Stasov, Vladimir Vasilievich

views updated May 14 2018


(18241906), music and art critic whose aesthetics of realist and national expression in the arts served as a model for socialist realism.

Born into a prominent upper-class family (his father was a noted architect), Vladimir Stasov graduated in 1843 from the elite St. Petersburg School of Jurisprudence and also studied piano. After a period in various undistinguished civil service jobs, he was appointed secretary to Prince Antaoly N. Demidov in 1851 and spent almost three years in the West, mostly in Florence. Back in Russia he found employment in the Imperial Public Library in the capital, and from 1872 until his death he headed its arts department.

Stasov's voluminous writings consist of polemical feuilletons, monographs on individual musicians and painters, and long overviews of developments in the arts (both in Russia and the West), as well as on Russian architecture and archeology. Inspired by the radical literary critic Vissarion Belinsky, Stasov promoted realist and national artistic forms that would engage the public in current social and historical issues. His original, liberal, and open-minded stance in opposition to the regnant academicism invigorated the cultural scene. But by the 1890s his aesthetics had turned conservative and chauvinistic, condemning as decadent the new artistic trends that were challenging national realism, which had by then become a new form of academicism.

With the publication of his monograph on Mikhail Glinka in 1847, which stressed the composer's originality in using folk motifs, Stasov began to advocate Russianness in music. Thereafter he consistently championed young, independent composersMiliy A. Balakirev, Alexander P. Borodin, César A. Cui, Modest P. Musorgsky, and Nikolai A. Rimsky-Korsakovwhom he jointly called "The Mighty Five" (moguchaya kuchka ). They all were self-taught, opposed the hidebound rules of the conservatory, and strove to create, in Glinka's footsteps, a distinctly Russian school of music. Stasov supported these composers with polemical publications and contributed significantly to their creative work, suggesting topics, supplying historical documentation, and commenting on compositions. He was especially close to Musorgsky, whose genius he was the first to recognize.

In the 1860s Stasov began to comment regularly on the situation in the pictorial arts, questioning the authority of the Imperial Academy of Arts with its Italianate tastes. Instead, he advocated art that depicted Russian subjects in a manner that would instruct the public about the country's realities. He became closely associated with young painters who in 1863 had quit the academy in protest against its outdated routines and in 1871 founded the independent Association of Traveling Art Exhibits. Commonly known as the peredvizhniki (wanderers or itinerants), these artists painted Russian landscape, social genre, or historical scenes that were literally read by both Stasov and the public as critical commentary on current events. Stasov was very closely associated with Ilya Repin, the foremost painter of the school.

In the 1890s, as aestheticism began to supplant national realism, Stasov's renown and influence waned. Prior to World War I and during the first decade of the Soviet regime, Stasov's views were not respected, and were even derided, by the creative intelligentsia. His standing was restored by the Communist Party after the imposition of socialist realism as the guiding ideology for literature and the arts in 1932. But Stasov's views were increasingly distorted to legitimate a narrow politicization of the arts and cultural isolationism that bore little resemblance to his original position in his creative period from 1860 to 1890. The pedestal on which Stasov stood as the preeminent art and music critic was toppled during the period of glasnost.

See also: academy of arts; mighty handful; music; opera; socialist realism


Curran, M. W. (1965). "Vladimir Stasov and the Development of Russian National Art, 18501906." Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin.

Olkhovsky, Vladimir. (1983). Stasov and Russian National Culture. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press.

Stasov, Vladimir Vasilievich. (1968). Selected Essays on Music, tr. Florence Jonas. New York: Praeger.

Elizabeth K. Valkenier

Stasov, Vladimir (Vasilyevich)

views updated May 23 2018

Stasov, Vladimir (Vasilyevich) [ Vladimir Stassov] (b St Petersburg, 1824; d St Petersburg, 1906). Russ. critic. Worked in art div. of Imperial Public Library, St Petersburg, from 1856. Champion of Russ. nationalism in arts, esp. mus. Wrote monographs on Mussorgsky, Borodin, Cui, Rimsky- Korsakov, Dargomizhsky, Glinka, and others. In 1867, in newspaper article, coined phrase ‘mighty handful’ (moguchaya kuchka) later applied to Russ. nationalist composers known as ‘The Five’.