Valentin Parnakh

Valentin Parnakh

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Valentin Yakovlevich Parnakh (1891–1951) was a Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n poet, translator, choreographer, and musician who is best remembered as a founding father of Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 jazz
Jazz
Jazz is a musical style that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States. It was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions. From its early development until the present, jazz has incorporated music from 19th and 20th...

.

Early years



Parnakh was born into a Jewish family in the Black Sea
Black Sea
The Black Sea is bounded by Europe, Anatolia and the Caucasus and is ultimately connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas and various straits. The Bosphorus strait connects it to the Sea of Marmara, and the strait of the Dardanelles connects that sea to the Aegean...

 port of Taganrog
Taganrog
Taganrog is a seaport city in Rostov Oblast, Russia, located on the north shore of Taganrog Bay , several kilometers west of the mouth of the Don River. Population: -History of Taganrog:...

 on July 26, 1891. His twin sister was the children's author Yelizaveta Tarakhovskaya
Yelizaveta Tarakhovskaya
Yelizaveta Yakovlevna Tarakhovskaya was a Russian poet, playwright, translator, and author of children's books.-Biography:Yelizaveta Tarakhovskaya was born in the city of Taganrog on July 26, 1891 in a pharmacist's family. She is sister to poetess Sophia Parnok and twin sister to founder of...

 and an older sister the poet Sophia Parnok. His family name was Parnokh but he later changed it to the more Sephardic–sounding Parnakh (his sister Sophia also later changed her name, but to the less Jewish-sounding Parnok). Parnakh's mother, a doctor, died when he was very young, and his father, a pharmacist, remarried soon after.

In 1913, Parnakh traveled to Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 and the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

, staying for a while in Palestine
Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

 and returning to Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...

 the same year. In Saint Petersburg, he entered the University
Saint Petersburg State University
Saint Petersburg State University is a Russian federal state-owned higher education institution based in Saint Petersburg and one of the oldest and largest universities in Russia....

, where he studied Romance languages
Romance languages
The Romance languages are a branch of the Indo-European language family, more precisely of the Italic languages subfamily, comprising all the languages that descend from Vulgar Latin, the language of ancient Rome...

, music (under the direction of Mikhail Gnesin
Mikhail Gnesin
Mikhail Fabianovich Gnesin was a Russian Jewish composer and teacher.-Life:Gnesin was born in Rostov-on-Don and came from a musical family. His sisters founded the Gnessin State Musical College , in Moscow in 1895. He studied at the St...

) and theater (under direction of Vsevolod Meyerhold
Vsevolod Meyerhold
Vsevolod Emilevich Meyerhold was a great Russian and Soviet theatre director, actor and theatrical producer. His provocative experiments dealing with physical being and symbolism in an unconventional theatre setting made him one of the seminal forces in modern international theatre.-Early...

). In 1916, while World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 was raging, he moved to Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, where he stayed for six years. He studied at Sorbonne University and was elected President of the Paris Chamber of Poets, and became fascinated by the jazz music he discovered in Paris.

Jazz in the USSR



In 1922, feeling alienated from most of the political emigrants
White Emigre
A white émigré was a Russian who emigrated from Russia in the wake of the Russian Revolution and Russian Civil War, and who was in opposition to the contemporary Russian political climate....

 from Russia, Parnakh returned to Russia, bringing jazz scores, saxophones, tam-tam's, and trumpet sordinos, and he soon founded the "First Eccentric Orchestra of the Russian Federated Socialist Republic - Valentin Parnakh's Jazz Band", which held its debut concert at the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts in Moscow
Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

 on October 1, 1922. This New Orleans–style
New Orleans Jazz
New Orleans Jazz may refer to:*Dixieland, a style of jazz music*New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park*Utah Jazz, a professional National Basketball Association franchise that was previously based in New Orleans and known as the New Orleans Jazz, in recognition of the jazz music of New Orleans*A...

 jazz band became popular and influential among the artists of the Russian avant-garde
Russian avant-garde
The Russian avant-garde is an umbrella term used to define the large, influential wave of modern art that flourished in Russia approximately 1890 to 1930 - although some place its beginning as early as 1850 and its end as late as 1960...

 of those days.

