From Russia to Love: The Life and Music of Viktoria Mullova [book review]

Written by: Mike Langhorne

From Russia to Love

The Life and Music of Viktoria Mullova

As told to Eva Maria Chapman

ISBN 978-1-84954-191-6

The Robson Press

Most people who know of the violinist Viktoria Mullova may be aware of the bare bones of her astonishing life; her early success in the Soviet Union as the winner of prestigious competitions; her defection to the West and her even greater success then as an in-demand musician; her various amours and the resultant children; and working with her husband cellist Matthew Barley in the peasant and gypsy music that reflect her origins in Russia.

Eva Maria Chapman who is a close friend of Mullova and has common ancestry has fleshed out this amazing tale with first-hand access to the violinist, family, husband, and others who have had a profound influence on her life. She covers Mullova’s genesis (and that of her parents) with considerable vividness, depicting humble beginnings, life under the Soviet regime, her first glimmerings of interest in music and her subsequent study of the violin under a number of teachers including Leonid Kogan, a Soviet apparatchik, to whom she did not take to at all.

Chapman depicts the numbing awfulness of existence in the Soviet Union with first-hand accounts from those who lived through these times and explains how Mullova’s increasing dissatisfaction with her life led to her defection. Her escape, with co-defector and boyfriend, conductor Vakhtang Jordania, ably assisted by a Finnish journalist, is excitingly described. The passage through Finland, avoiding being returned to the Soviet Union if discovered, and the slipping over the border to the safety of Sweden to claim political asylum at the US Embassy, is vividly told. Unfortunately the day they arrived, the Embassy was closed for Independence Day celebrations. A terrifying weekend was spent holed-up in a hotel, knowing that the western press and the KGB were scouring Stockholm for them. I imagine the symbolism of leaving behind her State-owned Stradivarius on the bed in the Kuusamo (Finland) hotel was not lost on Mullova.

We then turn to Mullova’s life in the West – her initial bewilderment and later dissatisfaction with American lifestyle and then being based in Western Europe where she blossomed with a Philips recording contract and prestigious concert engagements are well covered. Equally candid in the telling is Mullova’s romance with Claudio Abbado and the subsequent birth of a child – which ended the relationship – and her later attachment to violinist Alan Brind, producing another newborn, and her burgeoning relationship with now-husband Matthew Barley.

Mullova’s tumultuous love-life and relationships with her family form a significant part of the book, which Chapman explores with considerable detail (if with a few typos). Indeed this publication is something of a hagiography with little in the way of objective criticism and much made of Mullova’s capacity for love – not only for the men in her life, but also for her parents and (three) children.

The tome’s final part reports her move away from the glamorous concert circuit to her interest in making and recording music with friends that explores her peasant birth. Regrettably, the book is without a Mullova discography.

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