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The poet Boris Kornilov

Maternal grand-father 











Boris Kornilov (1907-1938) is a Soviet poet, who is very well known in his native Russia. 


Born on July 29, 1907 in Pokrovskoe, a village in the region of Nizhny Novgorod, to a family of countryside teachers, he grew up in the heart of Russia. His childhood was marked by war and then by revolution. He developed a passion for poetry very early after finding a book of Alexander Pushkin at home. Gifted with a remarkable poetic sense, he began to write at a young age. 


This passion was so devouring that it prevented him from completing his schooling. In 1922, the young poet arrived at Semenovo, a small village not far from his native Pokrovskoe. In 1925, at the age of 18, he left for Leningrad, the poetry capital of Soviet Russia, with the intention of showing his poems to the poet Sergei Yesenin. Yesenin, however, took his own life before the two were able to meet. Kornilov’s poetry, both playful and spontaneous, immediately attracted attention. 


Young poet in Leningrad 


Boris Kornilov joined the Smena group. In 1926, he met the poet Olga Bergholz with whom he had a daughter Irina. This first marriage did not last. He later became close to and married Lucia Bornstein. In Leningrad, he met the writer Mikhail Zoshchenko,

the playwright and director Vsevolod Meyerhold and his wife, the actress Zinaida Reich (who had been the wife of the poet Sergei Yesenin), as well as the poets Eduard Bagritsky, Osip Mandelstam and Valentin Stenich, musicologist Ivan Sollertinsky, and, finally, the composers Ivan Dzerzhinsky and Dmitri Shostakovich. 


In her notebooks, Lucia Bornstein recalled this period of their life: 


"They often went to lunch together at the Lenkublit, located on Nevsky Prospekt. It was a magnificent building which had been founded on the initiative of the Leningrad City Commission and whose aim was to improve writers’s living conditions. It was a club, a little apart, where all the actors of the literary circles of the city came to eat borscht and grilled rabbit. The most famous personalities frequented the club, beginning with the writer Alexei Tolstoy when he arrived from his estate. However, there were also young poets and students. The composers Andronikov, Shostakovich and Sollertinsky were often present; Dzerzhinsky and Bogoslavky were always there ... " 


Friendship with Shostakovich 


Dmitri Shostakovich and Boris Kornilov were almost the same age. United by their youth and passion, they were both interested in the new aesthetic. They also shared the same desire to build a new life and a new culture. These words, heavy with meaning, never had a declaratory scope for them; instead, they represented a dream and a constant aspiration. 

Together they collaborated in the preparation of the film “The Counterplan” (Vstrechni) which praises the merits and valor of workers seeking to exceed the quota of the five-year plan assigned by the Soviet government. This film featured the famous song "Pesnia o vstretchnom", whose text was written by Kornilov and whose music was composed by Shostakovich. The song would be adapted in French under the title "Au devant de la vie" (In Front of Life). 


Given their newly formed friendship, the poet and the composer dreamt of working together again. They developed a project for an opera inspired by Isaac Babel’s story “Salt” to be staged by the famous director Meyerhold. The work had just begun and Kornilov had finished writing the libretto when he was arrested in 1937. 














Lucia Bornstein and Boris Kornilov

Песня о встречном - "The Song of the Counterplan" 

Text by Boris Kornilov, music composed by Dmitri Shostakovich for the film "Vstretchny" (Counterplan), 1932.

"Tribute to the memory of Dmitry Shostakovich" 

Composition by Kirill Zaborov performed by Guigla Katsarava in concert at the Salle Cortot in April 2009. 

The tragic end

After the publication of a poem hostile to the campaign for the "liquidation of the kulaks,” Kornilov endured the onslaught of harsh criticism. In the mid-1930s, he went through an existential crisis and drank heavily. Initially attacked in the press, he was finally excluded from the Union of Writers in 1936. The same year, his seven-year-old daughter Irina passed away. 

He was arrested on March 19, 1937, before the birth of his second daughter, Irina. He was then shot on February 21, 1938 at the age of 30. In order to escape the repression that befell the wives of "enemies of the people," Lucia took refuge in Crimea, where she and her child were taken in by the painter Yakov Bassov, who later became her second husband. 

Boris Kornilov, everything about life, nothing about death. 

Russian documentary made in 2011 with the participation of Irina Bassova.

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