TSAR.

I’m reading Fearful Majesty, a biography of Ivan IV “the Terrible” by Benson Bobrick, and I just ran across this bit of information:

Upon his return to Moscow on December 12 [1546], Ivan [announced] that he intended “to study the coronation formula of his ancestors,” specifically that of Grand Prince Vladimir Monomakh and, in emulation of that prince, to be crowned Grand Prince and “Tsar,” meaning Emperor. Etymologically, the word “tsar” derived from caesar,but had entered Church Slavic through the Greek as a translation of basileus, meaning “emperor.” However, from the days of the Mongol conquest, Russians had applied it not only to the Byzantine emperor but to the Tartar khans. At the Moscow court only Tartar descendents of Genghis Khan who had also been rulers in their own right were honored by the name.

I imagine John Emerson knew the Tatar khans were called “tsar,” but I sure didn’t.

Comments

  1. Tzar in the Latin Wikipedia, complete with a list of passages from Renaissance Latin literature in which the quote occurs. (Obviously the list is not complete, just what we could find).

  2. Oh right, the URL thing. The link, as you can probably guess, is http://la.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tzar .

  3. Yes, the word “tsar” was reserved for Byzantine emperors and “Tatar” khans, who could only be Genghisids (with exceptions). That much is clear from classical histories of Russia (by Soloviev, Klyuchevsky, or Kostomarov) written 100+ years before this compilation. Also, Ivan IV was not the first great prince of Moscow to be called “tsar.” His great-grandfather, Ivan III, was so addressed, and likewise nicknamed “Grozny.”

  4. someone wrote that the old russian word for bread ‘hleb’ was related to the word for people -but a russian friend told me this is not true. since you are writing lately on russian, can you settle this debate? thanks. k

  5. John Emerson says:

    I did not know that, but it makes sense. When the Rus (a mixed Swedish-Slavic-Finnish group of soldiers of fortune, raiders, and traders) came to Constantinople around 800 AD, their leader was called a “Khaganus” or Khan.
    In Russian political history under Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great you have what seems to have a merger of Western European absolutism and an indigenous absolutism which was partly traceable to the Mongols. But Western European absolutism modelled itself in part on the Chinese Empire, which in turn had been heavily influenced by the Mongols during the Yuan dynasty. And finally, even though Peter the Great was an aggressive Westernizer and modernizer, by the XIXc the institutions he had founded had become traditional and reactionary.
    Mussorgsky’s two operas are both about The State. In the original versions he had no women’s parts, because he wanted to write political operas. He was forced to jam in female roles, and the “Lutheran Girl” in Khovanshchina is the most pointless role I can imagine ever seeing anywhere.
    Verdi also wanted to write political operas, and to an extent he succeeded. He pretended to write melodramas to get by the Austrian censor.

  6. Justin, what I saw in the edit box for your comment (between the angle brackets) was a href=http://la.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tzar — no quote marks. If you’re putting them in and they’re getting stripped out, I have no earthly idea why that might happen.

  7. Forgot to mention: I fixed it.
    Alexei: I didn’t say this was the first book to provide that information, just that I hadn’t run into it before (or if I had, I’d forgotten it). Also, Bobrick doesn’t claim Ivan IV was the first to use the title; he discusses the history you mention.

  8. “someone wrote that the old russian word for bread ‘hleb’ was related to the word for people ”
    Maybe… but it certainly is a lot more closely related to a whole bunch of words relating to bread in a lot of other European languages – ‘loaf’ is one example.

  9. Apparently Proto-Germanic *xlaibu-z (the -z is the PGmc nominative) is of uncertain origin, with no obvious Indo-European precurson. Cognate forms in Slavic (including xleb) and Baltic are old borrowings from Germanic, not common inheritances from IE.

