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

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

40a. MILI BALAKIREV31 to LUDMILA SHESTAKOVA, St. Petersburg [A Sequence of Extracts]

Prague, December 28, 1866

. . . By the last act I was ready for a fresh surprise. Here's how the solemn procession of Mikhail's coronation was managed: at first Venetians from the Council of Ten, followed by doges, then French troubadors and, finally, under a canopy carried by German pages, Tzar Mikhail passed by in the costume of the King of Sicily from Robert. . . Also I must tell you that evidently A Life for the Tzar doesn't please the local public. (There were very few there.) Nor will local musicians be pleased, for such heads as Shornik32 and Smetana33 can understand nothing sensible that steps out of the German frame. Interesting to wonder how they'll receive A Life for the Tzar (V Praze) as revised by me. Now the public attends only operas that are immediately understandable or that suit their vulgar German taste, like Troubador or Wilhelm Tell, and if A Life for the Tzar is given, it will be only because of the Russophile tendencies of certain local leaders, for example Rieger, who received me very kindly . . .

Prague. January 9, 1867

. . . This evening Kolař34 and Pátera35 came for tea along with Paleček, who sincerely loves Glinka's music and is a frank, dear

____________________
31
In an appendix to Rimsky-Korsakov Chronicle, Shestakova energetically writes: "M. A. Balakirev went to Prague for the first time in 1866, in the month of June, on my request to him to arrange a production of Ruslan there. But he returned toward the end of July without any success. In September of the same year, having obtained a letter of introduction from V. I. Lamansky to [Dr. František] Rieger, in Prague, I went there on the sixteenth, and, with the latter's assistance, the matter of producing Ruslan was settled in a few hours. On December 21 of that year, M. A. Balakirev went to Prague for the second time, taking with him all the sketches of scenery, costumes and accessories that Gornostayev had prepared at my request, and he there busied himself with the production of Ruslan and A Life for the Tzar" Balakirev's first glimpse of opera in Prague was painful, a sloppy production of A Life for the Tzar, conducted by Smetana-- whom he at once suspected of sabotage.
32
Czech names were an added irritant to the worn Russophile nerves of Balakirev. He mistakenly refers to the composer Šebor (whose new opera, The Templars, was just opening) as Shornik, giving birth to a multitude of pointless puns, as shornik, in Russian, means saddlemaker and smetana, sour cream!
33
The year 1866 was possibly the most important in Bedřich Smetana's entire career. Within this year his Bartered Bride was produced, and he was appointed conductor at the Provisional Theater.
34
Josef Kolař , Slavophile scholar and writer.
35
Adolf Pátera, scholar-philologist, and librarian of the Czech Royal Museum.

-69-

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