Russian Enlightenment

Russian Enlightenment

The Russian Age of Enlightenment was a period in the eighteenth century in which the government began to actively encourage the proliferation of arts and sciences. This time gave birth to the first Russian university, library, theatre, public museum, and relatively independent press. Like other enlightened despots, Catherine the Great played a key role in fostering the arts, sciences, and education. The national Enlightenment differed from its Western European counterpart in that it promoted further Modernisation of all aspects of Russian life and was concerned with attacking the institution of serfdom in Russia. The Pugachev Rebellion and French Revolution may have shattered the illusions of rapid political change, but the intellectual climate in Russia was altered irrevocably. Russia's place in the world was debated by Denis Fonvizin, Mikhail Shcherbatov, Andrey Bolotov, Ivan Boltin, and Alexander Radishchev; these discussions precipitated the divorce between the radical, Westernizing and conservative, Slavophile traditions of Russian thought.

Early developments

The ideas of the Russian Enlightenment were first espoused by the "learned druzhina" of Peter the Great. It is the spirit which animates the sermons of Feofan Prokopovich, the satires of Antiokh Kantemir, and the historiography of Vasily Tatishchev.

During the reign of Peter's daughter Elizaveta Petrovna the ideas of the Enlightened Absolutism found their way into Russia. Elizaveta's favourite, Ivan Shuvalov, was an ideal enlightened courtier: he was instrumental in the establishment of the Moscow University and the Imperial Academy of Arts, which would spawn the careers of most intellectuals active during the last quarter of the 18th century.

Shuvalov was also the patron of the greatest Russian polymathndash Mikhail Lomonosovndash who left his mark in various branches of natural science, religious philosophy, poetry, and fine arts. Although his research inevitably eroded the authority of religious doctrines, Lomonosov himself was a devout Christian.

Catherine the Great

Russian Enlightenment, like most of Enlightenments throughout Europe, was significantly influenced by French Enlightenment, especially during the first part of reign of Catherine the GreatJoseph Klaits, Michael Haltzel (editors), " Global Ramifications of the French Revolution" Cambridge University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-521-52447-4, [ Google Print, p.73] ] . Catherine is often regarded as a model of the benevolent despot. Famous for her cordial relations with Voltaire and Diderot, she founded the Hermitage Museum, Free Economic Society and the Imperial Public Libraryndash three pioneering institutions which aimed at spreading education and enlightenment in Russia. Foreign celebritiesndash Denis Diderot, Leonhard Euler, Peter Simon Pallas, Giacomo Casanova, Alessandro Cagliostrondash flocked to her court from all parts of Europe. When the "Encyclopedie" was about to be banned in France, Catherine proposed to Diderot that he should complete his great work in Russia under her protection.

At the advice of her learned correspondents, Catherine introduced a number of reforms, ranging from the vast secularization of monastic properties to the municipal reform which envisioned more rational planning for the Russian towns. The Legislative Commission, convened at her suggestion in 1767, brought out the "Instruction", with more than 400 articles copied verbatim from the works of Beccaria and Montesquieu. Although the "Instruction" did not entail any practical consequences, this legislative activity contributed to the upsurge of liberal ideas, which culminated in Radishchev's publication of "A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow" (1790), a work hailed by Lenin as anticipating the revolutionary tradition of Russian thought.

However, Catherine's enthusiasm for the "Encyclopedie" did not prevent her from turning down all attempts to soften the absolute monarchy,Dmitry Shlapentokh, "The French Revolution in Russian Intellectual Life 1865-1905: 1865-1905", Praeger/Greenwood, 1996, ISBN 0-275-95573-7, [ Google Print, p,81] ] especially when the American RevolutionCharlton Grant Laird, "The world through literature", 1959, ISBN 0-8369-1359-0 [ p. 414] ] and French Revolution showed the impact of the Enlightenment ideas on politics,. Nikolai Novikov was imprisonedK. Paul Johnson, "The Masters Revealed", ISBN 0-7914-2063-9 [ Google print] ] , Radishchev was sentenced to katorga, his works, as well as those of Voltaire and others were burned and forbidden. Furthermore, the 3rd May Constitution of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth voted in 1791 was considered by Catherine as a JacobinWolfgang Menzel, "Germany from the Earliest Period Vol. 4", Kessinger Publishing, 2004, ISBN 1-4191-2171-5, [ Google Print, p.33] ] threatJohn Markoff, "Waves of Democracy", 1996, ISBN 0-8039-9019-7, p.121.] and as a therefore presenting a threat to Russia's monarchy and its influence in Poland,Paul W. Schroeder, "The Transformation of European Politics 1763-1848", Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-19-820654-2, [ Google print p.84] ] Henry Eldridge Bourne, "The Revolutionary Period in Europe 1763 to 1815", Kessinger Publishing, 2005, ISBN 1-4179-3418-2, [ Google Print p.161] ] which ultimately led to a military expedition resulting in the destruction of the Polish-Lithuanian CommonwealthRobert Wokler, "Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment", DIANE, ISBN 0-87169-935-4, [ Google Print, 108] ] . This turning away from ideals of the Enlightenment is commonly known as Counter-Enlightenment.