  10. michael farris says:

    “Mussorgsky’s two operas are both about The State. In the original versions he had no women’s parts, because he wanted to write political operas. He was forced to jam in female roles, and the “Lutheran Girl” in Khovanshchina is the most pointless role I can imagine ever seeing anywhere.”
    If you’re talking about Marfa, then the music gives her plenty of reason to exist. The roles may have been ‘jammed in’ but Marina (in Boris ) and especially Marfa (Khovanshchina) have some of the most glorious music he ever wrote ymmv. So I’m not going to complain. Considering that both are mezzo roles (my favorite vocal category) is icing on the cake.
    “Verdi also wanted to write political operas, and to an extent he succeeded. He pretended to write melodramas to get by the Austrian censor.”
    From Nabucco on (where the chorus of slaves crystallized Italian national sentiment) he never wrote an opera that wasn’t political (senso largo) until (arguably) Falstaff.
    Apropos of nothing (but since we’re in the vicinity): I’ve always felt that considering how much soul-stirring music Italians have created, it’s puzzling that their national anthem sounds so rotten. A tinny oom-pah-pah pastiche with no discernible melody or point. Va pensiero from the above mentioned Nabucco (with slightly modified lyrics) would be far superior in every possible way.

  11. There seem to be a lot of these strange no-IE roots and a lot of them seem to consist of three consonants.
    In this case there is a whole family built on this one – limpa (which got into Finnish too, or then again that might be the source since it’s in the same geographic area as Germanic and Slavic),clump, lump, club, (golf – so apparently it made it into Celtic somewhere along the line), maybe golpear, couper etc (so somehow it shows up in Italic or at least Romance), clobber, clabber – all having to do with lumps or masses or hitting something with a lump-like object.

  12. John Emerson says:

    The Lutheran Girl has a name which I’ve forgotten — she’s not Marfa. She’s often referred to as “The Lutheran Girl”.
    Marfa’s music is nice, but she’s shoehorned into the plot. Both she and the Lutheran Girl function as a love interest for Khovansky’s ridiculous no-good son, who in turn functions entirely as Marfa’s ex-lover (and as the Lutheran Girl’s twice-unsuccessful rapist). Marfa does have two other functions (as fortune teller and Old Believer) but her three functions don’t really cohere into a character very well.
    My bias in opera appreciation is extreme, because I hate romantic melodramas and stupid love triangles. Based on the original versions of Mussorgsky’s two best operas, Mussorgsky’s bias seems to have been about the same as mine. I was surprised to find that Verdi may not have wanted to write some of that stuff; I’ll have to give him a new hearing.
    In Oregon an Old Believer colony still exists. Solzhenitsyn visited them at one point.
    I’m working on finding the “original-version” Boris. I’m on thin ice here, and someone will probably come along soon to point out that the Communists. too, purported to favor the original version.

  13. > My bias in opera appreciation is extreme, because I hate romantic melodramas and stupid love triangles.
    Wow, what does that leave? Britten’s oeuvre plus half of “Moses and Aaron”?

  14. John Emerson says:

    Mussorgsky.

  15. michael farris says:

    “My bias in opera appreciation is extreme, because I hate romantic melodramas and stupid love triangles.”
    Very few love triangles in Italian operas are simple love triangles, there’s usually a political subtext as well. Look at Tosca, a sordid case of sexual blackmail and violence that’s also a parable of the Italian political scene, the electorate’s been around the block and few times and wants to believe in beautiful ideals but always ends up putting out for some petty tyrant (Berlusconi _is_ Scarpia, dammit).
    “I was surprised to find that Verdi may not have wanted to write some of that stuff; I’ll have to give him a new hearing.”
    Better yet, pay attention to how closely he intertwines the political and the personal (to coin an expression). I love how it’s impossible to separate out the political, sexual, military and spritual threads that make up Aida, Don Carlo(s) or La Forza del Destino (the most Spanish opera every written). For that matter, it’s impossible to pull apart the religious and superstitious elements either.
    Maybe Verdi longed to write all male operas set in the senate concerning procedural rules (Simon Boccanegra comes close) but I’m glad he wrote operas that explore the connections and contradictions of emotion and ideology better than anyone other composer.

