Wednesday Music: Bach’s Concerto For Two Violins

I wasn’t sure what piece to post about today, but then I remembered the good old Bach double. It was stuck in my head earlier this week, which is completely random, as I hadn’t listened to it or played it in years. Here’s a bit about it, the Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, BWV 1043 by Johann Sebastian Bach.

  • Bach probably wrote this concerto in 1717. I say probably because there seems to be a question of whether the 1717 date is truly accurate or not. Some people say he composed it later than 1717.
  • The concerto is scored for two solo violins, continuo, and strings. It follows the typical Baroque pattern of three movements in the order of fast-slow-fast.
  • This concerto was influence by Vivaldi’s work, as were many of Bach’s compositions.

When I played this with my violin teacher, I played the second solo part, which means I was the first to start playing. It’s a very fun piece to play.


Or click here to see on YouTube.

A Documentary About Pyotr Wrangel

I watched a fascinating documentary this weekend. Unfortunately, it’s in Russian, so if you don’t speak Russian, this post may not be all that useful, as neither video has English subtitles.

Anyway, the documentary aired on the channel Russia-24, which was once banned in Ukraine for being too pro-Russian. (I don’t know if it’s still banned.) I’ve embedded both videos below.

Wrangel in his uniform. From here
Wrangel in his uniform. From here

Baron Pyotr Nikolaevich Wrangel was a Russian general who fought on the side of the Whites during the Russian Civil War. His ancestry was Baltic German, hence the non-Russian last name. After suffering great defeat at the hands of the Reds (the Bolsheviks), he then escaped the country and went into exile and worked with other White emigres to form a group called the Russian All-Military Union that was meant to unite White Russians living abroad. This organization was active for many years, and depending on who you ask, may still exist. Since I love anything and everything to do with the Whites during the Civil War, I really enjoyed this documentary.

I haven’t really been watching many Russian-language videos recently, so it was nice to take some time to watch this documentary. I’m trying to get back in the habit of watching Russian documentaries since it’s a really fun way to keep up passive understanding of the language.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Book Binging

The title of this post was surprisingly difficult to decide on because I wasn’t sure if the word was spelled binging or bingeing. Merriam Webster online says both are correct, so I just went with my first choice.

I’ve been reading nonstop this weekend. I have discovered the wonders of OverDrive, a service/app/company that lets you check out ebooks from the library. It is truly a wonderful thing because I can browse the catalog online and check out books instantly, which is awesome. Obviously the print book collection is way larger and I don’t think I’ll ever stop reading print books, but when you just want to stay inside on a rainy day, downloading ebooks can be very satisfying.

I am taking a reading break now (shocking, I know) and am going to write a post for this Wednesday since I skipped Wednesday Music last week…

Maybe I Should Be A Language Blogger After All…

I used to blog about languages more than I do now and I’m starting to think I should return to language blogging again. I’ve been getting quite a few hits this past week or so from an iTalki article. Yes, an article from the popular language learning website iTalki linked to this blog! The article has some good advice if you’re a language learner, so you should go check it out. Then go check out my post that it links to. It’s an old one from 2013, but still relevant, I think!

How Many Summers, How Many Winters!

Hello, comrades! The title of this post is the literal translation of the Russian equivalent of the expression in English “Long time no see.” The expression is Сколько лет, сколько зим [skolko let, skolko zim] and I’ve always liked it. Luckily it’s a bit of an exaggeration in this case, as the season hasn’t changed since the last time I blogged. (It has been almost three weeks, which is sort of embarrassing!)

Anyway, three weeks ago I took a short vacation, then I checked out a bunch of books from the library and have been reading a lot. What else is new, right?! I even started to neglect my own writing because I was reading so much, which is a problem I’ve had before. I started to not miss my blog so much and I even considered not blogging again. (Though I would have come back to say goodbye if I’d made the decision to quit.)

I think part of the problem is blogging hasn’t been fun for me recently because I haven’t been writing what I want to write. I know I’ve changed my blogging focus a lot since I first started this blog four five years ago. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, though, because people change. Their interests evolve. Heck, many blogs aren’t even in existence after five years. I guess it’s a good thing I’m still writing after all this time.

