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The Bedroom of a Sorcerer

Simon Morrison: Marius Petipa, 2 April 2020

Marius Petipa: The Emperor’s Ballet Master 
by Nadine Meisner.
Oxford, 514 pp., £22.99, July 2019, 978 0 19 065929 5
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... Marius Petipa​ not only created ballets but made ‘ballet’ itself into an art. He choreographed the bulk of the 19th-century canon, including La Bayadère, Don Quixote, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, maintaining a classical style in the face of shifting trends – from Romanticism in the mid-1800s to Symbolism at the turn of the 20th century ...

Against Bare Bottoms

Simon Morrison: Prokofiev’s Diaries, 21 March 2013

Diaries 1924-33: Prodigal Son 
by Sergey Prokofiev, translated by Anthony Phillips.
Faber, 1125 pp., £30, November 2012, 978 0 571 23405 9
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... In April 1955, two years after Prokofiev’s death from a stroke, his widow and his two sons arranged for two chests of documents to be shipped to Moscow from New York. Prokofiev had left them in a safe during his final overseas tour in 1938, presumably because he worried that his personal papers might fall into the hands of Soviet agents. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, charged with acquiring (or confiscating) the foreign archives of Soviet citizens, forced Prokofiev’s family to have the documents returned to the Soviet Union ...

More Tales from the Bolshoi

Simon Morrison: Tales from the Bolshoi, 4 July 2013

... On 19 March, Anatoly Iksanov, the general director of the Bolshoi Theatre, held a press conference in Moscow to announce a month-long festival to celebrate the centenary of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. His aim was to reclaim the ballet for the nation that inspired it. (It had its premiere in Paris in 1913.) Most of the journalists who cleared the metal detectors were familiar faces trusted by the Bolshoi’s administration ...

Many Promises

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Prokofiev in Russia, 14 May 2009

The People’s Artist: Prokofiev’s Soviet Years 
by Simon Morrison.
Oxford, 491 pp., £18.99, November 2008, 978 0 19 518167 8
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... think this was bad for their music, though a few hold the contrary. Now comes the shocker from Simon Morrison, a Princeton musicologist: Prokofiev wanted to write simple, life-affirming music because he was a Christian Scientist. Sergei Prokofiev, born in 1891 and schooled in St Petersburg, left Russia in 1918 after graduating from the ...

The Renunciation

Blake Morrison, 20 November 1980

... like some Vague guilt and the rooms look so untidy – But there is nothing we know of to be done. Simon has a sperm count of ten million – Almost no chance at all, the clinic said. ‘Funny those years of worrying if the girl ... When all the time ... and now Louise, who’d set Her heart on three ... there’s fostering, true but when ... I’ve lost the ...

Voldemort or Stalin?

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Shostakovich, 1 December 2011

Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen Quartets 
by Wendy Lesser.
Yale, 350 pp., £18.99, April 2011, 978 0 300 16933 1
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Shostakovich in Dialogue: Form, Imagery and Ideas in Quartets 1-7 
by Judith Kuhn.
Ashgate, 296 pp., £65, February 2010, 978 0 7546 6406 2
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... music accordingly, others – including the big guns of Western studies of Soviet music, Taruskin, Simon Morrison and Laurel Fay – trying to clear away the emotional-political undergrowth. The problem is aggravated by the fact that the autobiographical subtext is often so vivid for performers as well as listeners. The Emerson String Quartet found the ...

Raven’s Odyssey

D.A.N. Jones, 19 July 1984

by D.M. Thomas.
Gollancz, 312 pp., £8.95, June 1984, 0 575 03446 7
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First Among Equals 
by Jeffrey Archer.
Hodder, 446 pp., £8.95, July 1984, 0 340 35266 3
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Morning Star 
by Simon Raven.
Blond and Briggs, 264 pp., £8.95, June 1984, 9780856341380
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... three got the idea from the newspapers. In Morning Star (named after Lucifer, not the newspaper), Simon Raven tells of a Conservative MP whose ‘swallow’ is described as ‘a half-caste tart in India’. In First Among Equals, Jeffrey Archer introduces a Labour MP who is likewise endangered by a young black girl ‘in a white leather mini skirt so short it ...

