Bells in Russian Culture

As a former Sovietologist (skills that today help me understand our public broadcasting system), I read with excitement the New Yorker’s article on the grand bells of Moscow’s Danilov Monastery and their return after 70-some years from the United States to Russia. Writing in the April 27 issue, Harvard grad Elif Batuman notes how bells—not just these 18, weighing 13 to 20 tons each—have played a pivotal role in, among other things, Russian literature: pealing moments before Raskolnikov’s epiphany of guilt; ringing out in War and Peace as Napoleon’s army entered Moscow; and ever-present in Boris Godunov. Some of the Danilov bells had rung at Gogol’s burial in 1852. But after the Russian Revolution, when the Soviets shuttered the Danilov Monastery (as almost all monasteries), shot most of the priests, and destroyed many of the great Russian churches, the bells were taken down and went silent. They were preserved and brought to the United States through the magnanimous gesture of philanthropist Charles Crane—an American businessman. Installed at Harvard’s Lowell House through Crane’s connections there, they rang on Sundays and at the start of Harvard football games for several decades.

The story of the bells’ return to Moscow is best left to Batuman to tell, but I started wondering how one should think of using sound in writing published online—especially writing about, well, bells. The New Yorker’s podcast helps considerably, and a YouTube search for video and sound produces clips from Russian and American news organizations and amateur cameramen. Meanwhile, the question keeps ringing (prostitye menya!): where is the Flickr for sound?

Peter B. Kaufman heads up Intelligent Television.

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