Despite his lack of proper schooling,
Aleksonder Eisenstein did have several advantages. The fact that his
family was forced to live outside of regular Russian society because
of their Jewish heritage was in some ways going to be an advantage
of him. He was brought up around the other Jewish communities in the
area, who met despite persecution and harassment.
From this, he became quite the polyglot. These meetings with the
other kinfolk in the community taught him a deep respect for Jewish
culture in the face of adversity. They also taught him Yiddish and
Hebrew; languages that were to serve him well in his later work with
the performing arts.
Far removed from the grand opera houses of Europe, Eisenstein picked
up on a number of the local folk dances. As removed from regular
Russian society as he was from the performance halls he would
someday have a hand in running, these folk dances were quickly
becoming one of the most important things in his life.
dances, his family, and his Jewish faith, Eisenstein had one other
major love. That love was a Zither that once belonged to his
namesake grandfather; an instrument that had allegedly traveled with
the Eisensteins since their days of venerable exile in Austria. As
difficult as it was, nothing pleased Aleksonder more than when he
was able to reach down over the strings of the harp-like instrument
and draw forth the sounds of beautiful music.
Sadly, no matter how much he developed his own musical prowess, he
was denied acceptance into any of the great music programs offered
by the private tutors of St. Petersburg. Even if he were to be much
closer to the wealth that he clearly lacked, he would have been
denied based on the grounds of racial prejudices.
Therefore, he sought the only career in the performing arts. At the
age of 16, Aleksonder Eisenstein joined a traveling circus. Touring
from 1867 until 1873, he did just as many odd jobs as actual
performances. In the circus, however, there was a ready market for
someone with a ready knowledge of folk music, and the fact that he
was young was quite a novelty. However, it did little to give him
any creditability as someone who loved grand music.
While he grew more and more distasteful of this fact, he continued
to show a willingness to work with anyone. By the time he left such
performances, he was already in his early 20s and able to begin to
truly make a name for himself if there was any venue to do so.
However, his next step would be as far from any form of the
performing arts as one might imagine.