IZ Khudozhestvennogo tvorchestva
FROM Artistic Creations
Ivan Lapshin (1870-1952) was a professor of philosophy at Petersburg University and, after 1923, at Prague University.
. . .
Musorgsky was an outstanding pianist. C[esar] A[ntonovich] Cui told me that, in his opinion, Musorgsky was so gifted that if he had cultivated this talent, he would have rivaled even Anton Rubinstein.
As is known, in 1879 Musorgsky and the singer Leonova made a concert tour of southern Russia. He appeared on stage as an accompanist and a soloist. His talent as accompanist was highly appreciated by the public everywhere, and he was given curtain calls of his own, separate from the singer, because of his amazing renditions of the piano part of, for example, “Lesnoi Tsar’ ” [The forest king] by Schubert.
Musorgsky acquired his fateful taste for alcohol in his youth, and it grew stronger in the seventies. Professor S. V. Rozhdestvenskii1 told me the following:
In 1880 my parents and I were living in Leonova’s dacha in Oranienbaum. I was eleven years old. I saw M[odest] P(etrovich] Musorgsky in the garden and in the park every day. He looked remarkably like his famous portrait painted by Repin. His suit always looked somewhat shabby; later Mr. Druri2 told me that he had often acquired second-hand clothes for the unfortunate composer. . . . Once a week at Leonova’s there was a reception followed by a dinner. Usually “Musin’ka” was in charge of the dinner. From the room in the rear one could hear the clatter of dishes and the uncorking of bottles. Each time Musorgsky came out, he was more and more “in his cups.” After dinner the concert would begin. Musorgsky played the piano (by now quite “ready”) as accompanist and soloist. He performed his own works with amazing perfection, producing a “shattering effect” on the listeners. This is confirmed by A. A. Vrubel’, who often heard Musorgsky at F. M. Valuev’s, where he performed “Blokha” [The flea] with diabolical force, and according to her, “he performed even better than Shaliapin.”3 At that time Musorgsky was suffering from the frightening hallucinations often observed in alcoholics; this was also noted by D[ar’ia] M[ikhailovna] Leonova in her recollections (see Istoricheskii vestnik [Historical herald], 1891). Cui told me that he gave Musorgsky the robe he wears in Repin’s portrait.
Musorgsky loved what the British call “practical jokes,”* even when he was the victim. In his youth, according to Professor S. Ia. Tereshin (a close friend of one of the composer’s most intimate friends, Nikolai Konstantinovich Larin4), one winter morning Larin, Musorgsky, and two other friends were returning home in a carriage from a musical evening. It was already four in the morning. On the way Musorgsky and Larin had been having quite a row. Suddenly Larin stopped the carriage, walked over to the Semyonov Parade Ground, which they were passing, and, raising his arm in a solemn gesture, proclaimed before the empty square: “I publicly announce that Musorgsky is a scoundrel!” This unexpected “joke” cheered Musorgsky up so much that his anger instantly vanished.
Ia[kov] P[etrovich] Polonskii,5 who knew Musorgsky well and who, along with his wife, had gone to visit the great composer when he was ill, told me that he had heard Musorgsky’s rendition of a piano piece which reproduces the emotional state of a dying political prisoner in the Peter and Paul Fortress, while in the background, out of tune, chimes the hymn “Kol’ slaven”6[How glorious is our Lord in Zion].
The famous archeologist V[asilii] G[rigorievich] Druzhinin kindly informed me that a few days after Dostoevsky’s death (January 28, 1881) at a literary gathering devoted to his memory,** when they brought in the portrait of Dostoevsky framed in black crepe, Musorgsky sat down at the piano and improvised a funeral knell, similar to that heard in the last scene of Boris.† This was the next to the last public appearance by Musorgsky, and his musical improvisation was his farewell, not only to the deceased poet of “the humiliated and the insulted,” but also to all the living.7
* In English in the original text.—Trans.
** On this evening Grigorievich read “Mal’chik 11 Khrista na yolke” [A boy at Christ’s for Christmas]. The program for the evening was announced on February 4. On February 9 Musorgsky again performed as an accompanist.
† Musorgsky had the ability to compose “in the presence of other people.” Thus, he composed Marina’s monologue while visiting the Stasovs and the Rimsky-Korsakovs. All evening long he repeatedly went over to the piano and played passages and, in the presence of his friends, gradually composed the entire monologue. N[adezhda] N[ikolaevna] obligingly provided me with this information.