IZ Vospominanii o Rimskom-Korsakove
FROM My Recollections of Rimsky-Korsakov
Il’ia Tiumenev (1855-1927), a student of Rimsky-Korsakov, was a novelist, painter, composer, writer of operatic libretti, and translator of the texts of Wagner’s dramas. He kept a detailed diary, which he transformed into memoirs. He gives a precise account of the facts, although once in a while they show the bias of the “Rimsky-Korsakov camp.”
. . .
On January 16, 1879, I was present at the first concert of the season at the Free Music School, arranged by Nikolai Andreevich [Rimsky-Korsakov].1 At this concert we heard for the first time: “Kel’ia v Chudovom monastyre” [A cell in the Chudovo Monastery] from Boris Godunov,2 Konchak’s aria from Prince Igor,3 and three complete numbers from May Night.4
To be honest, it was strange to listen to Vladimir Ivanovich Vasil’ev the First,5 clean-shaven, in evening dress, with white gloves, half-sing, half-recite the immortal monologue of Pushkin’s eternally famous monk-chronicler, who sat in his isolated cell at night in front of his manuscript. Near the tall figure of Vasil’ev the First stood the short figure of Vasilii Mikhailovich Vasil’ev the Second,6 also clean-shaven and in evening dress—in the role of Grigory Otrepiev. In any case, one has to be thankful even for this evening-dress recital of the “Cell,” since in the Mariinskii Theater, this scene, one of the principal scenes in Pushkin’s Boris Godunov, was unceremoniously deleted.
From the following winter season, 1879-1880, I recall the first concert of the Free Music School, held on Tuesday, November 13. At this concert for the first time ever Nikolai Andreevich’s new version of the scene at the Pecherskii Monastery, from The Maid of Pskov, was performed. It included the song of pilgrims about Alexei the Man of God; the scene of the tsar’s hunt; the storm, with its song, which has become the now-familiar song of the young girls: “Akh ty, dubrava, dubravushka” [O, you leafy forest, dear leafy forest]. But our musical pleasure was not limited to those pieces. In the same concert, Nikolai Andreevich presented us with three new excerpts from Prince Igor. . . . 7
All our musical generals were present. Cui, Borodin, Musorgsky, Stasov, the singers Leonova, Skal’kovskaia, and others. Furthermore, I was very pleased to learn from Nikolai Andreevich that the little old lady present at his concerts and always sitting with the guests of honor in a special soft armchair was none other than Liudmila Ivanovna Shestakova, nee Glinka, the composer’s sister. . . . “All of us like her very much,” added Nikolai Andreevich, “from time to time, we pay her visits, we show her our works, and we enjoy her kindnesses toward us.”
During the School’s second concert, Nikolai Andreevich introduced us to excerpts from Khovanshchina: the Streltsy chorus, Marfa’s song, and the Persian Dance. This was a new delight for us, and we particularly liked the chorus and the dance.8
FROM The Diary
February 16  (Monday). Yesterday, I heard the sad news that Musorgsky suffered a third seizure. On Saturday the 14th, Kostia9 saw Tertii Ivanovich Filippov, who told him about his two earlier seizures. Filippov said that Modest Petrovich could not even sleep, or more exactly could not lie down, and that he would only sit on a sofa and doze for a few hours.
Kostia incidently added that Filippov told him that Musorgsky’s condition had not caused any concern and that the seizures had not had dangerous consequences. Let’s hope that Modest Petrovich’s strong constitution will cope with this ailment, which will make us all happy, and that he will still bless us with more of his talented compositions.
March 16 (Monday). Berman10 came in the evening with sad news: today in the Nikolaev Military Hospital, M[odest] P[etrovich] Musorgsky passed on. The scythe of the accursed grim reaper has been swinging through our Russian men of talent. He goes on mowing and mowing: Dostoevsky, Pisemskii, N[ikolai] Rubinstein, Azanchevskii,11 and now Modest Petrovich! Will we ever see the end of this merciless harvest?
Modest Petrovich lived and died almost completely alone (it is said that he has a brother in Moscow12 and nobody else it seems); besides, his material situation was far from enviable.
At the end he was placed in the care of Sergei Petrovich Botkin13 (either because he knew him or because of Borodin’s influence), but, in all likelihood, his situation was already quite hopeless, although it seemed that he started to recover from his two seizures. Stasov and Korsakov are taking care of the funeral. Korsakov asked Berman to make arrangements for an office for the dead tomorrow at eight in the evening with the Dumskii Circle, which will be done. Berman asked me to order a wreath on behalf of the Circle; I will go tomorrow.