  16. John Emerson says:

    I may be the only person in the world who would prefer an opera about the rise of absolutism to have no love interest and no female lead, but apparently that’s what Mussorgsky wanted to write.
    Khovanshchina could have had a legit political female lead — the regent was a women (Peter’s half-sister IIRC), but she was a Romanoff and could not be shown on-stage. Neither could Peter the Great — i.e., the main player and the ultimate victor. Mussorgsky’s Peter is almost like Kafka’s infinitely-distant emperor. (The Russian taboo here reminds me of the Chinese imperial taboos, which were probably Kafka’s source.)

  17. Michael, was pleasantly surprised to see this unexpected side of you. (but …Berlusconi – a petty tyrant?)

  18. michael farris says:

    Tatyana, I’m always glad when I pleasantly surprise someone, it so rarely happens.
    Anyway, I think Scarpia is often wrongly portrayed as a despicable SOB from the start, when he couldn’t have gotten his position if he had no control of the social graces.
    Of course, Berlusconi isn’t a petty tyrant at the moment. I was being a little provocative and responding to a sudden flash of inspiration (or insanity, if you wish). Still, I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw a Fiat.
    He strikes me as someone who’s interested in power to the exclusion of all else. It doesn’t matter whether it’s financial, cultural, political, religious or sexual. He wants in on all of it and wants to exercise it. (This is the link with Scarpia). At present, he’s able to do that within the context of leading a nation state and looking out for its interests. But this is a happy accident and not the result of character or personal ideology. IMHO he’d be exercising power in _any_ political system he found himself in.

  19. LH: I am honestly surprised that you only learnt it from this biography. The fact that Muscovites addressed khans of post-Genghis hordes as tsars has been interpreted as highly symbolic, implying that the tsars of Moscow were heirs to the khans, by both Russian Eurasianists and anti-Russian Ukrainians.

  20. My bias in opera appreciation is extreme, because I hate romantic melodramas and stupid love triangles.
    Wow, what does that leave? Britten’s oeuvre plus half of “Moses and Aaron”?
    “House of the Dead” (Janacek)
    “The Excursions of Mr Broucek” (Janacek)
    “Oedipus Rex” (Stravinsky)
    “Iphigenie en Tauride” (Gluck)
    “Palestrina” (Pfitzner)
    “Dialogues des Carmelites” (Poulenc)
    Plus the obvious:
    “L’Enfant et les Sortileges” (Ravel)
    “Hansel and Gretel” (Humperdinck)

  21. John Emerson says:

    Thank you, Cassian!

  22. Alexei: Don’t be surprised. The price of being a polymath and trying to learn everything about everybody’s history is that there are many, many gaps in my knowledge. One reason I like having this blog is that people fill them for me.
    Opera fans: As always, I’m delighted to see the serendipitous course these comment threads take!

  23. michael farris says:

    “Opera fans: As always, I’m delighted to see the serendipitous course these comment threads take!”
    You aint heard _nothing_ yet (just biding my time until someone brings up Wagner/Meyerbeer).
    Oh, and Zizka! Das Rheingold is another thrilling opera with no triangle/romantic considerations to sully your pleasure in politics and process. (though I’m sure that Wotan is absolutely _mortified_ when the “other woman” shows up at his carefully choreographed cocktail party.

  24. Oh, but Michael, what you describe just makes him an artistic creative!

  25. michael farris says:

    In the interests of overkill: the reason there are so few operas about pure politics without any sex to muddle things is that in the real world there are so few examples of pure politics without sex muddling things up. Where would W be without the spectre of same-sex marriage to rile up his base? Where would Reagan have been without that intensely ambitious untamed shrew who was able to give his expansive non-confrontational exceptionalism focus and drive?
    I (YMMV) think opera is at its most glorious when it intertwines the personal and the political and the most personal operas are often the most political (is it any accident that Cosi Fan Tutte only gained widespread popularity in the 1950s?)

