Liudmila Shestakova, née Glinka (1816-1906) was a musical and public figure who did many things to perpetuate the memory of her brother, Mikhail Glinka. She was a friend of the Balakirev circle and diligently participated in it. Musorgsky treated her with a filial tenderness and thought very highly of her activities.
. . .
After the death of my little girl in 1863,1 I was unable to listen to music for a long time, although V[ladimir] V[asilievich] Stasov, more than once, invited me to his evenings; it was only in 1866 that I was able to bring myself to accept his invitation;2 it was precisely that evening that the circle I wish to talk about came into existence. Stasov had invited Dargomyzhsky and Balakirev, whom I had known for a long time, but there were also unknown faces: Cui, Musorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov. Balakirev introduced us. I invited Musorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov to my home, and they began to pay me visits, at first rather infrequently, but later on more and more often. They chose a day that was convenient for themselves and came along with Balakirev, who supervised their musical education.
Later, Dargomyzhsky, Stasov, Cui, and Borodin joined us. We would all get together twice a week, and once in a while three times a week. This lasted until 1870, the year Dargomyzhsky died,3 when there were some changes in the composition of the circle.
Modest Petrovich Musorgsky and Nikolai Andreevich Rimsky-Korsakov were very close friends; they would almost always come to my place a little earlier than the others, so that they would have time to talk about their new compositions. Now and then there were some amusing incidents. Korsakov would sit at the piano and perform what he had composed since he had last seen Musorgsky. Musorgsky would listen attentively and then make some remark. On hearing it, Korsakov would jump up and start pacing the room, while Musorgsky peacefully sat at the piano playing something. Then, having calmed down, Nikolai Andreevich would approach Modest Petrovich, listen more carefully to his remark, and often end up agreeing with him.
From 1866 to 1870, Dargomyzhsky was in the midst of composing The Stone Guest, and Balakirev was writing an overture and songs. Musorgsky gave us such songs as “Svetik Savishna” [Darling Savishna], among others, and he started to work on his opera Boris Godunov.4 Each of these new works met with our great enthusiasm.
These four years (1866-1869) were marked by ardent activity; total unanimity reigned in the circle, with work and life in full swing. The day was not long enough to perform what had been composed or fully discuss the music, so after leaving me, they would see each other home, taking their time, and parting reluctantly.
I used to retire rather early, at about ten thirty in the evening. I would fold up my work: Musorgsky would notice it and loudly announce that “the first warning has been given.” When, after a little while, I would get up to look at the clock, he would declare: “Second warning—we must not wait for the third one,” and he would say jokingly that finally they would be told “Get out of here, imbeciles.”* But often, seeing that they were so happy together, I would allow them to stay longer. I will not deny that these meetings were a great joy to me.
Early in 1870, Musorgsky gave the Directors his opera Boris Godunov;5 it had only three acts and roles only for men.
Soon after, there was a luncheon at Iu[liia] F[yodorovna] Platonova’s,6 on the occasion of her benefit performance. She asked me to come and added that on the morning of the luncheon, the fate of Musorgsky’s opera was going to be decided and that Napravnik and Kondratiev would be there.7 I went and waited for these men to arrive with great impatience. It is easy to understand why I met them with: “Is Boris accepted?” “No,” they answered. “Impossible! What kind of opera has no female roles! Surely Musorgsky is very talented, so let him add one scene, and Boris will be accepted.”
I knew that Musorgsky would not want to hear this news, and I did not want to tell him right away. I just wrote a note to him and V[ladimir] V[asilievich] Stasov, asking them to come around six o’clock in the evening. A deeply interested Stasov started to talk to Musorgsky about the inclusion of new parts in the opera, and Musorgsky himself began to play various motives, so the evening was very lively.8 Musorgsky began to work without delay.
At that time (May 1870),9 I[van] S[ergeevich] Turgenev was in Petersburg and had promised the Makovskiis that he would spend an evening with them. The Makovskiis, for some reason, decided to invite our musical circle for the evening. Everyone flatly declined the invitation. Elena Timofeevna was really angry and, with the help, naturally, of Konstantin Egorovich, drew in pastel a caricature of all the members of the circle, which she gave me as a gift; I later gave it to V[ladimir] V[asilievich] Stasov.10 In the caricature everybody was shown as an animal except V[ladimir] V[asilievich] Stasov; he was pictured as a peasant with a horn, leading all of them to the temple of glory visible in the distance.11 Musorgsky was a rooster, Cui a fox; Borodin was inside a retort, and Korsakov was a lobster; both Purgold sisters were also represented. The trouble was that the resemblance was too striking. I foresaw that there would be grudges and tried to convince Elena Timofeevna, when she brought me the picture, to include me also—as a chicken or some other bird or animal, whatever she wished to draw so that there would be no ill feelings. She refused to comply, saying: “I am mad at them, and not at you!” As expected, this brought trouble; but she was very pleased with her fancy. . . .