Yes, our music has suffered a great loss! He was, perhaps, the most gifted one and in his mass of bizarre and confused work, so often, nuggets of pure gold sparkle in its depths! As regards the spontaneous national character of M[odest] P[etrovich]’s work, he was without any doubt the most “national” of all
March 17 (Tuesday). The entire morning I was busy with the wreath. At about eight o’clock in the evening we gathered in the church of the Nikolaev Military Hospital (near the Smol’nyi Institute). The church—a huge building with high ceilings and numerous windows—was lit only by four candles burning at the corners of the coffin. Although the wall lamps were also lit, they were burning so dimly that the church was in semi-darkness. The face of the deceased (already lying in the casket) was covered with muslin. A wreath from the Conservatory had been placed at the head of the coffin, and on its sides there were several tubs with decorative plants.
About two hundred people, mostly women, had gathered. Later, I learned that they were students from the Conservatory and the Free Music School. In the crowd I saw Stasov, Rimsky-Korsakov with his wife, Dr. Bertenson, and a General with a Stanislav ribbon, who turned out to be A[leksandr] P[orfirievich] Borodin. The people from our circle stood together. The service for the dead began; now the church was less dark, because of all the lighted candles. The face of the deceased was uncovered. It was deathly pale, the eyes were sunken, the face had sagged, but its expression was peaceful.
“So sviatymi upokoi” [With the saints give rest], beautifully executed by our people, made a very strong impression on me. There was no loud weeping, no sobs, as M[odest] P[etrovich] had no close relative left. (He did have a brother in Moscow, who, according to the rumors, visited him in the hospital, but whether he was present at the mass or not, I do not know: nobody said anything about him, nor did anybody point him out.)
After the service Berman, Solovyov, and I went to take a look at the wreath, shaped like a lyre, which I had ordered in the morning. For the sake of greater “verisimilitude” Kostia had advised us to add three green sticks for strings, and that was done. The result pleased us. From the flower shop, we went on to Mikhail Andreevich’s for tea. On the way he talked to us about Musorgsky’s last years.
When Modest Petrovich left his work at the Government Control (where he had been placed by T[ertii] I[vanovich] Filippov, although he was totally incapable of doing any work), he found himself without any income; Leonova’s singing school, where he worked as an accompanist, most likely was not very profitable. Tertii Filippov—on very friendly terms with Musorgsky—had bought all of his compositions (except, probably, those already published)—past, present, and future. And together with Ostrovskii (Mikhail Ivanovich, the writer’s brother) and somebody else, Tertii Filippov gave Musorgsky 100 rubles a month (the purchase of his compositions was very likely a pretext for this subsidy). . . . 14
As we arrived at Mikhail Andreevich’s, we were still talking about Musorgsky. Mikhail Andreevich told us how one day, Modest Petrovich, while a guest at Tertii Filippov’s, because of his extremely good nature and kindness, not only accompanied all who sang that evening, but also fulfilled the duties of a dance pianist; i.e., at the request of his hosts, he played waltzes, polkas, quadrilles (mainly of his own improvisations); and how at another occasion he sat somewhere in a corner and dozed. An earlier story by Berman about an evening at Filippov’s was immediately recalled. Musorgsky was playing his Khovanshchina in front of the Aeropagus of the “Mighty Handful” (Korsakov at that time was absent). What a pity it was to see how those present (especially Cui) constantly pestered him by suggesting various deletions, changes, curtailings, and so forth (and strange as it might seem, the least critical one was Balakirev, who despite his benevolent attitude, was a despot). Such a pulling about and cutting to pieces of a new work, in which the ink was barely dry, done publicly, in front of everyone, and not privately, was not only the height of tactlessness but the epitome of downright hard-heartedness. The poor, unpretentious composer silently agreed, and deleted. . . . It left such a pitiful impression, at least in Berman’s eyes.
As for me, Musorgsky did not give me the impression of being such an exceptionally unpretentious person, were I to judge him on his behavior in the dressing room of the Mariinskii Theater or at one of Leonova’s concerts (in Kononov Hall). During that concert, he was listening to an orchestral performance of Schubert’s “Lesnoi tsar” [The forest king]. Musorgsky apparently was in the greenroom, but since the door was open I could see him. He was standing, his head lowered, as if oblivious to everything else around him, but he reacted to almost every word with a peculiar gesture, with a peculiar movement of his body. For someone who did not know him, one would have said that he was simply striking a pose. But I saw in his behavior another reason: the slight agitation was due not only to the music but also to another cause, namely, his serious illness, which was already undermining his health.
