The Musorgsky Reader: A Life of Modeste Petrovich Musorgsky in Letters and Documents

By Jay Leyda; Sergei Bertensson et al. | Go to book overview

military service with art--a complicated matter," etc. Our conversation then turned involuntarily to music. I was still an enthusiastic Mendelssohnist at that time, and knew hardly anything of Schumann. Musorgsky was already acquainted with Balakirev, and had already smelled out all sorts of new tendencies in music, of which I had no conception. When the Ivanovskys saw that we had found a common topic of conversation--music--they proposed that we should play a four-hand arrangement of Mendelssohn's A minor [Scottish] symphony. M.P. turned up his nose a little, and said that he was very happy to do so, but only begged "to be excused from the andante, which is not at all symphonic, but was just one of the Lieder ohne Worte or some such thing arranged for orchestra." We played the first movement and the scherzo. Then Musorgsky began to speak rapturously about the symphonies of Schumann, of which I was then quite ignorant. He began to play some fragments of the E-flat [Rhenish] symphony; when he came to the middle movement, he stopped, saying: "Now, this is where the musical mathematics begin." This was all new to me and I liked it. Seeing how interested I was, he played some other pieces, new to me. Incidentally, I discovered that he was composing music himself. As I expressed my interest, he began to play some scherzo of his (I think it was the one in B-flat); when he came to the trio, he hissed through his teeth: "Well, this is oriental!" And I was terribly amazed at what were, for me, strange new elements in the music. I cannot say that it pleased me at first; I was rather puzzled by the novelty of it. After listening for a while more attentively, I began to value it and enjoy it. I confess that I was incredulous when he told me he intended to devote himself seriously to music. At first I took it for petty boasting and was inwardly rather amused--but after becoming acquainted with his scherzo I wondered: should I believe him or not . . . ?42-- ALEXANDER BORODIN


14. To MILI BALAKIREV

18 October, 1859, St. Petersburg

MILI,

Our argument today was of such great interest that on my way to bed I determined to write you about this dispute.--If Moses himself told

____________________
42
There is another reliable glimpse of Musorgsky at approximately this time, as seen by P. Boborykin: "I met Musorgsky for the first time at Balakirev's. There were two brothers: one [Philarète] still wore a Guards uniform; the other [Modeste) had recently changed to civilian clothes . . . At that time he was still a society jeune homme, rather a dandy, with a pleasant appearance, very well-bred, and without military manners. He maintained towards Balakirev an attitude of pupil towards mentor; but with neither flattery nor servility. In my presence they often played four-hand arrangements and discussed subjects which deeply concerned the circle. Musorgsky had already tested himself as a composer . . . The ideas of an innovator had already possessed him and Balakirev heartily sympathized with him." ( For Half a Century, Russkaya Starina, February 1913.)

-20-

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