Many eminent figures share a common fate in that recollections about them are surprisingly insignificant and superficial. Published memoirs are seldom worthy of the person to whom they are devoted, for they usually do not convey the greatness of the genius. For example, reminiscences about Tchaikovsky, except for those of Laroche and Kashkin, and in part those of Glazunov, deal with petty details of his everyday life. Reminiscences about Musorgsky often distort his personality and misinterpret both the man and the music.
One might then ask why publish these recollections about Musorgsky? Although they reveal little about the composer’s personality, which is what we are looking for when we read the testimony of contemporaries, they do recreate the psychological atmosphere surrounding Musorgsky and allow us to see the tragedy of the innovator and of the solitary genius. Besides, by examining these reminiscences and by comparing the information provided by the different authors, we can revaluate the legends that have grown about the composer. In comparing the information given by witnesses with that given by the illustrious man himself, the researcher is better able to approach the truth, i.e., the historical truth, and to refute the numerous misrepresentations which have accumulated in the writings of Musorgsky’s biographers, many of whom have relied too uncritically upon the veracity of his contemporaries. The compiler’s problem in this case (as, incidentally, in any similar work based on documents) resembles the work of a prosecutor conducting a cross-examination.
The first researcher to gather reminiscences about Musorgsky was Vasilii Iakovlev, co-editor with Iiurii Keldysh of the collection M. P. Musorgskii k piatidesiatiletiiu so dnia smerti, 1881-1931. Stat’i i materialy [M. P. Musorgsky on the fiftieth anniversary of his death, 1881-1931. Articles and materials] (Moscow: Muzgiz, 1932). Twenty-five of the thirty-six memoirs in the present volume are extracted from this work.
Iakovlev called attention to the “one-sided character of testimonies about Musorgsky,” and he underscored the fact that in many of the memoirs by different authors, “we see total agreement and even some kind of deliberate emphasis on the same traits, which at times, perhaps, conveys the impression of definite bias and exaggeration,” especially in the information “dealing with the last years of the composer’s life” (ibid., p. 166).
Iakovlev was quite right in his observation. Furthermore, the memoirs which were still unavailable to him, such as those by Golenishchev-Kutuzov (for which he and others researching Musorgsky had great hopes) do not alter his criticism. Unfortunately, a great many of the memoirs are prejudiced, they lack objectivity, and, I dare say, are myopic.
In the present volume, in contrast to Iakovlev’s collection, references to Musorgsky’s letters and those of his contemporaries are quoted only when it seems absolutely necessary. Vladimir Stasov’s memoirs, extracted earlier by Iakovlev, have been given in more complete form. Excerpts from Liudmila Shestakova’s memoirs, Moi Vechera [My evenings], as well as Filaret Musorgsky’s are quoted from autographs in the archives of Liudmila Shestakova (archive 857) and of Musorgsky (archive 502), in the Manuscript Section of the State Public Library of Leningrad.
The memoirs in the present collection may be classified, for the sake of discussion, in four general if not precisely parallel categories: those that are verifiable as authentic and essentially objective; those that are authentic but biased; those written by persons who did not witness everything they are reporting; and those by persons who were not themselves acquainted with Musorgsky and who are reporting secondhand information. In every memoir there are undoubtedly elements in more than one category. Thus, while Stasov’s memoirs are in essence truthful, they are somewhat biased. Rimsky-Korsakov’s are even more biased, with many situations presented in a distorted light. Readers can determine for themselves to which category this or that memoir belongs. Indeed, the purpose of the endnotes is to help establish the truth.
Musorgsky’s relationship with the other members of the Balakirev circle has been treated elsewhere.1 Here I will only point out that although there was much ideological identity within the circle, genuine intimacy was almost totally absent. This was true not just in Musorgsky’s case. The members of the circle cherished each other; they valued each other as persons of like mind, giving each other endearing, often facetious nicknames. However, their real emotional life was quite unknown to one another. Furthermore, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Cui had families apart from their professional and creative lives; they did not suffer solitude or the misunderstanding of those nearest them. Balakirev and Musorgsky, on the other hand, found themselves tragically alone. The former found solace in religion; the latter, unfortunately for him and for his art, in alcohol.
Oppressed by want and the necessity of seeking employment as a petty official, devoting the best hours of the day not to creativity but to odious bureaucratic duties, infinitely alone, often losing friends, Musorgsky was continually disappointed in the companions who shared his ideas and who, as it seemed to him, ultimately became traitors to their common cause. Rimsky-Korsakov became distracted in his intense study of music theory. Cui wrote an insulting review of Boris Godunov. Musorgsky turned to drinking, and this led to his eventual collapse and a premature death.
