heard the words of the poem and its movements.
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