Yesterday Berman met Ivan Fyodorovich Gorbunov: “A copper coffee pot can also burn out on alcohol,” remarked Ivan Fyodorovich, “and a man is far more fragile than a coffee-pot.”
Today Gavriushko15 said that lately the author of Boris did not even have his piano, but with great pleasure was using the old cymbals belonging to Gavriushko, with whom he lived in furnished rooms. . . .
March 18 (Wednesday). As I left the house I met Kostia . . . we arrived at the hospital on time. Our wreath had already been brought (it cost 41 rubles). There were fewer people in the church than yesterday, but these people were most important: Balakirev, Korsakov, Nadezhda Nikolaevna,16 Borodin and his wife, Cui and his wife (Berman saw Davydov,17 who showed up for a few minutes), Napravnik, Mel’nikov, Kamenskaia and her husband Prianishnikov,18 both Morozov brothers (the stage manager of the Russian opera and the cellist of the Mariinskii Theater), D[ar’ia] M[ikhailovna] Leonova, all three Stasov brothers,19 N[ikolai] F[eofemptovich] Solovyov,20 Ivanov from New Time, and others. It is said that, right there in church, Stasov gave Ivanov a dressing-down for the article on Monday . . . (for having included intimate details on the personal life of the deceased). After this, Ivanov moved around the church deeply offended, and at the cemetery he complained to one of his acquaintances for this public reproof.
The funeral procession was to begin at nine thirty in the morning, but Borovskii (the deacon from Smol’nyi) was late, and then something else delayed it. Anyhow, the procession began at ten o’clock (prior to that the blessing was sung by the choir). There were about fifteen wreaths: one from the friends of the composer (it was the biggest one); another from the Conservatory; ours, from the Free Music School; one with the inscription “To the Author of Boris Godunov,” from Leonova’s students; one from “Russian Hearts”—it was not very big but it was elegant—and then there were many others without inscriptions.
When we came out of the church there were no more than a hundred people, who for the most part were busy with their wreaths. Neither the Conservatory nor the Free Music School came (each had sent five or six representatives). The casket was put on the hearse and the procession set out. It was obvious that those in charge of the funeral were not very experienced: they were not even sure which road to follow, and our whole procession looked very much as if the deceased were being seen off by all his relatives.
Having gone for a couple of miles toward Slonovaia,21 Korsakov, who was in front with the wreath “From Friends,” ran back to us, asking: “Are we taking the right road?” “Yes, yes,” we assured him. I explained to him that this was the best way, and that after Slonovaia we would turn left toward the Nevskii [Prospect]. He calmed down, asked again about which turn to make, and went to catch up with his wreath. Balakirev, accompanied by an unknown gentleman, apparently a close acquaintance, had taken a cab and driven to the Monastery: he was concerned about whether the cross was ready for the grave.
Our procession was moving along without any singing, since there was no one to sing: everybody was busy carrying a wreath. We had all hoped that the choirs from the Conservatory and the Free Music School would sing “Sviatyi Bozhe” [Holy God], at least on the street during the procession, but, as we said above, nobody came.
We were moving rather quickly (faster than at Dostoevsky’s funeral), and before we realized it we had reached the Monastery. At the gates we sang “Holy God” impromptu, the best we could, and the result was rather good. Almost everyone sang: even some women’s voices were heard. Those who were carrying the wreaths were called back to the casket; they assumed that there the blessing would be sung, but it was not, due to a lack of planning. We kept on moving forward and once again sang “Holy God.” On entering the second gate we sang it a third time, and still singing it, we brought the casket into Dukhovskaia Church. There everything was already in place. The Hours had been read, and the Nevskii choristers were there: the entire choir.
T[ertii] Filippov and Chumachevskii,22 with the help of Mikhail Andreevich, had supervised the funeral. Filippov and Pobedonostsev obtained a free grave in the Tikhvin Cemetery; and Chumachevskii paid a visit to an archimandrite he knew, the ecclesiastic censor Iosif (he looked like a very nice, modest little man), who promised to officiate free of charge. The main precentor of the Nevskii Choir—L’vovskii (a former student of Zaremba)—announced that for such a distinguished composer he would bring his entire choir (gratis), and he did.
