Ackert, From the Thermodynamics of Life
to Ecological Microbiology: Sergei Vinogradskii
and the 'Cycle of Life', 1850-1950 (Ph.D.
Thesis, Johns Hopkins University, 2004)
Law to Music
In my Ph.D. Thesis, I discuss present a biography
of the Russian micro-biologist Sergei Vinogradskii
(Winogradsky) to show how the holistic concept
of a "cycle of life" moves from 19th
century plant physiology and organic chemistry
into 20the century ecology. Vinogradskii came
to science only after trying two other careers.
He first followed "the beaten path,"
and joined his brother at the juridical department.
Unlike his brother, who "immediately felt
a lively interest in encyclopedic or governmental
law," Vinogradskii experienced "a
deadly boredom" from his very first law
lecture. Ignoring his family's protests, he
applied to the St. Petersburg Conservatory,
where he studied with Theodor Leschetizky whose
"modern" methods of piano instruction
were attracting students from around the world.
For Vinogradskii "everything else paled,
and lost its fragrance;" his new goal in
life became "making himself into a musical
artist - a virtuoso." For the first time
in his life he felt in control and independent;
"no one held him back ... no one subjected
him to criticism."
"From Music to Science"
new, exciting life in music, he would soon learn,
had its tedious side. He attended lectures and
took his exams, but without any "vital
spirit." The initial pleasure of his decision,
like everything else, soon waned. Self-criticism
shadowed him during his "very ordinary
beginning" in musical work. Increasingly,
though, Leschetizky's dynamic personality and
the novelty of his methods reinvigorated Vinogradskii's
genuine interest in the piano. Not even the
masterful Leschetizky could mold a genius from
Vinogradskii's mundane clay. During annual evaluations
the Conservatory recognized that although Vinogradskii
had talent, "it was the talent of a Salieri,
a long way from that of a Mozart."
Vinogradskii worked zealously, he later recalled,
but "without that fire of the unconscious
or subconscious inspiration that characterizes
genuine artistic natures." The decision
to leave the Conservatory, whether forced by
its "authorities" or initiated himself,
was for Vinogradskii the only possible recourse.
In the fall, he matriculated at St. Petersburg