Big city lights
Photo by Oleg Balashov
View from the colonnade of Saint Isaac's Cathedral
Photo by EGRA
Saint-Petersburg in the evening. Palace Square
Photo by Sergey Louks
Peterhof Palace. Fountains
Photo by Sergey Louks
Sunset in Saint-Petersburg
Photo by Sergey Louks

Famous Russians

What is Russia famous for? Its nature, its cities, its sights, and of course people. Some are less famous abroad but nonetheless worth admiring. Among them are Alexander Pushkin, Anna Achmatova, Mikhail Glinka, Valentin Serov, Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

Alexander Pushkin (poet)

Nobody has been able to say “I love you” in a more passionate, desperate, deep and yet elegant and tasteful way. That is what distinguishes Alexander Pushkin from any person in the world, alive or dead. He was a genius, and no renowned person in Russia is worshipped more. Pushkin pours out our Russian soul - gleeful, suffering, generous, confused, glorious and unsure… In St. Petersburg Pushkin is everywhere. The streets, parks, boulevards, squares and riversides keep the sound of his heroes’ steps. Russian painting and music abound in Pushkin’s ideas, plots, characters, and moods. The time when he lived is called “the Golden Age of the Russian literature”. He is the ONE who influenced the cultural development of Russia in every way.

Anna Akhmatova (poet)

Anna Akhmatova brought to the Russian lyric, according to Osip Mandelstam’s “the wealth of the nineteenth-century Russian novel”. Raised outside St.Petersburg, she married Nikolai Gumilev, organizer of the Guild of poets, in 1910. Her collections of poetry, from Evening (1912) to Anno Domini MCMXXI (1921), noted for their frank delineation of women’s passion, won her great fame. Increasingly denounced after 1923, her work was banned until 1940. The arrest of her son in 1934 prompted her cycle on the Stalinist terror, Requiem (1936), while Poem without a Hero is a 20-year meditation on the suffering of her time.

Mikhail Glinka (composer)

Mikhail Glinka is universally considered the father of genuinely Russian music. His works were a new word in the musical world of our country. He was the first to create romances, operas and other pieces to the Russian theme using Russian folk motives. His music is so truthful in all that Russia has suffered and poured out into a song; in his works the expression of Russian love, hate, joy and sorrow is heard; it’s darkening gloom and shining dawn. That is how A. Merime, a French writer, characterized one of Glinka’s operas.

Valentin Serov (painter)

Valentin Serov was considered to be the greatest portraitist of his time. He has been extremely revered both in Russia and abroad. Serov continued the traditions of late nineteenth-century realist portraiture, which were made richer by the achievements of Impressionism. It is interesting to note that while creating his early unsurpassable works that resemble Renoir in a way, he did not know about the existence of the new trend called Impressionism. Serov painted a brilliant gallery of portraits that are among the most treasured exhibits in Russia in St. Petersburg and the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow as well as in some minor museums of the country, and in private collections.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky (composer)

There is no doubt that practically every person in the entire world knows Tchaikovsky. At least his name. He is one of the most famous composers of all time. He is a real genius and ranked among such unsurpassable masters as Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach. He is the most well-known and popular Russian composer. And yet, he didn't have an easy life. Few people know about his searches, failures and successes, his delight and his despair. Here is a perfect chance for you to get to know this wonderful composer's biography in more detail, because when you are here in Russia you'll probably be visiting one of his beautiful and striking ballets or operas - Swan Lake, Nutcracker, Sleeping beauty, Eugene Onegin, or Queen of Spades. Or perhaps you'll choose to go to the Philharmonic Hall and listen to his Fourth or Sixth (Pathetic) Symphony… One thing is certain - you are going to take great pleasure in Tchaikovsky's music and it will be your experience of a lifetime.

Gagarin Yuri (Soviet Cosmonaut)

The first man in space, Gagarin was rocketed into orbit on April 12, 1961, aboard the Vostok I spacecraft. His famous phrase at the very start “Poehali” (Let’s go) will always be a motto for world pioneers. Unable to steer the spacecraft, he orbited the earth once and after 108 minutes his craft parachuted safely down.

Prokofiev Sergei (composer)

Prokofiev Sergei began composing at a very early age he was first noted for his outstanding piano playing. While studying at the St. Petersburg Cinservatory under Rimsky-Corsakov he won the Rubenstein Prize for performing the first of his own piano concertos. Then followed the success of his “Classical Symphony” (1917) which revealed his talent for pastiche work. Like many Soviet composers Prokofoev found the political pressure to conform too restricting and so fled to the United States. Here he was warmly received as a pianist but had more difficulty being accepted as a composer. Finally he had a breakthrough in Chicago in 1921 with his opera The Love for Three Oranges. After the United States Prokofiev moved to Paris where he struck up an exciting new relationship with the renowned Diaghilev, writing music for his ballets. In 1934 Prokofiev returned to Russia where some say his style mellowed. According to the Central Committee of the Communist Party his style did not mellow enough and they criticized his work in 1948 as being “modernistic and anti-melodic”. In Prokofiev’s reply he pledged to use a more “lucid melody” and a “simple harmonic language” but others say he really continued to compose exactly as he liked.

Rachmaninov Sergei (composer and pianist)

Many think of Rachmaninov as the composer of the ever-popular second piano concerto or of the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. However few realize that he was also the composer of the most exquisite songs and, although not as popular as his piano concertos, they gave a valuable insight into the more intimate side of his character, Sadly these songs are not performed as often as they deserve. It has also become apparent from recordings that Rachmaninov was an exceptional pianist of virtuosic quality and probably one of the finest pianists the 20th century has ever seen.

Solzhenitsyn Alexander (novelist)

Born in Kisolvodsk in the Caucasus and educated at the University of Rostov, Solzhenitsyn fought in the Red Army during the Second World War, was arrested for criticizing Stalin and sent to a labor camp (GULAG) in 1945. Released in 1953, he subsequently became a teacher. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich  (1962) is his stark account of life in the camp. Cancer Ward (1968) were published abroad, and in 1969 he was expelled from the Writers’ Union. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1970. Publication of the Gulag Archipelago prompted his deportation in 1974, and he emigrated to the USA. He returned to Russia only in 1991.

Pavlova Anna (ballet dancer)

After seeing a performance of Sleeping Beauty at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg at the age of 9, the young Pavlova was so impressed that she resolved to become a dancer. The following year she entered the St. Petersburg Theatre School and, two years before her graduation, danced on the Mariinsky stage in the Pas des Almees in La Filled u Pharaon. Her superb graduation performance of 1899 brought her to the attention of the critics. In 1903 she danced the role of Giselle and the Fairy Variations in the Prologue of Sleeping Beauty, before achieving the role of Aurora in 1908 – her goal since she saw her first ballet performance. Having danced 18 leading roles on the Mariinsky stage, in 1907 Fokine created for her the role of Cygne (the Dying Swan) which became her most famous solo. She began touring abroad with the Russian Imperial Ballet in 1908, and settled at the Ivy House in London in 1912, her home for the rest of her life. Fragments of her dancing the Dying Swan were filmed in Hollywood by Douglas Fairbanks in 1924-25. Never strong, Pavlova died of pneumonia at the age of relatively young age of 49.