Odoyevsky V. F.

Prince Vladimir Fedorovich Odoyevsky (1803 – 1869) was a Russian writer, philosopher, musical scholar and critic, and a prominent politician. Odoyevsky’s origins are truly the stuff of novels, with his father a prince from one of the oldest royal dynasties in Russia, and his mother a former serf. His childhood was spent in Moscow, in the Minor Kozlovsky Alley, where his father owned almost all of the buildings.

Odoyevsky’s life and work were divided into three distinctive periods, whose dates correspond to his moves between Moscow and St. Petersburg. The first period was spent in Moscow, first attending a prestigious school (1816-1822) and later serving at one of the government offices. Odoyevsky’s apartment served as the meeting place for the Wisdom Lovers’ Society – a circle of young writers and philosophers focused around German Idealism, specifically the ideas by Friedrich von Shelling. The group met from 1823 through 1925 until it was outlawed following the Decembrist Revolt. During the same time, Odoyevsky published his first literary works.

In 1826, he moved to St. Petersburg, got married and acquired a post at His Majesty’s personal secretarial office, overseen by Count Bludov. Odoyevsky’s second creative period was filled with mysticism, medieval magic and alchemy. He collaborated with many prominent magazines, including Pushkin’s Contemporary and published a number of romantic novellas, fairy tales, and articles. His best and most widely acclaimed work – a collection of philosophic essays and stories titled Russian Nights was published in 1844.In 1846, Odoyevsky was appointed assistant of the directory of the Imperial Public Library and the director of the Rumyantsev Museum.

Despite his success, Odoyevsky became slowly disillusioned in mysticism – the process, which concluded in 1861. By that time, the writer fully embraced the value of European science and nature research and began actively promoting the ideas of public education. Upon his return to Moscow in 1861, Odoyevsky moved the Rumyantsev Museum from St. Petersburg and, in addition to his directorship, was appointed senator of one of the Moscow districts.

Parallel to his career as a writer and a philosopher, Odoyevsky was one of the founders of Russian musical science, musical criticism, and musical lexicography. He actively studied Russian folk music and applauded the composers, who included it into their works. The move was considered risky at the time, because any deviation from the exalted high-society musical style was considered to be base and profane. Odoyevsky’s papers on Russian church music, musical adaptations, and the role of acoustics in musical performance remain required reading for music professionals to this day. In collaboration with the music master Kampe, Odoyevsky designed and built a key instrument, which was a crossover between a clavichord and a piano, but had a keyboard modified to better suit the harmonics of Russian folk and church music.

As intrepid in his political activities, as he was in everything else, Odoyevsky became the founder of orphanages and public schools in St. Petersburg, as well as of a free children’s hospital and an educational society for the adult working poor. Odoyevsky died in Moscow in 1869, leaving behind no heirs and no large estate. His wife, Olga Stepanovna, turned in her husband’s only treasures – his book collection, his musical records and his clavichord – to the Imperial Public Library and to the Moscow Conservatory.

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