Being a music theory student, the numerous musical allusions in Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita immediately struck me as I read the novel for class. But what I learned from the WR program was to pursue these personal connections through scholarly research, filling them out into an informed but original thesis. The varied references throughout the novel to both individual composers and general musical forms became keyword “launch pads” into the history and analysis of the western musical canon: I dug through crisp, never-broken spines and dusty scores trying to find the connection between Schubert, Berlioz, Stravinsky, Strauss, and the raucous jazz scenes. Through class-given drafting deadlines, including initial brainstorming, detailed outlines, and multiple rough drafts, I was able to carve down the scope of my paper into a strong, unified commentary on Bulgakov’s extraordinary novel.
After completing the paper for class, I continued my research into the composers at the center of my analysis. Hector Berlioz, as noted in my paper, was a prominent member of the French musical elite, entrenched through international criticism, instruction, and royally commissioned pieces. But interestingly, though Bulgakov uses him as a metaphor for artistic corruption, I discovered Berlioz personally resembled the “tortured Romantic artist” more prominently associated (in the novel) with Schubert. His musical philosophy was fervently expressionist, and he suffered critical misunderstanding in response to some of his most passionate works. Perhaps this further reflects the mobile roles of Bulgakov’s musical allusions or could reveal another layer to his metaphors. I must concede, however, that Berlioz was not as clearly defined a member of the musical establishment Bulgakov spurns as my primary research concluded. I thoroughly enjoyed researching, writing, and editing for this paper. I hope it sparks further conversation about one of my favorite novels.
JOHN PATRICK COLLINS is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, majoring in music and English with a minor in psychology. He is from Northwest Washington, D.C. This essay was written for Maria Gapotchenko’s course, WR 150: Russian Literary Masterpieces.