These meetings, [the musical gatherings at the house of Vladimir Purgold, who shared his home with his two nieces, Aleksandra and Nadezhda Purgold] did not last very long: in 1872, first with the marriage of the younger niece of V[ladimir] F[yodorovich]—Nadezhda Nikolaevna—the “circle’s orchestra,” as Musorgsky called her, and then with the marriage of the elder one—Aleksandra Nikolaevna, the singer—the evenings at the Purgolds’ came to an end.
During the 1872-1873 season, excerpts of Boris Godunov, newly revised by Musorgsky, were performed on stage: the [scene] “at the Inn” and the “Scene by the Fountain.”12 Almost simultaneously Pskovitianka [The maid of Pskov] by Rimsky-Korsakov was performed for the first time.13 Despite my poor health, I was extremely interested in learning what success these works would have, as well as the public’s reaction. My interest was quite natural: many of the works had been composed at my home. All of them had been played and sung there as well. My whole soul was impregnated with this music, and I was unable to go to sleep until I had heard news of the outcome of both performances. Later, when I was told that Boris had enthralled the public and that there was no end to the applause and ovations, but the The Maid of Pskov had been received with more reservation, I was surprised, since the performance of The Maid of Pskov at my house had been so beautiful! But I was told that it had less theatrical effect than Boris Godunov.
1873 to 1875
I must not fail to mention what happened to me when I heard Musorgsky’s “Sirotka” [The orphan] performed by Anna Iakovlevna (Petrova) for the first time. At first, I was thunderstruck; then I burst into such sobs that, for a long while, I was unable to calm down. After that Anna Iakovlevna sang Marfa’s aria from Khovanshchina by Musorgsky—and how she sang it! She also performed other works of his.
More than once Musorgsky and I went to Petrov’s dacha in Novaia Derevnia. Musorgsky would compose a vocal work, and come to me, perform it, and then he would say: “It should be shown to our Petrovs. ‘Grandfather’ (as he called Petrov) will sing it magnificently!”
I also remember how Osip Afanasievich performed Musorgsky’s songs “Seminarist” [The seminarian],14 “Trepak,” and others, as well as “Kapral” [The field marshal] by Dargomyzhsky.
Incidentally, it was not surprising that the Petrovs wanted to sing Musorgsky’s songs: Musorgsky had more talent than anybody else in the circle, and the Petrovs with their great gifts understood that. Besides, seeing his sincere affection for them, they liked him as if he were their own son.
I shall never forget those wonderful evenings when the Petrovs came to my house. The company which gathered was not a big one: Musorgsky, Borodin, and V[ladimir] V[asilievich] Stasov were my constant guests. Sometimes Stasov’s brother—Dmitrii Vasilievich, V[ladimir] V[asilievich] Nikol’skii, A[leksandra] N[ikolaevna] Molas, and A[lina] A[leksandrovna] Khvostova would also come, but nobody else.
Our dear A[leksandra] N[ikolaevna] Molas sang many songs by Musorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, and others. Then, Osip Afanasievich sang two or three pieces. But when Anna Nikolaevna approached the piano and decided with Musorgsky what she was going to sing, for he always accompanied her (as well as the others), then Osip Afanasievich would go to the dining room, sit at the table—the grand piano was visible from there—and, eating grapes, he would listen with delight to his wife’s singing. When Anna Iakovlevna was finished he would applaud, saying: “Young talents must be encouraged!”
On January 27, 1874 the entire opera Boris Godunov was performed for the first time. The theater was sold out. The artists, E[duard] F[rantsevich] Napravnik, and the orchestra—everybody loved Musorgsky, and they performed his opera with great zeal. I was in the wings in order to see Iu[liia] F[yodorovna] Platonova, at whose request the opera had been staged. I overheard how one high-ranking person rebuked her for having chosen such an ill-made work for a benefit performance.15 Yes, they needed something sickly sweet: some Italian rubbish! But a realistic Russian work was, in their opinion, a monstrosity! And these people dare to claim that they are Russians. . . . You do not have any concept of what it is to be Russian! For you, anything foreign is bound to be good!
[In the preparations for the fiftieth jubilee of O(sip) A(fanasievich) Petrov’s debut] Musorgsky was my faithful and diligent assistant. [The jubilee, held on April 21, 1876, in the Mariinskii Theater, featured Glinka’s opera Zhizn’ za tsaria (A life for the tsar), in which Petrov had permanently performed the role of Ivan Susanin.] Upon returning to his apartment from the jubilee, he was met by a band of trumpeters playing the polonaise from A Life for the Tsar. In addition to a brightly lit apartment, he found the entire staircase and all the rooms decorated with flowers, greens, and sparkling lights; and in one of the rooms there was a new, beautiful concert grand, which had been chosen by M[odest] P[etrovich] Musorgsky.
1876 to 1878
During these years, my evenings were as successful as before. The Petrovs, Musorgsky, Borodin, V[ladimir] V[asilievich] Stasov, Molas, and others would gather at my home. A perfect harmony reigned as usual. Not only I, but all those who came to these gatherings thought that they were unmatched. Some of the evenings went on until one or two o’clock in the morning. Other people also came—among them L[iubov] I[vanovna] Karmalina, Count Arsenii Arkadievich Golenishchev-Kutuzov, a friend of Musorgsky’s, and others.
