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Nicolas Nabokov: An Autobiographical Sketch


Leonid Livak, "Nicolas Nabokov: An Autobiographical Sketch", dans Catherine Ciepiela, Lazar Fleishman (dir.), New Studies in Modern Russian Literature and Culture: Essays in Honor of Stanley J. Rabinowitz, Stanford Slavic Studies, vol. 46, 2014, p. 290-300.

Extrait de l'article :

Composer, musical critic, writer, and publicist Nicolas Nabokov (Nikolai Dmitrievich Nabokov, 1903–1978) is remembered, by and large, as “the other Nabokov” whose career was overshadowed by that of his more famous cousin; so much so that even their informed con- temporaries confused the two men, in life and in death (an obituary of Vladimir Nabokov’s ran with Nicolas’ picture). Today, all we are left with are cursory mentions of “cousin Nicolas” in the biographies of Vladimir Nabokov and a faint whiff of scandal surrounding the public activity of the composer as a Cold War warrior in charge of a CIA- funded outfit, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which promoted and coordinated anti-communist artistic and intellectual activity outside the Soviet Block in the 1950s and 1960s. Nicolas, to be sure, had mostly himself to blame for this state of affairs, and did so on occasion. Hardly less gifted than Vladimir, he seems to have lacked his cousin’s ascetic discipline and patient reclusive perseverance requisite for sustained artistic and intellectual endeavours. As Nicolas’ librettist, British poet Stephen Spender (1909–1995) saw it during their collaboration on Nabokov’s first opera, Rasputin’s End, the composer was eminently capable of “writing a near masterpiece,” but on the condition that this “Russian genius who had apparently been leading a dispersed kind of life suddenly pulled himself together.”

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