Motherly Protuberances

Blake Morrison: Simon Okotie, 9 September 2021

After Absalon 
by Simon Okotie.
Salt, 159 pp., £9.99, January 2020, 978 1 78463 166 6
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... with Arnold Bennett, John Galsworthy and H.G. Wells. It’s a proposition that might appeal to Simon Okotie. But before deciding whether it has merit he would want to see whether an apparently symmetrical arrangement of gig-lamps might not, on close examination, prove ever so slightly asymmetrical and as such bear some relation to life. As a self-confessed ...


Arthur Marwick, 21 October 1982

by Kenneth Harris.
Weidenfeld, 630 pp., £14.95, September 1982, 0 297 77993 1
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... Under-Secretary at the War Office. In the later Twenties he was nominated by MacDonald to the Simon Commission on India; because of his involvement with this commission he did not immediately achieve office on the return of the second Labour Government, but became Postmaster-General in February 1931. With George Lansbury, Attlee survived the debacle of ...

Incompetence at the War Office

Simon Jenkins: Politics and Pistols at Dawn, 18 December 2008

The Duel: Castlereagh, Canning and Deadly Cabinet Rivalry 
by Giles Hunt.
Tauris, 214 pp., £20, January 2008, 978 1 84511 593 7
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... toxic mix of power, ambition and exhaustion is a recipe for rivalries: Churchill and Chamberlain, Morrison and Bevan, Heath and Thatcher. It is astonishing that the convention of collective responsibility – of ‘we hang together or we hang apart’ – just about prevents cabinet government from morphing into one-man rule. Politics is not a profession that ...
Stafford Cripps: A Political Life 
by Simon Burgess.
Gollancz, 374 pp., £25, November 1999, 0 575 06565 6
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... forced him to step down as Chancellor. Along with Clement Attlee, Ernest Bevin and Herbert Morrison, he had incontrovertibly been one of the cornerstones of the postwar Labour Government. Indeed, from 1947 he was not only the executive force directing its strategy for economic recovery but also the public face of ‘austerity’ – an image that came ...

It wasn’t the Oval

Blake Morrison: Michael Frayn, 7 October 2010

My Father’s Fortune: A Life 
by Michael Frayn.
Faber, 255 pp., £16.99, September 2010, 978 0 571 27058 3
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... who wrote wistfully of seeing Len Hutton in his prime, captained a team called the Gaieties XI. Simon Gray, David Hare and Ronald Harwood are or were known to be keen on the game, too. And Tom Stoppard, another follower, has a striking set-piece in The Real Thing in which a playwright, explaining dramatic technique, says: ‘What we’re trying to do is to ...

Colloquially Speaking

Patrick McGuinness: Poetry from Britain and Ireland after 1945, 1 April 1999

The Penguin Book of Poetry from Britain and Ireland since 1945 
edited by Simon Armitage and Robert Crawford.
Viking, 480 pp., £10.99, September 1998, 0 670 86829 9
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The Firebox: Poetry from Britain and Ireland after 1945 
edited by Sean O’Brien.
Picador, 534 pp., £16.99, October 1998, 0 330 36918 0
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... poetry makes nothing happen, then the poetry anthology has no such self-effacing qualms. Blake Morrison and Andrew Motion knew this, as did the predecessor they were tussling with, A. Alvarez’s The New Poetry (which was tussling with its predecessor, Robert Conquest’s New Lines). ‘This anthology,’ they wrote in their preface to the Penguin Book of ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Ken or Boris?, 10 April 2008

... but genuinely induces narcolepsy. You fade in and out of consciousness until he stops talking. Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem candidate in 2004, might this time have had a chance to be mayor of London, but I don’t think Paddick does. The funny thing is that while Labour is desperate not to lose the mayoral election – because it would be such a terrible ...

Non-Party Man

Ross McKibbin: Stafford Cripps, 19 September 2002

The Cripps Version: The Life of Sir Stafford Cripps 
by Peter Clarke.
Allen Lane, 574 pp., £25, April 2002, 0 7139 9390 1
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... to other scholars. The result was that the unofficial biographies by Chris Bryant (1997) and Simon Burgess (1999) – whose quality Clarke graciously acknowledges – were written without access to Cripps’s personal papers. This was unfortunate. In general, Clarke writes, the exclusion blighted rather than fostered scholarship. ‘Dame Isobel’s ...

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