  26. michael farris says:

    “Oh, but Michael, what you describe just makes him an artistic creative!”
    Tatyana, exactly! That’s just how I perceive Scarpia, he doesn’t love Tosca or even lust after her, he becomes _aware_ of her and realizes she’s not part of his power circle and decides to rectify that oversight in the only way he knows how (clever verbal interplay eventually morphing into overt sexual violence). (It’s how I view the current leader of the Russian political entity as well for the record).

  27. John Emerson says:

    But Michael, as a Mussorgskian I must hate Wagner and his gassy seriousness with a bitter hatred!

  28. John, you might consider investigating 19th century Czech opera by Dvorak and Smetana. I only know this stuff from plot summaries, so I have only the vaguest idea what it sounds like, but it includes works like Dvorak’s “Dmitrij”, which is a follow-up to Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov”, apparently exploring the fates of Dmitri, Shuisky, Xenia and Marina after Boris’ death. Smetana’s first opera was “The Brandenburgers in Bohemia”, about the power vacuum following the death of King Otakar in 1279. His “Libuse”, based on a legend about the mythical founder of Prague, contains a tableau of Czech history. But I only know “The Bartered Bride” and Dvorak’s “Rusalka”. Janacek I can vouch for. One of his inspirations was Mussorgsky, although he had a rather different temperament (i.e. he wasn’t a depressive alcoholic). He also chose some unusual sources for his operas: Dostotevsky’s account of his years in a prison camp; a Czech cartoon strip about woodland creatures; and a novel about a 337-year old woman. Since you once used the nom de plume “Zizka”, you might be interested in “Mr Broucek”. In his second excursion, Broucek – a smug, self-satisfied and cowardly modern Czech – is carried back through time from early 20th century Prague to the Hussite era and the eve of the Battle of Vitkov. IIRC some Hussite fanatics can’t understand Broucek’s newfangled vocabulary ( he calls for the “Polizei”) and mistake him for a Turkish spy, so he has to hide in an empty beer barrel. Not Janacek’s most consistent opera musically, but a lot of fun.

  29. John Emerson says:

    Cassian — thanks again. Janacek was already on my list. My general plan is to explore Slavic music, and starting with the XIXc Russians, including the less-known composers like Dargomizhky. I really regret not knowing Russian, because art songs were so important during that period.

  30. I thank you too — as a big fan of Mussorgsky, I’m intrigued by the description of Dmitrij (not to mention the time-travel one). I’ve shamefully neglected Czech opera.

  31. “…works like Dvorak’s “Dmitrij”, which is a follow-up to Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov”, apparently exploring the fates of Dmitri, Shuisky, Xenia and Marina after Boris’ death” — JC
    Must be every bit as optimistic as Boris. Of the four figures, the first was overthrown by a mob and killed in the process, the second died in Polish captivity after a short period on the Moscow throne; the third was forcibly confined to a nunnery, where she died; the fourth died in a Muscovite dungeon, and her little son was killed on orders from Moscow.
    I think I should explore Dargomyzhsky, too — he supposedly approached Pushkin’s texts with more care and respect than other Russians, Tchaikovsky above all, of course.

  32. John Emerson says:

    Dargomyzhsky was a very innovative musician whose works aren’t generally regarded as very listenable. He influenced Mussorgsky a lot, and Janacek too (I presume). Bringing librettos closer to natural speech, and breaking down the recitative / aria distinction, were his goals.

  33. I’ll give you a shortened version of the plot summary of Dvorak’s Dimitrij from the Viking Opera Guide. I expect it doesn’t stick too closely to the reality of Russian history. I’ll use the Czech spellings of the names (since this is Language Hat). After Boris’ death, the Russian people are split between supporters of the Godunov family and partisans of Dimitrij. Everything hinges on whether Marfa, the widow of Ivan the Terrible, will acknowledge Dimitrij as her son. She realises he isn’t but pretends to accept him in order to get her revenge. Meanwhile, Moscow is racked by clashes between Russians and Poles and Dimitrij rescues Xenie from the mob violence. Šujský is arrested for conspiracy and Xenie begs Dimitrij for his life, making Marina jealous. She tells Dimitrij he is really a peasant but he still intends to carry on as tsar. Dimitrij urges Xenie to marry him but she is either murdered by Marina (1882 version) or enters a nunnery (1884 version). Marina then publicly reveals Dimitrij’s true origins. Dimitrij calls on Marfa to back his claim to be her son but before she can do so, Dimitrij is shot dead by Šujský. The curtain falls.

