Aleksandra Demidova (1860-1949) was a schoolteacher. A soprano, she was Leonova and Musorgsky’s student.
. . .
I went to the address where the courses were offered. I found the apartment near Sennaia, near the Kokushkin Bridge, on the Kriukov Canal. I went up a rather modest staircase to the third floor and entered a small anteroom. I was greeted by a stout Russian beauty, who affably informed me that it was indeed here that a music school had been instituted. . . . She loudly called “Modest Petrovich,” and from the adjoining room a middle-aged man entered. He was of medium height and rather uncomely looks, with wavy hair. He was dressed in a frayed frock coat. He rather sternly invited me to approach the piano.
I was asked where and with whom I had studied, and when I answered, he showed his annoyance: “I am absolutely uninterested in all this Italian stuff!” He picked a music book, and opening it at random, began to play Schubert’s introduction to “Zhaloba Devushki” [The maiden’s complaint]. I was astonished. . . . I had never dreamed that an accompaniment could so clearly recreate scenes from nature. I suddenly felt that I could really see the rocks, the forest, and the weeping maiden. . . .
After the Schubert I sang some other songs, and when I finished, Musorgsky jumped up, and in a totally different voice said, “But this is Bosio!” (a famous Italian singer). “That’s what we need! Dar’ia Mikhailovna!” Modest Petrovich called. “Come here! This is exactly what we need.”
Leonova came in, and the three of us began talking about my studies. Modest Petrovich brightened up and became almost an entirely different person; he was excited and declared immediately that we could now begin studying real Russian music, and that with this new asset we would be able to form a student quartet. . . . It was suggested that we study A Life for the Tsar, Ruslan and Ludmila, and Rusalka; but all of this was to be in the future; for now, we were to study the songs of Glinka and Dargomyzhsky.
Musorgsky was frequently taken ill. . . . During the lessons, in the adjoining dining room his refreshment was usually at hand: a plate of mushrooms and a small glass. Dar’ia Mikhailovna bemoaned the fact that he resorted to it all too often and that he was obviously getting worse. . . .
The then famous Government Comptroller Tertii Ivanovich Filippov worried a great deal about Modest Petrovich; he tried to help him as much as he could, but he was unable to change anything at this late date.
[During that season] Dar’ia Mikhailovna’s Saturdays guests often listened to us students, since they were interested in our progress. Thus, for instance, Rimsky-Korsakov praised me for my high “do” in the trio “ne tomi, rodimyi!” [Don’t torment me, darling!]. . . . Leonova sang the aria from Khovanshchina straight from the manuscript. Donskoi, a talented student, sang Vladimir’s “Medlenno den’ ugasal” [The day was slowly dying away], from Prince Igor.
Often good things were said about us, the students of Leonova and Musorgsky, and we were invited to private concerts.
At Leonova’s evenings Musorgsky was her faithful accompanist. From his works Leonova performed the ballad “Zabytyi” [Forgotten]. Carried away by his own accompaniment, Musorgsky often digressed and improvised such modulations and chords that we students were astonished and ravished; and Leonova performed the melodies which streamed from his hands with amazing subtleness.
Modest Petrovich had time to translate Agatha’s aria for me, from “Volshebnyi strelok” [The magic archer] by Weber.1 He was irritated by the existing poor Russian translation, and he reworked it in his own way.
[The students were not allowed to visit Musorgsky in the hospital so they received news of his condition from Leonova.]
[March 18] A sullen day in March. . . . A wet snow was falling. His students and an enormous crowd of fellow artists carried our friend and teacher to his eternal place. . . . 2 There was a huge wreath from all of us students. Orphaned now, we returned to Dar’ia Mikhailovna’s. She was grieving deeply; we tried to console her to the best of our abilities, expressing the hope that everything we had learned from Modest Petrovich would not be lost to Russian music but that we would sacredly preserve it.