Monday, June 6, 2016

ALEXANDRA






June 6 marks the birthday of Russian Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, formerly Princess Alix of Hesse Darmstadt (1872-1918).

This video tribute to Alexandra was the very first video I ever made. I initially wasn't pleased with the results, but in retrospect it's not too shabby.
The music I chose is the hauntingly beautiful C# minor nocturne (posthumous) by Chopin. 

Empress Alexandra loved music and was an accomplished pianist. 



best viewed full-screen


I've had a passion for Russian history ever since I first read Robert Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra when I was fourteen. I was spellbound by the breathtaking grandeur of Imperial Russia, and I was especially smitten by the love story of the Russian Nicholas Romanov and his German bride Alix (she became Alexandra Feodorovna in Russia). They were passionately in love and remained fiercely devoted until the day they died.

The only other royal couple I can think of who shared such a strong emotional and physical bond was Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert.  (ironically, Victoria was Alexandra's maternal grandmother).





The story of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra is as extraordinary and tragic as anything in the realms of fiction. The couple was completely devoted to their five children and had no desire to be the rulers of an empire. Nicholas became emperor at the age of 26, after the premature death of his father. He and his fiancee Alexandra were hastily married - - and the Russian people thought it was an evil omen for a marriage to take place so soon after a funeral. The couple were extremely ill-prepared to rule an empire.

Empress Alexandra is sometimes harshly regarded by historians and was definitely treated badly by the Russian people. Originally from Germany, she was regarded as an outsider by the Russians and this often generated suspicion and disdain. Later, during WWI and the Russian Revolution - when Germany was the enemy - she was despised and vilified, and was the subject of vicious untrue rumors.

When 22 year-old Alexandra arrived in Russia in 1894 for her marriage to Nicholas, she quickly had to learn the Russian language and customs, royal protocol, and - most importantly - the Orthodox religion. Her extreme shyness and nervousness were mistaken for aloofness and indifference - and later became the root of her many real and psychological illnesses and ailments. She never really connected with the Russian people.

As the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Alexandra was no stranger to royalty, but England and Germany (the two countries where she was raised) were entirely different from Imperial Russia. Alix was only six when her mother (Princess Alice) died. One of her brothers, who had hemophilia, died at a very early age (astonishingly, he accidentally fell out of a window).

The foremost duty of a Russian Empress was to bear a son, as an heir to the throne. After giving birth to four daughters, the pressure to have a son became so overwhelming that she resorted to mysticism and the advice of numerous bogus "holy" men. By 1902 she was in such an hysterical mental state that she deluded herself into believing she was pregnant. In August 1904 she finally did give birth to a son, Alexei.

Unfortunately, Alexandra carried the hemophilia gene (inherited from Queen Victoria), which she passed on to her son. She not only felt profound guilt because of this, she was also completely obsessed with keeping her son's illness a carefully guarded secret. In frantic desperation to "cure" her son (or at least ease his suffering), she sought the aid of numerous self-proclaimed holy men, including the infamous Grigori Rasputin. Rasputin's mesmeric powers - whether false or genuine - often seemed to aid in the recovery of Alexei's frequent hemorrhages.  Her association with Rasputin was vehemently opposed by many, and eventually greatly contributed to the downfall of the Imperial family.

Despite being blessed with beauty, wealth, and privilege, Alexandra's entire life was tainted with tragedy. The final years were the worst - - the fury of the Russian Revolution, the forced abdication of Nicholas, and the eventual imprisonment of the family.

Alexandra, her husband Nicholas II, and their five children were executed by the Bolsheviks in July, 1918. She was forty-six years old.


BY JON V. copyright


A photo of Empress Alexandra from my private collection,
 in the original hand-carved wooden frame


 Alexandra's personal bookplate
also from my collection


32 comments:

  1. Jon,

    Interesting and sad. All these photographs and barely a hint of a smile. There was only one that could even be called a smile, met were slights upturns of the lips. I never looked into Russian history much, except I did a good bit on Rasputin. Shows here my mind wanders. Are you the pianist?

    Larry

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    1. I honestly think I have only seen two or three photos of Alexandra in which she had a hint of a smile.
      Yup, I'm the pianist.

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  2. I myself never got into Russian history, but it is amazing how many royal families histories are riddles with disease, unhappiness, living up to standards, tragedy, misfortune and pressures. It that a life? And Russians seemed to be even more hard and vicious on there royal families.

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    1. It's an absolute fact that wealth and power doesn't bring happiness. The Romanov family was supposedly cursed and I fully believe it.

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  3. I remember reading "N & A" in high school (part of a summer reading list). all those inter-marriages in the british and german households; no wonder they are all batshit crazy!

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    1. All of the royal families were related in some way or another - - even Nicholas and Alexandra were distant cousins.

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  4. such a heart wrenching story. a tragic life indeed. LOVELY birthday tribute.

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    1. Fact always seems to be more strange and more fascinating than fiction. I have long been haunted and intrigued by Alexandra - - I'm so glad you like the tribute.

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  5. These tragedies hurt my heart. The family was so closely bonded it is even obvious in the photographs. I have to carry what is called Israeli Battlefield Dressings due to the fact I have a rare type of hemophilia and would bleed out if in a car accident or cut myself. I'm also surprised Rasputin didn't attempt to heal the poor lad by blood letting.

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    1. I had no idea about your hemophilia - that is horrifying. It's extremely rare for a woman to have this disease, isn't it?

      One of the many things that touches my heart about Nicholas and Alexandra is the extremely family devotion that they had. Nothing was insincere or feigned. They had a deep love for each other and for their children. Their tragic fate is absolutely heartbreaking.