Parnakh was also creative director for music and choreography at Vsevolod Meyerhold
Vsevolod Meyerhold
Vsevolod Emilevich Meyerhold was a great Russian and Soviet theatre director, actor and theatrical producer. His provocative experiments dealing with physical being and symbolism in an unconventional theatre setting made him one of the seminal forces in modern international theatre.-Early...

's Meyerhold Theater, where his Eccentric Orchestra performed hits of the time, such as Kitten on the Keyboards and the ballet suite The Bull on the Roof. Parnokh greatly influenced Meyerhold's "Biomechanics
Biomechanics (Meyerhold)
Biomechanics was a system of actor training developed by Vsevolod Meyerhold. Its purpose was to widen the emotional potential of a theater piece and express thoughts and ideas that could not be easily presented through the naturalistic theater of the period....

" acting method, and his band appeared in the 1924 play Trest D.E. (directed by Meyerhold and based on Ilya Ehrenburg
Ilya Ehrenburg
Ilya Grigoryevich Ehrenburg was a Soviet writer, journalist, translator, and cultural figure.Ehrenburg is among the most prolific and notable authors of the Soviet Union; he published around one hundred titles. He became known first and foremost as a novelist and a journalist - in particular, as a...

's 1923 novel Trust D.E.).

On May 1, 1923, Parnokh's band performed before members the Comintern
Comintern
The Communist International, abbreviated as Comintern, also known as the Third International, was an international communist organization initiated in Moscow during March 1919...

 participating in the Agricultural Expo. The Soviet press of the time wrote: "For the first time jazz music was performed at an official state function, something which has never happened in the West".

Parnokh also published numerous articles on the contemporary music culture of the West and was the first to promote the work of Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin
Sir Charles Spencer "Charlie" Chaplin, KBE was an English comic actor, film director and composer best known for his work during the silent film era. He became the most famous film star in the world before the end of World War I...

 and the first to introduce French Dadaist poetry into the Soviet Union. In 1925, he published a book of poems, Introduction To Dance (which included a portrait of Parnokh by Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso known as Pablo Ruiz Picasso was a Spanish expatriate painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, and stage designer, one of the greatest and most influential artists of the...

).

Paris and return to Russia


However, by 1925 Parnokh had become disillusioned with life in the Soviet Union, where publishing houses were refusing to publish his poetry and his translations of the French poet Gérard de Nerval
Gérard de Nerval
Gérard de Nerval was the nom-de-plume of the French poet, essayist and translator Gérard Labrunie, one of the most essentially Romantic French poets.- Biography :...

. In October 1925 Parnokh returned to Paris, where he published many articles on theater and dance in Russian immigrant newspapers and in the French press and translated Spanish literature.

The main character of Osip Mandelshtam's 1928 novella
Novella
A novella is a written, fictional, prose narrative usually longer than a novelette but shorter than a novel. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Awards for science fiction define the novella as having a word count between 17,500 and 40,000...

 Egyptian Stamp is named "Parnok" and was perceived by Parnakh as a derogatory caricature.

Parnokh returned to the Soviet Union at the end of 1931 and served as a translator at the Foreign Board of the Writers Union
USSR Union of Writers
The USSR Union of Writers, or Union of Soviet Writers was a creative union of professional writers in the USSR. It was founded in 1932 on the initiative of the Central Committee of the Communist Party after disbanding a number of other writers' organizations: RAPP, Proletkult, and VOAPP.The aim of...

. He continued his translations of Spanish writers such as Federico García Lorca
Federico García Lorca
Federico del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús García Lorca was a Spanish poet, dramatist and theatre director. García Lorca achieved international recognition as an emblematic member of the Generation of '27. He is believed to be one of thousands who were summarily shot by anti-communist death squads...

.

In 1934 Parnokh published a Russian translation of a collection of Spanish and Portuguese poets (mostly Marrano
Marrano
Marranos were Jews living in the Iberian peninsula who converted to Christianity rather than be expelled but continued to observe rabbinic Judaism in secret...