  34. The writer of the Viking article on Dargomyzhky thinks his music is more interesting on paper. He refers to D.’s The Stone Guest as “a controversial work that has become a legend, but is very rarely heard”, and goes on to say: “His is a curious case, a composer whose ideals and theories were more fecund than his musical ideas; he lacked the inspiration and ability to carry his conceptions through, but left an indelible mark on the next generation, particularly on Mussorgsky.”
    Bringing librettos closer to natural speech
    That was certainly Janacek’s goal too. He was obsessed with noting down speech melody (including the remarks of Smetana’s daughter when he met her on a shopping trip). There’s a synopsis of an article (only available to subscribers) here on “The Meaning of Speech Melody for Leoš Janáček”:
    “Very little has been written about the personal meaning that speech melody had for Janácek, who recorded speech contours in musical notation in an attempt to pursue what Milan Kundera has called the ‘search for the vanished present.’ In notating his dying daughter Olga’s final utterances, Janácek hoped to preserve her presence, to take solace in the notion that, in some way, she still lived with him. This article contextualizes and reexamines the issue of speech melody within the larger arena of language as music, presents Olga’s speech melodies, and discusses their personal significance for Janácek.”
    Janáček must have been more successful than Smetana who, according to John Tyrrell, “was never able completely to overcome his German education – it was only in his fourth opera, Libuše, that he learnt how to set the Czech language with the correct stressing.”

  35. John Emerson says:

    I’ve got the out-of-print “Stone Guest” CD on my Amazon wishlist. I fear that I won’t enjoy it a lot, especially since I don’t know Russian. But I’ll buy it if I can.
    Janacek is on of the most interesting XXc composers to me, neither old-fashioned nor modernist. I’ll also be looking at Bohuslav Martinu. (I have met Tom Svoboda, who was, in a sense, Martinu’s heir-apparent.)

  36. michael farris says:

    I loves me some Janáček, my favorite is Kaťa Kabanová, a melodramatic story of borderline-madness, adultry and suicide in the Russian provinces against a background of thuggish middle class conformity.
    The first time I heard it I knew almost nothing of Slavic languages and thought the language and music both sounded as they were from another dimension.

  37. stupid love triangles
    I wonder how you’d classify Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk”? Reimann’s “Lear”?
    Michael, I second you on Kaťa Kabanová. It’s nice to see Janáček appreciated.

  38. Tatyana says:

    Michael, for comparison you might want to read original play (not libretto for opera) by Ostrovsky.

  39. Gene Gorokhovsky says:

    Tsar Saltan has a distinctly “khan” sound to it, compare to “sultan.” Although Pushkin makes it clear that Sultans kingdom is Christian, could mongolian “tsars” be relations of this character in the beloved russian fairytale?

  40. Following Julius Caesar (died 44 B.C.), all Roman emperors took the title ‘Imperator Caesar’ or Emperor Caesar. After the Western Roman Empire fell (476 A.D.), Eastern Roman (Byzantine) emperors continued to use this title but in a Greek form ‘Autokratoros Kaísaros’. Later, after the Russians converted to Byzantine Christianity (11th century) the Russian kings adopted the title Kaísaros too but altering it to Czar or Tsar.
    The Turkish conquest of Constantnople in 1453 left Russia as the Byzantine Empire’s heir and new defender of the Orthodox Christian faith. Russia became known as “The third Rome,” part of a continuing, never-ending Roman Empire according to some historians. In a sense, they say, all Russian rulers are “caesars of Rome” from Ivan the Terrible down to Vladimir Putin today.
    Please see also the internet link below:
    http://www.zagraevsky.ru/third_rome_engl.htm

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