With O[sip] A[fanasievich] Petrov’s death, my evenings came to an end.16 We did meet once in a while, but it was not the same anymore. Musorgsky, having lost Petrov, whom he so much respected and loved, now felt lonely and bored. And Rimsky-Korsakov as a family man was terribly busy, so he distanced himself. True, now and then, Borodin and Musorgsky came together to visit me. They were such good friends. At that time, both were composing operas: Borodin—Kniaz’ Igor’ [Prince Igor], and Musorgsky—Khovanshchina and Sorochinskaia larmarka [The fair at Sorochintsy]. . . .
The one who was unfailingly faithful to the circle was V[ladimir] V[asilievich] Stasov, who from the very beginning up to the present moment,17 has not changed.
1878 to 1881
During these years, Borodin, Musorgsky, Stasov, and sometimes Rimsky-Korsakov came to my home. But the previous spirit was gone; although Stasov made every effort to revive it, it was no longer the same.
Musorgsky was already quite different, and then in 1881, on March 16, he died. Through Stasov’s efforts an elaborate monument in the Russian style was erected on Musorgsky’s grave,18 which is located in the Aleksandr Nevskii Monastery in the Tikhvin Cemetery. . . .
When I saw Modest Petrovich for the first time, he was already a twenty-seven-year-old gentleman and a brilliant officer of the Preobrazhenskii Regiment. From our first meeting I was impressed by his unusual tactfulness and his mild manners. He was a surprisingly well-educated and self-restrained young man. I knew him for fifteen years, and during the whole period I never saw him give vent to an outburst of anger or lose his self-control, or say one single unpleasant word to anyone. More than once, in answer to my question about how he could be so self-controlled, he would say: “For that I am indebted to my mother; she was a saintly woman.” Musorgsky’s relationship with Balakirev was always a smooth one; Musorgsky respected him totally and marveled at his great talent and inimitable musical memory; they constantly met on very friendly terms. Stasov, with his upright nature, his great love for art, and his amazing energy, was actually the one that Musorgsky respected the most among the members of the circle. Musorgsky always turned to Stasov for advice whenever he had a question about music, literature, or anything else, and it was known that Stasov never refused to be helpful to anyone, especially not to Musorgsky, whose talent and personality he loved so sincerely. As for Musorgsky’s relationship with Rimsky-Korsakov, I have already talked about that.
Many often tried to persuade Musorgsky to get married, but his disinclination for marriage reached the point of absurdity: more than once, he seriously assured me that if I were to read in the papers the news that he had shot or hanged himself, it meant that he had gotten married the day before.
After 1872, Modest Petrovich was on most friendly terms with Borodin, who, at that time, was writing his opera Prince Igor, while Musorgsky was composing Khovanshchina. Quite often, they would come together to see me; at times, Stasov would join them. If Musorgsky had not seen Borodin for a long time, he would send me the following message:
Dear Liudmila Ivanovna, here is what I beg of you: Borodin and I would like to drop in on you on Thursday, January 22nd, at eight o’clock in the evening. We wish to see you and have a look at Borodin’s heroic symphony. If it is not too inconvenient for you, my dear, allow us to see you: after all, all the good musical works were begun and created in your home. As for me, I am like a cat: I become attached to a house. Borodin will come with his petition to you.19
And these evenings, with the two or three of us, were the most interesting and pleasant ones.
Musorgsky was on the most friendly terms with E[duard] F[rantsevich] Napravnik, G[ennadii] P[etrovich] Kondratiev, I[van] A[leksandrovich] Mel’nikov, F[yodor] P[etrovich] Kommissarzhevskii, and other artists. I do not mention the Petrovs, because in their family he was quite at home; I have already talked about that.
PIS’MO V. STASOVU
LETTER TO V[LADIMIR] STASOV
March 20, 1881
Vladimir Vasilievich, I am sending you the letter from our dear Musin’ka.20 You cannot imagine how sad I am for not having paid him a visit while he was ailing. I was just going to see him when I received a letter from him informing me that he felt so good that in a couple of days he intended to leave the hospital and come to see me.21 My only solace is that during all the years we were friends, he never heard from me, in word or deed, the slightest hint of displeasure; yes, I can say that we were friends because he never hid from me his feelings about my brother or other people. Musorgsky’s death is an irreplaceable loss to his friends and to art. But having succumbed to the patronage of D[ar’ia] M[ikhailovna] Leonova and of her companion (whose surname I do not recall),22 there was no future for him—not with his pride, upbringing, and education. Wouldn’t you agree that that was difficult? Although I read everything and hear many things, I would like very much to hear more from you; Bakh,23 you are not just a man, you are a superior man, or to be more exact, everything good that can be found in everybody else, has been all put together in you. I will say that as far as I am concerned, Musorgsky will live forever not only as the author of Boris, but as a rare, good, honest, and sincere man.
Yours, L[iudmila] Shestakova
P.S. I am unwell, and I am not going out, but you can be sure that my first outing will be to Musorgsky’s grave.
* This is a quote from Gogol’s The Marriage, which he adored and for which he was even starting to compose music.