 Jews) who had been executed by the Inquisition
Inquisition
The Inquisition, Inquisitio Haereticae Pravitatis , was the "fight against heretics" by several institutions within the justice-system of the Roman Catholic Church. It started in the 12th century, with the introduction of torture in the persecution of heresy...

 (Parnakh had previously translated the poems into French as well, but the manuscript of this translation had been lost).

Later years


During World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, Parnakh, like many other members of the Writers Union, were evacuated to Chistopol
Chistopol
Chistopol is a town in the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia, located on the left bank of the Kuybyshev Reservoir, on the Kama River. Population: It is served by the Chistopol Airport.-History:It was first mentioned in chronicles at the end of the 17th century...

 and had absolutely no means of support. Desperately seeking work, he applied together with the poet Marina Tsvetaeva
Marina Tsvetaeva
Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva was a Russian and Soviet poet. Her work is considered among some of the greatest in twentieth century Russian literature. She lived through and wrote of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Moscow famine that followed it. In an attempt to save her daughter Irina from...

 (a long-ago lover of his sister Sophia) to the Soviet Literature Fund asking for a job at the LitFund's canteen. He was hired as a doorman, while Tsvetaeva's application for a dishwasher's position was turned down and she committed suicide six days later.

Parnakh's only work to be published after the war was his translation of memoirs by Théodore–Agrippa d'Aubigné
Agrippa d'Aubigné
Théodore-Agrippa d'Aubigné was a French poet, soldier, propagandist and chronicler. His epic poem Les Tragiques is widely regarded as his masterpiece.-Life:...

 in 1949, with his own foreword rejected by the publishing house. Parnakh outlived Tsvetaeva by a decade and died in his Moscow
Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

 apartment on January 29, 1951. He was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery
Novodevichy Cemetery
Novodevichy Cemetery is the most famous cemetery in Moscow, Russia. It is next to the 16th-century Novodevichy Convent, which is the city's third most popular tourist site. It should not be confused with the Novodevichy Cemetery in Saint Petersburg....

 in Moscow. His twin sister, who died in 1968, is buried near him.

See also

  • Russian avant-garde
    Russian avant-garde
    The Russian avant-garde is an umbrella term used to define the large, influential wave of modern art that flourished in Russia approximately 1890 to 1930 - although some place its beginning as early as 1850 and its end as late as 1960...

  • Sophia Parnok
  • Yelizaveta Tarakhovskaya
    Yelizaveta Tarakhovskaya
    Yelizaveta Yakovlevna Tarakhovskaya was a Russian poet, playwright, translator, and author of children's books.-Biography:Yelizaveta Tarakhovskaya was born in the city of Taganrog on July 26, 1891 in a pharmacist's family. She is sister to poetess Sophia Parnok and twin sister to founder of...

  • Vsevolod Meyerhold
    Vsevolod Meyerhold
    Vsevolod Emilevich Meyerhold was a great Russian and Soviet theatre director, actor and theatrical producer. His provocative experiments dealing with physical being and symbolism in an unconventional theatre setting made him one of the seminal forces in modern international theatre.-Early...


Publications

  • Le Quai (with 2 drawings by Mikhail Larionov
    Mikhail Larionov
    Mikhail Fyodorovich Larionov was an avant-garde Russian painter.-Life and work:...

    ). Paris, 1919.
  • Samum (with 3 illustrations by Natalia Goncharova
    Natalia Goncharova
    Natalia Sergeevna Goncharova was a Russian avant-garde artist , painter, costume designer, writer, illustrator, and set designer. Her great-aunt was Natalia Pushkina, wife of the poet Alexander Pushkin.-Life and work:...

    ). Paris, 1919.
  • Slovodvig (Mot Dynamo): Poems. Paris: La Cible, 1920.
  • The Acrobat Climbs. Paris: Franco-Russian Publishing House, 1922.
  • Introduction To Dance: Selected Poems. Moscow, 1925.
  • Giraffe-like Idol. First published in 2000.

Sources