As soon as the casket was placed on the catafalque, the mass began. The wreaths had been put on and around the casket. Now Stasov approached the casket with a young lady (probably a niece or a relative). She was carrying two ribbons, one white and one red, and she fixed them to the wreaths alongside the casket. On the red ribbon, embroidered in long steel beads, was “Toward new shores!!!” and on the white one—in red Church Slavonic letters, “Oi, i slava zhe tebe za Borisa, slava!” [O! Glory to thee for Boris, glory!]. Probably there were similar ribbons with inscriptions on the other side, but it would have been improper of me to go around the casket and have a look. I am under the impression that these ribbons had belonged to the garlands presented for the first production of Boris and had been kept either by the composer or by some friends of his (maybe Stasov himself).23
Although Filippov had caught a cold at the tsar’s funeral24 and had not yet totally recovered, he was nevertheless present with his entire family. During the mass Balakirev stood at a distance leaning against a column (in the right corner of the church). Several times I turned back to look at his expressive face and his deep intelligent eyes. He was wearing a long, thick cloth overcoat, and under the collar one could see a blue tartan scarf; his cloth hat was very shabby.
I forgot to mention that while we were on the way another wreath had been added, with the inscription: “To the Artist from the Students of St. Petersburg College of Mines.” During the mass other wreaths arrived. There should also have been a wreath from our students, but for some reason it was missing.25 The day before, during the service for the dead, Cherkasov had said that someone was organizing a collection at the Academy since, apart from any artistic preferences, the students ought to express their gratitude for the constant and considerate participation by Musorgsky at their benefit concerts.26 New people arrived: Stravinskii, Velinskaia, Schreder,27 I think (judging by the portrait), the artist Maksimov,28 and others. Many people were already waiting for us at the church, and during the mass the large church nearly filled up. A wreath from the Bestuzhev School29 had also been brought in.
Following “Gospodi vozzvakh” [Verses] (the host had been consecrated earlier), Berman, Kostia, and I went out “for a smoke.” Since Berman had not eaten or drunk anything since morning, we went with him to have some tea at the tavern on the corner across from the Monastery, and from there we went on to the Tikhvin Cemetery, the final resting place of Glinka (right at the entrance and to the left) and (much further on and to the right) of Dargomyzhsky and Serov, and not far from them a place had been reserved for Modest Petrovich.
. . . Modest Petrovich’s grave had been lined inside with bricks covered with lime: obviously the work had been done by expert hands.
In the church, when we returned, the priest was preaching about the power of music and its beneficial influence on the soul, on the progress of the entire society as far as goodness and love were concerned. . . . In conclusion, turning to Musorgsky’s death, the preacher reminded his listeners of the saying that “the chain is no stronger than its weakest link,” pointing out the embryonic state of our musical art, where talented people are more indispensable and valuable than in any other branch of the arts. Although the preacher was far from an accomplished orator, his sermon was rather good.
The funeral service was conducted by the archimandrite, and it was quite solemn. Those in charge of the funeral did not think to pass out candles, so the people, on their own, rushed out to buy them. At the candle table Stasov was kept very busy giving out the free candles, which had arrived too late; however, as there were not enough of them, the people bought what they needed.
The funeral service came to an end. After the farewell to the deceased, once more the wreaths were moved—there were already twenty of them—they were lined up and then taken from the church. The casket was carried by the friends of the deceased. There was a huge crowd at the grave. Berman and I planted our wreath in the snow without reaching the grave, and we climbed on a nearby bench. After the blessing the casket was lowered into the grave. Following this, Mel’nikov, with his pleasant, deep voice, read a poem sent by Lishin30 (for some reason he was unable to attend). It was a rather good poem, with several nice thoughts. After the poem, people expected speeches, but there were none; even Stasov kept silent. The only thing that was said came from Nikolai Andreevich, who had been uncommunicative and even secretive on the subject of alleged musical works. Going through the crowd, in an intentionally loud voice (probably it had been prearranged), he said to Stasov that he intended to go over everything the deceased had left behind and edit it, and that everything was going to be finished and published, starting with Khovanshchina. For the musicians such a statement was dearer than a number of speeches. The public, which stood at a distance, began to disperse little by little. But by the grave, where the grave diggers had begun to close up the vault, it was as crowded as before. Finally the vault was closed, and the grave was filled up. As soon as the white wooden cross, with a proper inscription, was put up (the one that Balakirev had taken charge of), they began to tidy up the grave, which was all covered over with our wreaths. When the grave diggers began to close up the vault, some of those in charge of the funeral began to wonder whether the wreaths should also be placed in the vault. But Balakirev and Borodin were against the idea. This small episode pointed up the purely family character of the funeral. All the while it was drizzling, and when the casket was lowered into the grave, it began snowing; and it became terribly muddy and slushy around the grave. I put our wreath right in front of the cross and then tore a couple of leaves from the branch representing the curve of the lyre, in memory of the never-to-be-forgotten composer.31
Peace, thrice peace to your remains, kind, responsive man, with your gentle and forgiving heart. A man who, with his talent, had so fervently served his beloved great homeland!