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    2. Their fate was unnecessary, but where humans and religion or politics are concerned, it usually is. Women do have hemophilia, but due to the changes in the XXY chromosome it has a different name. I just say I do not have a clotting factor and people nod as if they understand.

      I had a very minor cut while on duty at the fire house and 8 hours later I was still bleeding and was taken to the hospital. The Israeli bandages are a blessing and a curse, because they force their own "clot" in the victim's veins which drives surgeons crazy when they have to remove it.

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  6. Prior to 'meeting' you, Jon, I was not familiar myself with Russian history. As you know, I'm mesmerized by Nicholas and Alexandra's story ... this video is wonderful!
    I'm curious why - except in a few poses - Alix was photographed aside or in profile.

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    1. I honestly don't know - but Alix was mostly photographed in profile on formal portraits (perhaps because her profile was so imposing?). Everyone in the family had cameras and they took lots of pictures of each other. In these informal photos Alexandra is often seen full-face. And in a few she is almost smiling!

      I'm delighted that I sparked your interest in Russian history.

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  7. Thank you for the history lesson. All very interesting and I love the photos.

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    1. Thank you for appreciating the history lesson, Paula! I am always fascinated with old photos.

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  8. Such a beautiful and haunting tribute, Jon. I've been curious about Russian history after I first learned about Rasputin and the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. An entire family snuffed out due to politics and petty jealousy. I really don't know what to make of this brutal world.

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    1. There is far too much brutality and injustice in this world to ever comprehend. I couldn't imagine the profound heartlessness and hatred that could inspire anyone to murder an innocent family. Other family members were also murdered - including Alexandra's sister Elizabeth (Ella), and Grand Duke Michael, the brother of Nicholas.

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    2. Way too cruel :-(

      P.S. Your awesome piano playing always makes me feel glad I am alive.

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  9. Lovely constructed video, Jon, with choice of music that is perfectly apt for such an ill-fated mother and family. (Btw: I've always thought from photos that Nicholas was quite a hottie, even if he was, as some reports suggest, if not a bit thick, then at the very least, spectacularly imprudent.

    Btw: I've played more of your 'historic' video recitals and (to abruptly change the subject from N & A), I want to ask you something about a particular aspect of piano playing. In films, when there's someone playing piano in an informal setting i.e. not giving a concert, the piano-player always seems to manage to hold a conversation at the same time, as though the hands were playing themselves (a small brain in each wrist?). You see it mostly in films of the 1930s or 40s, but it still occurs now and then in more recent ones. There was an Alan Alda film of 1978 in which he has an argument with Ellen Burstyn whilst playing (I think) the Chopin 'Revolutionary Study'! Of course we never see his actual hands but his elbows and his glances downward are all over the shop, hopelessly out of sync with the music. Are you yourself able to hold an entirely unrelated conversation while playing something even simple, let alone intricate? I could never do it - and I bet those pianists who can are very few and far between indeed. Just curious.

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    1. Thanks for your kinds words concerning my video. And I agree that when Nicholas was young he was incredibly cute. He was supposed to be short - I think 5 foot 7 inches - but I won't hold that against him.

      Ray, you have touched on a subject that has irked me for many years - - the completely fictionalized way that pianists are portrayed in Hollywood films. There are many, many examples of pianists in movies playing intricate compositions while casually holding long conversations. It bothers the HELL out of me because it's a complete impossibility.

      There is no way that I could ever play the piano and hold a conversation. I have a hard enough time coordinating my fingers. I need to fully concentrate on the music. And I don't want to be bothered by anyone when I'm performing.

      Perhaps a rinky dink cocktail pianist could have a casual conversation while tickling the ivories, but serious music takes undiluted concentration.

      There. I've finished my rant.


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    2. I'm so pleased you've put me at my ease on something which has irritated me too every time I see it. I'd been starting to think that there was something wrong with me in having to give my undivided attention to the keyboard when playing, though I knew it was a rare, and perhaps non-existing talent, to play and talk simultaneously. (It happens in radio plays as well.) It just illustrates how the playwright or the director haven't got the foggiest notion of the concentration required to play convincingly. Thanks. I'm happier now knowing that's it's not just me.

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  10. I can do it, but only while playing, 'One Note Samba,' and just the 'A' part.

    :-)

    -Andy

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    1. I'm impressed. I don't have enough coordination to do it.

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  11. I've been fascinated with all the material you've managed to distill into a concentrated span, much like Alix's life --so much grandeur, privilege and calamity. Wonderful post.

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  12. Thank you, Geo. Every once in awhile I like to stray from a beer rant.

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  13. I faintly recollect some of the teachings of the life and times of Alexandra back in middle school. Very informative and interesting post, Jon. The video is wonderful, as is the pianist. Wow.

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    1. I never fail to be amazed at all the things I DIDN'T learn in school. Almost everything I know has been self-taught. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post and video. Thanks!

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  14. Loved it all! Loved the video and the post, too. I am learning so much from you, Jon. :)

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  15. Thanks, Rita! Since most of my blog posts are idiotic, I occasionally like to include one that's a learning experience. It means a lot to know that you enjoyed it.

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  16. Terrific post, Jon! I loved the history lesson to go along with the great pictures. And it goes without saying that I thoroughly enjoyed your video. (But I'll say it anyway!)

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    1. That means a lot to me, Susan. Thanks for your input!

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  17. Jon,
    I have always been fascinated by the tragic story of the Romanov family. Hard to believe but I've never read Robert Massie's book "Nicholas and Alexandra", although I bought the books decades ago. Unfortunately,that book is one of many that I bought and put in my library, and never go around to reading. After reading your beautiful and interesting (and haunting) [post, I will definitely read it soon. I've always been fascinated by the drama of royalty and how just common, everyday folks get caught up in history. This common interest is yet something else we have in common.
    Ron

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