Ultimately, I was sad at the prospect of quitting blogging, so I think I’m going to keep it up. I’m going to worry less about what I post, though. I know I have an audience (and I love my readers!) to consider, but this is a personal blog and I want to have fun writing it.:) For example, I stopped posting my writing reports because I was worried they were too boring. I liked writing them, though, and I liked publicly committing to and talking about my fiction writing, so I think I’m going to bring those back. I also like writing about Russian literature, culture, and history, so I want to do more posts of that nature, too.

Anyway, I’m back. Or as we’d say in Russian, я вернулась [ya vernulas]. And I promise if I do decide to quit blogging, I will make a final post informing you of the decision. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s kind of sad when people abandon their blogs and don’t say why.

Wednesday Music: Vivaldi’s Concerto For Two Cellos in G Minor

Earlier this week, I discovered a really random piece I hadn’t heard of: Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for two Cellos in G Minor, RV 531. I’m always happy to discover pieces I haven’t heard of, so I thought I’d share it this week. Here’s a bit about it.

  • This piece is the only double cello concerto Vivaldi wrote. Honestly, I’ve never heard of a double cello concerto before, so that doesn’t surprise me too much!
  • No one knows when it was completed. It was probably finished before 1743 and most likely around 1720.
  • Like a lot of his concertos, it was probably written for a girls’ orchestra in Venice that he was associated with for much of his life.


Or click here to see on YouTube.

Book Review: The Billion Dollar Spy

The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and BetrayalThe Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal by David E. Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a really fantastic book that tells the story of Adolf Tolkachev, a Soviet engineer who spied for the CIA and gave the United States hundreds, maybe even thousands, of technical documents pertaining to Soviet radar, military planes, weapons, and much more.

The book briefly traces the history of the CIA in Eastern Europe. At the start of the Cold War, it was very hard to recruit and run agents within the Soviet Union itself. Most of the assets spying on our behalf were doing so outside of the Soviet Union and were diplomats or intelligence officers working abroad. Eventually, this changed, and the CIA was able to recruit in Moscow itself. There was a setback during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, as the director of the CIA during this time placed more importance intelligence gained through technical means as opposed to intelligence from actual humans.

This was the environment in which Tolkachev approached the CIA. It took the poor man about a year to get the CIA to actually respond to his overtures for contact—but once they did, he produced an impressive amount of material. Originally, he hand-wrote valuable intelligence, either from what he’d seen over his career as an engineer or from documents he memorized, but the CIA quickly realized this wasn’t feasible long-term, so they supplied him with miniature cameras to photograph documents.

It wasn’t easy and he ran the risk of being caught many times, especially when he took documents home to photograph them. At one point, his wife discovered his spying and told him to stop, not because she liked the Soviet Union but because she was worried about the potential consequences for their family. In fact, Tolkachev’s hatred of the KGB and the Soviet Union stemmed from Natasha, his wife. Her family was murdered in Stalin’s purges in the 1930s and she was briefly reunited with her father when she was eighteen. He was released from a labor camp in poor health and told her everything: how Natasha’s mother Sofia was arrested and shot because she dared go visit family living in Denmark, a capitalist country, and how he refused to turn against Sofia, which led to his long sentence in the labor camp.

Tolkachev spied for many years, asking for payment in an escrow account he would have access to upon defecting, and also asked for everyday items that were hard to come by in 1970s and 1980s Moscow, including Western music for his son Oleg.

Unfortunately, despite the CIA and Tolkachev’s efforts to evade KGB surveillance in Moscow, Tolkachev was arrested, tried, and executed. His capture was the result of an internal betrayal; both Edward Lee Howard, a disgraced former CIA trainee, and Aldrich Ames helped the KGB identify him. He was executed in 1986. His intelligence helped the United States well into the 1990s: thanks to him, the United States was able to fight Iraqi pilots during Desert Storm since the Iraqis flew Soviet aircraft. Hoffman also emphasizes that the Tolkachev case shows how valuable human intelligence is, as there was no way to have acquired all this intelligence without having a source like Tolkachev.

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