A more conservative approach was taken by Mikhail Shcherbatov, a publicist and historian whose notion of liberty was influenced by the works of Rousseau. Shcherbatov delivered a scathing criticism of the existing social institutions, maintaining that mass educationndash rather than far-reaching political reforms and the abolition of serfdomndash may be more effective in improving the morals of Russian society.

On a related note, Ivan Betskoy campaigned for the comprehensive reform of education which would result in the development of a "new breed of citizens". His proposals have been implemented in part, e.g., the Smolny Institute was inaugurated for noble maidens, in keeping with Fenelon's doctrine that girls' education was key to moral regeneration of the corrupt modern society.

We could call the Catherine II as founder of Russian state university on land use planning, it was announced on May 25, 1779 (on May 14, Julian Calendar) that the Surveying School should be opened. The school was named Konstantinovsky by the name of Great Prince Konstantin Pavlovich, the grandson of Catherine II of Russia who was born in the year. The government and Catherine II of Russia herself patronized and supported the school from the date of its establishing emphasizing a significance of land management and special surveying education. Lack of land surveyors and state importance of land surveying initiated establishing of the school. The legislation of the day emphasized significance of land management: "Current surveying is a business, which is performed not only to the benefit and peace of every holder but the state business containing the Emperor glory and advantage of peace and quiet for all the State."

Catherine's friend Ekaterina Dashkovandash sometimes viewed as a precursor of feminismndash led the Russian Academy of Sciences for many years. In 1783, she instituted the Russian Academy, which she modeled after the French Academy. Seeking to promote knowledge and study of the Russian language, the Russian Academy prepared the first comprehensive dictionary of the Russian language.

Even the monolith of the Russian Orthodox Church seemed to succumb to the influences of the Enlightenment. The teachings of Platon Levshin, Metropolitan of Moscow, underlined the need for tolerance and encouraged the advancement of ecclesiastical education.


Ideas of the Enlightenment were popularized by the nascent Russian theatre. The first Russian troupe was established in Yaroslavl by Fyodor Volkov and Ivan Dmitrievsky during Elizaveta's reign. Aleksandr Sumarokov was responsible for the repertory of their theatre.

During Catherine's reign the leading playwrights included Denis Fonvizin, who ridiculed the rusticity of provincial gentry and their thoughtless imitation of all things French; Vladislav Ozerov, who authored a great number of Neoclassical tragedies with touches of sentimentalism; and Yakov Knyazhnin, whose drama about a popular uprising against Rurik's rule was declared Jacobin and publicly burnt in 1791.

Even Catherine's favourite poet, Gavrila Derzhavinndash who sought in his odes to combine amusement with instructionndash would see some of his poems banned from print during the last years of her reign.


:"See also: Russian opera"

Opera reached Russia in 1731, when Empress Anna invited the Italian opera troupe to show "Calandro" by Giovanni Alberto Ristori during the celebration of her coronation in Moscow. In 1735 another Italian opera troupe led by composer Francesco Araja was invited to work in St. Petersburg. Araja spent 25 year in Russia and wrote 14 operas for the Russian Court including "Tsefal i Prokris" (1755), the first opera written in Russian to the libretto by Alexander Sumarokov.

Foreign composers like Johann Adolf Hasse, Hermann Raupach, Galuppi, Manfredini, Traetta, Paisiello, Sarti, Cimarosa and Martin y Soler, Ivan Kerzelli, Anton Bullandt, brought important contribution to the Russian opera, to the Italian libretti as well as Russian libretti. There were also extremely popular operas by the Belgian/French André Ernest Modeste Grétry that were widely performed, including in Kuskovo and Ostankino theatres, where they were given with participation of the famous serf-soprano Praskovya Zhemchugova at the private opera of Nikolai Sheremetev.

