Dar’ia Leonova (1829-1896), a contralto, was also a voice teacher. From 1852 to 1873 she was an artist with the Russian opera. After leaving the stage, she gave many concerts and made a concert tour around the world.
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Two scenes from the opera Boris Godunov, composed by Musorgsky, were performed at my recital. Musorgsky, who was living at my dacha, was working on two of his operas—Khovanshchina and The Fair at Sorochintsy—and he finished them while he was there.1
Shortly before my benefit performance for Kommissarzhevskii, I had played the part of the hostess of the Inn in two acts from Musorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov. I thought that nothing would work better than to have these two acts for my benefit performance, since the public had liked them so much. But as soon as I voiced my wish to do so, I was told that I had to obtain the rights to perform these two acts; I would have to pay the composer his royalties. I retorted that quite probably Musorgsky would not wish me to pay anything since we were close acquaintances. And, naturally, when I mentioned this to Musorgsky he answered that he would consider himself only too happy to see the two acts in my benefit performance.2
I would like now to turn to how I began the voice classes. I met the composer Musorgsky before the opera Boris Godunov was staged. He would visit me occasionally. Having noticed his many oddities as well as extremely positive characteristics, both as a man and an artist, I wanted to get to know him better. On my return from a trip3 I found many opportunities to meet Musorgsky at the house of mutual close acquaintances, where he was then living,4 and little by little we became good friends. He overcame his reluctance and confessed that, having heard and believed various rumors, he had been afraid of me, but that now he was convinced that the rumors were completely false. Musorgsky was unique among men. He loved people so much that it was impossible for him to find anything wrong in another person. He judged everybody else by himself.
Anyone who knew Musorgsky well was able to see that he was not an ordinary man; he never got involved in intrigues; he could not believe that an educated, intelligent man would wish to harm or play dirty tricks on anyone. In short, he was angelic. When he was composing Khovanshchina he often visited me; after composing a passage, he would immediately come to my place in Oranienbaum to show me how he wanted it sung. I would then sing it, and he was always delighted with my execution. That was how he composed Khovanshchina.
Soon he was convinced that I was not in the least the wicked woman my enemies had described to him, and when I decided to go on an artistic tour of Russia, he readily joined me, and we traveled together.5 It was, incidentally, in the Ukraine that he collected many regional motifs. During the summer preceding his death, he lived in my dacha, where he finished Khovanshchina and The Fair at Sorochintsy. It was there that we decided to start my school. He had great hopes for this enterprise, as it would allow him to earn a living, since his means were very, very limited.
However, during the first year, we had very few students. He was saddened by this, but both of us eagerly devoted ourselves to our endeavor, hoping that through our concerted efforts we would attract students. In our classes we introduced totally new methods of teaching. For example, when there were two, three, or four voices, Musorgsky wrote duets, tercets, and quartets so that the students could practice their solfeggio.6 This technique worked very well in our instruction. Musorgsky was astonished at how successful I was at training voices.
It looked as if our enterprise was going to be a success, but before the season ended Musorgsky died. Most likely, his death was brought on by his artistic temperament and his material hardships. He lived in dire poverty. For example, one day when he came to me, he was extremely nervous and irritable; and he told me that he had no place to go, that his only recourse was to live in the street. He had nothing left at all and saw no solution to his predicament. What was I to do? I began to comfort him, saying that although I was far from wealthy, I would share everything I had with him. My words calmed him down somewhat. That evening we were going to the house of General Sokhanskii, whose daughter, our pupil, was to sing for the first time before a large gathering at their house.7 She sang very well, which probably soothed Musorgsky. I saw how nervous he was as he accompanied her. But everyone agreed that she sang very well, considering that she had been taking lessons for such a short time. Everybody was pleased, and the parents thanked us profusely. After the singing, dancing began, and I was invited to play cards. Suddenly Sokhanskii’s son rushed to me and asked if Musorgsky was subject to nervous attacks. I assured him that as long as I had known him I had never heard of anything of the sort. Apparently, he had just suffered a seizure. A physician who was present attended him, and when the time came to go, Musorgsky was completely recovered and on his feet. We left together. When we got to the apartment he implored me to allow him to stay, alleging a nervous, fearful condition. I gladly acquiesced, knowing that if something were to happen to him in his lonely apartment, there would be no one to help him. I put him in a small room and requested that the servants keep an eye on him all night and ordered them to wake me immediately if he were ill. He slept the whole night in a sitting position. In the morning when I went to the dining room for tea, he came in in a very good mood. I asked him how he felt. He thanked me and answered that he felt fine. With these words he turned to the right and suddenly fell full length on the floor. My fears had not been groundless: had he been alone he would most certainly have suffocated; but we immediately turned him over, helped him to bed, and sent for the doctor. Before evening he had two more seizures. That evening I called his friends who took an interest in him, most significantly Vladimir Vasilievich Stasov, Tertii Ivanovich Filippov, and the others who loved him. All those present agreed that in view of the complex treatment, and in view of the necessity for constant care, they should persuade him to enter a hospital. They explained how important it was and how good it would be for him. They promised to get him a beautiful private room. For a long time he refused to agree; he only wanted to stay at my place. Finally, they persuaded him. The next day he was taken to the hospital in a carriage.8 At first, he began to improve, but then he became worse and worse and shortly after he died.
PIS’MO V REDAKTSIIU GAZETY Novoe Vremia
LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF THE NEWSPAPER New Time.
(Published March 21, 1881)
In M[odest] P[etrovich] Musorgsky’s obituary published in no. 1814 of New Time it was said among other things that “this year he was working as an accompanist in a voice school,” which I had opened the previous fall. Both an inaccuracy and some misinformation have slipped in here. Allow me to ask you to correct both.
Firstly, it has long been known that the late Musorgsky was an incomparable accompanist. We never had such a brilliant accompanist, and there is no one to fill the vacuum. He brought “accompanying” to a degree of perfection and virtuosity heretofore undreamed of by a concert musician. With his accompaniment he had, indeed, said a “new word” and demonstrated its importance to the artistic integrity of a performance. To follow in his footsteps has become a difficult and challenging task. It was for that reason that the majority of artists always wanted to sing at concerts where M[odest] P[etrovich] was to be the accompanist; and therefore, no concert of any importance was held without his participation.
Secondly, in my classes, M[odest] P[etrovich] Musorgsky was not simply the accompanist; he was also my closest collaborator, my adviser, and my assistant. We conjointly elaborated our program of courses, and it was jointly that we carried it out. And I might add that it was at his urgent request that I had started these courses.
His talent as a musical declamator, an innate and typically Russian talent, his sound knowledge of technique, of singing instruction, and of stage conditions, made his advice and directions particularly priceless for anyone preparing for a dramatic and operatic career. My lengthy experience as a singer entitles me to express the belief that with Musorgsky’s death both my students and Russian musical art suffered an irreparable loss.
The lives of prominent personalities such as the late Musorgsky would not be completely ruined if it were not for an evil fate that blights the destinies of our best national men of talent. The chair of musical declamation, created in the Conservatory of the Russian Musical Society, which has in its custody the fate of our national art—a chair, which up to now the Society has been trying unsuccessfully to fill—should have been given to Musorgsky. In doing so the Society would doubtlessly have benefited from the immense contribution he would have made in this field. And the resulting social status, combined with the character of his talent, would probably have saved and substantially extended the life of the creator of Boris and Khovanshchina, a man who died such an untimely death.
Rest in peace, honest Russian talent, you who invariably and consistently strove toward “new shores.”