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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