Catherine II sent some domestic composers like Berezovsky and Bortniansky abroad to study art of music composition and later they produced some operas in Italian and French. And only at the beginning of 1770s the first modest attempts of the composers of Russian origin to compose operas to the Russian librettos were made. Among these were successful one-act opera "Anyuta" (1772) to the text by Mikhail Popov, and opera "Melnik – koldun, obmanshchik i svat" ("The Miller who was a Wizard, a Cheat and a Match-maker") to the text by Alexander Ablesimov with music by Mikhail Sokolovsky (1779).

The most important contribution in the opera genre were made by Vasily Pashkevich with his "The Carriage Accident" ("Neschastye ot karety", 1779), "The Miser" to the text by Yakov Knyazhnin after Molière (1782), and Fevey to the libretto by Catherine II (1786), as well as by Italian trained Yevstigney Fomin with his "The Coachmen at the Relay Station" ("Yamshchiki na podstave", 1787), "Orfey i Evridika", opera-melodrama to the text by Yakov Knyazhnin (1792), and "The Americans" ("Amerikantsy", comic opera, 1800).

Other music

In 1746 the first public concert took place in Russia. This soon became a tradition. Concert life was dominated by foreign musicians before Russian virtuosos appeared in 1780-1790s; these included the violinist Ivan Khandoshkin and singer Elizaveta Sandunova. The senator Grigory Teplov was also an amateur musician who printed in 1751 the collection of his songs entitled "Idle Hours Away from Work". Publishing music business, sales of foreign sheet music, and music lovers’ periodicals flourished from the 1770s onward.

The overture and songs from Ivan Kerzelli’s opera "Derevenskiy vorozheya" ("The Village Wizard") were printed in Moscow 1778; they were the first opera fragments printed in Russia. Sales of musical instruments (like keyboards, guitars and harps) were also growing. Sacred music genres were transformed under the foreign influences. The Italian operatic composers such as Galuppi and Sarti were involved in producing liturgies for the church service. The genre of the choral concerto (the cycle of three–four contrast movements) became traditional in liturgic music of Degtyaryov, Vedel, Bortnyansky, Berezovsky, Davydov, and Turchaninov.


By 1796, when Emperor Paul succeeded his mother on the Russian throne, the Russian Enlightenment was very much on the wane. Although the new monarch was fiercely opposed to the French libertarian influences, he set free the radical writers imprisoned by his mother, including Novikov and Radishchev. Paul's family enjoyed recitals of didactic fables by Ivan Krylov, a fabulist whose journalistic activity had been denounced by his mother.

The Informal Committee, instituted by Alexander I of Russia in 1801, may be viewed as the last attempt to implement the ideals of the Enlightenment in the Russian Empire. Mikhail Speransky proceeded to outline an ambitious program of political reform, but his chief propositions were not put into execution until the great reforms of Alexander II half a century later.



* Макагоненко Г. Н. [Makagonenko G.N.] Новиков и русское просвещение XVIII в. ["Novikov and the Russian Enlightenment"] . Moscow-Leningrad, 1951.
* Каменский З. А. [Kamensky Z.I.] Философские идеи русского Просвещения ["Philosophical Ideas of the Russian Enlightenment"] . Moscow, 1971.
* Орлов В. [Orlov V.] Русские просветители 1790-1800-х гг. ["Russian Lumières in the 1790s and 1800s"] , 2nd ed. Moscow, 1953.
* Келдыш Ю. В. [Keldysh Yu. V.] "Русская музыка XVIII века" Moscow 1965
* Ливанова Т. Н. [Livanova T. N.] "Русская музыкальная культура XVIII века в ее связях с литературой, театром и бытом" в 2-х томах 1952-1953 гг. т.1, т.2
* Taruskin, Richard: "Russia" in 'The New Grove Dictionary of Opera', ed. Stanley Sadie (London, 1992) ISBN 0-333-73432-7
* Frolova-Walker, Marina: "Russian Federation, 1730-1860, (Opera, Concert life, Domestic music making, Sacred music)", "The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians", vol. 21 ISBN 0-333-60800-3

External links

* [ 1000 Years of Music: Music in Peter the Great Time]
* [ 1000 Years of Music: 18th Century Panorama]
* [ 1000 Years of Music: The First Half of 18th Century]
* [ 1000 Years of Music: 18th Century Russian Chamber Music]

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