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

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

26a. NIKOLAI RIMSKY-KORSAKOV76 to SOPHIA RIMSKAYA- KORSAKOVA, Tikhvin [Extracts]

November 26, 1861

DEAR MOTHER,

Last Sunday, Canille introduced me to M. A. Balakirev, a well- known musician and composer, and also to Cui, the composer of an opera, The Prisoner of the Caucasus . . . I am very pleased to make such an acquaintance and it may be useful for the music . . .

December, 1861

. . . Yesterday I was at Balakirev's as usual. I spend the time there so pleasantly that I simply don't know how to thank Canille for such a magnificent acquaintance. . . .

. . How My Intermezzo Was Born . . ."

Among the instrumental compositions of [ Musorgsky's] first period, undoubtedly the finest is the Intermezzo. It is full of power and beauty and is entitled by the composer himself Intermezzo symphonique in modo classico, which is indeed justified by the general manner; even the chief theme is somewhat in the manner of Bach. But it is wonderful that in spite of its external classicism and Europeanism, this composition bears in itself a national Russian content. At first Musorgsky did not tell this to anyone, but in the 70's, in the epoch of our most intimate friendly relations, he told me many times that his Intermezzo is "secretly" Russian, that it had been inspired by a certain rural scene which imprinted itself deeply on his imagination: in the winter of 1861 he was on his mother's country estate in the province of Pskov and once on a beautiful, sunny winter's day, a holiday, he saw a whole crowd of peasants crossing the fields and making their way with difficulty through the snowdrifts; many of them repeatedly falling into the snow and then scrambling onward. "This"--Musorgsky related--"was at once beautiful, picturesque, serious, and amusing. And suddenly"--said he--"in the distance there appeared a group of young peasant women, singing and laughing as they walked along an even path. This scene impressed itself on my mind in a musical form. And unexpectedly the first melody, rising and falling à la Bach, formed itself; I envisioned the happy laughter of the women as a melody from which I afterward made the middle section or trio. But all this was conceived in modoclassico

____________________
76
Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov was an eager seventeen-year-old naval cadet who had just decided that music was the most important thing in life. He joined the Balakirev Circle with an almost childish enthusiasm and a wish to please. His nicknames in the Circle all derive from his name and naval career: Korsik, Korsinka, the Roman, the Admiral, the Corsican.

-38-

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