IZ 50 let russkoi muzyki v moikh vospominaniiakh
FROM Recollections from Fifty Years of Russian Music
Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov (1859-1935) was a composer and a conductor. After 1893 he was a professor at the Moscow Conservatory, and after 1905, Director. He did not know Musorgsky very well. His notes are more of a “second-hand, third-hand” nature.
. . .
V[ladimir] V[asilievich] Stasov was the center as the trustee of Glinka’s behests and the source of Balakirev’s inspiration. He was art’s brightly burning luminary, not only in music but also in painting and sculpture. Great artists accepted him as a true voice of art. Stasov has given a very accurate characterization of the “Mighty Handful”; he said Balakirev was the most inspired; Cui, the most graceful; Rimsky-Korsakov, the most learned; Borodin, the most profound; and Musorgsky the most talented.
During my last year at the conservatory the “Mighty Handful” totally dispersed. The young eaglets had grown up and left the nest for a glorious flight. Rimsky-Korsakov, who had already composed Sadko, Antar, “Serbskaia Fantaziia” [Serbian fantasy], and the operas The Maid of Pskov and May Night, was working on Snegurochka [Snow maiden]. Musorgsky had written Boris and was in the process of writing Khovanshchina. Borodin had finished the musical picture V srednei Azii [On the steppes of Central Asia], two symphonies, and was working on Prince Igor. Cui had written three operas: The Prisoner of the Caucasus, Ratcliff and Angelo. A star of first magnitude, A[leksandr] K[onstantinovich] Glazunov,1 had just appeared on the horizon. The musical gatherings at Balakirev’s had moved on to the Rimskys’ and to the Borodins’, and occasionally to the Stasovs’. Musorgsky came to these evenings once in a while, but only for a short time. He was frequently ill and rarely seen anywhere but at the restaurant Malyi Iaroslavets. The constant visitors at these gatherings were Liadov, Glazunov, F[eliks] Blumenfeld, Borodin, Stasov, the Molas and Il’inskii families, and V. M. Zarudnaia, a student from the Everardi Conservatory, a soprano with a beguiling timbre of voice. She had been the first one asked to sing the roles of The Snow Maiden, of Iaroslavna, and even Hanna in May Night. The male roles always went to V[ladimir] N[ikanorovich] Il’inskii. He was an extremely musical young physician who had a pleasant, although not strong, baritone voice. He had been the first to perform the principal men’s roles of the operas by Korsakov, Borodin, Musorgsky, and Cui, as well as all the many other new songs to be sung at these gatherings. Il’inskii was a fanatically dedicated popularizer of Musorgsky’s works. He unfailingly performed them at the Solianyi Gorodok concerts, which were given for the benefit of the students. Musorgsky himself was always the accompanist. M[odest] P[etrovich] Musorgsky was an excellent pianist and an ideal accompanist. At that time he was the faithful traveling companion of the then-famous singer D[ar’ia] M[ikhailovna] Leonova in her concert tours. Everywhere they went he liked to force the audience to listen to excerpts from songs by Schumann and others to spite Leonova, who always wanted to leave the stage as quickly as possible. At all our gatherings, wherever they were held, before they were over, Zarudnaia and Il’inskii would sing Maria and William’s duet from the opera Ratcliff. This duet particularly enchanted us all.
I returned to Petersburg at the end of the summer of 1881. I had settled down for the winter, but I had to move out of my sister’s and find a room, somewhere near the Conservatory since it was difficult to make the walk from Ekaterinhoff to Teatral’naia Street twice a day. My sister agreed to my moving to the Il’inskiis’, at 109 Nevskii Prospect, where they took me in as if I were one of the family. Since at the time I was accompanying V[ladimir] N[ikanorovich] IPinskii in all his performances at the Korsakovs’, the Borodins’, and the Stasovs’, we soon became close friends. We studied for our finals together. He was graduating from the Medical Academy, and I was graduating from the Conservatory, so we would both often study until dawn. Sometimes, seeing our light, on his way back from a meeting, Borodin would stop by and have a cup of tea and talk about Prince Igor.
Musorgsky also visited the Il’inskiis often.2 He never stood on ceremony; if they were not home, he would sit down at the piano and improvise until they returned. The maid often complained to the master of the house: “He bangs away on it so! One day he’ll break it, and then I’ll be held responsible. And I’ll be told that I was not careful enough.” After his trip with Leonova to the Crimea, Musorgsky particularly liked to play “Buria na Chyornom more” [Storm on the Black Sea], a rather confusing work with a lot of thundering. V[ladimir] V[asilievich] Stasov jokingly tried to convince him to write a musical picture “Earthquake in Japan.” He said that one day, during D[ar’ia] M[ikhailovna] Leonova’s stay in Japan, the rickshaws were bringing her down a mountain, and since she was a hefty woman and they could not support her weight, they dropped her. As she fell down the mountain, she demolished an entire village and killed several hundred Japanese; the disaster later was attributed to an earthquake. Stasov found this an excellent joke, but Musorgsky disliked the sarcasm and kept a morose silence.
I met Modest Petrovich Musorgsky at the end of 1878, when it was not yet apparent that he was an alcoholic. His clothes, although not very smart, were clean, and he walked with his head held proudly; his distinctive haircut gave him a jaunty look. Later, when he began to degenerate rapidly, he still always appeared properly dressed in public. He would usually talk about himself and attack us—the younger generation. “You young people,” he said to me during a walk, “sitting in your conservatory only want to learn your cantus firmus and nothing else; do you think that the Zaremba formula, ‘the minor key is our original sin, but the major key is our redemption,’ or that ‘rest, movement, and rest again’ exhausts everything? No, my dear ones, I believe that if you want to sin, then go ahead and sin; if there is movement then there is no return to rest; one must go forward, destroying everything on his path.” While saying this he proudly shook his head. The last time I saw him before his illness was in the restaurant Malyi Iaroslavets, where Laroche, Glazunov,3 and I stopped by to see him. We found him totally erratic. He immediately lashed out at Rubinstein, Balakirev, and Rimsky-Korsakov for their erudition; and after repeating “one must create, one must create,” several times, he fell silent. . . . Then, looking up at me with sleepy eyes, he suddenly asked: “And how do you remove stains from a morning coat?” “I try not to make any stains, Modest Petrovich,” I answered. “Well, I use green soap,” he said, “it works wonders.” That was the end of our conversation. In the spring he fell ill with delirium tremens; Stasov and Borodin were able to get him a bed, as a retired military man, in the Nikolaev Military Hospital. He was very weak, but he talked in a perfectly rational way, recalling his performances with Il’inskii. At times he would have violent fits of delirium which left him totally exhausted. On the eve of his death he felt very well, and I[l’ia] E[fimovich] Repin had time to color the sketch of his famous portrait. But that was the last spark of a mind that was dying out; during the night of March 16 he died of a heart rupture. All the lovers of Russian art gathered at his funeral. F[eliks] M[ikhailovich] Blumenfeld and I carried the wreath sent by the Conservatory; how ironic that it was from an institution which never acknowledged him.
At the end of 1881 the Theatrical Directors resumed Boris Godunov.4 M[ilii] A[lekseevich] Balakirev got tickets and invited the Rimskys, Borodin, the Il’inskiis, the Stasovs and me. It was with inexpressible sadness that we gathered in the box. During the performance I noticed several times that A[leksandr] P[orfirievich] Borodin brushed away a tear; overwhelmed with emotion and unable to listen to the scene of Boris’s death, he left the box. Everyone was deeply distressed and felt the drama in the life of this great Russian musician.