26.4.07

RIDDLES AND MYSTERIES AND ENIGMAS. The funeral of Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin offers a capsule history of the twists and turns of Russian and U. S. history. The religious service (itself a recent development) occured in the rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer. Josef Vissarionovich Stalin had the original removed to make way for a temple more suitable to Bolshevik traditions.
"The whole dramatic history of the 20th century was reflected in the fate of Boris Nikolayevich," Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II said in a letter read aloud at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, using Yeltsin's patronymic. "Being a strong individual, he took upon himself responsibility for the fate of the country at a difficult and dangerous time of radical change."
The rebuilt cathedral was finished in the late 1990s. Among the music played at the consecration of the original cathedral was a work better known in the United States as music to launch fireworks by. Andrew Druckenbrod of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette gives the history of the 1812 Overture.
The "1812 Overture" premiered in 1882 at the consecration of a church in Moscow commemorating Napoleon's retreat from Russia. Telling the story of the end of the French invasion of Russia in musical themes, "La Marseillaise" is eventually beaten back by a rousing Russian anthem and cannon fire and church bells. When performed with full-scale replica artillery (with blanks) today, the "1812 Overture" usually requires musicians to wear earplugs.
We're happy to have the Overture as part of our own tradition, although I disagree with musicologist Leon Botstein.
"With the exception of 'America the Beautiful,' the U.S. is short of patriotic hymns," says Botstein. "'The Star-Spangled Banner' is a tongue-twister; then you have 'America,' which is really the British national anthem. Being an immigrant nation, we are not offended by using another country's national anthem."
The Overture is not the Russian national anthem, although it quotes a few bars of God Save the Tsar toward the end. (As far as U. S. patriotic hymns, I offer Stars and Stripes Forever, Columbia the Gem of the Ocean, Semper Fidelis, and Washington Post.) Mr Yeltsin did not restore God Save the Tsar, although he replaced the Stalin-era Soyuz nerushimi with a Glinka hymn. The Russians have since, in proper Khrushchev fashion, rehabilitated the Soyuz nerushimi but with new words.

In death, Mr Yeltsin rests near Mr Khrushchev.

The choice of Novodevichy Cemetery was a fitting site for the grave of the country's first post-Soviet, post-czarist leader. An avowed foe of communism who sought to outlaw the party after he came to power, it would not seem appropriate to bury him behind Lenin's tomb, alongside the honored Soviet-era leaders at the Kremlin wall.

Novodevichy holds the graves of an array of Russia's artistic elite, including Dmitry Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev and Anton Chekhov. Only one Soviet leader is buried there - Nikita Khrushchev, who was ousted from power in 1964 and whose grave is about 200 yards from Yeltsin's.

As the coverage notes,
The day's events were mixed with political symbolism - the burial at Novodevichy, religious services for a nominally pious man in a cathedral restored during his presidency; the playing of the national anthem whose music is the same as the Stalinist Soviet anthem.
Do svidanya, Boris Nikolayevich. Condolences and good wishes to the Russian people.

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