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

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

An Article by ANTON RUBINSTEIN60

In Nash Vek (Our Century), January 4, 1861

"OF MUSIC IN RUSSIA"

[Extracts]

"He who has never moistened his bread with tears, who has never wept for entire nights, does not know you, O heavenly powers!"

These words of Goethe, of such profound truth for all who practice arts, including music, have little meaning in Russia, for here music is practiced only by amateurs, that is, those who, by virtue of their origin or social position, do not have to earn their daily bread with music, and practice it merely for their personal pleasure . . .

By a strange coincidence, Russia has almost no artist-musicians in the exact sense of this term. This is so because our government has not given the same privileges to the art of music which are enjoyed by the other arts, such as painting, sculpture, etc.--that is, he who practices music is not given the rank of an artist . . .

In order to prove the evil effects produced on Russian music by such an order of things, let us analyze the extent of our amateurs' abilities, starting with composers.

Who has ever been called witty for making one witty remark during his entire life?

Who has been called a philosopher for expressing a single lofty thought?

But this is not the case with amateurs in music. Once an amateur succeeds in composing a single song, more or less fortunate in content, he considers himself a composer. Woe to the person who tries to point out to him that his melody, though light and agreeable, does not fit the text of his song, or that there are harmonic errors in the accompaniment, or that one must study for a long time in order to compose even a small piece of music. The amateur looks scornfully upon the ill-disposed critic, publishes his song, forces some singer from the Italian opera to sing it, begins to pass judgments on art and artists, becomes a musical celebrity of the town, goes on composing songs without noticing that they are all repetitions of the same melody, does not care to penetrate into the rules of harmony and composition, begins to argue that melody is the only merit in music and all else is German pedantry, and will end by composing an opera . . .


21. To MILI BALAKIREV, St. Petersburg

13 January [1861] Moscow

I am obliged to disappoint you, dear Mili--I shall not be able hear your and Gussakovsky's pieces--the frost is terrible, nearly 35 de-

____________________
60
After the founding of the Imperial Russian Musical Society on May 1, 1859, Anton Rubinstein actively propagandized for the expansion of the society's school into the status of a conservatory.

-29-

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