Founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 as a “window to Europe,” it served as the capital of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years (the capital was moved to Moscow after the Russian Revolution of 1917). With about 4.7 million inhabitants (2002), today Saint Petersburg is Russia’s second-largest city, Europe’s fourth largest city, a major European cultural center, and the most important Russian port on the Baltic.
St. Petersburg has always been known for its high-quality cultural life. Among the city’s more than forty theaters is the world-famous Kirov Theater (known now by its pre-revolution name of Mariinsky Theater), home to the Kirov Ballet company and first-class ballet and opera. The St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra is one of the best in Russia.
The Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who was born in St. Petersburg, dedicated his Seventh Symphony to the city, calling it the “Leningrad Symphony.” He wrote the symphony during the German siege of the city in 1941.
St. Petersburg has also been home to the newest movements in modern music. For example, in 1972 mathematics student Boris Grebenshchikov founded the band Aquarium, an underground rock group that grew to huge popularity in the 70s and 80s. St. Petersburg was similarly home to Kino, headed by the legendary Viktor Tsoi.
Today’s St. Petersburg boasts many pioneering musicians, from Leningrad’s Sergei Shnurov to the group Tequilajazzz.
It was said that St. Petersburg was the head of the Russian Empire, whereas Moscow was its heart. “The most purposeful city in the world” (as Dostoyevsky referred to it) frequently appeared to Russian writers as a menacing and unhuman mechanism. The grotesque and often nightmarish image of the city is featured in Pushkin’s last poems, the Petersburg stories of Gogol, the novels of Dostoyevsky, the verse of Alexander Blok and Osip Mandelshtam, and in the symbolist novel Petersburg (by Andrey Bely).
Before I leave Mother Earth for good, I will visit the St. Petersburg countryside, and I’ll search for a lonely embankment. I’ll lean over the rusted, leaning railing, say a silent prayer, and take the ultimate plunge into the River Neva, all the while dreaming of the mothers of my aborted children. I’ll see my sons, (Enoch and Irad, respectively), on the other side, where I will atone for my transgressions.