Moyo znakomstvo s Musorgskim
My Acquaintance with Musorgsky
Nadezhda Rimskaia-Korsakova, née Purgold (1848-1919), a pianist and a composer, was the wife of N. Rimsky-Korsakov. Her recollections are true, but they tend to disparage Musorgsky.
. . .
I was introduced to Musorgsky at Dargomyzhsky’s. At the time Dargomyzhsky was in the fervor of creative inspiration, writing with amazing celerity the scenes in The Stone Guest. He created the scenes one after the other, as if they had been written already and he suddenly started to throw them at us, out of a hat, as would a magician. The second scene had just been completed. My sister A[leksandra] N[ikolaevna] was studying Laura’s part, and I accompanied her. Dargomyzhsky set the day for the rehearsal and told us that Don Juan’s part would be sung by Musorgsky—a composer and a singer. At the time, neither my sister nor I had met him, nor did we know anything about him.
On the appointed day, at the given hour,1 we were at Dargomyzhsky’s, curious to meet him and excited about performing Laura’s difficult scene in front of so knowledgeable an audience.
Musorgsky had such an original personality that having met him once, it was impossible to forget him. I shall start by describing his appearance. He was of medium height, well proportioned; his hands were elegant; his hair wavy and nicely shaped; his light-grey eyes somewhat protruding and rather big. However, his face was very unattractive, especially the nose, which was always reddish blue because it had been frostbitten at a parade, according to the explanation given by Musorgsky. Musorgsky’s eyes were not at all expressive: one would say that they were almost like cassiterite.2 In general, his face was languid and unexpressive, as if it were hiding some sort of enigma. While conversing Musorgsky never raised his voice: on the contrary, he would lower his speech almost to a whisper.* But his manners were polished and aristocratic. It was obvious that this was a man of the world with a good education.
Musorgsky’s personality impressed both my sister and me. No wonder: he was so interesting, so original, talented, and mysterious. We were carried away by his singing. He had a pleasant although not powerful baritone voice, but it was very expressive. His subtle understanding of all the nuances of the soul coupled with his artlessness, sincerity, and total lack of affectation or exaggeration—all had a charming effect. Afterwards, I realized how versatile he was as a performer; he played lyrical, dramatic, comic, and humorous pieces equally well. Moreover, he was an excellent pianist: his playing had brilliance, force, enthusiasm, and stylishness combined with humor. He could sing such pieces as “Rayok” [Peepshow], “Ozornik” [The mischievous one], “Kozyol” [The he-goat], “Klassik” [The classicist], and others with inimitable humor. On the other hand, his renditions of the parts of Ivan the Terrible and Tsar Boris were profound and performed with great dramatic effect.3
Musorgsky was an enemy of the routine or the prosaic not only in music but in all aspects of life, even in minor details. Simple, ordinary words repelled him. He even contrived to change and mangle surnames. His letters were unusually original and piquant; the wittiness, humor, and accuracy of his adjectives caused sparks. But toward the end of his life, this originality became artificial; it is particularly noticeable in his letters to V[ladimir] V[asilievich] Stasov. Incidentally, this artificiality and pretentiousness were manifest not only in his letters but in his whole manner.4
Moi vospominaniia o A[leksandr] S [ergeeviche] Dargomyzhskom
My Reminiscences of A[leksandr] S[ergeevich] Dargomyzhsky
The music for The Stone Guest evolved at incredible speed before our very eyes.
We waited impatiently for each new page, and immediately performed them at A[leksandr] S[ergeevich]’s. He would go over the part with my sister while I accompanied them at the piano. . . . In addition to the three of us, there was Musorgsky, who sang the parts of Leporello and Don Juan incomparably, and General Veliaminov, who conscientiously performed the parts of the monk, the commodore, and the “foolish guest,” as Dargomyzhsky called him.
That surge of creativity which overwhelmed Dargomyzhsky while writing The Stone Guest came to influence his whole character. He warmed up to the musicians around him and began to show a greater interest in their compositions. This was most apparent in his relation with Musorgsky, with whose work he had such an affinity. I remember how Musorgsky showed Dargomyzhsky the first song from Detskaia [The nursery] at our home. This was “Rasskazhi mne naniushka” [Tell me, dear Nanny]; after listening to the piece, A[leksandr] S[ergeevich] Dargomyzhsky said: “Well, that has outdone me.” And in regard to the two scenes from Boris—the first scene with all the people and the scene in the inn—Dargomyzhsky said: “Musorgsky is going further than I am.” When we performed Zheni’ba [The marriage] in our home, A[leksandr] S[ergeevich] sang Kochkaryov’s part and laughed himself to tears, marveling at the wit and the expressiveness of its music. When Kochkaryov says: “Ekspeditorchenki, etakie kanal’chenki” [the little filing clerks, such little rascals], A[leksandr] S[ergeevich] would always go amiss; he would laugh so hard, he could not keep singing, and he would tell me: “You are playing some sort of symphony here. You are interfering with my singing” (in the accompaniment in that passage, Musorgsky had amusing musical flourishes).
Zapisano so slov N [adezhdy] Rimskoi-Korsakovoi
Vasilii Iastrebtsev Reports N[adezhda] Rimskaia-
Pliaski Persidok [The Persian dance]5 was already in the program, but there was still no trace of its score. What was one to do? Musorgsky did not have time to write it. Nikolai Andreevich, without further delay, decided to orchestrate this number himself. The piece was a great success at the concert.6 Musorgsky took many curtain calls; he was extremely happy, and coming back behind the stage, he repeated more than once, with a plain childish naivete that he himself wanted to orchestrate the piece “exactly” the way Korsakov had done it; that he was utterly amazed at Rimsky’s clairvoyance of his own intentions. But Musorgsky had not even seen the changes in the harmonics that Nikolai Andreevich had made in the orchestration.7
* vividly recall how he talked, as if he were murmuring to himself under his breath some sort of witty or piquant sally. I remember how, deliberately and laughing softly, he would abuse one of his friends when it was obvious that he was praising him.