On meeting the young poet Arsenii Golenishchev-Kutuzov, Musorgsky came to believe in his talent and thought that he had found a true friend. All too soon he was again disappointed. The alleged reason was the poet’s marriage (Musorgsky, as well as Stasov, was fiercely opposed to marriage for an artist), but in fact the breach in their friendship began to show earlier. Golenishchev-Kutuzov’s memoirs need careful scrutiny, since they run askew of the categories enumerated. They are the notes of an eyewitness. They were not written “third hand.” But they are nevertheless biased, not “simply” biased, as are the reminiscences of the Balakirev circle, such as those by Rimsky-Korsakov or Balakirev. Golenishchev-Kutuzov’s memoirs are almost totally deceitful. They are calculated to shed light on Musorgsky’s work from a particular angle, in order to demonstrate that Musorgsky was not at all the person we know through his music. Indeed, according to Golenishchev-Kutuzov, the artist composed one thing but wrote down something else. Golenishchev-Kutuzov’s memoirs are a polemical document, directed against Stasov in particular and the “Mighty Handful” as a whole. The author of the memoirs assigned himself the purpose of demonstrating that Musorgsky was a man without any willpower, who created according to the dictates of the circle and did not follow his own artistic nature. According to Golenishchev-Kutuzov, the works he created were fabricated, labored, and foreign to his nature. In his youth, at the time of his friendship with Musorgsky, Golenishchev-Kutuzov had been an enthusiast of the radical sixties, a supporter of the democratic movement in the era before the reforms; but he very quickly retreated from his enthusiasms. And in his recollections about Musorgsky, he projects his later beliefs onto the composer. By depicting Musorgsky as a refined aesthete, removed from life (more exactly from the prosaic life) and alien to the interests of the Russian people, Golenishchev-Kutuzov demonstrates how far he himself was from understanding the real Musorgsky, how far, indeed, these two former friends were removed from each other both spiritually and artistically.
Musorgsky based many of his compositions on Golenishchev-Kutuzov’s texts, which were somewhat primitive and spur-of-the-moment ventures. The composer altered the texts and thereby created highly philosophical works (for example, the Songs and Dances of Death). It would be profoundly instructive to examine in detail the composer’s transformations of Golenishchev-Kutuzov’s original texts!
Soviet musicologists have widely varying views of Golenishchev-Kutuzov’s memoirs. The academician B. Asafiev, the professor Iu. Tiulin, and recently, the musicologist M. Rakhmanova have all given them unfailing credence, quoting them as if they were the words of the composer himself, expressing no doubts about their objectivity. Others, among them E. Frid, A. Kandinsky, and S. Shlifshtein, have viewed the memoirs very critically. The present compiler has also pointed out the necessity of viewing these memoirs with care.2
The opinion of P. Aravin, musicologist and author of Vospominaniia Golenishcheva-Kutuzova [Golenishchev-Kutuzov’s memoirs], is worth noting: “In the process of working with this material, I had to study the entire archives relating to the poet. . . . And it then became clear that between Musorgsky and Golenishchev-Kutuzov there was never a complete sympathy of thought.”3 He is entirely correct, although I would like to make a slight change—to substitute the word “spirit” for the word “thought.”
Golenishchev-Kutuzov does more than “tailor” Musorgsky’s personality to his own ideals: he deliberately distorts the facts. For example, he extends the period of time they lived together, and this creates the illusion of a long-lasting relationship. He quotes some lines from a purported letter written to him by the composer, but such a letter is not to be found anywhere in the poet’s archive. And since Golenishchev-Kutuzov carefully kept everything, even short notes from Musorgsky, the suspicion arises that those quoted lines did not belong to the composer, all the more so since their style and content do not correspond to other letters by Musorgsky.
One is tempted to think that it was not by accident that during his lifetime Golenishchev-Kutuzov withheld publications of his notes on Musorgsky. He might well have feared, with reason, his own exposure, and it would have destroyed the fascination he created in his circle for being the great composer’s closest friend.
The memoirs in this collection are arranged according to the principle established earlier by Iakovlev. The reminiscences are not segmented and fitted into a common chronological framework. Instead, the chronology visa-vis each individual memoirist is respected. The sequence of authors follows a general chronological plan, since each memoir tends to focus on a particular time period; therefore, those memoirs dealing with the last years of Musorgsky’s life are placed at the end, while those dealing with earlier or broader periods are placed in the beginning (e.g., those by N. Kompaneiskii and V. Stasov). It goes without saying that a certain amount of repetition is unavoidable.
Jersey City, New Jersey
1. A. Orlova, “Musorgskii i gruppa ‘Piati’ ” [Musorgsky and the group of ‘five’], paper read at the International Congress on Musorgsky, Milan, Italy, May 1981; published in Musorgskij l’opera, ilpensiero (Milan, 1985). The same issue is dealt with in the Foreword to M. P. Musorgskii. Literaturnoe nasledie. Pis’ma i avtobiograficheskie materialy [M. P. Musorgsky. Literary heritage. Letters and autobiographical materials] (Moscow, 1971); and in the Introduction to A. Orlova, Musorgsky’s Days and Works: A Biography in Documents, translated and edited by Roy J. Guenther (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1983). It is again treated in “Pamiati Musorgskogo (k 150-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia)” [To the memory of Musorgsky (in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of his birth)], Kontinent 60 (1989).
2. Introduction to Musorgsky’s Days and Works.
3. Sovetskaia muzyka [Soviet music] 34/3 (March 1970), p. 110.