Michael Morley reviews 'Nicholas Nabokov: A Life in Freedom and Music' by Vincent Giroud

Michael Morley reviews 'Nicholas Nabokov: A Life in Freedom and Music' by Vincent Giroud

Nicolas Nabokov: A Life in Freedom and Music

by Vincent Giroud

Oxford University Press, $47.95 hb, 577 pp, 9780199399895

In an interview from 1978, the year of Nicolas Nabokov's death (he was born in 1903 in Lubcza, now in Belarus), which is included in the epilogue to this volume, Isaiah Berlin summed up some of the qualities of the cosmopolitan figure he seems to have considered his best friend:

He was a very cultivated man: I found him to be one of the most civilized men I ever met, a perfect representative of the pre-Russian Revolution intelligentsia. He had mastered vast amounts of knowledge, had wide horizons and a wonderful imagination; he was also one of the warmest and most sympathetic of men ... His charm was extraordinary.

Judging by the array of figures who parade through the pages of this study, Nikolai Dmitrievich Nabokov seems to have been on first-name terms with just about everybody who was anybody in twentieth-century arts and culture. He was a close friend, if occasional adversary, of Stravinsky, knew Prokofiev, was a colleague of Balanchine, Lifar, Virgil Thomson, Igor Markevitch, Auden, Arthur Schlesinger – the list goes on. Giroud's tenacity and thoroughness in tracking down every little detail relating to Nabokov's constant travels and fondness for parties and social occasions, and his use of a series of archives as well as Nabokov's own, are admirable and systematic.

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Michael Morley

Michael Morley

Michael Morley is Emeritus Professor of Drama at Flinders University. He has written theatre and music reviews and articles for a variety of publications, including Theatre Australia, the National Times, The Australian, the Australian Financial Review, Opera News (New York), the Kurt Weill Newsletter, the Sondheim Review, the Adelaide Review, and Australian Book Review. He has also contributed translations for the English edition of the collected poems of Alfred Brendel.

Published in April 2016, no. 380

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